What is Wisdom saying to you?

What is Wisdom saying to you? June 8, 2023

This is a short sermon given at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on June 13, 2022. Seeing as Oakland’s second annual Guns to Gardens event is coming up this Saturday, it felt appropriate to feature this week! 

Yesterday morning, I stood in the sun and in the shade in the At Thy Word Church parking lot in Oakland.

The church is in a rough part of town, I’m not gonna lie. Chain link and wrought iron fences dot the front yards of the houses in the blocks around the church. Piles of trash are strewn in homeless encampments, along the surrounding blocks. Yesterday, the sound of hundreds of motorcycles, careening up and down International Boulevard, pierced the air, later, I learned, as part of a funeral procession honoring one of their own.

I was there for an event called Guns to Gardens, which was organized by a local 78-year-old woman named Paula at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Oakland.

Paula’s been saying “enough is enough” for a long time now, so she did the only thing she could think of: she started raising money, first through the church, and then through interfaith organizations and gun violence prevention groups. She even reached out to the Oakland A’s, all in an effort to create an event for people to surrender guns that could then be made into garden tools.

She reached out to the police department, who then secured a number of officers, including the Chief of Police, to be on hand that day. She contacted a local Boy Scout troop, who got in touch with a blacksmith. She sent emails. She had someone make a poster. She secured hundreds of dollars in donations in order to purchase Target and Walmart gift cards to those who gave up their guns. Finally, she sewed a beautiful, handmade quilt to give away to someone, anyone who donated, because who wouldn’t want a quilt from such an amazing woman?

Being there yesterday was a gift.

It was a gift to listen to the stories of several anonymous recipients, to learn why they had come that day – even if they answered with shaky hands, even if their heads hung down.

It was a gift to pass out hand shovels that the blacksmith had already fashioned from guns.

It was a gift to see Paula in action, as she hobbled across the worn parking lot, equal parts tired and exhilarated, I imagine.

It was a gift to learn that something good started yesterday when 131 guns, including several that the Chief of Police described as “the type of gun that should never touch human hands” were surrendered.

And I know I’m a little longer than normal in my introductory notes here; usually by this point, I transition to scripture. I point out, mostly, really, to myself, how this relates to our four passages.

But here it is, I suppose: I witnessed a heeding of the Spirit yesterday. I can’t not talk about it. And this, if we dare look at scripture again, is also the connective point of all four texts.

I’m still getting to know Paula and her story, but this I do know: at some point, she couldn’t not do something about the problem of gun violence.

Did that “something” happen because God’s spirit spoke directly to her? Perhaps. Did that “something” happen because the wisdom that only comes with time whispered in her ear, You know what you need to do. Go.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out,” we read in Proverbs. Wisdom, one might say, is always calling. Wisdom, is always speaking, crying out to all who live.

What then is Wisdom saying to you?

Or perhaps Paula sat in the sanctuary one Sunday morning, and listened to Psalm 8 as it was read or sung out. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”

Perhaps Paula thought about all those beloved humans on this earth, but perhaps also she remembered the 21 students and teachers who lost their lives in the most recent school shooting – or according to an article three days ago, to lives that have been lost in the 33 mass shootings that have happened in the U.S. since those innocent ones were killed in Uvalde less than three weeks ago.

Whatever it was, however it happened, Paula leaned into the words of Jesus: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Paula heard truth. Paula, in all her late-seventies glory and wisdom, heeded the Spirit’s guidance.

What then is Wisdom saying to you?

Perhaps that day Paula looked at the children in her community and said to herself, “We can’t lose another one.” Perhaps she said, “There must be another way.” Perhaps she remembered that whether we live in San Rafael or Oakland, in Greenbrae or in Richmond, in Uvalde or in Buffalo, a string of humanity connects us together.

Ubuntu, former archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us. It means humanity. “I am because we are,” or “I am because you are.” I am because there is a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity – just as my joy becomes your joy, my pain becomes your pain as well.

Maybe, it is in this very suffering that we boast and in this suffering that we are changed – that we listen, finally, to the voice of Wisdom, who is ever-raising her voice.

What then is Wisdom saying to you?

After all, we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This, of course, is from Romans 5. It’s one of our passages this week.

For me, when I sat with this week’s reading, a fair amount of doodling happened. Next to that set of verses, I imagined a set of stairs: suffering, the bottom stair. Endurance, the next step up. Character, another stair. And hope, yet another, of which we are not disappointed.

“This is wisdom,” I wrote in a bubble cloud over those stairs – a wisdom in which we recognize that the suffering we experience in life, however that happens, whether that happens to us, or to our loved one, or to all of those beloveds scattered around the globe, knit together by the holiness of humanity, does indeed produce endurance, character, and hope, in its time.

And this endurance, character, and hope? Well, I think it’s the stuff life-changing events like Guns to Garden are made of.

I think, perhaps more appropriately, it’s the stuff people like Paula are made of too.

As we go into this week, might we tap into the Voice that is always calling out, that is always seeking to understand, that is taking a stand and crying out.

What then is Wisdom saying to you?


Guns to Gardens is a national organization I’m proud to be a part of. Follow this link to find out if Guns to Gardens operates in the city you call home. (Hint: We’re in 49 cities in the U.S!) And if you’re local, send me a message on Substack so we chat how to get YOU involved!

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