Lay aside immaturity and live: A Sermon

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A Byzantine icon of Holy Sophia, Holy Wisdom

August 15, 2021

Lay aside immaturity and live

At this point, it feels like the sermons write themselves. Or at least that our circumstances feel so intense and peculiar that they demand a spiritual response that is deep enough to meet them.  Challenging times call for intentional reflections, a holy risk that dares to speak what is most deeply on our hearts.  

The lightning strike was intense enough, but it felt even more so because in a typical time, this would have been the most significant thing we dealt with for a while.  Now, however, the lightning strike took its place alongside the ongoing pandemic anxieties as well as the cultural tensions that persist as we struggle to learn what it means to live together as a community.  We have been at such a level of adapting for so long now that the team responded with grace and worked the repairs into our ongoing conversations.  All that we experience has become an invitation for prayer, reflection, and embodiment.

This week, I went back into my quiet meditation time, sitting with this awareness that we are in a truly profound time.  It is important to acknowledge the level of intensity that we are all feeling. We need to take enough time to reflect on just what is happening around us.  Like we said last week, this period, this experience, this challenge, will take as long as it takes until we come to a deeper awareness of how we are connected to one another as persons in community.  God didn’t cause this, but God desires us to grow within it.

I think it is time to acknowledge the full scope of what we are living through, my friends, and it is this: we are experiencing a radical paradigm shift of consciousness.  We keep trying to approach this situation as a merely rational issue, as though we can simply think ourselves out of the struggle we face–or out-think someone whose opinion we think is misguided.  We keep failing to see that, while our wrestling has a rational component to it, the full scope of what we are facing is well beyond reason.  We are submerged in a shift of consciousness that is challenging us to reimagine the very way we understand ourselves as human beings, as persons, in relation to all created existence.  These days show us the absolute necessity of our practice of prayer.

How many times have we thought or said, “I don’t understand what is happening?” or “None of this makes sense?”  That is a clue that there is something going on beyond rationally figuring this out.    What we are experiencing doesn’t make rational sense.  The world feels insane.

No one has an issue with the requirement to wear shirts and shoes in restaurants, but masks have been so manipulated to score cynical political points that parents are screaming at school board meetings while children are getting ill at a rapid rate.  Everyone is required to wear a seatbelt, no one can smoke inside anymore, and we have so many other expectations that support our common life, but the anger and frustration around how we understand “freedom” and “rights” has reached a fever pitch.  I want to get underneath this reactivity and explore the deeper shifts going on, because if I can ground myself there, in what I sense is the deeper shift, my anger and frustration can be redirected and focused.

In the contemplative tradition (that connects with the wisdom practices of other faiths as well), we understand that there are different “levels” to reality.  We live, if you will, on different levels, and there are different planes of existence–all flowing at the same time.  As a culture we are obsessed with the rational level of reality, and we come to believe that is all that matters, yet the truth is that there are deeper and more subtle levels of reality as well.  And, when we encounter a trauma or crisis–and an experience of not being able to “figure it out,”–there is a particular stress or anxiety there that I think opens a door to realizing that there is much more going on.  This is why we say it is so important to have a practice of prayer, because our prayer, our connection to God, opens our hearts to these deeper movements of the Spirit.

As we look at today’s texts, it is fascinating to lay these assigned readings alongside our circumstances.  The texts call for wisdom, and they are haunting.  From Proverbs, we hear:

To those without sense she says,

“Come, eat of my bread

and drink of the wine I have mixed.

Lay aside immaturity, and live,

and walk in the way of insight.”

To those without sense…Lay aside immaturity and live…Walk in the way of insight.

From Ephesians, we hear:

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

So do not be foolish.

There is a challenge here to look underneath our normal ways of operating.  There is a call to recognize a deeper level of insight and meaning, to move beyond mere knowledge and to dare to practice wisdom.  Because wisdom is far more than mere knowledge, and wisdom is light years beyond the endless information–and misinformation–that saturates our lives today where every single person who posts a medical opinion online can be deemed an expert.  

What does a life look like that is grounded in wisdom?  What does it look like to follow the path of Holy Sophia, to orient our lives in those deeper planes of existence?  To have this depth of reality nourish our being rather than the superficial nonsense that occupies so much of our time these days?

In the realm of wisdom, the lightning strike becomes a metaphor of the need to be grounded–both literally and spiritually.  In the realm of wisdom, we ask ourselves what it means that we watch so many hours of so-called “news,” feeling morbidly excited when that “breaking news” graphic flows across the screen.  We have been programmed for sensationalism, and advertisers count on us paying attention to what sparkles the most and people are making a fortune off our dis-ease.  Like we have been asking ourselves these past few weeks, what do we pay attention to?  What nourishes us?  What sustains us?  What is the bread that feeds us?

We need only look at today’s Gospel, with this particular portion of John chapter 6 (which I think we have been in for months now!), to see–and maybe even feel–what it is like to step past or under or beyond a rational fixation and experience the wisdom that Jesus embodies.  

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Those who were gathered there push back on what they see as utter nonsense.  Jesus responds to their critique by inviting them in further to the depth of wisdom he embodies:

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

We remember that the ancient Roman culture of that time prided itself on its so-called reason, on its planning and development and organization.  It saw itself as the height of civilization.  Those gathered around Jesus that day thought that what he was spouting off was absurd.  In fact, in the first centuries of Christian practice, many persecutions took place because some believed Christians to be cannibals.  Who would talk about eating flesh and drinking blood like this?  To them, it just didn’t make any sense at all.  

But, to Jesus–and to us when we are grounded in this deeper current of wisdom–Jesus’ teaching is the foundation of our reality.  It is how we understand ourselves in relation to God and to each other.  One body, distinct but not separate, in our essential union. St. Paul described the crucifixion in his Letter to the Church at Corinth as “foolishness to the gentiles.” 

So, what is really foolishness, we can ask ourselves.  When we look around us at what is going on, with the anxiety we feel and stress we experience, are we satisfied with anchoring ourselves to this level of existence?  Are we content with the constant reactivity and political manipulation?  Are we fine with the consumer-obsessed culture and shallow fixations?  Or, do we yearn for something more, something deeper, something grounded in the wisdom of Christ that proclaims that we are interconnected as one body?  What do we desire for ourselves and for our children?

Yes, I believe we are being challenged these days to sink further into wisdom, to rest in that deeper level of reality that the Spirit invites us to experience.  

My friends, I truly believe that the Spirit has “grabbed a-holt” of us, as we say, and She is not going to let go until we learn the lessons we are facing: namely that we must recognize our essential union with one another and with all of life, that we must lay aside the misguided perceptions and work toward a common good based on compassion. 

Perhaps all of this struggle finds its root in the age-old struggle to understand what it means to be a person in community, a being-in-relationship.  Are we simply isolated individuals who only need to be concerned about our supposed individual “freedom,” or are we meant for something more?   Yes, Christ has given us freedom, but the truth of Christianity, the authentic wisdom of our tradition, teaches us that we have freedom SO THAT we can be present to one another and act responsibly in the world we share.  So, in the words of the Proverb we hear this morning, let us “lay aside immaturity and live.”

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