Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, May 4, 2014
Who are the wise people in your lives? Who do you go to for wisdom? I have a couple of people in my life who push me to see the other side of difficult situations. Instead of trying to protect me from something painful, they encourage me to go deeply inside to that place of Spirit-imbued peace and then embrace whatever is painful. I don’t do this very well, but I know that therein lies wisdom.
Wisdom is often counter-cultural and ego-busting. If we seek advice from those who will simply reaffirm our decisions and wishes, we are not seeking wisdom—we are seeking to stroke our ego. Wisdom often takes us to an uncomfortable, sometimes unfamiliar place. Wisdom helps us see the invisible.
Two followers of Jesus were walking to a village called Emmaus when the risen Christ came up to them, asking them what they were talking about. His identity was invisible to them—they saw him only as a stranger, and a rather ignorant one at that. Somehow he didn’t know about Jesus’ crucifixion—something that all of Jerusalem was talking about. They patiently began to explain to him all that had happened. As the risen Christ listened, he turned the tables on them and called them ignorant and slow of heart not to have connected Jesus’ crucifixion with the biblical prophecies. But as he began to discuss the prophecies with them, they still didn’t recognize him. It was not until he later broke bread with them, that their eyes were opened.
The knowledge of scripture and the debate over its many meanings has long been an important part of the Christian church. But Christianity has always been more than knowledge. It’s not simply about intellectual assent to various beliefs. It’s about lived knowledge within community. When you share your lives with one another; when you break bread together, there you find the risen Christ; there you find wisdom. You may not find what is comfortable or even familiar, but when you share your lives together in a faith community such as this, you do find wisdom.
It is the elders of our community who are best able to impart wisdom. Those who have been able to integrate a life of experiences with knowledge offer the rest of us invaluable guidance.
Within Aboriginal communities, elders are identified by the community for their wisdom. They will rarely self-identify because the title of elder is a position of honour that only the community can bestow—similar to the title of minister emerita, which we have recently bestowed on Eleanor.
We used to have an elder system in this congregation and I think we lost something valuable when we decided to forego the recognition of elders. Today, I invite us to follow the teaching of the Aboriginal communities and acknowledge those elders whom we respect in this community for their wisdom. In each bulletin you will find a blank, purple paper. I would like us to write down on this paper the names of those within this community whom you value as an elder of wisdom. You may offer this recognition by placing your paper on the offering plate.
It is my prayer that we will have many of our wise ones present at the lunch immediately following the service as we discern together future outreach possibilities for Westworth. Mission is the lifeblood of the church. It will give us energy and impetus for our future. But we need wise, prayerful discernment as we take the next steps.
Sometimes we get impatient with the wise teaching of elders. Sometimes we dismiss their stories of wisdom as old-fashioned or even myths. However, we are beginning to learn that when we trump wisdom with knowledge, we often come up short-handed and short-sighted.
When my partner & I lived in South America, we heard many indigenous stories of wisdom. In Bolivia, where they grow over 1,000 varieties of potatoes, our guide told us that a European doctor of agronomy visited them and tried to help them increase their production of potatoes. “If you cut off the flowers,” he advised, “the growth will go into the roots instead and produce more potatoes.” The Aymara farmer thought about this for awhile but then replied, “But if I cut the flowers, the plants will be sad, and if the plants are sad, so will I be.” The Aymara farmer’s wisdom was dismissed as superstitious emotionalism. It was not until years later, that the scientific community realized that such a short-sighted approach that focussed on immediate gain, would disrupt pollination and upset the ecobalance.
We would be wise not to dismiss the wisdom of our elders so quickly, so easily. As we honour our own elders in this faith community, we give thanks for the teachings of the Aboriginal elders of our church who have given us the liturgy today and the revised United Church crest, which you will see on the front cover of the bulletin. You will see the four colours that have been added to the four quadrants, representing the four directions of Traditional teaching. One of those teachings tells us that we are all related to one another across different cultural and racial divides. It also tells us that we are related to all of creation—the animals and plants and even earth itself. That is the meaning of the Mohawk words printed on the bottom right of the crest. Translated, they mean “all my relations.”
As we honour the wisdom of our elders, and ask for God’s direction in our Outreach ministry, may we discern how we can honour all of our relations as we seek to be the hands and feet of the risen Christ within our community.