Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“A Visit with Wisdom
Rev. Art Ritter
August 19, 2018
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
An angel once appeared at a college faculty meeting and told the dean, sitting at the front of the conference table, that in return for her unselfish and exemplary behavior, God would reward her with a gift. She would have her choice of infinite wealth, wisdom, or beauty. Without hesitation, the dean selected the gift of infinite wisdom. “Done!” said the angel, disappearing in a cloud of smoke and with a bolt of lightning. After the angel departed, all heads turned to the dean, who sat quietly at the conference table, now with a faint halo of light around her head. When her silence became uncomfortable, one of her colleagues sitting next to her leaned over and whispered, “You have to say something.” The dean looked up and glanced at the faces around the table. Then she uttered, “I should have taken the money.”
Wisdom is a popular subject in the tradition of Hebrew and Christian scripture. The gift of wisdom is something that is attributed to a blessing from God. The wise person is one who is faithful to God and can recognize God’s presence in the midst of life and respond with actions that respond to God’s intention. The readings assigned to this week’s lectionary readings all seem to speak of the concept of wisdom. I have included two of those readings for our reflection this morning.
The one reading assigned to this Sunday that we didn’t hear is the ancient story from the book of 1 Kings, in which Solomon, the son of David ascends to the throne as King of Israel. He prays for wisdom in his duties and in a dream God appears to him and asks, “What shall I give you?” Solomon responds, “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” Expressing admiration that Solomon did not ask for riches or a long life, or victory over all of his enemies, God promised to give him the wisdom that he requested.
We heard mention of wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is a common topic in these writing, usually personified in female form. Wisdom is something present from the time of creation. In the ninth chapter of Proverbs, Wisdom invited people into her house for a feast. The feast is a reminder to us of the invitation we receive at The Lord’s Supper. She sends her servant girls out saying, “You who are simple, come in here. Eat of my bread and drink of my wine. Lay aside immaturity and live and walk in the way of insight.” Divine wisdom, according to the author of this Proverb, is a feast. The food is delicious and healthy and it is rich yet never leaves one feeling too full.
Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus includes the other passage we heard this morning. In this fifth chapter of the letter, Paul urges his readers to live wisely. Wisdom for the apostle Paul is living a life that is consistent with our identity as those whom God has created in God’s own image. Paul writes, “Live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time.” Wisdom is not so much an intellectual thing as a common sense thing. Instead of being something mysterious to be sought from a mystic in a far-away place or a professor in an Ivy-covered hall, wisdom is something down-to-earth and practical. Wisdom has to do with the stuff of everyday life and the faithful living of these days.
It is interesting that Paul’s words about wisdom speak of “careful” living. We might think of being careful as being cautious, of being hesitant to try new things or place oneself in new situations. But the word that Paul uses for “careful” could be more accurately translated as “care full” or kindhearted. It means filled with compassion for the world and for others, seeking what God wants for neighbor and for the world. Then Paul also writes, “make the most of your time.” This isn’t an invitation to celebration or actions of excess. From the Greek this could be translated, “redeem the time.” Redemption was freeing something or someone from bondage so that they could be fruitful and productive. A redemption of time would mean that we are supposed to claim our moments for God’s purposes. Wisdom then, according to Paul, is always caring for others and always finding God’s purpose in your time, your choices, and your actions. Wisdom is a meaningful way of life that has to be intentionally cultivated. Paul concludes by saying that wisdom fills the person with God’s spirit, to cultivate God’s will. Our response to that recognition is another sign of our wisdom: rejoicing, giving thanks, and singing praise- recognizing the source of our blessings in all things. Wisdom brings gratitude.
I don’t know of anyone who openly claims or embraces the idea that they are foolish. Yet wisdom teaches us that one of the characteristics of the greatest fools is their incapacity to recognize their foolishness. While perhaps every generation throughout history can point out moments in time where there has been a lack of wisdom and overflow of foolishness, our current day and time seems to present us with many clear examples. It is easy to see foolishness in our culture, our politics, and even in our religious leaders. I read a couple of articles this week, one from The Guardian and the other from Psychology Today that pointed out the rise of foolishness is especially evident in the increase of narcissism within our society. We have become more selfish than selfless in our action. Instead of being “care full” with our time we are more prone to use the time we have to draw attention to ourselves and to promote our own virtue. Instead of “redeeming” time we are more interested in how the time can serve us.
Some commentators believe we live in an age of “digital narcissism,” a world of endless ostentation opportunities and unlimited bragging possibilities. There seems to be a greater need for self- promotion. Showing off has never been easier and in fact, arrogance is now celebrated by some as a virtue. Is that really wisdom? First there was reality television where attention was focused on the mundane lives of everyday people. Those mundane lives then had to be upgraded, made even stranger and more spectacular to draw more attention and ratings. Then came social media. Tomas Chamarro Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College in London writes that “it all begun with MySpace, a directory for wannebe pop stars and DJs. Then came Facebook, the encyclopedia of common people. YouTube gave everybody their own TV channel, Blogger and Tumblr made us all creative writers. Twitter brought in tons of followers, Instagram made selfie the word of the year and LinkedIn gave us positive endorsements…We are now more connected than ever, but also less interested in other people, except when it comes to finding out what they think about us….Needless to say, most social media users are not narcissistic. Yet, social media is to narcissists what crack is to crack addicts: the more narcissistic you are, the heavier your social media use is.” Premuzic concludes, “The big problem with the rise of digital narcissism is that it puts enormous pressure on people to achieve unfeasible goals, without making them hungrier.”
As I was researching my sermon this week, I noticed that my son-in-law Max had commented on Twitter, that he had become fed up with Facebook because it has become a place for people to just talk about themselves. Selfies are posted for compliments, some posts are made to receive notice and earn attention- to let others know that you live an important life, and many comments are made on other people’s posts which acknowledge the original post but then quickly turn the attention onto the commentator. “I see you are having a tough day. Let me tell you about my more difficult day.” While I might not agree with the totality of these arguments, I have to agree that we have to try harder to find the care full ways of wisdom in a world that prizes self-love and self-promotion. One definition of wisdom I found this week was that wisdom was the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.
Evangelical preacher John Ortberg writes, “Ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls. All of our language reflects this. If you’re empty, you need to fulfill yourself. If you’re stressed, learn now to take care of yourself. If you’re on a job interview, you have to believe in yourself. If you’re at the tattoo parlor, you must learn to express yourself. If someone dares to criticize you, you have to love yourself. If you’re not getting your own way, you have to stand up for yourself. What should you do on a date? You ought to be yourself.” Ortberg goes on to point out that to feed our souls, to find true wisdom, we need to empty ourselves of self and live instead for the sake of God and others.
There is a story from the Hebrew tradition, about a famous rabbi and his friends, who had spent an entire morning at manual labor, far from their village. The work was difficult and dirty. At lunchtime his friends brought a pail of water, so their teacher could wash his hands thoroughly, fulfilling the religious law. To their surprise, the rabbi used only a few drops of water. How could it be that their wise and pious teacher would avoid the command to wash his hands thoroughly before eating? Cautiously, one of the students asked, “Rabbi, you used so little water. It was not nearly enough to get your hands clean.” Without a word, the rabbi pointed to a servant girl walking up the road from the well. Across her shoulders was a yoke, with a heavy jar of water dangling from each end. The rabbi then explained, “How could I do my washing at the expense of this poor girl? The water I save may prevent one trip to the well for her.” The friends and students then understood. That- and not the narrow-minded observance of law- was truly the way of wisdom, the way of care filled living.
According to Scripture- this is the way of wisdom: a life filled with God’s spirit, bearing fruit of that spirit, serving in the strength of that spirit, adopting attitudes inspired by that spirit. It is a way of living that is not complex but simple; not self-centered and self-promoting but filled with empathy and caring for others; not using time for personal advantage but redeeming the time to be used for God’s purposes; and recognizing that the source of life’s blessing lie outside of us and expressing gratitude for what we have received, living life with praise and thanksgiving and compassion rather than suspicion and fear and hate. Wisdom is not earned through knowledge and intelligence and position. Wisdom is found by living a life that loves God and loves others.