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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Proverbs 8:1-36; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-24
"Lured Into Life"
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ...when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a little child, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. A woman once went into the marketplace, looked around, and saw a sign that read, "God's Fruit Stand". "Thank goodness! It's about time!" the woman said to herself. She went inside and she said, "I would like a perfect banana, a perfect cantaloupe, a perfect strawberry, and a perfect peach." God, who was behind the counter, shrugged and said, "I'm sorry. I only sell seeds." + If you were caught by "the lure" in that story, you will appreciate the one that is personified in this week's reading from the Book of Proverbs; and "the One" who is trying to "seduce" us is none other than creation's "first street preacher". She is known by the Greek name "Sophia" in biblical literature and she is that female representative of the mystery of God sometimes called "Wisdom". She is the most developed personification of God's presence and activity in the Hebrew scriptures, much more acutely limned than Spirit, torah, or word; and, yes, the term used for her is of feminine grammatical gender - hokmah in Hebrew, sophia in Greek, sapientia in Latin. She is consistently depicted as sister, mother, female beloved, chef and hostess, preacher, judge, liberator, establisher of justice and a myriad of other female roles in which she symbolizes transcendent power ordering and delighting in the universe. She is that presence which pervades the world, both nature and human beings, interacting with them in an effort to lure them along the right path. I'll bet that, like most people in the church, you have heard little about her; and that is unfortunate. After appearing briefly in the book of Job as a treasure whose whereabouts are known only to God, she strides into the Book of Proverbs noisily proclaiming her message to anyone who will listen. She is a street preacher, a prophet, crying aloud in the market, on the street corners and at the city gates with a message of reproach, punishment and promise. Sophia is the antithesis of the stereotypical 'woman' so beloved by chauvinists - quiet, unassuming and submissive. She is a street-wise, justice-driven, passionate figure who wants nothing less than that everyone should follow in her playful, determined footsteps as she seeks both to transform and delight in the created world. "You had better do what I say if you know what's good for you," Wisdom says, "because I am worth more than anything you can win on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". There are no hidden clauses in what I am selling, no trick questions and no risk; because what I offer leads to life, the kind that is more secure than any government bond. The ones who love what I am about find me and they are never disappointed; because I am the goodness that is never-ending and the life that is always unfolding. I am the energy that accompanied God in the very beginning. I am the one who gets things done. I am the one in whom God delights. Follow me and you will know my pleasure. Believe in me and you will know my truth." "Wisdom" is that creative energy of God which is forever trying to lure us into life. But what does it mean to be "lured into life" and why does the church want us to remember this extraordinary passage of scripture on Trinity Sunday? + I think it means what Dorothy Day once wrote about when she referred to that "creative instinct" she found in so many women. I guess women know these things instinctively. A woman's anguish is turned into joy when a child is born into the world. Henri Daniel-Rops one asked, after the crucifixion, when the apostles and disciples all hid in fear, what did the women do? "They went on about the business of living, pounding the spices in which to embalm the body." They went on about the business of living. There are three meals to get, the family to care for, "the duty of delight" that Ruskin spoke of, for the sake of others around us who are on the verge of despair. Who can say there is no delight, even in a city slum, especially in an Italian neighbourhood where there is a pot of basil on the window sill and the smell of good cooking in the air, and pigeons wheeling over the roof tops and the tiny feathers found occasionally on the sidewalk, the fresh smell of the sea from the dock of the Staten Island ferry boat (five cents a ride)? Peter Maurin used to say, "Man is spirit, woman is matter," and I knew what he meant by this obscure Thomistic utterance. Woman is close to the material things of life, and accepts them, this integration of soul and body and its interaction. St. Teresa of Avila said once that if her nuns were melancholy, "feed them steak!" She reminded us too: "All things are passing!" - Dorothy Day, Meditations It is no accident, I believe, that when John has Jesus attempt to explain to his friends what they will feel when the Spirit comes to them, he speaks of the kind of "wisdom" that only women know best. Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. Is there "something" or "someone" built into the very fabric of life, some creative energy springing from the very Heart of life itself that is insistently moving us, prodding us, pushing us, attempting to birth us into life? And is that "something" that same utterly practical, earthy, delighting-in, luminescent joy that women cannot help but embody? + On this second Sunday of Pentecost, the church wants us to celebrate the mystery of Spirit and to recognize that Spirit is nothing less than the creative essence of God. It is where She comes from. It was She who inhabited Jesus. It was She who was unleashed at Pentecost. It is she who is forever attempting to lure us into life. Our mistake, like the woman looking for "perfect fruit" is that too often we are looking for something finished - a completed project. But God is not about perfection and creation is far from being complete. There is a divine energy at the heart of life initiating and accompanying that drive for perfection; but it is not solely associated with a "finished" project. That popular slogan of a few year's back, "Be Patient! God isn't finished with me yet!", really is true, truer than any of us know. For it means that life (including our lives in particular) is not limited by failure, nor by our illusions of success. There is always a call forward. None of us is there yet. William James, the great philosopher-psychologist, at his sixtieth birthday party announced that he had finally come to believe in life after death. When people asked him what had changed his mind, he said, "Because I am only now becoming fit to live." "Because I am only now becoming fit to live." What strikes me as revelatory about that statement is the insight that, even at the age of sixty, this wise and sophisticated intellectual genius was himself being lured into life, was being convinced that there was something more. And what if there is? What if this often painful, sobering ordeal that all of us experience sooner or later is merely the evolution that is at the heart of everything? If it is true, then "becoming fit to live" is a sentiment we have everytime "Wisdom" manages to lure us forward. Maybe that is all She wants - to lure us forward - to see that life has not come to a full stop, that there is something more. You, my friend, may be twenty-two or eighty-three; but today you have the opportunity to leave an encumbrance behind, to say "goodbye" to failure, "so long" to despair and to strike out on a new path of love. For you, too, are a seed swelling toward ripe. A ripeness never achieved but still in the process of becoming, a product of God's fruit stand. And, in this moment, in every moment, whether you know it or not, you are being lured into life. Only now are you just "becoming fit to live." + Proverbs 8:1-36 - The Lectionary does an injustice to the text by not suggesting (8.1-4,22-31) that we read the whole text, which is a passionate self-portrait of one of the most intriguing figures in the Hebrew Bible. Wisdom, that creative energy that was with God in the very beginning and that animates all things, raises her voice to demand attention. She is that life-force which all ignore to their detriment and that all obey to their eternal delight. 1. Make a list of all the attributes of "Wisdom" in this passage. 2. What new insights do they suggest into God's creative power? 3. What have you been taught about "Wisdom" in church? If you have not been taught, why has such a text been ignored? 4. What passionate, creative insights and energy have you been "lured into" at various moments in your life? 5. How often were women a significant factor in these experiences? How? Why? Romans 5.1-5 - The same creative, death-defying, renewing energy of God is the focus of Paul's remarks. We are "rightwised" not because of something we are doing but because of what God is doing for us. We do not have to attain peace, we already have it by virtue of what the Spirit is doing in us and on our behalf. In spite of the ordeals, heartache and pain of our obedience, God is moving us forward, providing us with strengths, gifts that continue to reveal that more that we are. 1. What readers would most be comforted by Paul's words? Why? 2. What gives you a sense that "something" or "someone" larger is revealing a renewing, healing purpose in your own life? John 16.12-24 - Rather than be limited by an essentially doctrinal focus (16.12-15) as suggested by the Lectionary, I have opted for an expanded version of John, which is more in keeping with the rest of this week's readings. The Spirit will reveal what Jesus has not been able to show the disciples, what testifies to Jesus and which comes from God; it also will show the essential movement of God in us and in the world - from the ordeal of giving birth to the joy of beholding the delight of creation. 1. How does the Spirit continue to reveal the truth of Christ within your community? 2. In what sense is this revelation a movement from "the pain of ordeal to the joy of delight"? CELEBRATING SPIRIT RATHER THAN ENSHRINING IT - In a sense, this week's meditation is a deliberate attempt to enter into the Spirit of Trinity rather than to attempt to get caught in a defense of the "doctrine" of Trinity. How would your experience of "church" be different if there were less emphasis on what one is "permitted to believe" and more emphasis on "becoming fit to live" as illustrated in this week's message? HYMN: "O God of Matchless Glory" (Voices United 250)
copyright - Barry Robinson 2004 page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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