June 12th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
I’m in a quandary today. I would like to preach the joyful creating sermon I envisioned—a sermon that lifts up an all too rare feminine image of God in the world—known as Sophia, Wisdom. A sermon that concentrates on the need for more joy in our lives, more “stop and smell the roses” time (which I believe we all desperately need). A sermon that coaxes us to remember the joy of creating when we were children—finger painting, cardboard animals, sock puppets, sand castles.
A sermon that chronicles ecstatic joy from Henry van Dyke’s beloved hymn “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee …”
TO the writer of John’s Apocalypse describing the throne room, being in the presence of God, as singing and praising,
TO King David dancing naked in the streets in joy that the ark, the seat of God, was coming back to Jerusalem,
TO our reading today that imagines Wisdom at God’s side, in the beginning, as creation was being made—Wisdom, who calls herself, “daily God’s delight.”
That’s certainly what I was imagining when I had to choose a sermon title and went with “Joyful Creating.” But as I tried to put words down on the page, as I tried to contain myself within that upbeat framework, the beginning words of our reading from Proverbs would not let me go. As translated by Eugene H. Peterson in The Message it goes like this:
Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?
Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?
She’s taken her stand at First and Main,
at the busiest intersection.
Right in the city square
where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,
“You – I’m talking to all of you,
everyone out here on the streets!”
This is not the portrait of a joyful artist, co-creating with God, or at least being voyeur to those incredible moments of the first instances of creation. This is not the “daily delight,” sometimes pictured as a child swirling around the Godhead. This is Wisdom in adult form—powerful, commanding, insistent. She isn’t in God’s throne room, at least at this moment. She isn’t absorbed in her own creative ventures, holed up in an attic, or an artist’s studio. And she isn’t terribly joyful. She wants to be heard.
She places herself in the center of action, at the crossroads where in ancient times judges met to hear cases, where merchants put up stands, where people, the vast majority of people, would need to walk by, in their ordinary, daily lives. And she lifts her voice—not in the soft, nonconfrontational tones that so many of us women have been schooled to use—she lifts her voice as the prophets of old did—an in-your-face rebuke. You, all of you, listen up.
And I think of all the voices banging around in my head—the insistence Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi and their Black Lives Matter movement; the courage of Greta Thunberg and her eco-justice message; Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharris and the National Call for Moral Revival who are gathering people in a Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC on June 18th; Isabel Wilkerson and her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (the latest book in my reading about race and society)—among others.
I hear Wisdom calling from the crossroads. Justice. When will there be justice? What are you going to do about it?
It’s a good question: What are we going to do about our world? And what do we do with this contrast of Justice and Joy? And maybe the problem is that we have shorn the two apart. We envision joy as something apart from the nitty-gritty of this world. And we often think of Justice in warlike terms not joyful ones. Maybe this “problem” is as simple as learning to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Why do we have to choose between Wisdom as the daily delight of God, even seen as the child-like one, and Wisdom as the strong voice for Justice in the market place. Don’t we know people who can be both joyful and passionate? Haven’t we experienced the wonder of a child as well as the strength of nerve needed to confront the myriad of injustices in our world?
I’m all the more interested in figuring this out because I know that scholars feel Jesus was steeped in what was called the Wisdom tradition in Judaism. We don’t have many instances of Jesus in the midst of joy (we don’t have stories where Jesus breaks out in a belly-laugh)—but we know that he insisted that children be allowed into the inner circle, which makes me believe that he felt that tug of child-like wonder in the world. But how could Jesus not know joy if he was so connected to the One who created and then stepped back and said, “Wow, that is good. That is very good!”
We have more stories of Jesus proclaiming justice—upsetting the stalls in the temples, needling the rich about their chances of getting into the kingdom of heaven, debating the religious authorities about everything under the sun, breaking the rules (written or not) that kept lepers ostracized, kept women away from learning, kept sabbath laws above true healing, while tearing down societal bias about disability, ethnicity (in particular Samaritans), and poverty. But in the centuries following him, the church has grappled with how to be in the world but not of the world, how much to try to order people’s lives and how much to be a sanctuary away from it all, how to be a place of justice and as well as a place of joy.
So my struggle is not new. But it is worth thinking about in this time after Pentecost, the time when we are urged to think about how the Spirit is working in our world, how the Spirit interacts with us in this long stretch of “ordinary time” before we reach the end of the church year in November and start Advent all over again. This is the part of the church year that feels most like our lives—the highs of Christmas and Easter are over (like our celebrations of birthdays and graduations and weddings and anniversaries they show up only occasionally); the sharp pang of death and grief (like our time in Lent) has dulled; and we are left with day after day after day into the foreseeable future.
How do we approach “ordinary” life? Is there justice and joy woven into the fabric of our days? What does our God call us to do and to be in this world?
What do I hear from this passage? First, I hear that we need to find ourselves “at first and main”—in the thoroughfare of life. We, as a church, cannot be isolated from what is happening in our community and our world. I know that we have spent a pandemic becoming more used to being insular. And I know that connecting more requires risk taking of all kinds. I know that it seems like there is a vast ocean of “what is wrong” that can be overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stand in the crossroads and see and hear what is happening. In fact, I think that is what we are called to do. We need to be in the center of things because that is where God is—pictured as Sophia in Proverbs, but seen more as the Spirit by us Christian folk, God present with us in the here and now.
So the first step is being there. The second is listening to what is happening at the crossroads. It is more difficult to listen than it is to speak (for most of us). It is more difficult to listen especially if what we are hearing is strident, or disturbing, or depressing. It is more difficult to be in conversation with those who might not share your opinions. All of that is true. And yet, being at the crossroads is going to mean coming into contact with a wider world. It will require supporting one another in our attempts to reach out. It might ask more of us. That is how justice begins to be enacted. You have to know about the injustice. You have to learn what can be done to help—or to support those who are suffering under the injustice.
And then after being there, after listening and conversing, it is time for doing something. One step is better than none. You can’t take a journey without going out the door. Our humbly walking with God (part of the Micah charge) does necessitate actually walking, being ready to move with the Spirit, to follow even if we don’t know the end destination.
Which leads me back to justice and joy. I think what I hear for me from this passage, is not only that I need to show up, I need to listen, I need to start to act, but that I am invited to show up and listen, and act in joy. I may not have been there at the beginning of creation, but each one of us is given the chance to be God’s daily delight. This will mean believing that God “doesn’t make junk”—that we have been given gifts and that our exercise of those gifts brings joy to our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
So much of the time I think the church comes off as a place where we take a microscope to people’s lives, and have lists of how to be better people. What if the church were to focus more on supporting us, each of us, to be God’s daily delight—to allow the joy of that first creation to fill us with wonder and excitement and love? What if we focused on being the children that Jesus says we have to be to enter the kingdom of heaven?
From that place of joy, we might show up not as a requirement, but as an adventure. We might listen, not with our eyes rolling into the back of our heads, but with curious intent. We might act, not as conquering heroes or heroines, but as supporting roles, as co-producers, as allies, as friends.
There is a hymn called “For Everyone Born” that hints at this way of walking side by side with God. It was written in 1998 by a New Zealander named Shirley Erena Murray, and set to music by Brian Mann.
The first verse says, “For everyone born, a place at the table,
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
For everyone born, a star overhead,
(and then comes the refrain which I’m sure was partly inspired by the Proverbs text we have been talking about)
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace; yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!
So that is my wish for all of us, as we step into this ordinary time of the church—as we see the summer weeks stretching out before us:
—that we might be swept up in the whirling dance of the Spirit, as we humbly walk, or skip, or run with our God;
--that we might be lured into the roads and avenues of life by the call of Wisdom, engaging in the nitty-gritty of building a better world, a more just world, one brick at a time;
--that our eyes might be opened to all the gifts we have to share, allowing us to truly believe that joy is our birthright and our legacy;
--that we might become God’s daily delight, each in our own way.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.