Why is it when an announcer says, “he needs no introduction,” the announcer goes on to read the list of accomplishments and awards already listed in the program?
Speaking of introductions, when I’m with a group of people who don’t know each other I immediately go into facilitator mode. I think of a name game, ice breaker or question that everyone needs to answer. I always get a few groans at that point. But at the end of the silly game the groaners are glad for the new connections made.
This morning I’d like to introduce you to Sophia. She’s one of the top five characters in the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. The other guys you know: Moses, David, Job, and well, Yahweh is not a guy, despite the male pronouns. I didn’t hear about Sophia in Sunday School and I’m not sure I’ve heard a sermon about her.
I think we could agree that Sophia needs an introduction. Our English Bibles simply capitalize the word Wisdom and then use feminine pronouns. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. Her nickname these days is Lady Wisdom.
In Proverbs, Sophia cries out in the street. She is persistent and invites us to move from simplistic thinking to deeper insight. And in Wisdom of Solomon, are these words: “She is more beautiful than the sun. Although she is but one, she can do all things. She orders all things well.”
In a religion that is filled with patriarchal language, Sophia is a breath of fresh air. She is not a real person, but a personification of God. She existed God with from the beginning. And for all the passages about her, she is still mysterious and elusive. One biblical image for Lady Wisdom is mist. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for famous people from the Hebrew scriptures, Sophia deserves to be there. But how would you picture her?
The concept of Sophia may have emerged from an Egyptian goddess. She is many things to many people, in different times and different places. To Jews, she is Torah. One passage calls her Holy Spirit. To Christians, she is Wisdom incarnate in Jesus. To some Russian Orthodox spiritual writers and to Thomas Merton—one of the most famous spiritual writers of the last century—Holy Wisdom—Hagia Sophia—is Mary, Mother of God.
And now for someone who surely needs no introduction, Jesus. “Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks the disciples. Well, there are a lot of ways to answer that question. For me, Jesus is the one who reveals the heart of God’s love and embrace of all people. Yet Jesus has also been used as a wedge to divide people.
“You all are Jesus lite.” That’s what a conservative Christian said at the end of his interview for a position with a praise band at a nearby Lutheran church. And then he prayed that the evil one be cast out of the church.
Before we get all judgmental in return, the words of James come back to us: the tongue is fire. How easy it is to lash out against evangelical Christians or even other conservative Lutherans. James, did you have to remind us that we dare not bless God with our lips and then in another breath curse those made in the image of God?
After Jesus’ “who do you say that I am” question, a side conversation happens. You can imagine it off the record. Peter rebukes Jesus, “your message isn’t going to sell, dude.” Sorry to make this announcement: following Jesus isn’t the way to instant happiness, a struggle-free life, and finding ready-made answers for everything. September 14 was Holy Cross Day. The cross continues to confound our certainties. Among other things, taking up the cross is about letting go, losing ourselves in service to something greater than ourselves. And sometimes it means giving up notions about God, ourselves, or life that no longer ring true.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to Nicole. I learned about her in a book called Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. Nicole was named Wyatt at birth, along with her twin brother, Jonas. But at age four Wyatt knew that he was felt like a girl in a boy’s body. In first grade, he would introduce himself by saying: “I’m a boy who wants to be a girl.” Wyatt’s father struggled with all of this but then he noticed how happy his child was when being able to dress and identify as a girl. With emotion, he added, “I realized that I had to change who I was.” And change, he did. And change Wyatt did as he became she, as Wyatt gradually became Nicole. It is a remarkable story. We have a family in our community, the Guilfioles, who have gone through a similar journey of transformation, and I hope you can stay, following worship for their presentation.
What about pronouns for God? God is beyond gender, but when male pronouns are exclusively used for God, it suggests to some that male = God. That’s the reason at Holy Trinity we try to balance pronouns and metaphors for God in sermons, hymns, liturgy, and prayers.
So may I introduce to you She Who Is. It’s the name of a well-known book by Elizabeth Johnson, a feminist grounded in Christian orthodoxy. At the heart of the book are three long chapters on Sophia from a Trinitarian perspective! No surprise: the author, a Roman Catholic sister, has been hounded over the years by the Vatican for her out-of-the-box progressive thinking.
Today there is talk about gender fluidity and moving beyond binary language when talking about human beings. It is good news for all of us. Each of us is unique and God calls us to be our deep and truest self. Of course, it would be great to have someone say of you, “she needs no introduction.” But wouldn’t these be awesome words to hear as well: “he is a work in progress. Change continues to transform her. Wisdom resides in them.”
I look forward to the day she needs no introduction: Sophia. Let the feminine pronoun catch you off guard, and revel in She who is. And then come to Wisdom’s feast. Eat of her bread and wine. For she cries out in the street, beckoning us to find in her wisdom, insight, abundant life.