Set aside immaturity to feast at Wisdom’s table, says Harper in sermon: ‘Lean in and listen’


The Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper, minister of older adults at the Riverside Church in New York City, delivers her sermon on Sunday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

In the 12th century, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen wrote a prayer to divine wisdom, which she called Sophia: “You of the whirling wings, / circling, encompassing energy of God: / you quicken the world in your clasp. / One wing soars in heaven, one wing sweeps the earth, / and the third flies all around us. /  Praise to Sophia! / Let all the earth praise her!”

 “Sophia is the encompassing energy of God, which gives life to the world and prompts exuberant praise,” said the Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper. “God’s name is Sophia and you ignore her at your peril. Let us lean in and attempt to listen.” Harper preached at the 9 a.m. Aug. 17 worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Feasting at Wisdom’s Table,” and the Scripture text was Proverbs 9:1-6.

In the Scripture, Wisdom builds a house, carves pillars, slaughters the meat, mixes the wine, sets the table and goes out into the street to call everyone to the feast.

“She is an architect, mason, chef and town crier,” Harper told the Amp congregation. “The world is quickened in her clasp. She edifies and nourishes. She calls in the simple and those without sense to dine at her table and find sustenance for the soul.”

The object of the banquet is hospitality. Wisdom invites people to come in, to take and eat, to drink up, to come inside and party. 

“Jesus was Sophia Wisdom when he was the host at the Last Supper, inviting the disciples to take and eat,” Harper said. “We break bread at Communion and Jesus described the Kingdom of God as a great banquet. Woman Wisdom became Jesus and God is the host at a celebration that is communal and festive.”

Like those who reject the invitation to the great feast, there are people who reject Woman Wisdom’s invitation. Harper said to the congregation, “With the revelry comes responsibility. We have to lay aside our immaturity and walk in the way of insight. As Paul said, we have to put away childish things. We have to take up our cross with Jesus. As the Torah says, we have to protect the widow and orphan, and as all the law and prophets say, to love God and our neighbor.”

When we sit at Woman Wisdom’s feast, Harper said, we are changed individually and communally. 

“We have to spiritually grow up from our emotional kindergarten. We live in a culture that worships youth; it is anti-aging and anti-maturity and spiritual wisdom.”

Elderhood is a source of wisdom, not always a time of decline. As minister for older adults at the Riverside Church, Harper has found that “being wise is not automatic, but experience can help. I know people who have feasted at the table of wisdom for a long time and forged their faith there.”

As an example, Harper talked about Susan, a climate change advocate at her church. She helped develop a zero-waste plan for the church, one item of which was to divest from fossil fuels. 

“Susan says that her later years are the best; she is at her most passionate. She has an inner fire to heal the world. She is teaching the rest of us to slow down and listen to what it means to leave aside immaturity and find insight,” Harper said.

“We live in a world that feasts at the juvenile and Wisdom’s feast may seem poorly attended,” Harper said. “As Fred Rogers said, ‘Always look for the helpers.’ They point to a more excellent way. Look for the helpers and seek to join their ranks. Keep a chair at Wisdom’s table. Trust the sustenance with help from the helpers and Sophia Wisdom and you will quicken in her clasp.” 

The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot presided. The Rev. Richard Meyers, pastor emeritus of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rochester, read the Scripture. The prelude was an improvisation played by Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music. Members of the Motet Choir sang “The Eyes of All,” with music by Jean Berger and words from Psalm 145:15-16. The postlude was “Fanfare,” by Antonio Soler. The Edmund R. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provide funds for this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : chaplain-in-residencemorning worshipmorning worship recapRev. Lynn Casteel HarperWeek Eight

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.