One of the things which makes me feel old – and if not really old, then certainly not young – is talking to people, usually younger, who have a vocabulary full of pop culture allusions.
For example, just recently Curate Dillon was in my office and we were talking about his previous mentors. Referring to the Episcopal priest he first knew, and who influenced him in his decision to become an Episcopalian, he said: “She’s my O. G.” Two letters: O and G.
I paused. “What is OG?”
As if to explain, he said that she was his “O-rig-i-nal gangster – OG.” As if this would clear everything up: “You know, like being in a gang, a gangster, a member of a gang.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
He replied, “Original, like one of the people who was there from the start.” From the look on his face, it seemed like he thought he was going to have to teach me the whole English language.
Now imagine – you can see Dillon doing this – he shrugged his shoulders, threw his hands up in the air, and said, “She was the first Episcopal priest I knew.” His face said: “NOW do you get it?”
My answer was still about 90% NO, but at least I knew who he was talking about, so I just said, “Go on with your story.”
I would be hard pressed to remember what he was telling me about his OG, but I will remember learning about the saying, ‘original gangster.’
We have all sorts of shorthand we use in communication. And when somebody uses shorthand, they expect that you will know what the shorthand means. Dillon thought I would know what OG was.
As a response to the readings today, there are three good subjects which we could identify as shorthand and take the time to ask what they actually mean. The three are: Wisdom, the tongue, and the cross.
What does Wisdom mean? Wisdom can be thought of as The Word of God or The Holy Spirit. These were with God from the beginning, and are present in both the Old Testament and the New. Wisdom is an “OG” of God the Father. Check the Nicene Creed.
Today, from the book of Proverbs we heard Wisdom in the squares raising her voice and crying out: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? … For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Wisdom answered the questions Israelites struggled with. Their questions are similar to many of our faith issues today. They asked questions about sin and suffering; they experienced joy and confidence in God’s love. In their search for Wisdom, they asked existential questions about God, humanity, Creation, and the nature of evil and suffering. With wisdom, there is a capacity of the mind that allows us to understand life from God’s perspective. To get wisdom we must fear God, study his Word and prayerfully desire to understand life from God’s perspective.
Having an idea about wisdom, we ask: “What is the tongue?”
It is more than a body part. It can be a metaphorical instrument which reveals the state of the soul. The tongue was shorthand for disclosing desires of the flesh, the body, and the world. This was a very important theme in Paul’s letters as he was concerned with the push and pull between the flesh and the spirit. He felt them both – good and evil – at odds in himself.
To Paul, setting a mind on worldly things was to be thinking of the present moment, self-gratification, and sin without regard to God or others. By contrast, setting a mind on divine things was to forget about what is passing away and to focus on eternal life with Gid. Thinking of divine things – or saying divine things with the tongue – led to peace in the knowledge of eternal life – something far beyond the concerns of the world.
Most simply put, the tongue is a barometer of the soul. It represents the struggle that takes place in every human heart. It was a shorthand way of referring to the fact that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Now we ask: What does it mean to take up your cross?
In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to God and said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” When Jesus literally took up the cross, it was not by human fear, but divine assurance. It was on the cross that God was proved to be stronger than death. Jesus became entirely weak so the world would know that God’s love is all powerful.
Except for the singular instance when Jesus did it, ‘taking up the cross’ does not literally mean finding a tree upon which to be crucified. It doesn’t have a literal meaning, it has a more-than-literal meaning. It is used as metaphor.
Your cross may be a child with addiction, a chronic illness, or grief. The cross is the weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties you carry everywhere you go.
Paul’s cross was to bear the thorn in his side which he begged God to remove. When it stayed with him, he found that when he was weak he felt most powerfully the strength of God’s love at work in him. He learned what it meant for God to be your OG.
Without the thorn in his side (in other words, without carrying his cross), Paul simply may have relied on his own intelligence and charisma to make him successful as he traveled telling his story of becoming a follower of Christ. Without weakness, he may not have welcomed God in to make him able to carry out his ministry.
Therefore, “to take up your cross,” means that you live with the knowledge of what is making you weak, and, by way of radically accepting that reality, you find that God has made you stronger than you ever would have been alone. This is the strength of God’s love at work in you.
Wisdom. The tongue. Taking up your cross. Go through the week thinking about what they mean for you.
The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
Sept. 12, 2021
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS