Friday, January 9, 2009

Sermon from 12/28/09

Dec 28, 2008
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon Title: "Blessed Wisdom"
Rev. G
One of the most beautiful Christmas songs is "Ava Marie" which invites God to show the meanings of love and contentment. The lyrics go:
"Take my fear replace it with knowledge divine
though I am weak, make me strong.
Each day I’ll be more understanding
each day more patient and peaceful within
and faith will lead me closer to wisdom
let wisdom deliver me closer to Him."
Wisdom: a great theme to end the year with, when the birth of Jesus has been welcomed and we are asked to rediscover who Jesus is to us.
This has been the task for Christians throughout the ages, and as my Professor John Riggs taught me, Christian history is the continued attempt to understand Jesus in new times and places.
Back when people encountered Jesus, they had different responses. Some were indifferent: "Oh, he’s just the carpenter’s son." Others were negative: "He has a demon".
Others had a positive response: Jesus was the answer they had been looking for, fulfilling their expectation about how they would meet God.
Those who were waiting for a prophet called Jesus "the Prophet." Those who were waiting for the anointed one called Jesus "the Christ." Same goes for those who were expecting to meet God in the form of a healer, a shepherd, a meal provider.
Then there were others who were waiting for wisdom, so when Jesus came by they said "Behold the Wisdom of God."
It’s been years since I graduated from seminary, but when I look back, wisdom is one of the top three leassons that has stayed with me, a helpful spiritual lesson for me to learn.
See, before seminary I was the kind of person who placed all my expectations on miracles, who believed everything happened for a reason and God controlled everything. If something bad happened, I immediately moved to the mind set of a victim, whined about, and asked God to fix it.
Either the problem was resolved and viola! a miracle had happened, or the problem grew worse, which meant either God was punishing me, testing me, or perhaps I just didn’t pray hard enough.
At seminary I was exposed to people who thought differently. They didn’t see God as a great puppet master but a relational God who desired social justice and acts of compassion. Miracles were more like pleasant coincedences. The response to bad things happening was because we have free will. They prayed to God to seek peace and understanding.
For me, going to seminary meant going from one extreme to the other. But I learned and one teaching that stuck with me was the ability to experience God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as wisdom.
During class we learned about the roles of wisdom and knowledge in the Bible. How the Jews valued study and knowledge. The New Testament writers, influenced by Greek thought, embraced wisdom, giving it the name Sophia.
After three years of seminary I was able to take the spiritual extreme of where I was when I first began, coupled it with the spiritual extreme of my professors, and developed my own understanding, which arrived somewhere in the middle: a place in which miracles and coincidences coexisted side by side, where the power of God is balanced by the free will of humanity, to an understanding that when problems arose I could pray to God not only for assistance but also for wisdom.
This all came together in May 2005 when my friend Cari asked me to help her move. With her father and two friends we moved tables and chairs, books and potted plants, until only one thing remained: her couch.
It was not a simple, small couch, it was a magnificent couch that took up the length of the wall. We tried to get it out the door, but no luck.
That baby would not get through the door. We pushed and we pulled, we turned and we flipped. We gritted our teeth and we shoved, but no good.
We took her front door off of its hinges. No help. We asked her neighbor to open his door to create extra wiggle room. No wiggle was had. We took the neighbor’s door off the hinges. Nada.
Nearly an hour passed and we did everything we could do to free that couch from her apartment but freedom would not come.
With nothing left to do, we did the one thing we hadn’t done. We prayed. We joined hands, bowed our heads and simply asked God to send us some wisdom to figure out what to do.
After the amen was said, we went back to work. We tilted the couch, we grabbed an end, and somehow, some way, no kidding, the couch came right out of the apartment! A few minutes later it was loaded right onto the truck.
To this day I think about that moment, and if I wasn’t there, I would say it never happened. But it did. But how? We were trying for an hour and did nothing different in those last five minutes but pray. Yet the prayer worked.
Somehow a combination of wisdom, coincidence, miracle and sheer luck all came together to accomplish what needed to be done.
All I know is this: when we stopped trying to do it by ourselves, when we paused for prayer and specifically sought out the wisdom of God, we were able to get the couch out of Cari’s apartment.
And my prayer life would never, ever be the same again.
Wisdom is throughout the Old Testament. People gather to study the Torah. Proverbs 8 states that wisdom was present during the creation. Wisdom is present with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah when it came time to rebuild the city.
Read the New Testament and wisdom is there too. In fact, in Luke’s Gospel, wisdom is referred to more then in any other gospel, which should not be a suprise since Luke was a highly skilled writer and scholar.
Look at today’s reading. How Simeon is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit reveals to Simeon just who Jesus is. Guided and revealed are just other ways to speak about wisdom.
Look at Anna who is called a prophet and said to be a great age. Prophet and great age are just other ways to hint about wisdom.
Then, to make it clear, Luke tells us the child Jesus "Grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."
Read a little further, and you’ll come across Jesus at age 12, sitting in the temple, listening and asking, amazing all who hear, and to make sure we get the point, verse 52 restates how Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew older.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, from Simeon, to Anna, to pre-teen Jesus in the temple, we hear just how important wisdom is in the story of Christ.
When it came to Jesus there was something about his presence, his teachings. His memorable sayings such as the blind should not lead the blind, otherwise they might both fall into a pit (Luke 6:39).
Or his memorable aphorisms which did not always make sense at the time, such as "foxes have their holes and birds have their nests but the Son of God has no place to rest his head." (Luke 9:58).
There were his speeches about blessed are you who weep. There was something about the stories he told about beggars being blessed in heaven, in which people began to say as Jesus walked by "Here is the Wisdom of God".
People who met Jesus felt as if God’s wisdom had come down to them and was in their midst. In fact, the earliest records we have of Jesus do not discuss him healing the sick or doing miracles. Instead, the earliest Christian writings were collections of his sayings and his wisdom.
Over time, the followers of Jesus gathered his sayings and stories to not only remember what he said, but to continue the tradition, so when a situation arose, they could try to recall something he said or think of what he would have said.
It is in the collections of Jesus’ wisdom that the earliest memories of Christ exist: what he said, what he taught, the lessons he shared.
These early writings celebrated Jesus’s wisdom, even if his teachings often went against common sense, sounded rather peculiar, or undermined the official view of the world.*
So what does this mean for us? For on thing, it means we have another word to add to our ever expanding vocabulary to describe who Jesus is. Do you see Jesus as: savior, healer, counselor, friend? Now have another word: wisdom.
What does it mean for your prayer and spiritual life? It means that now you have another way to pray to God, inviting Jesus to share with you his wisdom.
It means that when you are faced with a difficult choice or a hopeless situation, you can pray, asking for wisdom on what you should do and how to face your situation.
When loved ones go into the hospital, ask God to instill the medical staff with wisdom. Before the big test or writing a paper, ask God for wisdom.
At church meetings when making a difficult decision, we can ask first for wisdom.
With Jesus being wisdom incarnate, we have another way to worship and experience God, since anything that involves education and acts of discovery can become an act of prayer.
Teach your child how to change a tire: you’re sharing wisdom. Teach a child how to make their bed: wisdom. Teach your child how to bake bread or use the outside grill: you’re sharing wisdom.
Sign up for a new class, learn a new trade, sit down with a loved one and or all by yourself, read the paper, read a book: you are sharing wisdom, you are experiencing God.
Want to experience the divine presence of God? Pick up the Bible, attend a Bible Study, read a book or watch a documentary that explores concepts of the Bible you didn’t know about.
Anytime you embrace, share or seek out wisdom, you are embracing, sharing and seeking out God.
So next time you feel like you’ve become a victim of circumstances or don’t know what to do, take a moment to pray, call upon Jesus who is wisdom, and see what happens.
You may find yourself moving from helpless victim and inactive bystander to an active participant, where like Anna, Simeon, and Jesus you will be guided by the Spirit, opening up doors and conquering things you never thought you could.
Since that day when I helped move the couch, I have found that praying to God for wisdom takes me out of my world, moves me away from my biases and worries, and moves me closer into the realm of God, in which different realities exist, in which wisdom, not fear rules, and the Spirit of God, not the spirit of my ego dominates.
I invite you this week to take some time out, to engage God’s Wisdom in your own Bible study.
Perhaps read Proverbs 8, or Luke 2, study the teachings of Jesus, see where God’s wisdom leads you.
The next time you face a crises, or you face a difficult decision to make, invite God to become a partner in your situation by asking for and seeking God’s Wisdom.
In the words of "Ava Marie", may God take your fear and replace it with knowledge, may each day make you more understanding, patient and peaceful within. May faith lead you closer to wisdom, may wisdom deliver you closer to Him."
* (Note: a large part of this comes, some of it word from word, from "The God of Jesus" by Stephen Patterson, chapter 3, "On The Radical Wisdom of Jesus")

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