In Search of Wisdom

RCL – Year B – Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 16, 2012

Series 1:
Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19 or Wisdom 7:26-8:1
Series 2:
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9

James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

Many preachers over the centuries have uttered these words from Psalm 19 before beginning a sermon. For the first four or five years of my ministry, I know I used them as my pre-sermon prayer. I haven’t used this verse as a prayer for a number of years, but now I am thinking that maybe I should begin every day with these words with the addition of a line about the works of my hands and the direction of my feet to make sure I have all my bases covered. This has been a week of astonishing foolishness and I am not really sure how to respond. Starting with a simple, earnest  prayer is never a bad idea.

Given that this week’s lectionary highlights wisdom in most of the readings, I cannot help but notice a startling abundance of foolishness in the world around me. Everywhere I turn, people are discussing the US economy and, sometimes, acknowledging the fragility of the global economic situation. This is neither surprising nor foolish in and of itself. But there is something about these final months of the presidential election that seems to lead these conversations in the direction of absurdity. Too many people blame Barack Obama for a failure to restore this country to its former level of prosperity. How, exactly, is the painfully slow recovery from recession the fault of one man? I don’t know. I’m not an economist, but I’d have to say that it has more to do with the fact that we have been at war for 11 years than it does with President Obama’s inability to perform miracles. How can electing a new president be the solution to the nation’s problems? Where is the wisdom in this thought?

War is a destructive force. There is no way to deny this. It bleeds out resources along with the blood of innocents. Lives are lost on both sides. And lives are forever changed – on both sides. In this country we have an increase in wounded veterans who need medical and mental health care and there is no real increase in the funding to care for them. This is just a small part of the problem that seems to be forgotten when promises to fix the economy are made by politicians. Tax cuts or tax increases .for that matter aren’t going to repair what is currently broken. How can anyone think that changes in taxes or cuts in government spending repair the damage done by more than a decade of war?

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:  “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

In a similar vein, how can continued cuts to healthcare, education, and mental health care improve the economy? Or how will marriage equity and continued or improved women’s rights destroy American values? I am so frustrated by the meaningless rhetoric that plays to people’s emotions without any basis in reality that I can uncover. How is it that anyone can believe that the United States is a Christian nation? It is not now nor was it ever. Unless I am not remembering my history lessons, this country was founded on principles of religious freedom not religious unity. Some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Deists not Christians. I don’t think anyone can rightly define “American values” without offending numerous Americans. In my understanding, core American values include liberty and justice for all, not just for Christians.

In the Wisdom reading, we read that Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness. It is time for this to happen in the world today. If each person sought to be the reflection of God’s goodness, perhaps the world would change a little bit. If this were sought after, then a certain insulting video would not have been made and some terrorist in Libya would have to have found in it another excuse for atrocious violence. If more people sought to reflect the wisdom, light and goodness of God, then Americans wouldn’t be fighting over theological issues in the guise of political differences.

Maybe looking at change on this scale is too big. Maybe it is too much in the face of all the scary stuff in the world. So why not start with ourselves, one person at a time? Where do you find Wisdom that calms your fears, leads you to act, and gives you hope? What can you do in your own life, in your work, in  your community, in your church to make a difference, to reflect the light of God? Whatever the answer is, it isn’t “nothing.”

Once again, I find myself yearning for change. I long for Wisdom. I wish I could comfort those who are fearful, feed those who are hungry, care for those who are sick, heal all that is broken in the world. I cannot and neither can you. But I can do something and you can do something. And we can encourage others not to give in to fear, apathy, hopelessness. In spite of evidence to the contrary, I do not believe that Wisdom has abandoned humanity. She is still crying out and waiting for a response.

Jesus gave fair warning about how difficult a challenge living a life of wisdom, faith, and love would be. In Mark’s gospel he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 

My point is this: I am frustrated by people who claim that their Christian faith is essential in their lives, but who do not seem to take seriously the depth and challenge of Christ’s teachings. The people who know scripture verses and have quick answers to difficulties but don’t seem to recognize that the sin they are condemning is being committed by a real, human being that is also beloved by God. And I am equally frustrated by those who do nothing to show their faith in the world. The large number of people who claim to be Christian but do not worship, study scripture, or speak God’s name other than as an expletive. However, it is rather difficult to say these things without a dialogue that would reveal that I lose my spiritual balance as frequently as anyone else. I am more than capable of judging someone for all the wrong reasons while telling myself that I am right to do so. I’ve also failed to speak out against injustice on many occasions for no good reason. The challenge for me (and maybe you, too) is to live out my faith in a way that touches all aspects of my life, reaches the lives of those around me, and does not condemn those who come from other traditions.

May Wisdom take up residence here and never leave!

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