The Birds, The Cheese, and God

Preached on 21 May at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle, Wa
First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C Trinity Sunday

I love watching birds, but I’m not a bird-watcher.  I delight in watching a raptor circling above, soaring on the air currents, hunting for its next meal, or swallows darting to and fro over a field – appearing to fly for the pure delight of it, although they, too, are probably after food.  It’s breathtaking to watch a flock of birds at the beach flying in concert, turning in unison or in a sort of wave.

And I enjoy sitting on my deck in the morning listening to the birds sing.  Now since I never seem to actually see the individual singing, I have no idea which birds sound like what.  To be honest, I know very little about birds and couldn’t tell a sparrow from a chickadee from a wren.  But that doesn’t diminish my delight; the experience of listening to their song and watching them fly enriches my life.

I also enjoy tasting cheese.  I’m not sure how I got started.  When I was a kid, I liked mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches, but that was about it.  Perhaps it was because my father’s tastes leaned toward extra sharp aged cheddar and that was a bit much for me.  Somewhere along the way, I must have tried some milder, gentler varieties and realized that I really did, in fact, like cheese.

I expanded my experience, tasting different types of cheeses – fresh cheese, aged cheese; creamy, crumbly; bloomy-rinded cheeses and cheese preserved in ash.
I tried cheese made from different kinds of milk – sheep, goat, and even buffalo.  I discovered that if I talked to the cheese monger, I could learn more about the cheeses and they could help me choose something I would like – even offering samples.  I heard cheese described as nutty or pungent or even grassy.  Since I don’t eat grass, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.  When I travel abroad, I like to stop in a cheese shop and try some of the local cheese.  With their “little bit of English” and my “little bit of French” or whatever, we manage to communicate and I experience a new cheese for a picnic lunch.

In my life with cheese, I have reached the point where I want to learn some more about it, to learn the language so that I can communicate with other people a bit better about cheese.  I bought a book.  I expect that as I understand cheese better, I will be able to broaden my horizons even more seeking out new experiences with cheese.

You probably have interests like these in your own lives.  Things that delight you just for being, as well as things that you know and understand more deeply.

What I’m getting at is the centrality of actual experience in our lives.  Sharing experiences – either experiencing something together and then talking about it or listening to someone else telling their story or telling our own, opens our hearts and minds to new interpretations, new understandings of our experiences, of our neighbor, of our world.

It opens our lives to the possibility of richer experiences and relationships in the future.

We can also share experiences across space and time.  I bought a book to learn more about cheese.  But there are so many ways we can learn about what people in other places and other times have experienced and how they have interpreted them.

This is especially true when it comes to our experience with God.  How often we don’t recognize God until we look back on it.  Or until we hear someone else’s story and see the similarities. When we interpret those experiences, we develop an idea of the nature of God and of God’s relationship to us and to the world.

Now, on the one hand, we can delight in God the way I delight in birds.  On the other hand, at some point in our life with God, we may want to learn more:  How have people in other places and times experienced God?  How have they interpreted them?  How do they describe the nature of God and how has that played out in their relationship with God, with one another and with the world?  What metaphors, images, or names have they used for God?

Our Creeds and Doctrines and Holy Scriptures can be helpful in this search for deeper understanding.  The key question is this How do they enrich and strengthen our own relationship with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor, and with the world around us?

As an example, let’s look at a couple of our readings for this morning.  The psalmist extols the praises of God, and the majesty of God’s creation; and then wonders at how this magnificent God, out of all of this Creation would pay attention to one seemingly small, insignificant individual.  God reveals Godself to us, desires a relationship with us.  Scripture is filled with stories of God reaching out to people and of people crying out to God and God responding.  The psalmist understands humanity’s place in creation as “just below the angels” and master of all living things.

In Proverbs, we hear about Lady Wisdom who is thought to be the pre-incarnate Christ, in some traditions.  We heard just a brief excerpt from this hymn to Wisdom.  Lady Wisdom is calling out in the street, at the crossroads, at the gates of the city!  She calls to all living things, offering her gifts of wisdom and understanding.  She reminds them that she was with God before the beginning of the beginning; when there were no depths, no springs, no mountains or hills. Remember how Genesis starts?  “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”  Lady Wisdom was with God before the deep existed.  She was with God through all of creation, delighting God, rejoicing with God, and delighting in the human race.

How might this image of Christ as Lady Wisdom affect your relationship with God?  Does it help you understand your experience?

God is as God is – what we read or write, or say or think about God doesn’t change God.  But our Creeds and Doctrines and Scriptures, our images and names for God do help us communicate our experiences.  Help us understand the nature of God.  They can give us something of a common language to explain that which is difficult to explain.

What’s important to consider is this: How does your experience with God affect your life and how does your neighbor’s experience help you understand your own?  How does it expand your image of God and deepen your relationship with God?

And perhaps even more important,
How does your life with God free you to turn outward in order to become Community –  to help your neighbor or to ask your neighbor for help when you need it?

After all, I could read every book ever written about cheese, but it wouldn’t mean a thing  if I never take a bite.