Our readings today are about choice – the choice to serve God.
The Book of Joshua picks up where the Exodus leaves off – as the 12 tribes are entering the Promised Land. For many, the Promised Land is a metaphor for coming home, for returning to God, for coming back to ourselves after having been lost in a desert, a sense of healing and resting now that the search is over. It’s a metaphor for the spiritual journey.
And these 12 tribes now gathered after their journey, become one people – the nation of Israel.
To extend the metaphor, the parts of ourselves gather and we become whole again when we find our home, when we find ourselves. We’ve given up the other gods that take our attention and our time and our money – those things we think will bring us peace but never do: addictions, possessions, unhealthy relationships; behaviors like blaming, gossiping, complaining; beliefs and ideologies that are really just ways to excuse selfish behavior.
Whatever it is that has taken us from ourselves… from God… we’ve given it up. We’re ready to make a different choice. We’re ready to serve God. We’re ready to return from the wilderness and be home.
Everyone’s spiritual journey is different because everyone’s wilderness is different. But it’s always about coming home, about knowing more clearly the choices to make, hearing God’s voice above the noisy din of the world. This voice is Wisdom. The Wisdom of God.
The Wisdom of God isn’t about learning to navigate the world or figuring out how to work the system. It’s not about manipulating the world or investment strategies or computers or getting a lot done every day. No.
The Wisdom of God is the voice that expands our awareness beyond ourselves while also helping us to be more aware of our inner weather, our self-talk and our fears.
The Wisdom of God is Sophia, depicted on the cover today. In the color image, she is depicted as a red winged woman who descends wherever and whenever she is needed.
Found throughout Proverbs and the books of Wisdom and Sirach, Sophia, or the Wisdom of God, is finally heard by us when we’ve given up on the ways of the world and ready to come home, to serve God. She’s always speaking to us – always, even in our darkest moments, even when we are so lost in our own stories and fears and routines – Sophia speaks, she whispers God’s wisdom.
But when we’ve finally decided to turn to God, we hear her and, like a balm for our soul, we know how to serve God. And we make different choices.
Wisdom is portrayed in today’s parable as bridesmaids – wise women who have learned about the choice to serve God on their spiritual journeys through their own wildernesses. They’ve learned how to prepare themselves, prepare their own hearts and minds to be ready to hear God’s voice speaking to them. They’ve learned how to be of service to God.
And Wisdom is not selfish, although it appears from this parable as though it might be. But, frankly, Wisdom cannot be given to those who aren’t ready to receive it. We couldn’t give it even if we wanted to because each person has their own spiritual journey. Everyone has their own deserts and wildernesses to go through on their way home. Sophia speaks to each of us differently.
My own spiritual journey took me on quite a path. I didn’t come to Christianity until I was in my 30’s. I had been spiritually seeking for many years already and had learned many things about myself and had developed a passion and yearning for spiritual work. It wasn’t until I was utterly dependent, when I was living in a friend’s house in the middle of Oregon, had an exceedingly low-paying job, had just totaled my car, and had several broken ribs. That’s when I realized I was ready to serve God in some way.
I had no idea what that meant. All I knew is that it felt good to be in an Episcopal church on Sunday mornings where the priest was patient and the people were kind, letting me find my way for well over a year until I could figure out just what I was doing there. They didn’t need me to be a member. They didn’t expect me to sign-on or get involved. But they cherished me as a guest in their midst. It was as if they knew they were enough and God would do the rest.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The choice to serve God is often what opens us up to the truth – that we are enough and we have enough. Whatever we have is enough.
I offer this message today because, as the leadership of this amazing congregation goes through the hard work of creating a budget, knowing that we’ll need to rely on our reserves again this year, and as we all look at the task of stewardship of this congregation, I want you to know that even in all of the horror that the world is, and there is a lot of it right now, the most important thing you need to know is found at that Table. In the Sacrament of abundance called the Eucharist.
Walter Breuggemann says, “The Eucharist is the great sign of God’s abundance. It’s the only place in our lives where it’s just given to us and it is given to us regularly.”
Every week we gather together and celebrate this Great Thanksgiving. We bear witness to the abundant love of God, made known to us in the simple elements of bread and wine as we remember Jesus’ ministry and sacrifice. And we come to the Table to share this meal that reconciles us to God, to one another, and to ourselves. This is the grace that comes to us in the form of the Sacrament.
Think about that for a moment – this unbounded, abundant grace that comes to us again and again and again. It never runs out. It’s hard for us to imagine sometimes because it’s a very human tendency to think that God’s grace is limited, to think that it will run out and there won’t be enough.
Some questions for reflection:
What are the ways that you believe you’re not enough?
What are the way that you believe we don’t have enough?
What if we stopped focusing on what’s not here and focused on what is here?
Of course the foolish bridesmaids took no oil. It wasn’t about planning, it was a lack of awareness. They never acknowledged the importance of or took responsibility for what they already had. They never opened their eyes to see God’s abundance, or their ears to listen to God’s Wisdom.
They never made the choice to serve God. They were just along for the ride. They were unaware. And life does this. It pulls our attention away from God by listening to voices that make us feel so small and ill-equipped, so unlovable and damaged. Sometimes it’s all we can do to go along for the ride. But Sophia continues speaking, waiting for us to choose to listen. “You are beloved.” She says. “Come take your place at the Table.”
This meal of thanksgiving is a sign of God’s abundance and like any Sacrament, it is meant to change us. As we receive this meal we are called to a life of gratitude and generosity, learning to lovingly share who we are and what we have, living into the assurance that as we offer, we will also receive from that flow of abundance.
Stewardship is a practice of awareness of and gratitude for this flow of abundance. It’s a practice of caring for community and for ourselves as we offer our time and talent for the common good.
You see, the world fools us into thinking that there isn’t enough, that we are not enough. And off we go into a wilderness of shame and self-judgment. We leave behind a memory of Belovedness in hopes that we can somehow fill ourselves with the world’s schemes.
And the Eucharist calls us home to remember our Belovedness in God’s abundance. Can you hear God’s Wisdom above the din of the world? Can you hear Sophia?
The Promised Land isn’t somewhere far away – it’s here. Right here.
We have enough here. We are enough here. Your lamp, my friends, is already full of oil.
The question is not one of means, it’s one of choice.
And so the question is: Are you ready to serve God?