Sermon for Trinity Sunday + June 16, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Texts: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; John 16:12-15
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A few years ago, Jim Surowiecki, released a book called The Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki opened his book with a story of fair goers in England, 787 fair goers to be exact, who were asked to guess the weight of a steer. When all of the guesses were averaged together, the crowd guessed that the steer weighed 1,197 pounds.
When they weighed the steer, do you know what the actual weight was? 1,198 pounds! The average of all the guesses was just one pound off from the actual.
Surowiecki’s proposal, is that there are ways in which wisdom exists in crowds, that does not always exist in experts. Granted, crowds are not always wiser. There is group think, consensus thinking, and mob mentality in which groups can be quite dangerous. But, if certain conditions exist, a group can be wiser than any one of its members.
According to Surowiecki, the two conditions that must exist in such a group are these: First, the crowd should be big enough to contain diverse opinions. Second, opinions should be formed independently from those around them, and be based on one’s own experiences and insights, and not be formed by being bullied or persuaded into an opinion held by others.
Wisdom found in the crowds. This is also the message of our first reading today, our reading from Proverbs. Our reading introduces us to Woman Wisdom, standing on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates, and at the entrances of the portals. Simply put, Woman Wisdom stands at all the intersections of life, at all the decision points, “I call,” says Wisdom, “and my cry is to all that live.”
Theologian Diane Bergant, suggests that wisdom in the book of Proverbs “is both a style of living and significant information that helps us to make life meaningful … it is a collection of insights gleaned from life choices … it teaches that whatever benefits humanity is good and to be pursued; and whatever is harmful should be avoided and condemned …”
Bergant’s proposal is that wisdom is not some objective, rigid, entity outside of community imposed upon us, but that wisdom found in Proverbs, and available to us, is the wisdom of insights, and best practices, and common sense that we receive from one another about what is best and good for society.
Imagine a group of travelers lost in a forest trying to make their way back to camp. As they journey, they come across other travelers, also lost. Together, they share insights with each other about where they have been, where they have found water, or food, or shelter.
Or, imagine the advice and insights given to a couple about to get married, by a couple celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary, or someone recently divorced.
Or, imagine a coach, a mentor, a colleague, who was walked the road before, offering insights, perspective, feedback.
If we combine Surowiecki’s insight (crowds containing diverse opinions and individuals in the crowd able to come to independent judgments) – with Bergant’s proposal (that we we glean wisdom from life experiences), then we might celebrate today that Woman Wisdom is alive and available to us today in community, in a diverse community where individuals are free to speak, participate, and contribute.
That is the witness of Proverbs, and the hope and promise of God pouring out in diverse human community of Woman Wisdom, received in the form of insights from and by travelers of faith, to and for other travelers in faith.
Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, travels together on a 60-day journey toward justice in a culture of gun violence. Information is in the bulletin (and on our website) and we will begin our intercessions with a Litany concerning gun violence.
For the next 60 days, on each day there will be a variety of reflections, scriptures, prayers, and other resources. The website of the ELCA introduces the journey in this way: “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is saddened by the all-too-frequent occurrences of gun violence in the U.S. We mourn the loss of life. We grieve for the victims and families, who often feel silenced. We lament for those who have done violence to others and often feel removed from a community of faith. We invite you on a journey for prayer, scripture, stories, and church teachings. Together, through daily observances, it calls us to work toward the prevention of gun violence as people of God who strive for justice and peace in all the world.”
The journey begins today, because tomorrow will mark the 4th Anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina. On that day, a white supremacist, hoping to incite a race war, shot and killed nine African Americans. The ELCA was intimately connected to that church shooting.
The congregation’s pastor, assassinated in the tragedy, earned a degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The shooter, was a member of an ELCA congregation.
According to the www.GunViolenceArchive.org, a total of 13,523 other Americans were also shot and killed in 2015. To put that number this way: if you gathered all the people killed in 2015 into groups of 9 (the number killed at Mother Emanuel Church), that would be the equivalent of 4 Charleston shootings every single day in 2015.
What that number does NOT include, is the number of people who killed themselves with a gun. One report suggests that in 2016, 22,938 people committed suicide with a gun, for a total of 38,648 people killed in the United States by a gun (https://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/18000510/gun-suicide-homicide-comparison). When you add the total number of people killed with a gun, that’s the equivalent of almost 12 Charleston shootings every single day in 2016, over 100 people dying daily.
While this issue has certainly been politicized, some calling gun control legislation an assault on 2nd Amendment rights, at its core, this is not a political issue, and this sermon, or this journey by the ELCA is not about pushing an agenda.
This is about a public health emergency.
This is about a spiritual health emergency.
This is about a rage and violence in society emergency.
The promise and hope of the ELCA beginning an intentional journey today, is the hope of a diverse community of conversation, opening itself up to Woman Wisdom, as together, we find the way forward. It is the hope that Woman Wisdom is alive today, in us, and speaking through us, as a diverse community committed to journeying together in prayer, in scripture, in deep and honest reflection, in being opened by the Holy Spirit to the wisdom that already exists, that is already alive, among us!
Today, we celebrate Trinity Sunday.
Because Christians, and Lutherans, are both shooters and victims, both imposing violence and suffering violence, both responsible for a hail of gunfire in this country and mowed down by it … because Christians washed in the same water, fed at the same table, and receiving the same Law and Gospel Word, are both victims and perpetrators …God cannot not stand idly by, and faith in our Triune God cannot allow us to stand idly by either.
God, the Triune God, acts.
God the Father, God the Mother, God the loving parent, continues to pour out upon us Woman Wisdom. Wisdom continues to be made available to us as we turn to each other, as we learn from one another, as we allow the diversity of our experiences, backgrounds, and insights, to be part of the conversation and discovery of collective wisdom.
God the Son, Jesus Christ, continues to be shot and killed. God, in the form of Jesus who died on the cross, experienced in his own body the full murderous violence of humanity. If they had guns in the time of Jesus, perhaps Jesus would have been killed, not on a cross, but by a firing squad? In his death on the cross, our savior experienced the full manifestation of human violence, and he continues to do so in those killed by guns in this country. And Jesus Christ raises the dead today to give us the hope of resurrection, that God’s power is stronger than any weapons that we can fire.
God the Holy Spirit, continues to speak the truth. Commenting on today’s Gospel reading, theologian Francis Moloney suggests that when Jesus prayed for the Holy Spirit to be upon the disciples, he was praying for “an aggressive and active presence of the Holy Spirit over against the World – exposing the failures of the world.” God, the Holy Spirit, speaks the truth in boldness – the truth that cuts across slogan of the partisan and powerful. The Spirit is alive in the truth of God’s love for the world and God’s desire that all would have life.
The Good News, is the Good News that Woman Wisdom lives today as a gift of our Triune God. In response to violence and guns and all the issues that threaten human community, on all issues before us as a congregation, Woman Wisdom speaks to us in the wisdom of the crowds. Woman Wisdom speaks when we commit in humility to hearing the Spirit speaking through the gifts, the talents, the shortcomings, of our fellow travelers in faith, our sisters and brothers in Christ.
As a gift of grace from our triune God, we have all the answers we need! The answers available to us, as we gather around Water & Word, Bread and Cup. Available to us, when in faith, we foster relationships, encourage conversations,and enter into dialogue of humility and respect, not with those who affirm our opinions, but those who challenge us with their diverse viewpoints and perspectives.
May God as Father, as Mother, as Loving Parent – continue to make Wisdom available to us through community.
May God as Son, our living Christ – continue to die with us, that we may have the hope and assurance that as we are victimized by violence, imposed upon us by others, or turned inward upon ourselves, we may have the promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
May God as Holy Spirit, fill us with truth and boldness, inspiring us and nurturing us for the difficult work ahead. May we be filled to speak the wisdom given to us to speak as we participate, as we share our opinions, as we speak the truths we feel need to be spoken. And, may the Spirit fill us with the courage to listen to others, especially those who have different opinions, experiences, and insights than our own. May the truth of God’s love, through wisdom available to us, lead us into relationships of life, healing, and justice for all the world.
Thanks be to God.