July 7, 2013

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week IV – Knowledge of God

Chandra X-ray of Cassiopeia A

Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 9
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 23, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
“Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Week IV – Knowledge of God”

I’m glad to be back from a little bit of vacation,
  Though as I have remarked to several people,
  I now feel that what I really need is a post-vacation vacation!
Down to Wichita, Kansas, to fix broken glasses and Gabriel’s absessed tooth,
  And to bake a cherry pie,
  And over to Springfield, Missouri, to bake a gooseberry pie and a peach pie,
    And to give the church’s blessings upon the elopement of my sister-in-law, Julie,
    To my new brother-in-law, Kyle.
Then home just in time for the Supreme Court announcements
  And for The Micah Project’s day-long gathering and conversation on homelessness,
  Then dumping out the old suitcase and packing a fresh new one for Grinnell,
  For our annual diocesan time of gathering and fellowship and learning,
  Which I will tell you in no uncertain terms, that if you missed,
    You really missed something dynamite,
    And you need to put it on your calendar now –
      The last weekend in June, 2014, and every year after that.

Anyway. Then back home again.
And after all that, a stolen moment or two to stop and breathe
  And not have to think about anything in particular.
Something most desperately needed these days.

All the hustle and bustle over our meeting and conversation and dinner with the bishop
  This coming Wednesday, and talk about our financial future,
    And hearing about our matriarch Nina Anderson’s decision to move to Omaha,
    And how good it will be for her when it’s done and she’s settled,
    And then, How shall we construct this greenhouse?
And catching up, and catching up, and catching up.
And then these lessons, and this sermon.

And the stolen remembrance in and among it all
  That in this Season of Pentecost we are busily celebrating
  All that the Holy Spirit has given us –
    That that officially has happened already, and will keep happening,
    And that we’re all slowly walking our way through this list to the end of July.
It seems like so much, sometimes too much – this overworked life of ours.
Then I turn back to my list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
  And there I see this on the list: The Knowledge of God.
And I say to myself, didn’t we sort of do that already?
And I check, and sure enough we didn’t.
We covered Counsel, and Understanding, and Wisdom,
  All of which sound a lot like Knowledge, but aren’t.
They’re different.
Because this isn’t just Knowledge –
  This isn’t just stuff you know for the sake of knowing it –
  This isn’t just going on Jeopardy! and hitting the Daily Double.
This is the  Knowledge  of  the  Lord,
  And hearing that should at least slow us down a little,
    We in our summertime rush.

And in the fog and frenetic haze of all this busyness, of all these questions –
  Of all these thoughts, I remember that of what I do know, I know this much:
  That I have been praying for Pentecost to come to St. Thomas.
That I have been doing this with some insistence.
I know and I remember that I am praying for the Holy Spirit to come among us
  And to speak to us powerfully and unmistakably and sustainably,
  And to shed her sevenfold gifts.
And I remember that I know the basic reading for all this,
  From Isaiah chapter eleven, where it’s promised that
  “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.”
And there it is again:
  The Knowledge of God. That it is the Holy Spirit
    Who gives us the Knowledge of the Lord.
And I remember only this much more:
  That a gift given to us in perfect charity, but that goes unused, is a gift wasted.
And how joyless and sad that would be.

Ah, but we do have this gift! We have not chosen to waste it or to let it go unused!
“The Knowledge of the Lord.”
As I have read and studied, I do not take this phrase to mean
  That God’s knowledge is our knowledge.
What then would be the point of thirsting after knowledge in the first place?
If we knew everything there was to know,
  There would be no pursuit of progress, no evolution of consciousness,
  No improvement of any kind.
Perhaps one difference between us and God
  Is that if we had all knowledge, we would be entirely satisfied merely to possess it,
  Whereas God, entirely sufficient unto himself, sees the whole of creation as unfinished,
  And he asks us to intervene, get involved, help out, make it better, in his name,
    Until such time as God declares the consumation of all time.
It reminds us that God is God and we are not,
  And that we can be relieved we don’t possess that burden.

So if not that, then, what is really implied?
The Knowledge of the Lord is simply the outcome of the quest to know God.
It isn’t about memorizing the encyclopedia; it’s primarily about having a relationship.
To put it another way: Knowing about God is terrific;
  But knowing God is a far sight better, and that’s what this gift of the Spirit is all about –
   Because empirical knowledge of a subject just pales in comparison to the actual thing.

Let me borrow and adapt an image from one of my mentors, Thomas Keating.
Let’s say you’re walking around downtown Sioux City
  Some glorious morning in the month of June.
You’re surrounded by tall brick and stone buildings;
  All around you are noisy cars and busy people.
From several stories above, the sash of a window noiselessly slides open,
  And God himself sticks his head out of that window.
He sees you walking, down below,
  And he calls out your name from way up above, “Hey!”
You’re a little shocked and flattered –
  Well, first of all, that God has chosen to come and rent a loft apartment in Sioux City,
  But more than that, that he knows you;
    That out of so many billions of people he actually knows your name;
    That he knew you well enough to see you coming and recognize you right away,
    And that he tore himself away from whatever he was doing to call out to you.
What’s it like to stand on the sidewalk and have God yell out your name?

It’s a little stunning, sure.
But now you can see that God is trying to tell you something. Something specific.
Not just hello; it’s almost like he’s trying to have a conversation with you.
So you stand there on the sidewalk, craning your neck uncomfortably upward,
  Trying to hear what you can, but the traffic is just too loud.
So you make the universal symbol for “What? I can’t hear you”
  So God yells out, really loud, so you can hear it:
    I said, Come on up! I want to see you!
    Take the elevator to the seventh floor! It’s apartment 712!

You go in; the lobby of the building is tasteful – modern architecture;
  Somewhere there’s a Stevie Wonder song playing;
  You find the elevator; you get on; you push 7; it starts to move, quickly.
And in the time it takes to reach its destination, you only have a second to wonder:
  What’s this all about?
  Why this? Why now? Why me?
The elevator stops; you get out;
  The Lord God Almighty and Merciful is standing in the doorway of number 712,
    Waving you in, overjoyed to see you! Turns out, he’s a bit of a hugger.

You go in; it’s nice, not too cluttered; sensible; well lit; comfortable furniture;
  You walk down a hall and pass an office, where you sneak a peek:
    You see a phone, a laptop, a TV and remote, a desktop scheduler,
      And those old-fashioned In and Out boxes,
      Which at first appear to be empty, but then you see
        Little faint galaxies of light fading on and off in each of them.
Down the hall, past the kitchenette, and into the living room,
  You see God has a dog and a cat and a bird all getting along perfectly well,
    And a few framed photos on the wall: Moses, Adam and Eve, that sort of thing.
On the far wall under the open window, there’s a picture of you, an eight-by-ten,
  Taken at – well, it looks like some party, at least a few years ago.
In the photo, you’re red-faced and hamming it up,
  Spurring the people around you to fits of laughter.
“That,” God says, pointing at the photo of you,
  “That was taken shortly after your – wait, do you remember?”
You don’t. He drops the subject.

There’s tea. Heady, aromatic, green tea.
Biscuits and cheeses and dates and Girl Scout cookies on a plate in front of you.
You sit.

“I am so glad I saw you,” God says, and blushes a little.
“Actually, I confess I’ve been watching for most of the day already,
  Hoping you’d come around the corner.”

“Watching, for me?” you say. “What, am I in some kind of trouble?”

“No, no, not at all,” God says. “I just really wanted to get to know you better.”
When he says it, it feels like some small revolution of thought.
Like there’s a part of you deep down inside
  That’s just clawing to get out and go crawl up in his lap and take a nap.

You take a thoughtful sip of tea. This buys you a few seconds.
“I think there’s been a mistake,” you say.
“I’m, uh, … I’m an Episcopalian, and, uh…
  I mean, isn’t there a book I could read or a conference I could go to, or …?
  Has the bishop gotten to you? Because I really did not mean what I said to him about –”

He interjects: “Look, you can forget about all those labels for a minute.
  I made you; I created you; I want to know you, and I want you to know me. That’s all.”

He wants to know you better. That’s the second time he’s said that.

“No offense? Lord?” you say, “but don’t you already know everything about me?”

God takes a savoring drink of tea. He sits back in his chair.
The look on his fath is both introspective and a little sad.

“There is a kind of knowing,” he says,
  “That can only be created by when both parties make it together –
      Freely, willingly.
    What I long for with you
      Is the deepest possible union and charity and love and respect.
    Friendship, in other words:
      I want for both of us to walk along as old, old friends.
    We need to spend a little more time together, though, before that happens.”

It sounds simple the way he says it.
It’s just a few sentences about what he wants.
It doesn’t sound like dogma or some political position
  Or a statement issued by a body of learnéd churchmen somewhere.
It just rolls out plain, like the fact that it is, and it comes to rest between the two of you.

The silence is palpable.

“By the way,” God says, “that’s an invitation, not a commandment.
You can take it if you want. I hope you do.
Why on earth you wouldn’t, is beyond me.”

“When you talk to me,” he says, “that’s called prayer.
You don’t have to fancy it up with all kinds of forms or addresses.
You just talk and I’ll listen.”

He raises a finger.
“And I sincerely hope,” he says, “that you’ll do the same for me.
The listening part especially.
I hope you’ll leave lots of big spaces in our conversations for you to listen.”

You take it in. You hear it. Is there anything you need to say?
Although, when you think about it, is there anything you don’t need to say?

The busyness, the frenetic energy that brought you downtown have dissipated.
Seemingly necessary appointments, forgotten.
There’s a quiet yet almost electric hum in the air between the two of you.
It becomes quite clear that there’s all the time in the world.

The tea is still warm, the cookies uneaten.
It’s a lovely morning in June, and the windows are open.

You find yourself saying, “What do you want to know?”

In the days and weeks and months and years that stretch from that conversation,
  You find it just rolling on.
It didn’t stop when you left Apartment 712 that day,
  Or went to lunch that day,
    Or went to bed that night,
    Or for that matter, went anywhere, did anything, encountered anyone.
Wherever you went, it just kept going on:
  You talking, God listening; God talking, you listening.

One long beautiful unbroken conversation between old friends.

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