Sermon: “Where Has Wisdom Gone?”

May 22, 2016: Trinity Sunday

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22,31
John 16:12-15

Picture a world in which divine figures are constantly at war with one another. Picture a world in which these gods have no particular care for human beings, but play their games for power and might, rolling right over the places where people live – or try to live.

According to Jim Edlin, Professor of Biblical Literature at MidAmerica Nazarene University, this was the view of the ancient Babylonians, the empire which destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon over 500 years before the birth of Jesus. It’s a profoundly depressing way to see your place in the world, isn’t it?

Professor Edlin notes, rather ruefully, that we moderns may sometimes feel rather the same way, that we’re the playthings of forces beyond our control, forces exercised in politics, economics, global relations, the Internet, and the constant shifts of contemporary culture.

Contrast that view of the world, however, with this image of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. Here we have a picture of an orderly creation – more than orderly, this is a creation that has been finely crafted. Wisdom emerges before anything else is made, and Wisdom becomes the master worker with God.

It’s always risky to reinforce a theological point with a scientific observation, but I learned something fascinating recently. Our sun is powered by nuclear fusion, when two deuterium nuclei are forced together by energy and pressure and make up the nucleus of 1 helium atom. In the process, a tiny amount – just seven tenths of a percent – of the original mass gets converted to energy. That tiny portion, repeated over and over again in the sun, creates the streams of energy that pour out over us.

Seven tenths of a percent.

But that’s not what fascinated me. It turns out that that’s a critical amount. If eight tenths of a percent of the matter gets converted into energy instead of seven tenths, the sun burns its fuel too quickly, and in fact the entire universe would have gone dark long before we came along. And if six tenths of a percent of the matter were converted into energy, stars would be too cool, and they would create heavier elements like carbon. All the life we know of relies on the existence of carbon atoms.

Physicist James Kakalios writes, “The source of this amazing fine-tuning of the basic properties of nature is the subject of current investigation.”

Or as somebody else once put it, if you want to know the will of God, look around at the world God made.

There is our Wisdom.

Wisdom is not just about nuclear fusion, however. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Moral coherence demands that ‘deeds and consequences’ come together. The world is not randomly ‘disconnected’ so that we can do stupid, destructive things with long term impunity.” A physicist might say, time runs in one direction, from action to reaction, from deed to consequence.

Brueggemann goes on: “Foolishness is living against the grain of that moral coherence that wisdom guarantees. Foolishness is the assumption that we can all do what we want and have what we want according to our money, power, and influence, without any check or restraint. Foolishness in the modern world is imagining that we are autonomous, and that without God ‘everything is possible.’”

Without God, everything is possible.

We know what foolishness looks like, and it’s not laughable or pretty. It looks like racism and sexism and heterosexism. It looks like discrimination against people based on gender expression and against people based on perceived ability or disability. It looks like the soulless pursuit of wealth so common in this country, and it looks like climate change denial. It looks like people killing for their beliefs, or out of their outraged feelings. It looks like oppression. It looks like fear. It looks like war.

What does wisdom look like – not in nuclear fusion or on the scale of the cosmos, but at the human level: What does Wisdom look like?

I confess that I spent a lot of time staring at those words after I wrote them. Or at the ceiling, or out the window, or at the inside of my eyelids in hopes I’d find some wisdom there. As confusing and complicated as the wisdom of Creation is, it’s easier to see there than in human life.

Until I remembered the children. We hardly realize it, but we do try to teach wisdom to children.

We teach them, as Brueggemann said, that actions have consequences. Some of them are good consequences, such as the tower you build when you carefully place block on top of block, until it stretches high above the floor. Some of them are bad consequences, such as when you push your block tower and it falls (which might not be so bad, after all, because it’s kind of fun to watch it fall). And some of them are Really Bad Consequences, such as when you push over the block tower that your sister was building.

More than that, Wisdom anticipates the future. A wise person considers the possible consequences. If I push my block tower over, what will happen? What will happen if I don’t move my foot out of the way? If I push my sister’s block tower over, what will she do? Laugh? Cry? Push my block tower over? Yell for Mom? What will Mom do? Or Dad? Perhaps most important of all: What will grandmother do?

Of all the things that worry me in the current political climate, and I’m not just talking about the election, one of the greatest is how little effort our leaders expend in considering potential consequences, both the benefits and the risks. Kindergarteners do better. They know that if they threaten each other rather than act kindly, there’s greater risk of an argument and a fight. Yet threats and bluster pass for international diplomacy far too often. We wouldn’t tolerate that in a kindergarten classroom.

Perhaps wisdom might be to send our leaders back to kindergarten until they get along. But I’m afraid E Makaala doesn’t have enough room for them all.

Wisdom tells the truth. Wisdom doesn’t lie. Wisdom may be mistaken, but wisdom will accept correction. Wisdom learns.

My colleague the Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals writes: “The voice of true Wisdom is free of all arrogance and rudeness. It is compassionate and kind. It is gentle and places no heavy burden on us. It speaks of the belovedness of all creation. Last but not least, it is not exclusive, and it speaks freely to all who will listen.”

And wisdom is joyful. I’m still promoting that new Rule Number One: “No joyless Christianity.” In the poetry here in Proverbs, Wisdom moves lightly and freely. We get springs abounding with water, fountains of the deep. We even get a little hint of dance. The Hebrew word translated as “brought forth,” as in “When there were no depths, I was brought forth,” also has the sense of twisting or dancing. Wisdom here is the delight of God, Wisdom rejoices in the creator, Wisdom rejoices in the world and in the human race.

If it’s not joyful, my friends, it’s probably not wise.

Wisdom has reverence for God, loves God, works with God, and works on behalf of God.

What is wisdom today? To know that we make a difference in the world, for good or for ill, and to look ahead of us to make that difference a positive one. To tell the truth, to learn from our errors, and to tell the truth we’ve learned. To act with compassion and kindness, not to some, but to all. We might even dare to say, it is to love. To be joyful, to honor God, to love God, and to work on behalf of God in the world.

Where has Wisdom gone? It’s right here in the created world, suffering though it is. It’s in our Scriptures, and in our kindergarten classrooms. Wisdom is alive in the world as the Creator God, the incarnate Word, and the joyous rushing Spirit. Wisdom has been within our grasp all the time.

May we take Wisdom within us. May we be wise in our relationships, wise in our neighborhood, wise in our society, and wise in our faith. May we be wise Christians and a wise Church.


Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on May 22, 2016

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283