Proverbs 9: 1-6; Eph 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58
“Watch carefully how to live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance (and I’d add, arrogance), but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 15-17
You know, I didn’t know how I was going to preach today. Quite honestly, I didn’t know who would show up. Once again this Church gave us a thousand reasons to jump ship again. If you’ve been on the fence, well, good-bye, gone goes another generation. Yet, here we are, and maybe those of us who are here recognize that there’s more to all of this than the institution. Maybe we understand, as we sang today, that our firm foundation is in something, or for that matter, someone else, in God, in Christ crucified, in the heart of Jesus. You know I’m a Scranton guy so it’s been a little more personal. The bishop who accepted me into formation was listed. Heck, the bishop that ordained me, on the list for covering up and concealing and for what and to protect what.
Yet, what do we get, thoughts and prayers. Our hearts go out to victims. Thoughts and prayers? Where have we heard that before. Oh yeah, politicians every time there’s a tragedy. Empty words. Politicians who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Politicians who are sorry for getting caught more than for what they had done. Politicians who’d rather use prayer to push something away and to continue to live in denial that something needs to change. Thought and prayers. All the while that abuse of power continues to persist. Sure there’s been a lot that has been put in place since 2002 but it hasn’t dealt with the heart of these issues and the abuse of power. What do you end up with? Just as Paul says, ignorance and arrogance on our part, failing people along the way.
I’ve been criticized over the years for not speaking on moral issues like this and here’s why. Our foundation is not in morality nor is it in dogma. For that matter, our morality has been hijacked by politicians that it’s nearly impossible anyway without become one of them. Our foundation is in relationship with God, with Christ crucified, with the heart of Jesus. Now you’re going to hear people say that the Church will carry on, and that’s true, it’s been through many scandals and crises in its history. But like all the rest it still remains true that when it arises, it arises for the fact that the institution disconnects from its heart. It disconnects from the heart of Jesus and ignorance and arrogance continue to persist. I don’t preach it because I know full well it’s not our foundation and I can never live up to it. None of us can! Ever! And if you want to preach high and almighty, do as I say and not as I do, you’re bound to fall and fall hard. And for what? To sacrifice one’s soul and one’s heart? To protect what? Quite frankly, it needs to fall a part just as much as our political system does. They no longer serve the people but rather power. Our firm foundation is in relationship with God, in Christ crucified, in the heart of Jesus that is always calling us to come home, to seek mercy, forgiveness, and love. When we lose that, well, this is what we end up with, more of the same, ignorance and arrogance. Thoughts and prayers. It’s not enough.
The readings all touch upon it. Today from the Book of Proverbs, Solomon compares lady wisdom with fools. Now lady wisdom, as we heard today, has a sense of openness. There’s freedom. Lady wisdom is welcoming of all to the table and does not exclude or exude force upon people. Lady wisdom finds power within that relationship with God. Now we didn’t continue the reading today, but if you read on Solomon will compare that with following a fool. Don’t follow a fool Solomon says. A fool knows nothing and yet is enticing. A fool looks to take advantage of one who is naïve and lacks sense. A fool is unstable and senseless, all about themselves. A fool cares only about self-interest, that same power that is abused. There’s a difference. Lady wisdom is more than just thoughts and prayers. Lady wisdom understands the one who’s been abused and taken advantage of, welcoming all to the table, especially those who recognize that need.
Jesus personifies Lady wisdom as we’ve been hearing in the sixth chapter of John the past month. You know, the one thing that gives hope is that it is often the crowd that begins to understand who this Jesus is. They may not necessarily know what the words mean. They may not necessarily know what he’s all about, but they do know there’s something different about him than who he’s often compared, to the Pharisees of his day. They recognize he’s feeding them with something that is nourishing rather than the stones of the Pharisees. It’s the Pharisees that want to fight Jesus because he becomes a threat to their power, ironically. He threatens their control over the people who are also, do as I say, not as I do, holding people to a standard that no one is capable of! Of course, it will lead to his death. He becomes the scapegoat simply for gravitating to the poor, the abused, the disadvantaged. Even he recognizes that it’s impossible for the heart of a Pharisee to be converted in their own ignorance and arrogance.
And it’s no different today. What do we do, and this you will see as well because I’ve already seen it out there? We scapegoat. Well, if we get rid of this one it’ll take care of the problem. If we get rid of gay people all will be well. If we dump Vatican II it’ll fix everything. If we get rid of whomever lacks the purity somehow it’ll make it all right. Wrong. That’s denial. That’s trying to live with a 1950 Church in the year 2018. We must return to the foundation. Without a foundation we fall. When the storms arise, and they always arise, we run. Honestly, running is easy. It’s much harder to weather a storm. It’s much easier to blame. It’s much easier to live in denial and offer our thoughts and prayers than to change.
Now, there’s only so much I can do as an insider in this institution, and I’m well aware of that. However, it doesn’t mean I stop fighting. I will continue to fight, especially for the younger priests who are going to have to live with this ongoing mess. However, the real power is with you. It’s with you. What do the Pharisees as well as any institution or political system want you to believe, that you’re powerless. You’re not. You have the power to force institutions to change, including this one. You have the power to push institutions to move beyond denial, beyond thoughts and prayers. If you’re here today you already know where and who the foundation is, the one who continues to feed us with life-giving bread rather than stones of shame and guilt. It’s all of you that need to push us forward.
And so we pray for God’s grace this day for more than thoughts and prayers. We pray for God’s grace to return to the foundation that, never, no never, forsakes, as the hymn goes. We pray for this Church and all of us to return to the heart of Jesus in these moments. As I said, it’s too easy to leave and run. The disciples did it. Heck, we’ll hear it in John’s gospel shortly as well because it’s too hard. We’re more than an institution when we put relationship first and allow all else to flow from the source. We’ve had enough thoughts and prayers. We’ve certainly had enough ignorance and arrogance. We pray that we take Lady Wisdom’s advice to us today, to open the doors, to be vulnerable in the face of adversity, to lay aside old ways of thinking, and to personify Wisdom in the heart of Jesus. It is this relationship with God, with Christ crucified, with the heart of Jesus that will change us and move us forward while returning us to what matters most.