Running into Wisdom

I could feel his eyes staring at me and could see the questions and thoughts through the expressions on his face:

“Where do I know this person from?”

“Should I go up to him?”

“Is that a clergy collar that he is wearing?”

These uncomfortable glances continued for what felt like at least 15 minutes, until this tall, young, African-American man, wearing a shirt, tie, and grey mask covering his face began walking towards the table that I was sitting at.

 

“You’re Chris right?” he asked.

I am. I responded back.

 

You just moved here from Cleveland, Ohio right?

I did. I replied.

Man.. you’re a priest! A priest who likes to work out! Who would’ve thought! I had no idea! You’re like my age! He said.

 

 

I awkwardly laughed, as I was still trying to figure out who this man was.

 

“I’m sorry”. I said.  I have met so many people over the past few weeks, and I am trying to align names to the correct ‘masked’ face—what’s your name again?

 

Vincent, he said.

“I met you the other day, when you noticed I dropped my ID while running in Westfield”. And you tried to get my attention, but, I couldn’t hear you because of my head phones so, you sprinted to keep up with me until you could get me to stop.

 

That’s right! You’re the person who turned my jog into a sprint!

He laughed, and then an awkward silence followed;

I could tell that he had something more that he wanted to say.

 

He then gestured asking if he could join me at the table I was sitting at.

Of course. I said.

 

So, you’re a priest

I am.

Well, my relationship with the Church has been complicated he responded.

Vincent went on to describe to me the wrestling that he has had with his faith. A wrestling that began at a young age and continued into his early adulthood.

The times that he had felt like an outsider in community, judged by those who gathered beside him in the pews of the place that he was taught would be one of love and acceptance,

The times where the rhetoric that came from the pulpit encouraged division or didn’t align with his understanding of a Christian vocation: a vocation that is one of love, one of peace, one of justice.

The times where he felt even more alone, even more hopeless.

If it wasn’t racism or homophobia that I was facing, it was always something else. So, I stopped going to Church. he said.  And, honestly, I haven’t missed it.

 

My heart broke as I heard his story, because I knew, I knew that his experience with religion, his encounter with faith, has not been one that is isolated, but, one that joins the countless testimonials that share of heartbreak, anger and disappointment caused by communities of faith.

And I knew, that the decision that Vincent made to say goodbye to church, is one that many are making daily.

 

“I am so sorry, Vincent” I responded back. This hurt, the pain, the suffering that you have endured, that isn’t God. That’s not the wisdom that scripture has to offer us. That’s not the way this ‘Church thing’ is supposed to be. At least…that’s not what I believe.

 

He took a deep breath and you could hear the tears that he was holding back.

We continued to share in story.

Sharing in the times when we have felt rejected by the Church, the times that we have been left questioning and wrestling with our faith, but, we also shared in our hopes and dreams of what the Church can be and who we believe God is calling us to be.

 

And St. Paul’s, the hopes and dreams that Vincent has for the Church and the world, is one that I guarantee will warm your heart with pure joy.

 

After some time had passed, Vincent asked me a question, that he said he hadn’t asked for a long time.

He asked if we could pray.

He simply said: While I wrestle with all of this earthly stuff. These things that separate us, divide us, break our hearts…I know that it is the goodness of God that carries me through.

So, we prayed.

right in the middle of the Panera Bread in Watchung.

He thanked me for taking the time to talk and I invited him to join us at St. Paul’s when he is ready to step into a place of worship again.

And he simply said: If it is anything like what I just experienced here at this table, then I will ‘definitely’ come and check it out sometime.

 

As Vincent walked away, I felt so blessed that this ‘stranger’ had wandered into my life.

Our relationship began through a small act of kindness—something so small—happening to stumble across his ID while going on my daily run and deciding to stop…

our relationship began through living out my daily routine…

Vincent and I found that even while we shared many similarities and differences, when we let, love, when let God, interrupt our lives…we had a conversation that ultimately changed hearts and minds.

Strangers became friends.

Who knows whether or not Vincent will ever wander into St. Paul’s or join us online, or, if we will even ever see one another again.

But I know that no matter what happens, the breaking of bread, the breaking of self that was experienced that day, was one that was filled with wisdom, it was Holy, it was of God, it was what Church, and this world should look and feel like.

St. Paul’s, It gave me a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God, what heaven here on earth could look and feel like. And that sight, that feeling, will travel with us for quite sometime.

 

 

Today, we continue to make our way through James’s letter.

See, James is writing to a community; James is writing to a Church that is divided.

He is going out into a world that is in conflict ….St. Paul’s, it sounds like James was stepping into a world that is not too different than the one we find ourselves in…can I get an Amen to that? And even in the midst of that conflict, even in the midst of that division, he is bringing a message that is challenging the way how those around him live out their lives, how they live out their faith. He’s calling the world to change. He is calling out the evil that separates them, and sharing the Wisdom of God that unites them.

James is encouraging them to not only look at what God teaches in Torah, the wisdom that God has to offer,  as being something that is distanced, something that separates heaven, the kingdom, from earth,

but, James is calling them to see that the wisdom that God has to offer, calls them CALL US, to bring heaven, to bring that kingdom ever so closer in our midst.

James is teaching us that, the wisdom that we receive from God, is the wisdom that helps us live and move and have our being in this world that is rooted in a way of love.

That the wisdom that we receive from God is rooted in a way of peace, is rooted in a way of Justice. That is rooted in God’s Goodness.

James is teaching us, that the wisdom, that message that we receive from God, is how we are called to build that kingdom right here and right now.

The message that James is sharing in his letter is important, and can change our lives, can change our world as we see know it ‘today’.

Just last week, we heard that James reminds us of the hard work that it is to proclaim the Gospel. The hard work that is To be teachers of Good News, to share of a message in the world  a message that is counter-cultural,

a message that brings us away from thinking solely of self, but thinking of the other.

A message that teaches us that power, authority lies in something larger than that of our own hands. But, that of God.

And yet, he doesn’t encourage us to shy away from such a work.

Last week, James warns us of the hard work of a call, to be teachers in the world sharing a message that is radical.

to be teachers of a way of life that calls us to follow the direction of God, a direction that calls us to bring love to where love has died, to bring hope to the hopeless to bring justice to where injustice reigns

And yet, he teaches us that it is within the small things in life that help proclaim that message and change this world:

St. Paul’s, James teaches us in his letter, that the transformative work of the Gospel, the heavenly wisdom that God has to offer, can be simply watching how we speak to one another.

-It is how we talk to one another.

-It is how we relate to one another.

-It is how we journey through life together—that ultimately brings Gods message to life. That ultimately brings God’s presence alive among us.

The challenge that scripture brings us, the message that James highlights is that if we remain rooted in the love, knowledge and wisdom of God, and live that message through our words and action— even the smallest of actions, such as stopping on a jog to return an ID,

to stop and have a conversation about God with a stranger, to listen to another’s story and to be open to receive them

will bring that kingdom of God right here at our doorsteps.

St. Paul’s don’t we need that Kingdom right here at our doorsteps?

 

Because, indeed, our world isn’t too different than the world James found himself writing to.

St. Paul’s we are finding ourselves in a time in our society where many people are divided.

we are finding ourselves in a time in our society where many people are feeling hurt, and distanced from Church, distanced from God, distanced from one another (literally as we make our way through this pandemic).

We are finding ourselves in a society Where people are yearning for healing, they are yearning for companionship, hope, love…

St. Paul’s,

they are yearning for God!

They are yearning for the Good News, the wisdom, that we have to share…they are yearning for disciples like you and me!

 

We find ourselves in a world that continuously talks about Church decline, questioning whether or  not, communities of faith will survive on the other side of this pandemic, but, yet, this brings only more division, feeds the anxiety that blossoms into hopelessness…

 

And yet, today, we receive a message, we receive wisdom from God, that washes us with new life, with hope, with strength and courage….to go out into this world, and to change it.

 

So, let’s go out into this world—

Lets go out into this world-being drenched by the waters of our Christian Vocation…taking on that dangerous work of being teachers, of being followers of Christ, who proclaim a radical message of love.

Let us go out into this world—and share with them the wisdom that has been shared with us.

Let us go out into this world—and share with them the presence of our God.

Let us go out into this world and share of ourselves.

 

And let’s turn this world upside down.

Let’s build that kingdom here and now.

 

St. Paul’s this is the way that we have been called to live and walk in!

This is this wisdom that God has to offer us.

This is the work that is good, that will always overpower what is evil and change this world.

 

My friends, the journey ahead won’t be easy.

But, nothing about our call as a Church, as a community, as followers of Jesus, will be easy. Nor was it promised to be that.

But, we also don’t walk it a lone. We have each other. We have God.

So as we make our way through the days, weeks, months and years ahead, let us walk together, reclaiming, and proclaiming the message that God has given us to share…

like that Good ol’ hymn states: let us go and build a place that love can dwell and all can safely live.

A place where Saints and Children tell, how hearts learn to forgive,

built of hopes and dreams and visions,

a rock of faith and vault of grace,

a place where love of Christ shall end divisions where all are welcome in this place.

 

St. Paul’s let us a build a house where prophets speak,

and words are strong and true.

Where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God reign anew.

Where the cross, where we

shall stand as witness,

being a symbol of God’s grace, here we claim the faith of Jesus—where all are welcome in this place.

 

Let us build a house where love is found, in water, wine and what,

a banquet hall on holy ground,

where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus is revealed in time and space, as we share in Christ the feast, the wisdom that free us.

Where all are welcome in this place.

 

St. Paul’s, lets go out and do this work together. This is the dream that a seeker, shared with me at a Panera bread table.

Lets make Vincent’s Dream, God’s dream our reality.

Starting right here on Broad street.

I’m with you St. Paul’s and It is so great to be joining you on this journey.

I am honored to step into this complicated world with you as your Assistant Rector.

Now let’s go and change the world.

About Theresa Wright