Lady Wisdom

 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday                                                                                                     Confirmation Sunday                                                                                                                                May 22, 2016

1.

Aubrianna and Jeanette I know that your families travel. I’ve heard of some of your adventures.  So this morning I’m going to make a suggestion of a city to visit, if you haven’t been.

Rome. And when in Rome go to the Vatican City.  Once inside the city gates, find your way to the Sistine Chapel, and look up at the ceiling.  There you will find a world famous painting by Michelangelo entitled, The Creation of Adam.

It shows the finger of God reaching out to touch the finger of Adam. God touching humanity.  Heaven meeting earth.

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam

But if you look closer at the painting you will see a woman embraced within God’s left arm. Through the years it has been assumed that this woman is Eve.  But many scholars will argue that the woman is Sophia, or Lady Wisdom.  This woman is the feminine personification of the divine in the Old Testament.

 

2.

Now Jeannette and Aubrianna, having three years of Confirmation and instruction in Luther’s Small Catechism, could explain to us the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed.   It speaks to the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  We name this second person “Son,” or “Redeemer.”  But mostly we name this person “Jesus.” “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.”

But this morning I’m going to stretch our understanding of this 2nd Person of the Trinity.

I know Aubrianna and Jeanette can handle this. As 6th graders, just starting out in Confirmation, I was impressed how these two spoke up in class.  They had good questions, they had deep questions, and they had questions that I sometimes couldn’t answer.

So this morning let me ask a question of my own. Could this woman embraced by God’s left arm in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, be a feminine 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity?

 

3.

The reading from Proverbs captivates me this morning.

The text speaks about Wisdom. And if we read the text carefully Wisdom is a person, who is female.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

As we keep reading we hear that wisdom was with God at the beginning of creation.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

This sounds to me like John 1.

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God.

And of course in John the Word is the male personification of the divine.

He was in the beginning with God.

Biblical scholars tells us that this Hebrew understanding of “Wisdom” in the Old Testament, has been transitioned into the Greek understanding of the “Word” in the New Testament.

This matters, because in a church that has been dominated by men and male imagery for God, Proverbs 8 lifts up this feminine image of God that is known as “Wisdom.”

 

4.

This morning we read how Wisdom is active and alive in the middle of life.

On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.

Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this verse, “She takes her stand at First and Main.”

Quite simply the text proclaims that through Wisdom God is in the center of life. God’s presence is not bound only in the holy places of this world.  But God is present in the public square.

As Wisdom invites to a of faith, so does she invite us to take our faith out to where we live.

Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary says that this Proverbs text invites us to be a theologian. Theology, remember, means simply “thinking about God.”

And Skinner says that theology is not done well in the library. Theology may not even be done well in church.  This thinking about God is done best where we live, where we work, where we play, and where we spend our time.

 

5.

Ok Jeanette and Aubrianna, you’re probably not all that interested in becoming theologians this morning, but in a few moments you are going to be asked to think about God, and what you believe.

I will ask: “Do you intend to continue living in the covenant God made with you? To live among God’s faithful people?  To hear God’s word and share in his supper?  To proclaim good news in word and deed?  And to serve all people striving for peace and justice?”

This really is an invitation to be a theologian, to think about God in the midst of your life.

At the end of Proverbs 8, Wisdom invites us to a life of faith:

And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord.

Matt Skinner says this feminine presence of the divine invites us to see the world through the lens of God, through the lens of scripture, through the lens of our faith, and through the lens of our relationships with the people at church.

 

This is what Confirmation is. Aubrianna and Jeannette, you don’t have to be experts on the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed.  But my prayer for you this day is that you can take your experience of these last three years; your faith, your Bible, and the deep questions you asked in class, and the people of this church;  take us wherever you go, maybe even Rome someday, and see the world through the lens of God.

 

6.

Now if you really do get to Rome, there’s one more place I recommend you go, the Catacombs of Priscilla. I haven’t been but this week a colleague spoke about his visit to these catacombs.

He explained how Priscilla was from a prominent, wealthy family in Rome, and also Christian.

People go to this catacomb to view the ornate tombs, but what struck my friend was painting on the wall; a self portrait of Priscilla, wearing an alb, extending her arms in blessing. Priscilla was a pastor.

Throughout history the church has denied leadership positions to women. It is only in my lifetime that women have been ordained in our church.  In fact we know many churches still do not allow women to be pastors.

But isn’t it interesting that way back during the Roman Empire, in these ancient catacombs in Rome, we see a woman as pastor.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.

 

Jeanette and Aubrianna, you don’t have to be pastors in order to be theologians.

As smart, intelligent young women like Priscilla; on your Confirmation day, my prayer is for you to be inspired by Lady Wisdom. Think about the feminine image of God.  Think about Priscilla standing at the crossroads leading the church.  But mostly think about Wisdom and her invitation to think about God wherever you go, and view this world in all its craziness through the lens of faith, that you too may take your stand for God.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Pentecost Sunday Trains, Fire, and the Church

Pentecost Sunday             

May 15,      2016                                                                                                                    Trains, Fire, and the Church

 

Fifty days after Moses led Israel through the Red Sea,  God’s people find themselves at Mount Sinai  in the midst of a heavenly moment.

From Exodus 19.

…there was thunder and lightning as well as a thick cloud on the mountain and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

 

1.

If you ever stand on the platform at the Princeton Junction station as Amtrak’s Acela comes barreling through, you know the sound is loud as the whole station trembles.

The train is a powerful force. It’s on a mission, as it blasts through the station in a matter of seconds.

Often we speak about the Holy Spirit as wind, but  Acts 2 this morning tells us the Spirit is not wind, but the sound like the rush of a mighty wind.

Thankfully I’ve never experienced a tornado, but many who have report that the sound of the storm is like the roar of an approaching train.

On Pentecost Sunday Can I say  that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of a train; not a freight train, not the local train,  but like the rush of Amtrak’s Acela?

2.

After the trumpet blast Israel took their stand at the foot of Mount Sinai.

The mountain is wrapped in smoke.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Again from Exodus 19,

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; while the whole mountain shook violently.

As the presence of God is a blast so loud it makes the people tremble; so is it fire that makes the mountain shake.

We built a fire at church last week.

Our midweek service gathered around a camp fire.

It was damp, it was cold,  and I stood right next to the fire to stay warm.

It was the same fire that provided the source for roasting marshmallows.

But this is not the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Instead think Fort McMurray, Alberta.

I read an account this week by an emergency responder explaining how wild fires are the worst natural disaster in which to respond.

Hurricanes blow in and out.                                                                                          Earthquakes rumble, but eventually stop.

But wild fires keep burning  and responders don’t know where the fire is striking next.

The Fire Marshal from Alberta Province  said that the Fort McMurray wild fire has forced the province to rewrite their code on fighting fires,  because nothing about this fire followed the script.

It is big, unpredictable, destructive,  and it is still burning, like the Holy Spirit.

3.

On the day of Pentecost we read of heavenly moment, now in the New Testament.

The apostles are together in Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit blasts in.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.

In the midst of this devout Jews were gathered in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven.

They were on pilgrimage,  fifty days after Passover they gathered in Jerusalem to commemorate the Sinai Covenant,  God giving the Ten Commandments to Israel.

But this pilgrimage was not just another boring worship service.

They too heard the loud sound, and they stood bewildered as these followers of Jesus, simple Galileans,  now all spoke in their native languages.

Twice Luke writes that the people were amazed,  astonished, and perplexed as they asked, “What does this mean?”

4.

Trains, fire, and the church.

Peter’s answer to this question now becomes the mark of the church.

He reads from the Prophet Joel.

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.

Prophecy is truth telling.

As Peter reads from Joel he speaks the truth of this heavenly moment.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,  the Holy Spirit blasts into Jerusalem  to mark Christ’s followers, to prophesy, to speak the truth in languages all these foreigners can understand.

This truth is revealed in the last verse.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The church, filled with the Holy Spirit, is a force like the sound of an express train,  that speaks the truth of God.

A truth that is like fire; unpredictable and destructive; but never to condemn,  only to save.

5.

I visited Yellowstone National Park in 1992, four years after the historic wild fires of 1988.

Those fires destroyed 36% of the park.

Four years later the earth was scorched with vast stretches of black ash.

But I will never forget getting up close to ash  on my hikes through the park.

There, through the ash, little green sprouts popped up  all across the landscape.

Do not underestimate the force of the Holy Spirit.

We may not want to think of the spirit as destructive fire, but God’s work of salvation must first destroy the power of sin, death, and the works of the devil.

The mark of the church, is the rush of the Holy Spirit, that speaks the truth of resurrection,  so that out of the ash,  new life will sprout.

6.

Our guest at the recent New Jersey Synod Assembly  was the Bishop of Namibia, Rev. Ernst Gamxamub.

The Bishop preached at our opening worship under the theme, “Be Not Afraid.”

He spoke about the church as a train; not standing on the platform, but actually being on board that fast moving train.

It’s a completely different experience.

It is quiet.  The world seems to glide by.   All is well,  until the train enters the tunnel.

The tunnel is dark.  The train moves fast.   Sometimes you can’t tell if you’re going forward or reverse.

You feel like maybe it’s time to get off this train.

But the Bishop said that the tunnel is not the place to tear up your ticket  and jump off the train.

No, you need to stay on board,  and wait for the light at the end of tunnel.

If the sound of a train can be a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, perhaps riding on the train can be a metaphor for the church.

We’re on a mission.  We are a force in the world.

But sometimes being the church is like entering a tunnel

Tunnels can be like the smoke and clouds on Mount Sinai,  where we are not sure where we are  or where we are going.

But know that the tunnel is not the place to jump off the train.

In this time and in this place,  change happens all around.

It might feel like the church is traveling through a tunnel.  It might feel like the fire of the Holy Spirit is only destroying.  But now is not the time to tear up our ticket  and jump off the train.

Remember that we are participating in God’s plan of salvation, and through change God initiates new activity, that always leads to the light at the end of the tunnel.

God continually works new life,  within the church,  and within the world.

This the prophecy we bear,  and the truth we proclaim.

Amen

 

 

 

7th Sunday of Easter The Prayer of an Adoptive Mother

Easter 7                                                                                                                                       May 8, 2016                                                                                                                                       

The Prayer of an Adoptive Mother

 

If you can make it to the end of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer this morning, you will hear, perhaps the clearest expression of Christ’s mission in the New Testament.

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

 

1.

Eighteen years ago on Mother’s Day, Dale and I were in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is fascinating city, but Dale and I were on edge.  That night we would fly to Nanning, on the Chinese mainland, for the next day Sara Grace would be placed into our hands.  We were in a foreign land about to become parents.

Perhaps it was divine providence, for directly across the street from our hotel in Hong Kong was a Lutheran church, Truth Lutheran Church.   On this Mother’s Day we had to go to worship.  It was large.  The church was full.  As we walked into the sanctuary a young man, a teenager, handed us headphones which would translate the service from Cantonese into English.  We felt as if the church was waiting for us.

Truth Lutheran Hong Kong (2)

After worship this same young man approached. He wore a New York t-shirt.  If I remember correctly his mother had studied in the United States and he was fascinated with these two Americans.  I remember an infectious smile, and his broken English as he tried to converse with us.

His name was Faith. Appropriate because the love of Jesus Christ was in him; a love he expressed by making us feel right at home halfway around the world.

Besides making sure we had headphones for worship, afterwards Faith took us on a tour of the church. He introduced us to his mother and to others in the congregation.  In honor of Mother’s Day the congregation was serving lunch, which he made sure we were invited to.

I have never forgotten Faith. On day of high anxiety, Faith calmed our fears with his welcome to his church.

 

2.

On this final Sunday of Easter, for the third week in a row, we read Jesus’ Final Discourse in the Gospel of John. This morning Jesus brings this discourse to a close with his High Priestly Prayer.

Barbara Lundblat, retired professor of preaching at Union Seminary, calls this Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer in John’s gospel.

Remember in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, right before his arrest, Jesus takes his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, and only asks that they stay awake as he prays.

In Gethsemane Jesus’ humanity is exposed. He’s in agony.  He’s confused.  He prays:

If possible Lord, let this cup pass from me.

In John this prayer is different. While Jesus prays it right before his arrest, Jesus is not disturbed.  Instead, Jesus is in total control.

He begins with verse one of chapter 17:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.

Jesus is not tormented by what awaits. To the contrary, Jesus sees this “hour” as the fulfillment of his ministry.

 

Notice another striking difference in John. In Gethsemane, remember Jesus went off by himself and prayed for himself.  In the High Priestly Prayer the disciples are very much awake and listen in.   And they hear that Jesus prays for them.

 

3.

Barbara Lundblat calls this the prayer of an adoptive mother.

Jesus understands how God has handed over the disciples to him. In verse 6 Jesus prays:

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me. They were yours, and you gave them to me.

So like a loving mother, Jesus prays on their behalf:                                                                                                                                  Holy Father protect them in your name.                                                                                      

May they have my joy made complete in themselves                                                                     

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

It is a prayer that any mother would have for her children.

 

As we come now to our text this morning, this High Priestly Prayer reaches its climax.

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples goes beyond protection, it goes beyond joy being made complete, it goes beyond being sanctified in the truth; Jesus prays that he may be in the disciples.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

Jesus doesn’t pray that God may be near. He doesn’t pray that God may be beside.  He doesn’t pray that God may be around the disciples.  He prays that God may be in them.

 

And understand in John, the disciples are not exclusively the twelve, the disciples are all who believe. The High Priestly Prayer is not just for those sitting around the table in the upper room.  This morning Jesus prays on behalf of all believers, of every time and place, including us here at Prince of Peace this morning.

Jesus prays for you, that you may be drawn in to the very life of Christ.

 

4.

It strikes me that the last words of this prayer, come right before Judas brings the authorities to arrest Jesus.

As Jesus is betrayed, he prays for love. Jesus concludes:

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Matt Skinner, professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, says about this text that we are not God’s play things. We are not God’s pets.  God doesn’t love us for his pleasure.

God gives us to Christ, who loves us with the love of the cross, so that the love of God will be in us.

God is not near, God is not close, God is not beside; God is in; God is in our very lives.

The reality of the Christian faith, is that we are drawn into the love of Christ, so this love may be expressed in our lives, for the sake of the world.

On this Mother’s Day I remember Faith at Truth Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. Eighteen years ago as Dale and I ventured into parenthood, Faith relieved our anxiety as his welcome in this foreign land expressed the love of Christ in him, to remind us that Christ was in us.

 

On this Mother’s Day, listen in to this prayer of an adoptive mother. Jesus prays for you.  He prays that the love with which God loved him, may be in you; that you may be Christ for the world.

 

Amen

Change

Prince of Peace is journeying through change. Change is never easy as we seek the security of what was.  In our own ways we mourn the loss of two services, the loss of a traditional Sunday School hour, and the loss of the usual Vacation Bible School week in the summer.  But I believe energy is being directed to new ministries and new ways of being church that better respond to a changing church landscape.

I’m amazed over the planned Labyrinth Arts Program being planned for June 20-24 by our newly formed Arts Ministry under the leadership of Nancy Herrington.  I’m looking forward a proposed Jazz Vespers Worship Service at Prince of Peace.  Charlie Frantz has begun conversation on what this could like; perhaps once a month on Sunday evening.  It is exciting to look at the plans for the proposed Labyrinth and Meditation Garden in back of the church and church house.  These plans will soon be available to the congregation and we hope that the project will be approved by the congregation at our June 5th Congregational Meeting.

In addition I look forward to planning next year’s Christian Education Hour.  This continues to unfold as we seek to offer effective educational experiences for all ages.  Some highlights from this past year were our Worship Hike, our Stewardship Sunday, Christmas Caroling, and our Arts Ministry presentation.  I am inviting the congregation to join me during the Christian Education Hour on May 8, for a discussion on how we can make this educational opportunity even better.

Yes, change; it’s not easy, but often it is the Holy Spirit’s nudge to follow the energy and move to new places that help us to be faithful in our witness as the church.

 

Pastor Froehlke