Wisdom Cries Out - September 16
Sermon - Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 16, Year B
Readings: Proverbs 1:20–33; Psalm 19; James 3:1–12; Mark 8:27–38
Here’s some thinking about wisdom. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov 1:22)
“The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7)
Here is the book of James on the opposite of wisdom, how we get ourselves into trouble. “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell....no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:6, 8)
According to Confucius, wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection, imitation and experience. Reflection is the noblest, imitation is the easiest and experience is the bitterest.
According to an African proverb, when an old person dies a library burns down.
Here’s a quote from Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer. “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” Here’s another quote. This one’s from Dennis Miller , the comedian. “There’s nothing wrong with being shallow as long you’re insightful about it.”
To many older civilizations, wisdom was female. Greeks called wisdom Sophia. She was personified in the goddess Athena. ‘Love of wisdom’ in Greek is philo-sophia, philosophy. In Rome, wisdom was the goddess Minerva, represented by an owl.
Wisdom. So appealing. What if I could always make wise choices about what to eat or drink, what to buy or sell, whom to trust? Not fall prey to impulse, or old habits, or my passions? Failing being wise myself, it would be good even to hang around wise people.
As inequality grows across the planet, and our energy habits are giving earth a fever, wouldn’t it be nice to have wise leaders, the kind Plato and the bible writers imagined, who ruled for the benefit of all? Wisdom may still be going around the streets crying out, but are we listening to her any better than they seemed to be back in the day?
Much of our faith life is occupied with more immediate concerns–care for neighbour, tending to the slings and arrows in one’s own life. But we also raise our gaze to the horizon and ask bigger questions, questions that will long outlast our own lifetimes. Our faith speaks to issues that confront our whole species, our whole, intricate world.
We wish success on Israel. If anybody knows about rights and livelihoods being taken away, violated, it’s Jews. We feel caught in a struggle between two vulnerable groups. It’s painful to have to choose sides. What is wisdom here? Perhaps we should study the matter, consult representatives of both sides, make up our own minds, take a stand even.
There are so many issues to study. Where do we begin? Luckily, on the ‘what to study question, there are no wrong answers. Anything that gets us in touch with the powerful justice witness of the bible is a good thing. Food, water, First Nations, poverty, housing, Israel-Palestine: they can all lead us out of our comfort zones into a deeper relationship with what is most real, most holy.
Your prayers are needed today, tomorrow and every day for tense situations such as Palestine and Israel. But moreso that usual, they are needed for the Council of this church. Council begins thinking on Wednesday about the way forward. We need to do even more thinking about our mission as a congregation, what we are being called to do together in our small corner of the globe. And then how to share news of that mission with the neighbours, invite them to come and be part of it. Not that Council is going to do those things by itself. It just needs to figure out a good way to involve the whole community in the discussion and come to some consensus in the next few months.
That’s right–wisdom about how to go forward is going to from all of us. And how will this happen? How will we find wisdom? We are going to have to go inside ourselves, get in touch with what moves us most deeply. We’re humans. We get used to the way things are now, and then that feels like the way they always should be. “Same old, same old” is our middle name. Going deep is different. It’s hard, and it’s exciting. It’s hard because we might have to let go of comfort, routine, familiar things. It’s exciting because it takes us to new places together, takes us closer to the capital “L” Love that brought us here in the first place and keeps us coming back.
There is a hunger here for change. Part of you is thinking, Yes, yes. And part of you is thinking, No, no. Nothing strange about that. When we go to deepen our witness, our embrace of the love that liberates, we may discover mixed feelings, perhaps some reluctance to raise our voices–in the street, or anywhere else. What would Dennis Miller say? There’s nothing wrong with being conflicted as long you’re insightful about it.
I said to pray for Council. That’s a beginning. We need to pray for all of us. Our eagerness to make this community a sanctuary, a witness, a source of wisdom depends on all of us. We are all right there when the teacher asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Who is Christ for us? What is Christ doing in our streets? What is the compelling truth about the Christ event that makes us want to reach deeper, give more, love better?
You notice I’m not saying Jesus. Jesus was a man, a man in another time and place. Christ is not one person. Christ is not necessarily male, or Jewish, or from the first century. Christ is freed from such limitations, and lives in this time, in our streets, in us. Jesus had limitations. He never got to Greece, or Rome, or India or North America. But he transcended many of the limitations of other Jewish men of his time. Enough so that when he asked his disciples their thinking, one of them said out loud what many others were thinking: “You are the Christ.” The Christ. The anointed one. The one for whom the world is waiting.
Quite a claim. Jesus then tweaks the definition of the anointed one. His career arc is not going to be quite like people were expecting. His fame and following will not grow and grow until the whole world recognizes and accepts him as Christ, as Liberator. There will be opposition. “No, no,” says Peter, “we know the story. That’s not how it goes.” Let that myth go, Jesus tells them. Get that picture out of your heads. It will just wreck your experience of me. Instead of paying attention to what is actually happening when Christ is with a crowd, or with a hurting person, or challenging authorities, you will be running some kind of movie in your head with a fantastic ending. Get a grip. Don’t get ahead of yourselves.
We have something of the same challenge. It will be tempting to get ahead of ourselves, to imagine the way “success” will look and risk missing Christ right beside us doing mission slightly differently than we imagined. Or very differently.
We have resources here the disciples could only dream about: a long tradition of faithfulness here, a big building that’s paid for, money, learning, and wisdom, learned all three ways: the noble way, the easy way and the bitter way. What about our challenges? Much the same as the disciples and those who have laid down their lives for others have always faced: our tongues, for instance, blurting out things that hurt others or make them feel unwelcome; our love of being simple whenever wisdom feels like too much work.
Can you feel the call? Can you feel yourself getting ready to respond? We are going to do this together. With our eyes open. There’s a proverb about our project, wouldn’t you know. Proverbs chapter 24 this time, verse 27: “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house.” That’s the plan. If Council approves it and the rest of us accept that this is what we are being called to do here and now, then there is getting ready to do, some field work before anybody lifts a hammer or a saw to build. We’ll try to be patient as we make the good preparations.This is an exciting time, for sure. Any time we are asked to say who Christ is for us is an exciting time. Any time we get ready to draw up plans for a house that is even more hopeful, more healing, more committed to wholeness and better at bearing witness to hope, healing and wholeness is a time to honour the Christ within us all. Many beautiful days behind us. Many beautiful days ahead.