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Pentecost 23 November 12, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
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PENTECOST 23  Proper 27  Year A
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 78; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, November 12, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
 
 
“Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
. . .  easily discerned
          by those who love her,
. . . found
          by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known
          to those who desire her . . .
. . . goes about seeking those worthy of her,
. . . graciously appears to them
          in their paths.”
 
From what is called
the Wisdom Literature of ancient Israel,
(a small but significant part
          of the Hebrew Scriptures)
comes this beautiful and astonishing
          female image of the God
          who loves and seeks us . . .
 
          who is “God with us.”
 
 
In the Book of Proverbs,
in the Book of Sirach,
and in the Wisdom of Solomon
          from which we read today,
 
Wisdom is portrayed as
          with God from before creation,
beside God “like a master worker,”
          bringing the creation into being;
“God’s delight,
rejoicing before God always, 
rejoicing in God’s inhabited world
          and delighting in the human race.”   
                                                [Proverbs 8:22-31]
 
If we read a little farther on
          from the passage assigned for today,
we find
that in Wisdom there is
“. . . a spirit that is
intelligent, holy, unique, manifold,
subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good,
keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
          and penetrating through all.”   
                                                [Wisdom 7:22-23] 
 
All characteristics of God.

God personified as a woman,
commonly referred to by scholars
as “Sophia,”
          the Greek word that means wisdom.
 
The tradition
echoes through the prologue of
          John’s Gospel:
 
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God. . . .”
 
“All things came into being through [the Word],
and without [the Word]
not one thing came into being.” 
 
What has come into being
in [the Word] was life,
and the life was the light of all people . . . 
 
The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.”             [John 1.1, 3-5,9]
 
 

The Word present with God before creation,
          with God in the very act of creating,
The enlightening Word,
           eagerly seeking us.
 
When John writes
that the Word became flesh
          and dwelt among us as Jesus,
he could as easily have said
          that Sophia became flesh
                    and dwelt among us as Jesus. *
 
Though Jesus was male
in his incarnation,
in him
all the fullness of God,
all that long list of the qualities of Wisdom,
          were pleased to dwell.
 
He was
“intelligent, holy, unique, manifold,
subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good,
keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
          and penetrating through all.”
 
 

Jesus / Sophia / Wisdom,
healer, bringer of justice, peacemaker,
sun (son) of righeousness,
lover of the poor and weak and outcast,
          confounder of the powers of this world.
                  
Those powers managed to kill him,
but, as a friend of mine once said,
          they could not keep him dead . . .
 
No,
God raised him from death,
that we might be incorporated into new and risen life,
that Jesus might become
          the transformation
                   of all who live in him.             
 
 
The risen Christ,
radiant and unfading,
infinitely available to us
and always coming toward us:
          seeking us out,
          hastening to be known by us,
          graciously appearing to us in our daily paths . . .
 

This is the One
who is for us and with us in each moment,
who strengthens, sustains and guides us
that we might bear the ordinary shocks of life,
          and the extraordinary evils
                    of this ugly and baffling present age.
 
And not only bear the evils,
but stand over against them.
 
The ancient words of the baptismal covenant
suddenly take on urgent contemporary meaning:
 
“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces
          of wickedness that rebel against God?
 
“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
          which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
 
“Do you renounce all sinful desires
          that draw you from the love of God?
 
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ
          and accept him as your Savior?
 
“Do you put your whole trust
          in his grace and love?
 
“Do you promise to follow and obey him
          as your Lord?”                        [BCP 302-3]

God’s Wisdom comes to us in Christ,
freely as gift . . .
our capacity to receive her
          not measured by an IQ test,
          nor gained with a college degree,
          (not even by ordination in the Episcopal Church . . .)
 
We have only to meet Wisdom’s
          availability
          with our own availability,
our willingness
          to be infused with the Spirit of God.
         
Anyone
who loves Wisdom,
who seeks Wisdom,
who desires Wisdom,
is already found by her,
 
is already growing with her
into life as she would have us live it:
in her image,
the image of the Word
          who became flesh.
 
For wisdom does not call us out of life
          (as if our faith were but a refuge
          from life’s disappointments, sorrows, terrors,
                    and this room our hiding place
                   from them)
 

Wisdom does not call us out of life,
but into complete engagement with life,
          with all its disappointments, sorrows, terrors;
          (our faith a call to action,
          and this room our strengthening place
                   for convictions lived out in the world . . .)
 
Fully engaging with life,
          we are fully engaged with the living God,
open to receive
the fullness of joy, delight, purpose,
          satisfaction
that comes from loving
          and living in God . . .
even in the midst of
the disappointments, sorrows, terrors.
 
In ways we cannot see
          and may never know,
at least not on this side of our bodily death,
 
God’s Wisdom / the risen Christ / the Holy Spirit
is even now working in and through us
to renew the creation,
to bring about God’s kingdom
          of justice, peace, righteousness.
 

That kingdom,
said Jesus,
will be like a story of ten bridesmaids,
five foolish and five wise.
 
Those bridesmaids would have been
the teenage sisters or cousins
of the bridegroom . . .
 
He had gone, according to custom,
to the home of his intended
to bring her back to his family’s household
          for their wedding.
 
The bridesmaids were to greet them
with lamps alight,
to escort them into the festivities.
 
The bridegroom was delayed –
we don’t know why –
 
and the lamps of the foolish,
the unprepared,
ran out of oil.
 
The lamps of the wise,
those prepared for his coming,
          early or late,
burned brightly
in anticipation and welcome.
 
Bringing their light
to the One who comes to enlighten all.
 
For the bridegroom,
a gospel image for Jesus, the Messiah
                                                [in Matthew, Mark and Luke]
was coming to meet them,
 
and there would be a wedding
and its lavish feast,
          metaphors for the restored union
                   of God and humanity,
          and the great banquet
                   of God’s beloved in God’s kingdom.
 
If only the foolish
          had been ready . . .
 
 
Advent is coming very soon . . .
its themes are already present in our readings . . .
themes of readiness, preparedness,
watching for the coming of
          Christ the Wisdom of God,
          Christ the bridegroom,
          Christ the kingdom-bearer,
watching while recognizing
          that Christ has always been
          and is always coming . . .
 
                                               
. . . Wisdom by another name,
“radiant and unfading,
. . .  easily discerned
          by those who love her,
. . . found
          by those who seek her.
. . . hastening to make herself known
          to those who desire her . . .
. . . seeking those worthy of her,
. . . graciously appearing to them
          in their paths.”
 
 
Wisdom is portrayed in the Book of Proverbs
as preparing and hosting a great feast,
a feast to which everyone is invited.
 
She has set her table,
and sent out her serving girls
into the marketplace
to bring them in . . .
          all who would eat of her bread
          and drink of the wine
                   she has mixed.          [Proverbs 9:2-5]
 

And so she sets her table
here, today,
that in the bread and wine
of the Eucharist
we may be fed
with the very life of Jesus . . .
 
we come to make ourselves available
          to that life,
          to full engagement in that life,
          with all that will mean,
 
“We have no choice,”
said theologian Karl Rahner,
“God is with us.” **
 
 
 
* From a development by biblical scholar Marcus Borg in “Female Images of God in the Bible,” Radical Grace, vol. 24, no. 1, as shared by Richard Rohr in a post from the Center for Action and Contemplation, Nov 7, 2017.
 
** Karl Rahner, as quoted by Kathleen Norris in God With Us, Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, p. 116.