Abiding in the Presence of Wisdom + A Sermon Preached + Shepherd of the Prairie Moravian Church, Fargo ND

Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

By Wednesday this week I landed myself in bed with the covers pulled up over my head wondering if I should scream or cry into my pillow.  My two little kids, Ela almost 7 years and Dylan 5, were at each other’s throats all day.  I’m not sure if was just the end of summer—we’ve spent way too much time together and we can’t get back to school soon enough—or if it was the instant sugar drop that followed several sneaky bowls eaten from a box of Trix cereal that I was persuaded to buy against my better mom judgement because it had a Secret Life of Pets toy inside.  Either way, after breaking up one too many fights between the two I came up with a parenting idea that was a little shy of my best.  Which taught me a new gem of wisdom:

During the storm is NOT time to build a new home!

But I did.  In a flash I had a whole new parenting strategy.  I thought: If you can’t beat em, join em.  “Ok, fine!”  I yelled.  “Let’s just all yell all day long.  This will be fun.  Can I yell too??”

I immediately felt ashamed for stepping out of my inner peace and into their fight.  (They did, however immediately stop fighting as they wondered what the heck was wrong with mom.)  I had let myself down.  I had for a moment lost my way and I felt out of alignment with my true self.

Instead of screaming or crying into a pillow I found some quiet and prayed:  Jesus, please teach me how to walk in your way.  Mother Mary, please teach me how to raise my children.  I felt the room shift and a presence of peace came into my body and into my home that stayed with us for the rest of the day. 

I realized:

The Wisdom of God is a presence that desires to be known by us.  

The psalm in today’s texts come from the tradition of Wisdom teachings, a style of writing rooted in ancient Egyptian and ancient near east cultures.  It’s a tradition that keeps the codes for how one lives in harmony with the divine creation.  

Charles Halton, biblical scholar and author of Understanding Wisdom Literature, discusses the challenges in applying these strange and sometimes contradictory teachings to our lives:

What is the reader to do when faced with a situation in which biblical texts contain divergent ideas about God? … "The reader must decide which portion and which voice to listen to, in order to produce a meaning from the book." Characters within the Bible lie, cheat, murder, and steal, and part of reading Bible well is discerning which voices are trustworthy. Few would think that the voice of Pharaoh is presented as normative and Moses was a scoundrel for causing legions of workers to shirk their duties. 

Should we fear God or just simply enjoy life?  Halton asks an important question: why do we have to choose just one voice to listen to in the Bible?  Instead of picking a lone voice to carry us through the vicissitudes of life … wisdom literature in general, says that we need several {voices} depending upon the specifics of the situations that we are in. 

Wisdom is learning how and what to draw from the abundant well.  Wisdom reminds me, during the storm is NOT time to build a new home!  Wisdom reminds my children:  if mom ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!

Wisdom is the space for truth to grow.  With human reason it’s easy for us to get caught up in dualistic thinking of right or wrong.  Heros and criminals.  Good people and bad people.  This math equation will not put that satellite into orbit around that planet.  The math is wrong.  Wisdom is a different kind of knowledge.  Wisdom is the sort of knowledge that a mother has with a child.  A child is not wrong because they don’t know how to behave like an adult.  Wisdom gives space for the small seeds of truth within us to grow and expand.  Wisdom allows for mistakes because mistakes are how we learn and grow.  Wisdom doesn’t demand instant perfection.  Wisdom is movement, play, dance, it’s the understanding that what works for one person in one situation will not necessarily work for another person in the same situation.  Wisdom is discretion and discernment.  Wisdom sees the big picture because it knows the history of where we come from, our lineage, ancestors, and knows the history of the problems we have inherited that are unique to us in many ways and in other ways also universal.  Wisdom honors our growth edges and doesn’t expect us to all be at the same place at the same time.  Wisdom knows our journey.  Wisdom is multifaceted.  It is a presence that can be called upon to dwell with us in our time of need.

The Wisdom of God dwells within our bodies; it attunes us to the truth of our being and the ways in which we are in harmony with divine law and the ways in which we are out of harmony with divine law.  We know when we are in line with our divine nature.  Life seems to sing.  We know when we have transgressed and when we have become out of harmony with divine nature: we feel on the outside of the city, unable to return to the center of our being.  Wisdom teaches us there is nowhere we can go to be separated from God.  Nothing we can do.  Jesus is outside of the city with us, in our suffering.  By seeing Jesus in our midst and with us even in our mistakes, we can receive forgiveness, and grace for whatever transgressions we have done.  We can simply face the ways in which we fall short—rather than hiding our mistakes from ourselves and others with hardness of heart or so many years of shame or wrongly believing that we are somehow unworthy or unlovable now.  

In the psalm today we are told how it is with the righteous.  How they dwell with God, how they abide in the presence of wisdom.  It is interesting because the beginning of the texts the writer tells us, “Happy are those that fear the Lord,” and at the end of the text that the righteous do not fear those who do evil.  “They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
8Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.”

So to fear the Lord, actually means to have a steady heart that refuses to fear evil.  I wish I would have known that when a friend recently told me one of the reasons she can’t be a Christian because she couldn’t accept that we must fear God.  With how many times the angels say, “Fear not!” it’s strange to have this seemingly opposite idea to fear God.  Wisdom shows us that fearing God means having a steady heart.  Refusing to fear that which is evil.  Wisdom is discernment about how to fear rightly.

There is a way in which unhealthy fear is running rampant in our culture. We are told to fear all sorts of things.  It seems we are always on the lookout for an enemy, or a catastrophe, or some disease, preparing ourselves for these unknown worst case scenarios.  And by doing so we keep our mind agitated and restless.  It’s almost like we are experiencing a collective post-traumatic stress disorder where we are unable to calm down and to truly rest in God’s peace on earth, in our bodies, in our energetic field, and let nothing, nothing take us out of that space.  We are not being called live in this kind of fear.  We are being called to have a steady heart. 

Fearing God means remaining in God’s peace because we know what it’s like when we lose our way.  It means staying in the presence of wisdom.  Staying in the truth.  It means waking up to all the illusions we have veiled as truth. 

The connections of neural networks in our brain look strangely like the universe, and lots of universes strung together in filaments of light.  The universe is inside of us and we are inside of the universe.  Yet when we allow our fears and illusions to run the show and we fear evil instead of fearing God we allow ourselves to dwell in the illusion that we are separate from divine creation.  We forget that we are here to learn love, here to expand the light of God’s love within us in a world of woe.  We are not called here to tremble with fear.  We are not called here to be slaves to anyone, we are not called here to live small lives.  We are called here to shine.  We shine by facing our mistakes and learning from them.  Then the light can come all the way into our dark corners of our being and release us.  We eat humble pie.  We pray under the covers, we do whatever we need to do to receive God’s forgiveness and wisdom, and we get up and try again. 

Jesus reminds us in the New Testament text today that those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled.  It is a reminder that to be “in” is sometimes out of alignment with our social codes.  To be in says Jesus, humble yourself.  And when Jesus says to humble ourselves it is not so that we are made small, it is so that we can be made large. So we can truly see the soul, the light, the good within, the god within, the wisdom buried underneath all the illusions.  We are not in because we are abiding by a social code which keeps us enslaved and fearing what is evil.  For when we fear what is evil we are unable to transform it, when we fear what is evil we are unable to face it, when we fear what is evil we give it ultimate power and we make evil God.  

In Hebrews today, the writer urges us to look to the edges of the city where they make sacrifices of animals.  The writer points there and says this is where Jesus goes: because there is no place that Gods peace and healing love cannot go.  Jesus goes right to the heart of our very pain.  How can we not face our pain, when Jesus is standing right there saying: I can heal this, I can resurrect this?

Jesus reminds us that we need not shed blood any longer.  No one needs to die for their sins anymore.  We need not fear that which is evil because God is reconciling all of creation.  God is transforming that which is evil, transforming people like Paul who once persecuted the light, to be light bearers once again.  God is calling back all of creation that all may see and know the glory of God.  We keep a steady heart when we see the rise of a military state that would rather criminalize people than allow them to learn from their mistakes and grow into their full potential.  We keep a steady heart when we see our rivers have been polluted, because we are not being good stewards of the earth.  We keep a steady heart because we know ultimately that love is more powerful than death.  And so we press on to do the work we have been given to do.

I urge you, let God’s wisdom come to you this week, as a presence.  In the Old Testament the Divine presence on earth is called the Shekinah, in the New Testament it is called the Holy Spirit.  Invite the Holy Spirit to come and let your body be filled with God’s wisdom.  Let all of your shadows and pain be touched by divine light.  See yourself as a child of God, created to do what Jesus did.  Jesus said come, you can heal the sick, you can raise the dead, you can stand with a steady heart against the forces of evil in this world.  You can do the things I did, if you follow me in the way.  

May the one who created us bring us to our full maturity, restore and redeem all creation, as we continue to walk in the ways of wisdom.  Amen.