RCL – Year B – Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 23, 2012
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Give me a lamp and call me Diogenes. The lectionary continues to focus on wisdom this week. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t seem inclined to follow. I’ve heard some pretty weird and kind of stupid things on the news this week – and I’m not just referring to the utterances of politicians. Today alone I heard about arsenic in rice, genetically modified corn causing cancer in laboratory animals, and financial astrology. And we all heard about the 47%. I also heard two separate stories of melting ice and disappearing penguins. One of these was followed by a reporter quoting someone who said that global warming was just a liberal scare tactic or some such thing as that. Let me also add in the brilliant statement that there may be no military solution to the civil war in Syria. Seriously, folks, don’t you wonder where wisdom is these days?
I don’t know how Diogenes fared in his quest back in his day, but he’d drop from exhaustion if he took his search to the public sector today. Not much wisdom makes headlines these days. Between the politicians making senseless statements about their opponents and the human capacity for denial, Wisdom hasn’t got a chance. But the scripture readings this week, James in particular, continue to point us in her direction. I’m just not sure how popular it is to seek her out these days.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
These are timeless words of truth. If people sought gentleness, peace, and mercy in word and deed, I think most of the headlines that I found startling this week wouldn’t exist. Maybe the FDA would worry less about creating guidelines for arsenic levels in rice and start looking for where the poison that the rice is absorbing is actually coming from. Then do something about that instead of suggesting the concerned consumer eat sweet potatoes instead of rice. Similar things can be said about the genetically modified corn situation. Instead of disputing the cause of the tumors in lab rats, why not stop messing with the corn for the sake of profit? And, well, the idea of consulting astrology before making financial decisions just eludes me. I doubt it hurts anyone, but I’m far from convinced that it helps and surely this is not Wisdom at work.
James has more to say on the matter of living a Christian life filled with wisdom from above that I wish more people would attend to. Maybe political opponents and countries at war could learn something from what follows:
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
I think James is really onto something quite profound. Our lives get muddled and cluttered. Countries falter and resort to violence. Melting arctic ice and crazy weather patterns bring out fear, denial, and other strange things in human beings. Without Wisdom we are left to our own devices and they are often short-sighted and selfish. It doesn’t end here, though.
In Christ, more is promised, more is possible. The Gospel lesson gives us a big clue on how to attain more than bickering and conflicts and jealousy and greed. Jesus takes the disciples away from the crowds. They seem to pay less attention to what Jesus tells them and more to which of them is greatest. Jesus turns greatness upside-down. He tells them the first is the one who is last and is servant to everyone else. Then he takes a child, innocence and weakness incarnate, and tells the disciples to practice welcome in a rather radical way – welcome a child and welcome God. These ways are not the ways of the rich and powerful. Not then and surely not now. But these ways are ways of wisdom – then and now.
I’m tired of living in a world that values wealth and power over innocence and mercy. I don’t want to hear that changing environmental regulations or finding alternative fuel is too costly. I don’t want to hear about more violence and war when there are other options in the world. I don’t want to hear about churches losing membership when the promises made in Christ are still alive and vital today.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
This last line from James sounds a bit foolish by today’s standards. And there are many in the world today who would say that this is all foolishness. Maybe so. But it might be a whole lot wiser to submit ourselves to God than to the chaos of power and greed. Submission to God is no easy feat. It means that if we call ourselves Christians we should not accept the ridiculousness of the world. It should not be okay to abuse people or the planet for monetary gain. It should not be acceptable for the hungry and poor and sick to remain so. The Gospel, God’s Wisdom, was never meant to make us comfortable in the world. It should challenge us and make us uncomfortable enough to seek ways of serving others in real and meaningful ways. It is long past time for Christian compassion and mercy to become much more active and present in this world than it has been.
I’m going to keep my lamp burning and hope that you do the same.