Sermon Preached on September 23, 2018 – Pentecost +18
By The Rev. Anne C. Fowler
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
The Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1
God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. Solomon 7:28
I think I have spoken before about my experience in an Old Testament class in seminary when the professor took a break from his history lesson to speak about the Holy Spirit, or Wisdom. He told us that the Hebrew word for Spirit is female. And the Spirit is the holy breath of God.
I started to cry. I felt an incredible sense of relief, and freedom, and belonging. I was struggling my way through the ordination process, having repeatedly to explain my two divorces, being told to get a new hairdo and new glasses, being told to slow down, tone down, not agitate for change. Sometimes I wondered whether the Church I loved had room for me, or I had room for the Church.
Just hearing this simple truth, that the Spirit is female, made me feel that there was a place for me in the Church as a woman, as a priest. And look! Here is the Spirit, who in every generation passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God.
And look! I’m reading an exciting new translation of the New Testament by the scholar of religion David Bentley Hart. He brings a freshness and urgency to the text that’s very compelling. All throughout the Synoptic Gospels the writers exclaim And look! when something exciting is about to happen. It’s a much more zippy translation than Behold!
So the passage we’ve heard today from the Wisdom of Solomon, about the virtues of the Spirit of Wisdom, is so affirming to me, and I would hope to every woman, especially any woman who has felt marginalized by the Church, in her job, or any other institution or situation. And who among us has not?
Which leads me to the sad and nasty spectacle unfolding in Washington right now. In my times here I’ve tried not to be political, and I will try not to get too mired in partisanship now. But this is as ugly a scene as I’ve known in recent memory.
I don’t know why Senator Feinstein held on to the letter from Professor Ford for so long before releasing it. I don’t believe Professor Ford came forth with a thought-out game plan. I don’t know whether Judge Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was 17, though I tend to believe any woman who claims she’s been sexually abused until it’s proven otherwise.
What I do know is that neither woman deserves to receive death threats, nor does Judge Kavanaugh’s family. Nobody deserves death threats.
What I do know is that the Senators are behaving no better, and probably worse, than they did 27 years ago at the Anita Hill hearings. I remember being horrified as I watched those hearings while trying to write a sermon. And look! I remember calling a wise and experiences government official, a friend of mine, and asking him about it. He said, “I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s horrifying.”
What I do know is that if wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness, very little wisdom is prevailing in the halls of Congress or in the White House. Those we have elected to lead our country are behaving like high school bullies, sleazes, and, sometimes, mean girls.
And what would wisdom look like, embodied in us rather than in the Divine Spirit? Wisdom encompasses so much that it is difficult to define, yet we tend to recognize it when we encounter it. And we come across it most clearly in the realm of decision-making. Wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that encompasses tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as life’s ups and downs. Wisdom involves taking the long view, and embracing a sense of balance. It involves living in ambiguity.
We are not born wise. We acquire wisdom through experience, but experience does not necessarily confer wisdom. Wise people are generally hopeful, relatively calm in facing difficult decisions, have a sense of proportion, and are capable of deep introspection.
And look! I give you Congress. I give you the White House and its Chief Occupant, who seems to me to embody the antithesis of Wisdom as I have just described it.
So what are we happy few gathered in Yarmouth this morning to do? A question many of us have been asking for nearly two years now. Well, the practical answer for us citizens is: Forget Susan Collins. Vote in November. Volunteer to help get out the vote. Be sure everyone you know votes in November.
The answer for us faithful is: pray. And what do we pray for? And look! In the words of the BCP, we can pray to God to endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home. Endue with a spirit of wisdom; that sounds about right.
And we can pray that we too may be endued with the spirit of Wisdom, Who, although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God.