God never tempts us; God gives perfect gifts, says Wiseman

The Rev. Karyn L. Wiseman, pastor at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, delivers her sermon “A Theology of Abundance” Sunday in the Amphitheater. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“I want to tell you about my worst gift and my best gift,” said the Rev. Karyn L. Wiseman. “Close your eyes. Maybe it is Christmas Day or your birthday. You get ready for the day and open a gift.”

She continued, “You have one of two reactions, ‘Who the heck gave me this gift? I didn’t ask for it and boy is it ugly.’ Or, ‘This is exactly what I imagined, wanted, needed; it is the perfect gift.’”

Wiseman preached at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Perfect Gifts” and the scripture text was James 1:12-18. 

Early in her relationship with her wife, Cindy, Wiseman celebrated Christmas with Cindy’s family in Arkansas. Wiseman was not sure that everyone knew that she would be coming; several of the gifts with her name on them looked like they had been hurriedly wrapped. 

When Wiseman opened the package from Cindy’s grandmother, Mrs. Claussen, she tried not to show the look on her face. “In the box was the ugliest broach I ever saw. I thought, ‘Who would buy that?’” Wiseman said. “But I said, ‘It has some of my favorite colors,’ and I pinned it on.”

When she got back home, Wiseman dropped the broach in the lost-and-found at school, but six months later it was still there. She moved it to the church flea market. “Mrs. Claussen did not know me, but she gave me a gift,” Wiseman said.

The aviator Amelia Earhart is a hero of Wiseman’s. “If I had been born in different circumstances, I would have learned to fly. For one of my birthdays, Cindy gave me a free introductory flight lesson. That was a gift from someone who knows me and it gave me joy and it is one of my favorite memories.”

Reflecting on the scripture lesson in James, Wiseman said that “James is a hard book. In the first part of the reading James talks about sin. For so many of us, when we experience something bad, like a gift we don’t want, or a broken arm, or our grandson loses the ballgame, we say God is testing us.”

She continued, “James says that is not true. God gives us the perfect gift – a world to live in, grace and forgiveness. We are lured by the things that are not from God when we go through tough times. James is very clear: Everything good comes from heaven; God gives us the things which give us hope and joy.”

Wiseman told a story of a friend who said when things went right, she would get on her knees and give thanks to God, but when things went wrong she would stop and say, “What did I do to you, God?”

That reaction happens to all of us, Wiseman said. “We say, why me? What did I do? Why is there so much pain and violence in the world? What have we done wrong? What we have done wrong is that we have been lured into a system that perpetuates violence on the earth. We use up precious resources, we don’t support Indigenous water rights and then force them to buy back the land that was once theirs.”

The temptations are out there but there is also room for joy. Wiseman, Cindy and their son Shelby were visiting Cindy’s parents, Jane and Dick. “That’s right, Jane and Dick,” said Wiseman in an aside. 

Jane and Dick wanted seafood, which is not a favorite of Cindy’s, but Shelby and Wiseman were happy to get crab legs. Wiseman, Shelby and Dick ate for about 45 minutes non-stop as the restaurant kept re-filling the bucket of crab. 

“Jane laughed at us and it was a perfect gift, a perfect memory,” Wiseman said. “It is hubris for us to think that life will always go right. James tells us not to be pulled away from God. You may go toward death, but you will only rise in Christ when you die to sin.”

She continued, “When we make better choices, we can trust God with what is happening in our lives. When we live a life of faith, the abundance is clear. God never changes, but we get lured away and we change and then we disconnect with God.”

Wiseman told the congregation that the one thing she knows, at the very, very depth of her being, is “God wants us to live a life of faith and to know that we are loved.”

One day after church, Wiseman was approached by one of her 5-year-old parishioners. He called her PK, Pastor Karyn, and said, “Look, I found something for you. It was in a little box of jewelry.”  Wiseman thought, “Oh, not again, he found the broach.” 

When the boy opened his hand, there was a button with a green frog on it and the words, “You are loved.” Wiseman said, “I have that button on my stole today. I am reminded of my initial reaction, but this button was a gracious gift. It said, God loves you and so do I.”

Wiseman uses the phrase, “God loves you and so I do I,” as her sign off on videos or Facebook. “No matter how far we try to get away, God keeps running to keep up with us. God has given us so much in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit we keep connected to God, to others and to Mother Earth. God loves you and so do I. Amen.”

Isabel Packevicz, student minister in the Department of Religion this season, presided. Bruce Johnson, a Presbyterian elder and a member of the Motet Choir, read the scripture. The prelude was “Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657,” by Johann Sebastian Bach, played by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Stigall, sang “In All Things Give Us Love,” music by Eugene Butler and text by Carlton C. Buck. The postlude was “Nun danket alle Gott, Op.65, No. 59” by Sigfrid Karg-Elert. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy.


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.