Sermon for Year C, First Sunday After Pentecost (Trinity Sunday)
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
May 26, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week I – Wisdom”
Who, in your life, has loved you unconditionally?
I don’t mean to assume anything about this crowd,
But don’t you think that each of us in our lifetimes
Should have experiences of being around people who love us and care for us
With no thought for themselves?
Folks who just want to see us have better and do better than they’ve had and done?
Usually, these folks are parents or grandparents or adoptive parents or close siblings
Or someone who takes a healthy interest.
Maybe a teacher or some mentor in business or in life.
Looking back, I’ve been the benefit of many such mentors:
I worked for Charles, who’s funny and clever and taught me to think way ahead;
Another guy also named Charles could spot a mistake a mile away and gently correct.
There was Peter. He wanted to change the future to make less war, by studying the past.
There was Rick – enigmatic, full-throated:
Taught me that only by embracing my imperfections and shadows
Could I really learn to love and depend on God.
There was Will, whose voice and advice play in my head all the time like a stuck record.
There was even a guy who called himself Snake if you can believe that:
A guy who saw a positive path for me to grow up with and encouraged me to take it,
Even though we only knew each other for just a few hours.
You approach a certain point in your life, and you ask yourself,
What have all these mentors taught me? What have they given me?
And I suppose you do that, in part, because you’re busy asking yourself,
Okay, out of this rich treasury, what am I now supposed to give back to the world?
Today, the First Sunday After Pentecost, is celebrated as Trinity Sunday.
That’s traditionally been a day on which to explain the Holy Trinity,
And to give some lip service along the way to the concept of the Holy Spirit.
Good luck with that, right? Doesn’t that sound like fun? Doctrine?!
Being told about the Holy Spirit rather than experiencing it?
Preaching is supposed to be the business of enlightenment and inspiration;
It isn’t necessarily teaching and lecturing; they’re two different things.
A lesson or lecture is fine, but you can’t have them regularly from the pulpit.
You need food of a different sort.
So. Today I want to start something that will not end for a good long while.
That in fact won’t be over until the end of July.
Three Sundays starting now, then a break for three weeks, then four Sundays in July.
The subject of these sermons in this season of Pentecost is simply this:
In the world of mentors who give unconditional love,
What has the Holy Spirit given to you that you now have to offer to the world?
What does the Spirit do in us that we get to do in the world?
I have one simple goal for this process,
And that is to give you a chance –
I can only give you a chance, but you have to take it –
To give you a chance to fall head over heels in love with the Holy Spirit.
Not as an idea. Not as an abstraction or a concept. Not as a doctrine on paper.
But as something very real and a true Person of the Holy Trinity and expression of God:
To fall in love with this aspect of God.
You may have heard me say last week that I am praying for Pentecost.
These sermons are my public way of doing just that.
This is my commitment to you.
You wanna ride this roller coaster with me?
Okay. Let’s climb in. Sit down. Seat belts. Restraint bar.
I don’t really care if you keep your hands in the car at all times;
Though we aren’t terribly evangelical here, are we?
So just do whatever seems best.
We’re climing now, climbing … tick tick tick.
If you’re afraid of heights, you’ll need to grab onto someone who isn’t
Be warned, now: it’s a roller coaster.
I think it’ll go fast and we’ll have fun,
But it’ll also be bumpy and we might get a little queasy along the way!
That’s the price of riding.
We’re cresting the hill … Week One starts … now.
The basic ground for this work comes from Isaiah chapter eleven: quote,
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
From his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him —
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and of might,
The Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
The first gift of the Spirit of God is Wisdom.
When I was a kid I used to pester my mom with all kinds of questions.
I remember having a lot of conversations with her back to me,
Because she was washing dishes at the kitchen window,
And I was staring down at our – I now understand – unnaturally clean linoleum floor.
One day I said, “Mom, what’s the difference between understanding and wisdom?”
There was quite a long pause.
At last she said, “Shug, wouldn’t you normally want to come in out of a thunderstorm?”
“Yes,” I said. “Of course. Who wants to get rained on or hit by lightning?”
She said, “That’s understanding something.”
She said, “How many years did it take you to figure that out?”
I thought about it and said, “Maybe I didn’t know any better until I was about five.”
“Five years,” she said. “That’s wisdom.”
Five years was the amount of time it took me to figure something out about storms.
The process of accruing knowledge.
Learning it and re-learning it until I understood it inside and out. Half a decade.
Learned it til I earned it – a journey, a process.
Learned it til something deeper slid into place from way down inside me,
And said, Only a fool would chance it, playing around in lightning and hail.
Time is the difference between understanding and wisdom.
Knowledge is the raw material, but only time turns it into something truly usable.
Time puts the jerky in the beef, the deep flavor in the coffee bean, the bubble in the beer.
I disctinctly recall being about ten years old,
And squeezing a few handfuls of grapes into a styrofoam bowl,
And then putting them on the shelf of a dark backyard shed,
And waiting … waiting.
I wondered how long it could possibly take to make wine anyway.
I remember waiting fifteen whole minutes before taking a sip,
And being shocked that whatever was supposed to have happened, hadn’t yet happened.
Fifteen minutes and no wine? What a bummer. Maybe I had the wrong kinds of grapes.
I clearly had the concept that grapes need some time to become wine,
But how much would be acceptable? When was a grape not a grape anymore?
Wisdom is what happens over time, and after time has passed,
And if that’s true, then wisdom is also the seasoned strength that lives in us
When we have flexed the muscles of patience and waiting and learning
Over and over and over and over.
Strength, and deep understanding, derived from waiting.
We get to the place where knowledge ultimately becomes wisdom.
Memory, looking back, brings discernment.
Years ago in Texas, I was part of a church that was committed to the idea
Of doing things together in an intergenerational way.
Almost on a lark, we decided at one point to invite everyone
To listen to four very different people who had passed the age of seventy-five
As they spoke for just a few minutes apiece
On the subject of what they had learned in life
That they would consider worthy of telling to others.
(We might think about doing the same thing here.)
We billed it as “A Night of Wisdom Shared,”
And as I recall, the room was packed.
I hope this isn’t doing any of those folks a disservice,
But what I remember happening
Was that all four people shared pretty much the same set of ideas:
That after everything is said and done, it really is going to be okay …
Life will bring you pain, but it’s how you decide to meet that pain that matters …
You’re not God …
But you need God …
That you’re going to hurt people and be hurt in life, and you have to make amends …
To change with life a little as life changes you, and you’ll be richer for it …
It was a feast.
We video-recorded it and put the tape in the church library,
And it was checked out many times.
Later, after one of the people featured in the video died,
Portions of that presentation were played at her funeral.
All of which had ought to teach us something:
Most of the time, the world wants to know what you know:
That’s generally how you make a living.
But on rare occasions, with no selfish intention, the world will ask for your wisdom,
And in that moment you will find the best of yourself
Being pulled out of you, and placed on display, on offer, for the life of the world.
And what is more, it’s usually just one life at a time that’s asking,
Not a roomful of strangers.
But Hey – a gift is a gift. Use it.
The gift of God – the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit –
Wisdom placed deeply within you, acquired over long periods of time,
Times you went through things you didn’t understand and couldn’t explain,
And now, inexplicably still, here at this moment, drawn out from you.
Simple knowledge fermented into indisputably good judgment.
More than just common sense, too, or knowing your facts,
Or being shrewd or sophisticated or philosophical.
But rather, being a conduit for love and compassion and fearless grace.
That’s God messing about in your heart. God’s Spirit stirring the pot.
It’s all so beautifully and simply described by Jesus,
When he tells us about a lot of seed that was scattered indiscriminately:
How it landed everywhere – a path, rocky ground, among thorns,
And even a little bit among good soil.
How mostly it went nowhere or got carried off,
Except what landed in the good soil, and over time became harvestable,
And made for a fabulous yield: a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown:
A bumper-crop: seeds in the ground that eventually were more than useful.
Seeds that grew from nothing to become something folks could use to live on.
Can you see your life’s wisdom like that?
As a gift of the Spirit, meant to feed people who are hungry for it?
For that’s precisely what it is.
Let us pray.
Gracious Spirit, keep giving to us those things you know we need,
And more than that, those things we need to give away.
Above all, give us the spirit of Jesus.