THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
1st Sunday after Pentecost / Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 2: 1-10
Romans 12: 2-8
John 16: 12-15
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 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.
Every few days or so I am reminded that we live in an “increasingly secular society”: I am reminded of this idea not because I see less life in the church, or because I see the church doing less mission in the world, or because God is less active in our modern culture – no, I am reminded of this idea simply because people tell me.
People inside the church
People outside the church
Everyone is keen to tell the story that we, as a society, are abandoning the church in droves.
And always, I find, comments like these are quickly followed by a simple reason or two:
People don’t want to get up early on Sundays
Families are too busy
Children are no longer being raised to believe in a God who loves them
We’ve lost our ritualistic ways, we all want science and reason now
And while it would be interesting to reflect on these claims and these reasons. While it would be interesting to explore the big “what abouts” in this conversation: “What about the fact that there exist more Christians on the earth today that at any point in history?” and “what about the churches in Africa and Asia where Christianity is growing faster than the world has ever seen” –for instance, these will have to wait for another Sunday.
There is one reason in particular that I would like to explore with you this morning: and that is the idea that we have lost touch with ritual, that we have lost touch with a sense of mystery and wonder. And I wonder: are we really so rational? Are we really so scientific?
After all, all over the country, all over North America (at least) it is “graduation season”:
A season where family and friends make long pilgrimages: driving and flying and busing hundreds of kilometers to take part in a ritual.
It is a season where, much like the Jewish Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah traditions, we seek out young people who might be “ready” to take part in a ritual we often equate with becoming an adult.
Graduation season is a mysterious time where we don strange robes and hats and we gather in large (usually poorly ventilated) auditoriums to say incantations and perform rituals together. Where something so simple as the way a tassel hangs off a cap denotes whether or not one is worthy to step across the stage and into adulthood.
Graduation season is a time when we seek out the wisdom of the “old ones.” Where organizers of the ritual scour google and Facebook to find an “honorary candidate” to dispense wisdom and recognize with a symbolic doctorate.
And, like any good religious holiday, there is food. Parents take their children, cap, robe, and all to the hallowed grounds of Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Bread(sticks) are broken and proud tears are shed while more wisdom is dispensed.
The next day, the “graduate” wakes up in the home they grew up (or at least on the front lawn of the home they grew up in) and even though everything appears the same, something has changed. The sacred document they have received is like a ticking clock reminding them that they need to find a home of their own—sooner rather than later, if possible.
In all form and function, “graduation season” is a ritual act on par with any religious rite of passage. You actually have to look closely to see the difference; to understand why it is that “graduation” is a celebration of all things rational and scientific and not some “silly” religious thing.
The only real difference, so far as I have been able to tell, is that God and God’s Word are normally not invoked, at least not in a secular graduation.
So please, allow me to do the part. Allow me to tell what wisdom God has to dispense to all of us as we are gathered to mark the learning milestones of those in our congregation, but also as we prepare to make our own pilgrimages to graduation ceremonies all over the country:
In the Proverb text read by Abby this morning, we heard what is perhaps the oldest and wisest honorary doctorate speech ever heard. It, and much of the book of Proverbs, is a how-to on how to find the knowledge of God…
My child, if you
accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
You have likely heard it quoted elsewhere in the book of Proverbs (9:10) that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear in this case is not so much a gripping terror that leaves us frozen but more a feeling of “standing in awe,” of recognizing who God is and what God requires of us and being moved to live in the way of faith. It is, as this Proverb tells us, an invitation we are beckoned to follow:
Accept His words
Treasure Her commandments
Make your ear attentive to wisdom
Incline your heart to understanding
Cry out for understanding.
Though I have had a bit of fun with graduations and graduation ceremonies this morning, one thing that I have found that these secular speakers do well is to tell the truth that a diploma or a degree does not entitle us to know what we are doing in life.
Post-graduation life is no less confusing, no less challenging than anything that came before it.
Each of us is faced with an endless number of conundrums, of challenging situations often that do not have even one path through them free from trouble.
The task of school is to know the answer and pass the test, but the task of life is never so simple. Oftentimes, we end up at the end of a difficult journey and we do not even know what we are supposed to learn from such a time.
“Cry out for insight”
“Cry out for insight, raise your voice for understanding” the Proverb tells us “then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”
You will know fear in your life. Fear of the Lord, fear of the future, fear of what may pass, but if you continue to cry out to God, He will answer; sooner or later.
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
“You will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path”
As we walk through the wilderness, together or alone, it is easy to take the paths for granted. It is easy to allow the paths to carry us where it is we would like to go without a care for how difficult the journey would be without them. It is only when we become lost, after we find ourselves off the smooth trail, with sharp sticks and stones poking our feet, brambles gripping our ankles, branches in our faces and spidersilk in our hair that we finally understand the value of the path. Though I have never been too terribly lost in all the time I have spent hiking and exploring in the wilderness, there is still no greater feeling than finally finding the path again. Once we emerge from the bush, scraped up and tired and a little frightened, the path feels like home. We may still be a long way from home, or a long way from our destination, but we know that because we have the path, we will get to where we are going safely.
And what are the paths of this Proverb? Righteousness, Justice, and Equity.
Here we find in an unexpected place according to our culture the most valuable wisdom we can ever hope to achieve, in the middle of a Proverb, in the middle of the Old Testament, the answer to every book of philosophy ever written:
How do we know what is right?
How do we act justly?
How do we treat one another fairly?
Call upon God and He will guide you.
God will guide you on right paths for His names’ sake.
For all of our society’s recent obsession with “choosing” science over religion, the highest degree even a great scientist can receive is a PhD: a “Doctor of Philosophy.”
From what we know and what we have read together, it seems that science ends with philosophy and philosophy has been answered in the Word of God – what else is there to know?
Knowledge is fine the Proverb tells us, but without wisdom it is for nothing.
Having understood God as the source of all wisdom we are finally free to enjoy knowledge once again.
you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Take heart, friends, and remember these things when you feel weighed down by knowledge. At those times when you feel as one going through the motions of life, when you know that you have knowledge and skills to be useful but, for the life of you, you cannot seem to understand why, remember that life is not so much about knowledge as wisdom. Listen to God. Find a way to use your knowledge and your skills for others, allow God to lead you back to the path.
Before I conclude this message and we move our service to the recognition of the learning milestones of the St. Andrew’s community, allow me to speak not just about the wisdom and the knowledge of God but about the One in whom this and all good things are perfected: that is, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
This morning we heard the Word of the Lord when He told us:
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Feather has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Like any good graduation speech, allow me to say plainly: you will never be finished learning. Your walk will never be completed in growing in the knowledge and wisdom of God. There is always more to discover about the world around you, there is always more to learn about the God who set you upon this earth and gave you a path of righteousness to follow in His Son’s Name.
Christ promised his church, both the original church and we gathered today, that He would send His Holy Spirit, His Advocate to guide us into “all the truth.” What fear have we knowing that God is with us? Knowing that Christ has given us His very spirit to lead us in knowledge and wisdom?
The good news of graduation season is that the same God who took on human flesh and the cross to show us the way to life eternal is the same God who promises that all the Father has belongs to the Son and this same Son has died for us.
As we go forward from this season, as we bid “congratulations” and “good luck” to all those who have passed a milestone in their learning, let us send them too with prayers and the Good News of Jesus Christ, who will withhold no knowledge, no wisdom, and no truth from any who seek first His wisdom and His kingdom.