"The Wisdom of New Beginnings" - Holy Trinity Sunday. Based on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and John 16:12-15. The readings follow.
When I was a student in seminary, I began the painful struggle of coming to terms with my sexual orientation. Back then, I knew that if I came out, I could would be kicked out of the ordination process. So, my fears kept me in the closet of depression, isolation and shame. Finally, in the fall of my senior year, I started to explore what being gay might mean for me. I discovered an organization in Minneapolis called Gay and Lesbian Community Services that offered a four-week coming out group. So, I signed up.
On that first Saturday morning, walking through the front door of their building, I remember feeling terrified. A common experience for those coming out. I didn’t know what to expect or who might be there.
What I found were people like myself dealing with what it meant to be LGBTQ. And I met my first gay friends. For me, it was the initial step of a long journey. A decision that led to major changes in my life.
Sometimes, an inner Spirit reveals a path leading us to a life transition that we, by ourselves, could never imagine. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about that. Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth.”
Our first reading also reveals that kind of Spirit. The book of Proverbs calls her “Wisdom.” Because she’s a woman, some theologians call her “Lady Wisdom.” I love that. According to one Jewish tradition, Lady Wisdom was present when God made the cosmos—serving as architect to the divine master builder. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” is Chokhmah (חָכְמָה). In the book of Exodus, the same Hebrew word is used for the “skills” of the artists who created the beautiful curtains and altar furnishings for the tabernacle—the sanctuary tent that the people of Israel carried with them during 40 years of wandering in the desert. Maybe that’s the kind of wisdom we need here at St. Mark’s. In our journey towards a new place of worship, we need more than head knowledge. We also need the skills and wisdom of those among us who have walked the path of change and transition in our lives. Who have found faith to be a source of strength when life presents a strange detour. Who know that even though change can feel scary and uncertain and stressful, it’s often the way to arrive at something new for us as individuals and as a community.
Change is often surprising. It can happen without much notice. One day, you get up and go through your morning rituals. And a few hours later, you’re faced with something completely unexpected. Just ask my husband Charlie, who on Wednesday had a tumble with his bicycle. Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman who faced change. A little over a century ago, Eleanor married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who later became America’s longest-serving President. FDR led our country through the Depression and World War II.
After 13 years of marriage, Eleanor was devastated to discover her husband was having an affair with her secretary and friend, Lucy Mercer. A revelation that almost killed her, as she walked through a time of deep disillusionment and despair. Struggling through her own pain and shyness and self-doubt, eventually Eleanor developed her own wisdom. She found the personal strength to become the major public figure that she remained for the rest of her life. Looking back at her personal ordeal, Eleanor once wrote: “Somewhere along the way, we discover who we really are, and then we make our decision for which we are responsible. [Just be sure to] make that decision for yourself, because you can never really live anyone else’s life.”1
Of course, reaching the point where you’re ready for a major change is not a simple process. There can be many forces of resistance: fear and insecurity, family voices and naysayers, career and financial consequences, anxiety and worry. Unfortunately, there’s no magic test to tell you whether you’re ready for a change, or when it’s time for a new beginning. But there are a couple things to consider.
The first is the reaction of people who know you well—but not in terms of whether or not they approve.
When I decided not to get ordained over three decades ago—because I wanted to live an authentic life and have someone to love, one of my gay friends got really angry with me. He thought I could be a pastor and have a secret gay life on the side. However, people who truly know you can give insight about whether what you plan to change is really something new, or simply a replay of an old pattern in your life or community.
Another question to ask yourself is whether this decision is really the next step in a transition process. For example, some people jump quickly to a new job because they’re frustrated with their current position—without any time for analysis of what they really want to do next. But change often requires a liminal period. An in-between time to consider various options and what a specific change might mean. I think our congregation has had that kind of time—both during our three years at Elim and our two years here at Prairie St. John’s. Because of our own congregation’s period of reflection and living in a liminal space, today we have a clearer picture of our true identity as a faith community. Of who and what we want to be in a new space.
We have a better sense of where Lady Wisdom is calling us next. A new beginning that comes not out of desperation or frustration or fear. For new beginnings don’t come out of that. They come from within yourself, your soul. From within the hearts and minds of a community. From the wisdom of compassionate leaders. From the prophetic voice of the Spirit of Truth. Out of all that, comes a vision of what a new beginning might look like, and how to get there. Of being ready to make a decision and act. For at some point, you just have to take a leap of faith. Without knowing exactly where it might lead—only that the Spirit is leading us, and God’s hand guiding us to new ventures. Where the creative fingers of Lady Wisdom trace the map of our lives and of our community.
A path that sometimes leads us from pain and suffering, to hope and love. Amen.
1 William Bridges, Transitions—Making Sense of Life’s Changes (Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2014), p .165.
FIRST READING: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
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: "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 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. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when [God] had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil. When [God] established the heavens, I was there, when [God] drew a circle on the face of the deep, when [God] made firm the skies above, when [God] established the fountains of the deep, when [God] assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress [their] command, when [God] marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside [God], like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
GOSPEL LESSON: John 16:12-15
(Note: I have adapted this lesson by using feminine pronouns and words in reference to the Spirit. The original Greek text uses gender-neutral language. Using the feminine forms can help us see this passage in a new light.)
Jesus said: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come. She will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father/Mother God has is mine. For this reason, I said that she will take what is mine and declare it to you.”