Marriage of Words and Wisdom

JenXEvelyn090316
A homily given at the marriage of Jennifer Young and Evelyn Duffy on September 3, 2016 at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. The scripture readings are Proverbs 3:13-18, Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7, Romans 12:9-18, and Matthew 7:24-29.

I’m not sure how each of you were invited to this day.  You may have gotten reminders (weekly, monthly, quarterly) for over a year, now.  Or, you might have gotten a phone call. You could have gotten a carefully designed paper invitation.  But if of you got the artful invitation by email, you might noticed something unusual about the email address. A little like Brad and Anjelina, like Ben and Jennifer, Jen and Evelyn created a new word:  JENXEVELYN.  The emails come from Jen Evelyn or jenxevelyn@emailaccount.

I like that they created a new word.  For two people who love words so much, who choose their words so carefully, and who share their word with others, it seemed most appropriate.

It won’t surprise you that Evelyn and Jen picked all of the scripture readings today.  They chose the music and edited the liturgy with the care and dedication that only two people who love words can do.  I knew they were a little nervous when one of the early worship leaflet drafts actually had two mistakes.  (And they were good ones.  At the offering of the Holy Eucharist, the typo had the priest say, “Take, eat, this is my bod.”  And the other was at the fraction, or breaking of the bread, and they had me saying, “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;  Therefore let us keep the feat.”  It was a mighty feat, indeed, but that would have been a slightly jarring liturgical change.)

If there were a primary word for the readings of this marriage, that word might be Wisdom.  Wisdom runs through this service just as surely as the Bible describes Lady Wisdom running through the streets.  The Book of Proverbs describes her

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:  (Proverbs 1:20-21)

The reading we have puts it simply: “Happy are they who find wisdom.” Happy are they are hear Wisdom’s invitation, who stop to listen, to invite her home for a cup of tea.  Happy are those who make Wisdom and her words the stuff to live by.

Theologians who think about such things sometimes trace the path of wisdom from the very beginning, from God’s ruach, or breath, that hovered over the abyss in the very beginning.  Throughout creation, God speaks, and something is created.  God’s breath, filled with wisdom, animates all of creation.

This spirit finds expression in the form of Lady Wisdom, Sophia, who runs through the streets and sometimes chases us down to bring us to truth, but this same Spirit, this same Sophia finds form in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  God’s breath finds a home in flesh and blood and Jesus then moves through the streets, calling all who will listen, saying such things as in today’s Gospel:

Be like the wise one who builds a house on rock.
Don’t be like the one who builds a house on sand—hurricanes of all kinds can take it away.
But build a good foundation.

Those from this church who watched as we built that wing for accessibility remember well the excavating, planning, building, and rebuilding (not to mention the “paying for”) of a foundation.  If a massive storm were to hit Woodley Park, it might easily take away the main church, the administration building, the apartment buildings, the million-dollar houses on this street— but I can almost guarantee, that the new wing of All Souls Church is not going anyway.  It’s staying put, on helical piers and stone.

Jesus is saying, “Pay attention to your foundation.”

And this brings us back to words.

In the early times of the Christian Church, especially in the 4th century, there were holy women and holy men who left the cities and went into the desert.  They were looking to pray, to get to know God, and to lose a few demons along the way.  Those who managed to live with themselves (and tame the demons that more often than not were within, rather than without) became people others would seek for advice or four counsel.  When a pilgrim would go to visit an Amah or an Abba, the standing question was, “Holy One, give us a word.”  “Give us a word.”

Sometimes that word might be spoken.  Sometimes it might be shown.  But always, it was shared.

Jen and Evelyn already have a great foundation for their marriage, a foundation in which almost everyone in this room has played a part.  Some of you taught them their first words, and many of us have benefitted from the right word, the best word, the gifted word from Jen or Evelyn at just the right time.

Jen and Evelyn:  Keep creating words.  Keep making new ones that (like God) create new being, and new possibilities.  Keep using words to push, to pray, to promise.

And keep embodying words.  Sometimes when a pilgrim would visit a desert mother or father, and ask, “Amah, give me a word,” the holy woman might give them a bowl of soup and say very little.  At your table, at others’ tables, you often treat a meal with its sacramental potential.  Words are eaten and savored and slurped up in thanksgiving to God.  So keep embodying words with your presence, your hospitality, and your embrace.

And finally, keep sharing words. Sometimes a word is to be kept in a safe place for a time, and offered only in silence.  But offered, it is—to one another, to God, to the universe.

Brother Curtis Almquist, at an Episcopal Monastery in Cambridge, Mass. (the Society of St. John the Evangelist) has written this about the dessert way of wisdom,

The early desert monastics learned what is repeated again and again in the wisdom literature of the Scriptures: you cannot do it alone. Left alone, to our own devices, cleverness, and calculations, we are incredibly vulnerable to self-deception.

In your commitment to one another leading up to this day and celebrated in this marriage, you affirm that you follow wisdom in each other and you cannot do it alone.  Remember that.  Share in accepting the words of others, share in the Word of God, and continue to share your words (spoken and unspoken) with those God puts in your path.

People through the ages have looked for the right word, have listened for the word of Wisdom, but as God assured the people in Deuteronomy, don’t ever doubt.  Don’t ever lose heart. God promises, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”  (Deuteronomy 30:14)

May you know and love the Word of God fully and ever more fully, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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