May 26, 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

“A Little Lower than God”

Reflecting on the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, the psalmist notices that the Lord has made human beings “a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.”

There are different emphases within the scriptures, of course, and different perspectives within theology. Some ways of thinking about human nature emphasize the brokenness and sinfulness of human beings. And the good news of God in Jesus Christ is that we are not condemned for our failures, but when we repent and turn to God for help, we are forgiven and freed by the amazing grace of our loving God.

But the perspective that seems to come out in today’s psalm is that human beings have great potential for goodness. God has made us “a little lower” than Godself – not perfect, but certainly capable of great things, great creativity, great responsibility.

I don’t normally do a lot of quoting from the early Church Fathers in my sermons, but I’ve been reading a lot lately in preparation for the course I’ll be taking next week, and yesterday I just happened to read about Origen of Alexandria’s doctrine of humanity. Origen lived and contributed to the church tradition in the early 3rd century, and as I read his ideas about what it means to be human, they just seemed to fit so nicely with the ideas in today’s psalm:

“He argued that God originally created a race of rational beings… who lived outside space and time with God until they fell away from the divine presence into temporal, embodied existence. Yet they retained free will and rationality, and were thus still capable of experiencing divine perfection and wisdom even in such a finite, imperfect realm.

“Origen’s concept of God is as a great teacher, who will use the circumstances of each person to reveal Godself to them, drawing them closer to divine wisdom and grace by means of their inherent capacities for reason and moral discernment.

“Thus, knowledge of the good… is available to all created beings, despite their flaws; and traces of such divine wisdom can be found in human reason, culture and history. This means that reconciliation with God is anticipated for all humanity… [Origen] presents a benevolent God presiding over the evolution of human history and restoring the human form to its divine image and likeness.”

I find that to be such a hopeful, encouraging, and empowering way to think about our identity as human beings. We have potential. We are capable of good things. We have the Spirit of God – the Wisdom of God – within us, and it is natural for us to become more and more like God.

In the midst of all the things happening in the world right now, we may especially need this kind of encouragement. When our political leaders can’t seem to tell the truth – to be honest and transparent about their activities… When an innocent man in Ontario loses his life over a truck, or another in Woolwich is violently killed in the name of religion… When so many leaders and rulers choose power and privilege at the expense of the poor under their care… we need to know, we need to remember that human beings have the potential for good. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and God’s plan is that we will live into our potential for wisdom, compassion, and care for one another and the earth.

Last month, just after the Boston Marathon bombing, an encouraging quote was circulating on Twitter and elsewhere online. It was a quote from Fred Rogers, an American Presbyterian minister, made famous by his television ministry “Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood.” Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And it’s true. After the bombing, there were lots of people helping. There were people running towards the chaos and the injured people instead of away from it. There were people taking care of neighbours and friends and people that they didn’t even know. And the same is true whenever there is something terrible and tragic happening in the news… there are people helping, there are people giving of themselves, there are people living into the potential that they were given as a divine gift. There are people growing into the image and likeness of God.

Last week, as we remembered the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the earliest Christians on the day of Pentecost, we celebrated the fact that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us too. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; the Spirit guides us in our decision-making; the Spirit comforts us in our sorrow, and empowers us to love one another.

Today’s scripture readings point out the precious gifts that we receive from the one gift of the Spirit. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome explains that “God’s LOVE has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The author of the Fourth Gospel tells us that the Spirit is a Spirit of TRUTH. When the Spirit comes, “he will guide [us] into all the truth.”

And finally in Proverbs, the Spirit is described as the WISDOM of God, calling out to all the people to heed her voice. Wisdom is both an aspect of God’s personality and a gift to human beings. Wisdom is the speaker who not only explains who God is, but reminds us of who we seek to be. Wisdom speaks to everyone, and every one of us has a piece of wisdom in our souls, if we just pay close enough attention.

I wonder how many of you actually think of yourselves as wise. Wisdom isn’t the same as knowing a bunch of stuff. It’s not the same as being smart. And it’s not a matter of how much education, or how many degrees we may have.

Human wisdom is intuition. It’s life experience. It’s the sum of our experiences, and the perspectives and insights that are part of our core being. And when, with the help of God, we put away ambition, and self-interest, and prejudice… When we look to God for direction, reflect on our experience, and pay attention to the insights of others, we have the chance to experience the wisdom of God within ourselves and our community.

Yesterday I had the task of leading a conference call with the representatives from our Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan who will be attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada next weekend. Bev Shepansky, the minister at Mistawasis, and Mabel Litowski, an elder from Melfort, will be our commissioners to the big annual meeting of our denomination. Violet Haddad, a young person from Prince Albert, will be attending as our Young Adult Representative.

Our phone call was mostly for the purpose of making sure these three women were ready for the Assembly. They have their books of reports, and they’ve been reading, and their travel arrangements are all made. But we also talked about the overall purpose of the Assembly. It’s about the church gathering, coming together to think about what we’ve been doing and what we’re planning to do, and to ask the Spirit to lead and guide us. It’s about asking for God’s wisdom for all the decisions that we will make and the directions that we will go.

You see, Presbyterians are all about making decisions together. We believe that when we come together, when we openly and honestly discuss and debate, and when we ask for God’s help, that the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth, and love, and wisdom. We pray that it will – next weekend at the General Assembly – and in the months and years ahead.

Here at St. Andrew’s, today is a day for coming together and gathering the wisdom of God’s people as well. After worship, you’re invited to stay for lunch in the lower hall of the church, and then we’ll have our Annual Program Meeting. The Outreach Committee will share with us about their plans and hopes for the coming year, and they’ll be looking for your input, your ideas, and your wisdom as well for how best to reach out beyond our church walls and into the community.

But even now, even as we continue our worship together, we are going to take some time to reflect and to share our individual insight and wisdom. The Session and its Worship Committee have prepared a survey on the topic of Holy Communion, and we’ll take some time now to reflect on the questions and complete our surveys. Thank you, in advance, for your thoughtfulness and care in sharing your wisdom with us. By doing so, you are assisting the Session in providing for the spiritual needs of the congregation.

May God guide us to know and to follow the wisdom of the Spirit in all that we do, and may we grow more and more into the image and likeness of God. Amen.