A sermon delivered at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering worship service on June 26, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
by Rev. Erica Lea
First, thank you. It really is an honor to have the opportunity to share my voice today among so many important voices that we have heard this weekend.
Allow me to start this morning with a confession. When I came here on Thursday, I wasn’t exactly sure, yet, how I felt about you. I have known you to be an encouraging and supportive collection of email addresses and names online. I knew you were eager, particularly, to welcome more young people. Even so, I honestly wondered if I would see anyone who looked like me.
Then, I saw Reta, a familiar face from a previous Mennonite event. I learned more about Deb and her heart for pastoral care. I felt one of Marg’s famous bear hugs. I attended Alicia’s session about sensitivity to gender and pronouns. I read Elisabeth’s imaginative poetry. I heard Jann’s familiar yet new music. I stretched my limits and more with Lisa’s gentle yogi encouragement. I tasted Becky’s gifts for hospitality. I prayed with Leslie and her soulful, contemplative spirituality. I have seen different parts of myself in all of you. I have seen the imago dei, that Divine Image, in all of you.
Our primary passage this morning comes from Wisdom of Solomon chapter 7. Some scholars believe the intended audience of this book was Jewish young people in Alexandria, Egypt, who were surrounded by messages that were contrary to Jewish faith and customs. In context and in essence, the Wisdom of Solomon was intended to be not only counter-cultural, but a reminder to the audience of what they already knew deeply about themselves.
When I conceptualize wisdom, this breath throughout Creation, I visualize a chubby owl with glasses on, “hooooing” with a long trill like the owl on Winnie the Pooh. There are many artistic depictions of Wisdom, including some beautiful icons. Perhaps more than visually, I have experienced Wisdom in an auditory way.
When I think of home, I think of my cottage in the forest in central Texas where I lived during seminary. Not long after I moved in, I noticed, on occasion, an owl “hooooing” in a particular and recognizable pattern. I named her Sophia. I only saw her a few times, but I often heard her. I knew her voice.
In chapter 7:22–26, we see two lists. A friend once described me as Type A-minus. I can be mellow, but when something needs organizing, I am cheerfully on it with a chart and a color-coded system. I love it! These lists are more than a convenient way for the author to throw in some information. The first list, in particular, in verses 22b–24, is a poetic device utilizing Jewish mysticism. If you count the number of attributes of Woman Wisdom in this list, there are twenty-one. Twenty-one is not just a good number in Black Jack. No, twenty-one is a multiple of both seven and three. Both seven and three are mystical symbolic numbers of completeness and perfection.
Another understanding of complete completeness is shalom. Shalom is more than peace. I got my favorite belt buckle in Jerusalem. You know you’re Texan when you go to Jerusalem and come home with a belt buckle as your prized souvenir. This belt buckle made my Mennonite heart beat wildly—a black and bronze rectangle with Peace, Shalom, and Salaam written on it—each word flowing into each other word. Like people flowing into one another.
In the Holy Land, official signs are written in all three languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and English—reflecting the history and the residents. If you are an Israeli Jew, you may be fine with only Hebrew. If you are an Israeli or Palestinian Muslim, you may be fine with only Arabic. If you are one of the approximately 200,000 American or British immigrants since 1948, you may be fine with only English. To not include all three of these languages on the signs, and on my belt buckle, would certainly be a statement.
This list of twenty-one attributes for Woman Wisdom—intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, clear, steadfast, overseeing all, intelligent, and more—come together to give a more robust and tangible description of Woman Wisdom so that we can attempt to wrap our heads around Her. If this list were twenty or twenty-two, it would lose its poetic and mystical power. There must be twenty-one attributes on the list for the full power and weight.
As I consider all of the meaningful work and amazingly far reach of EEWC-CFT, I see us at twenty. What are we missing so that we can be our full selves, living into full potential, being completely complete, a model of shalom? Who are we missing? I know some people are not here this year because they have died, may their memory be a blessing. Others are not here because they are ill, may they experience wholeness however possible. Who else are we missing? Later, when we gather around the Table, consider who is not at the Table with you. Where are we missing?
It is only after this full list of twenty-one attributes that Woman Wisdom, the second list, appears, in verses 25–26, showing all She is capable of:
25 For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. 26 For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness
For those of you keeping score at home, that is: breath, emanation, reflection, mirror, and image.
She must be whole in order to fulfill her potential.
The journey toward shalom and wholeness, both on individual and collective levels, can be difficult and long. We do not make this journey alone. Verse 27 says she is one and can do all things. When we are one, we can do all things together.
If earlier, when we considered the attributes of Woman Wisdom, those verses echoed Proverbs 31 to you, then you are good company. I understand Proverbs 31 to be an ode to the women, the community of women, rather than one individual woman. Proverbs 31 is not a checklist. It is a wake-up call that wisdom is daily and cannot be done alone.
Proverbs 31 is, as Kathleen O’Connor writes, “an invitation to search for wisdom as if for a precious stone, to live committed to the path of wisdom with the utter loyalty and allegiance of the person setting out in life with a beloved partner.” We are partners with Woman Wisdom and we are partners with one another.
Though the journey to shalom and living fully into all we can be is difficult and long, for some of us more than others, there is sustenance.
Have you ever played the road trip game? You know, I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing ____ and ____. For example, I am Erica Lea and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing eggs and lettuce. I may go. If Marg were to play, she might say I am Marg Herder and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing juice and ham. She may not go. But if she said, my name is Marg Herder and I’m going on a road trip and I’m bringing mustard and ham, she may go. If you don’t get it, ask whoever you rode with or whoever you will share a van with to the airport. Ya’ll will have a good time.
God is with us. Sophia is with us. Woman Wisdom is with us. We are with each other. We can continue to move forward together on this journey of shalom as we lean on God and lean on one another.
Verse 29 says, “She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior.”
Did ya’ll see the strawberry moon last week? Full moon and summer solstice came together to show a pinkish moon. It was beautiful. If you garden, as so many of you have shared that you do, you know the power of sunlight and photosynthesis to feed plants. Light is energy. Light is food for growth. Woman Wisdom is superior even to light. As the Inner Light grows in you, your connection to that power will grow. The light, this provision, is grace.
Finally, the text says that wisdom will prevail over evil. I don’t know about you but it is often difficult for me to believe that wisdom will prevail against internalized homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and racism. It is often difficult to see wisdom prevailing over injustice and social evils.
We will be most effective bringing forward justice in our time when we are whole, when we are whole together, and when we trust in the Light that Woman Wisdom brings. Kenneth Carter Jr. writes that “wisdom may be defined as a life well lived, a life that matters . . . wisdom is a way of life that includes justice, righteousness, humility, compassion, and fairness.”
Today is the one-year anniversary for the Supreme Court ruling in support of marriage equality. Yay! However, in the past year, there has been an uptick in hate crimes, including violence, especially against trans women of color. There has been conservative panic in many forms, especially so-called religious liberty bills. So many of us felt like we were truly moving forward, but these anxiety-motivated and anxiety-producing roadblocks stop us. We must continue to move forward. Our voice for justice and equality will continue to be heard most effectively as one unified voice. It may appear that we are sliding backward from the progress won by decades of work. All progress meets resistance. We will continue to move forward. Together. Wisdom will prevail over evil.
It is tempting to be discouraged sometimes. It is tempting to look around now and ask, “Where are the younger generations?” We are here. It is tempting to say, “I don’t feel like I have Inner Light.” The Inner Light has you. It is tempting to think, “I’m not enough.” Enough of an expert or enough outspoken or enough young or enough old or enough . . . whatever. We are enough with Woman Wisdom. We are enough. Together.
Remember, Wisdom is a spotless mirror and you and I see only dimly into a mirror. Let us continue to look into the mirror together. Amen.
© 2016 by Rev. Erica Lea