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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Feast of Justin, Martyr of Rome

(Delivered in Seabury-Western's chapel today. The Collect and appointed scriptures may be found here.)

Recognize these? These are my Early Church History trading cards. Of all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the last three years, I will admit to you that these silly things are on my short list of favorites. Okay, so they're a little geeky; but then, I'm a little geeky. I think they're really cool.

This is the card for Justin Martyr, whose life and example we remember today. The card notes that Justin died in the year 167, and that he was a lay philosopher and theologian. It also tells me that the collect we prayed a few minutes ago was correct-- he really did wander from teacher to teacher trying to learn wisdom. My card notes that he first studied under a Stoic philosopher, then a Peripatetic (Aristotelian), then a Pythagorean, then a Platonist.

The boy got around.

Now, wisdom was a big deal in pagan philosophies. But in my newfound alter-ego as Bible-rella, the “buxom yet wholesome Indiana farm girl who discovers the magical powers of scripture” I will remind you that the Bible also talks a lot about wisdom. Solomon was famous for it, of course-- and there's even a whole book in the apocryphal writings called the Wisdom of Solomon. Job, psalms, Proverbs, prophets... it's all over. And it is usually seen as a Good Thing: seeking after wisdom is a long-standing tradition. “Get wisdom, and get insight,” the Proverbs say. "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call understanding your kinsman."

Then we read Paul. And I'm sure no one is surprised that he's a little contrary. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth takes a different tack. Paul says foolishness is how God decides to reach us. “God’s foolishness,” he says, “is wiser than human wisdom.”

Justin certainly found that to be true. After all that work, he suddenly found enlightenment, and a purpose for his life (and death) in a single conversation with an old man on the beach. Doesn't that sound foolish to you? I mean, here's this very well-educated man, a lifelong seeker after wisdom and knowledge, who-- after years of intentional study and training in some serious philosophical disciplines-- finds enlightenment in a chat with some stranger? That's illogical; it makes no sense to the engineer side of my brain at all.

But you know, when I think of my time here at Seabury, I can understand. Today is the last day of classes-- the last one of the year for most people here; and truly the last one for those of us graduating. I have Frank Yamada’s class on Exilic Prophets at 3:00 this afternoon; and when I walk out of there, I will be done. Done! Three years spent studying, and reading, and writing papers, and taking online quizzes, and blogging, and presentations, and projects, and small groups. . . all that work, and learning, in an effort to develop some wisdom and understanding.

However, much of what I will take with me from this place, and some of the most important things I’ve learned, came to me in some foolish moments well away from our classrooms, and in ways that defy logic.
  • I learned that the best way to begin an intentional, formal, structured seminary education is by skipping up and down the aisle of the chapel, singing with a new friend.
  • I learned that traveling to Mississippi was a great way to get to know a guy from California, and a woman from Ohio.
  • I learned that a walk down to D&D’s for cheese fries really can solve some of the world’s problems-- at least, temporarily.
  • I learned that in the blink of an eye, a sterile emergency room can become sacred space; and an old Eagles song can become sacred music.
In short, the silly, illogical, whimsical moments I have shared here with you all have taught me some of the most complex and profound lessons of my life.

So this is my prayer for you, my brothers and sisters; my prayer for us all: that, along with all the wisdom we’ve learned, we will remember to be foolish.
  • To listen for and to hear the sacred in the silly and mundane.
  • To see the hand of God in every human life, even (or maybe especially!) within disagreement and misunderstanding.
  • To feel the presence of our omnipotent God, and Jesus, crucified and risen, in simple bread and simple wine.
  • To live as we are called, as agents both of godly comfort and holy discontent.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Frank said...

Very Buechner-esque. Well done Jane! I'm glad that my class can be a period at the end of your seminary journey.

June 01, 2005 9:47 PM  

Anonymous Kate Kamphausen said...

Godly comfort and holy discontent. In five words, you have said it so very very well.

You must understand, I spent many years (off and on) among people who said, alternately, of themselves, "God hit me over the head with a 2x4," and warningly to me, "Don't get too comfortable." And I knew the God I know didn't relate to me in those ways - I was secure in that - but it was nevertheless highly unnerving, and often quite lonely, to try to exist and walk my life of faith amongst such conversations.

But you have said it perfectly, nailed it right on the noggin (without any 2x4s). Thank you. What power words have - especially the right ones! A blessing of healing, unexpectedly, on this gray weekday afternoon.

I may need to borrow this phrase for a poem sometime, if you don't mind ...?

and many much multiple congrats on graduating!!!!!

June 02, 2005 2:00 PM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

If you do as well in Montana, I may be out of a job.

June 04, 2005 10:57 AM  

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