Trinity Church, Williamsport, Diocese of Central Pennsylvania
We came over here Friday on the train from
Some people think this is what Jesus means when he says, âtake up your cross,â that weâre supposed to respond to lifeâs unexpected events with grace and good humor. Patience and kindness are certainly appropriate and useful spiritual gifts, but the kind of wisdom that Proverbs and Jesus are talking about actually goes a lot deeper.
A word about proverbs and wisdom. The image of lady wisdom is a bit better known than it was before we started to use the lectionary in the 1979 prayer book, but we still donât hear about Wisdom very often. In the Hebrew Bible (OT) Wisdom is a personification of God, sometimes understood as Godâs active presence, not unlike the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. She also shows up as Godâs fellow builder in creation, like a holy architect or master builder. Wisdom stands in the street and invites the foolish to turn in and feast at her table, to take in what is good and reject the foolish. Wisdom is what James is alluding to when he challenges teachers to be careful with their tongues. Jesus is spoken of in the gospels as Wisdomâs child and Wisdomâs prophet, and he clearly does the same kinds of things Wisdom does â inviting whoever is hungry to a bountiful feast, and offering the Word of God as the main course. Compare the close of this Proverbs reading, âthose who listen to me will be secure and live at ease, without dread of disasterâ with the words of Jesus, âthose who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel, will save it.â Hear echoes also in âfear notâ and âmy burden is easy, my yoke is light.â
The kind of wisdom Jesus challenges us to receive is about the hard work of the kingdom. If we acknowledge Jesus as king or lord, then weâre also going to have to recognize that following him isnât just about patience and kindness, necessary and useful as they are. Kindness and patience are signs of the converted or wise heart, but they are not the only fruits of that deeper wisdom.
Taking up our cross and following Jesus isnât always sweetness and light â there certainly isnât much of it in the suffering that precedes Easter. But the assurance of the gospel is that God can bring new life out of the worst that the world can dish up, and following Jesus to
A bishop from
People of faith in this country do need to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, remembering that his mission instructions are usually about healing people and bringing good news. And yes, health care reform in the U.S. and peace in Pakistan are going to require some changes, because the systems we have now hasnât yet reached Godâs dream of wholeness and a healed world. Weâve had a pretty good example of the pain involved in the public conversations about health care in the last couple of months. But you and I donât live in the midst of darkness, we live with hope for light. When you think about health care reform, who is âliving in dread of disasterâ right now, as Proverbs puts it? Is it the wise or the foolish?
I had a very interesting conversation on that train ride over here. A young man stopped and asked me âare you a sister in the faith?â I said, âI hope so!â His response was, âdo you have a word for me?â I offered the end of the Proverbs reading because I was wrestling with it right then, âthose who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.â He knew it was from Proverbs, and asked where, so I gave him chapter and verse. âThatâs a good word,â he said, and went on to his seat. He came back 30 minutes later and engaged me for quite a long time. He said he had read that there were 11 major religions in the world, and something like 30,000 denominations, and was trying to figure out how to pick the right one. He was no beginner, either. He quoted a lot of gospel, by chapter and verse, including the part where Jesus says, by your fruits you will know them. He went on and on, about how some preachers think that the gospel is about collecting riches, but no, that wasnât what Jesus meant. Nor was going to war, or thinking that God can only speak in one way or through one tradition. A wise young man.
How do we know spiritual wisdom when we meet it? By its fruits â yes, patience and kindness â but also justice and healing and peace. Sometimes those fruits donât emerge for a while, until after Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday. But we keep picking up our cross anyway, and walking down the road after Jesus.
When that young man got off the train, he didnât wish me âhappy trails.â We said to each other what I will say to all of us, âa blessed journey.â As we take up our cross, and follow Jesus down that blessed way, our refrain really ought to be, âon the road again.â