Year A, Pentecost, Proper 27
United Church of Christ minister and scholar, Rev. Kate Huey, writes in the UCC lectionary blog, “Sermon Seeds”[i], “One of my favorite phrases, heard years ago, is ‘trouble and beauty.’” Kate is focusing on the Matthew text in her reflection, however I find her phrase an apt description of the all the lectionary texts this week. All the texts hold the” beauty” of God’s presence as well as the “trouble” that can come when we see our lives reflected in God’s presence. While we move through life held in the comfort of God’s grace, there are times we cannot perceive this beauty until we are troubled by the judgment and justice of God’s course correction in our lives. God’s truth and wisdom, even God’s love, can be as unsettling as they are grounding in their invitation into transformation.
One of the images running through the texts illustrating their trouble and beauty is the image of darkness. We know darkness in the beauty of the night sky and the impending gloom of a troubling storm. Darkness has connotations of protection and warmth as well as cold and danger. At times the darkness in our scriptures seems literal as in the midnight darkness when the bridesmaids of Matthew light their lamps for the bridegroom’s return or the prophesied darkness at the day of the Lord in Amos. At other times it is more metaphor. “I will utter dark sayings from of old,” says God in Psalm 78. Paul talks of death in the context of resurrection in 1 Thessalonians. We often imagine death as darkness. Wisdom is radiant and shining in the Wisdom of Solomon and a certain amount of darkness is needed to see light. Darkness is associated with unknowing and we desire Wisdom in order to know God and come into God’s Kingdom. Joshua offers the people at Shechem the opportunity to choose Yahweh, to be utterly and completely known and held accountable or to choose other gods with less demanding ways.
The action of “choice” is another image or motif running through the scriptures. What choices will you make in relationship to God and God’s ways in the world? Will you choose to pursue wisdom? Will you listen to God’s “sayings of old?” “Are your actions congruent with your professed choices,” asks the prophet Amos? Do you really want the Lord to come in judgment when you are not following God’s ways? “Will you choose life and resurrection in Christ,” asks Paul? Are you prepared like the ten wise bridesmaids? Have you chosen to pay attention to your life?
Stories with vivid images of darkness and light are appropriate this week. What do we discover in the light that we might never have known if we had not experienced darkness first? Stories about crucial choices to what life brings are also good. In the best of times we more readily envision choosing the ways of God. What are the stories of people who have made that choice – chosen life and justice and love – in the hardest times?
There are two stories below that speak of the action of choices as we seek wisdom in our lives. One is from the website, Wisdom Commons. The other is a longer tale, “Fatima, the Spinner.” Both stories could also incorporate images of darkness and light using the imagination of the storyteller. As you read them notice where the action of choice meets – or could meet – an image of darkness/light. Sometimes we learn best when all is revealed in light. Sometimes our deepest lessons of wisdom come to us in the dark.
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.
The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.
But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know the great value of this stone, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”
Sometimes it’s not the wealth you have but what’s inside you that others need.
“Fatima, the Spinner”[iii] is a tale told by the great Sufi storyteller, Idries Shaw. It is about a young woman who endures catastrophic changes in her life that require her to discern wise choices despite her despair. Her choices lead through unexpected lessons that eventually add up to gaining the life she hoped to lead in a surprising way. It is a delightful tale with many twists and turns. You can read it a the link above. You can also read from Idries Shah’s picture book for children, Fatima, the Spinner and the Tent.[iv] Click the link above and then click the button that says “Open Book” at the lower right-hand side under the phrase, “Read it for free.”
Blessings on your story journeys,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!
[i] Sermon Seeds” is a weekly United Church of Christ lectionary reflection. You can read this week’s posting at: http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_november_12_2017