2 Easter, 2021: Small Wire

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

For video version, scroll to bottom

Sermon Texts: John 20:19-31 and…

Small Wire
by Anne Sexton

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

I am asking for your grace here,
and perhaps indulgence.
This Anne Sexton poem
has a place in my heart
and life
that is abiding
and powerful.

Someone gave me
a handwritten version of it
that I carried for years and years
until is became too faded and frayed.
It was a double-sided gift
that only revealed one side
at the time I first read it.

Honestly, it has been so long
with so much water under the bridge
that I can’t clearly remember in detail
what was going on at the time,
except that I was considering leaving seminary –
in the very first semester.
Perhaps a bit like Thomas,
everyone else seemed to know more than me
and seemed so sure of what they knew.

I had entered seminary as an exploration,
not with any clear vision or understanding
or with a goal in mind.

Halfway through that first semester
I was pretty sure it was a mistake.
And trust me, if I couldn’t handle
The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.
then I wasn’t going to fit in anywhere.
It was a wide-open feminist, social justice,
and academically venturesome institution —
at least for its time.

But dang, if people didn’t walk around
talking theology
with the confidence of ideology
and as if it was obvious and apparent
for everyone to see.
It was like the week Thomas had to live through
with his colleagues all talking about something
he couldn’t understand because
he had not experienced it.
And to be brutally honest,
it had been five years
since I attended church
other than Christmas Eve with family.

Suddenly I was in the belly of the whale.
I felt like I was in the old horror/Sci-Fi movie,
”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”
and I was the last one left.

Well, along came this poem
from Anne Sexton.
She was speaking my language
and saying something I could understand.
Somehow she gave me a little confidence
with which to see through the bravado
being exhaled all around me.

Anne was just one of the reasons
I kept on going
but she came to symbolize so much more.
Then the other side of the gift
came along years later.
She was the one
who introduced me to poetry I liked.
She wrote poems I could understand
in a language
and with a concreteness
and frankness
that the poetry I read before her
never seemed to have.
All these years later
all those poems later
I count this poem, Small Wire,
as the first.

Okay, that was a way-long introduction
that was too much about me
and maybe not enough about us.
Except that I think maybe it is about us.

Faith IS “…a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web…”

But here is the thing about faith,
it doesn’t take goo-gobs of it
to be a person of faith.

”…God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love…”

How is it we came to think of faith
as a quantity?
It’s like the old McDonald’s cheeseburger, fries,
and coke that got super-sized
but now requires an athletic eating competition
to consume.

Faith isn’t an athletic ability
that measures whether you are a LeBron James
or Mr. Magoo,
one with obvious superior talent
the other a cartoon character.

Faith, authentic faith,
is always hung
by a thin wire
but we confuse faith with belief.

We have tons of belief
about all sorts of things.
We believe in conspiracy theories
and we believe that science will save us.
We believe the vaccines are not safe
and we belief they are the answer.
We believe in what Donald Trump says
and we believe that anything he says is unbelievable.

We believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
and we believe that Jesus is God.
We believe that Buddha uncovered the path
to enlightenment
and we believe that Mohammad
was the last of the prophets.

Those are all beliefs not faith.

Belief comes from the Greek word, PISTIS,
which denotes an investment of confidence
in something
or someone, but most especially
that something is true.
We believe in certain descriptions of reality
and act accordingly.
Beliefs are an intellectual assent,
a decision to give credit to something.
Beliefs are ideas about how things are
or the way things are supposed to be
and we back those with our confidence
and choices.

But faith is something else altogether.

In ancient Hebrew, the word translated into English
is EMUNAH and shares its roots
with the words for WOMB and MERCY.

Faith is experiential rather than intellectual.
It is what surrounds us
and holds us.
It is not something we “believe in”
it is an EXPERIENCE to which we say “YES!”
or even, “NO!”

Like all experiences
we hold onto them or we do not.
They slip away into memory
and fade in importance,
or we hold onto them
and keep them present.

In fact, “to hold onto”
is a common Biblical interpretation
of the word Emunah.
Faith is the experience of holding onto God.
That is why it is hung upon a thin wire —
because experience for us
is a spider’s web
upon which we dangle.
We are always playing with memory
of experiences
and interpreting and re-interpreting them
so that they conform
to our beliefs.
Belief has confirmation bias
built into it.
We look for what we believe
and when we find something that contradicts
our beliefs,
we look to re-interpret it or discard it
of somehow make it conform
to what we thought in the first place.

Faith does not interpret.
Faith does not subject experience to analysis.
Faith holds onto the experience.
Like awe or joy,
once we start analyzing faith
it is gone.
We hold onto it
or we don’t,
and then it fades and is gone.
It does indeed hang from a small wire.

But just like a cough
and love
cannot be concealed,
even a small cough
and even a small love,
a small faith held onto
is enough.

So I guess I am inviting you too,
to redefine faith, and
decouple it from belief.

Truly, a small faith
held tenaciously over time,
is enough.

Beliefs are a dime a dozen
and we have bunches of them.
But the experience of faith?
The experience of God’s presence?
The experience of the Creator-of-all-that-is
in the moment with us
as if the very womb that holds us?
That is a rare and precious moment
to hold onto for a lifetime.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said it before,
but thank you, Anne. Thank you.