St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-16-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-16-2019

All in the Family

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

For some time now, we’ve been working through parts of the Gospel of John in our assigned readings. Interestingly, today it is set with the rare occurrence of a reading from Proverbs for the Old Testament selection.

It wasn’t the first thing to catch my attention but I did find a connection from the Proverbs reading and John’s Gospel. Listen, if you will, to this comparison.

Proverbs 8:22-23; The voice of wisdom is saying “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth”.

Now, John 1:1-2 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God”.

Even without being aware that both of these passages are written poetically in their original languages, we can still see the similarities around the phrase “in the beginning”.

Much is the commentary about this connection, little is the agreement. Many believe that the reading from Proverbs speaks of Christ, using John’s writing to back them up. On another side of the debate, believing the former means believing that Christ was “created” by God not “begotten”. “Heresy” has been shouted over the centuries with pointing fingers toward all sides.

But there’s something else I noticed when comparing the two readings that get’s much less attention in theological circles, yet has the potential to be just as divisive. In the Old Testament reading, as we heard, “wisdom” is presented in the feminine. Hear this again in the first three verses:

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

Sorry, gentlemen, but wisdom is feminine; “Sophia” is the Hebrew word translated to English and when speaking in terms of personifying the concept, Lady Wisdom is the common title.

On the other hand, John uses “the word” to describe what “was with God” in the beginning. Even though “the Word of God” conveys the same meaning as the wisdom of God, “word” from “logos” is masculine in the original Greek.

          He was in the beginning with God”.

And, later in his Gospel, John makes another switch, changing the more commonly used title “Holy Spirit” to “Paraclete” (translated in the NRSV as “Advocate”). In doing so he changes the gender-neutral Spirit, to masculine.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Please be careful to understand, in pointing this out I am not trying to show John as a patriarchal chauvinist; I am simply highlighting the fact that the many aspects of God have a variety of gender identities: God the Father (masculine), God the Son (masculine), God the Holy Spirit (neutral), and Lady Wisdom (feminine).

Still, even today there is debate about the gender of God. One such instance got ugly a few years ago, when the UCC published a statement on its social media page the stated “God is transgender”. Even I, as liberal thinking as I am and believing strongly in the inclusion of God’s love, had a hard time with that one. I would not, however, had an objection if it had been phrased “God transcends gender”. Yet, even with that becoming a part of the discussion there were still those shouting “Heresy” and pointing fingers. Much is the commentary, little is the agreement.

Personally I have no problem thinking of God as a male, though I will not insist on that as a foundation of belief in God. You see, to refer to God as father allows me, and I imagine most of you, to relate to God in a loving relationship seeded by words like “As the Father loves his son…”

But there are people, some whom I know and love dearly, who did not have a loving relationship with their biological father. And, among those, there are some who had such horrible relationships with their father that thoughts raised by the use of the title are disturbing rather than comforting. So, for them, I also have no problem if they think of God as “mother” (or aunt, or uncle, or best friend) If that helps them feel, deep in their hearts, the love that God offers.

It is for this reason that the New Century Hymnal, which we are in the process of introducing into St. Matthew’s, avoids using gender specific language in references to God and therefore allowing each soul to make their personal,  intimate connection with the creator according to and in conjunction with their individual life experiences.

It’s been a long time coming, but the time is due for openness of thought in these matters. For, when we insist on one gender we make God smaller, shrinking God to fit into earthly, human terms rather than expanding human thought toward the spiritual in God’s terms. And, in so doing, we take away from the certain truth that, spiritually, we are all one.

A long time coming, but I am not speaking of a new concept. Christ touched on it when he responded to the Sadducees’ question, whose wife will the seven-times widowed woman be in the resurrection and he replied “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”. (Mark 12:18-25). And Paul is more direct as he writes “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NRSV)

Today is the secular holiday of Fathers Day when we appropriately celebrate the love of and our love for our Fathers as we did with our Mothers a few weeks ago and as we will with our children in a couple of weeks. Wonderful and joyful should be these celebrations!

But when it comes to the spiritual I invite you to recognize the greater wonder and joy of an all inclusive God whose love is greater than any we have ever known.

 Amen

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
8:2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
8:3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
8:4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–
8:26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
8:30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Psalm 8
8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Romans 5:1-5
5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15
16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.