Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33; James 3:1-12; Wisdom 7:26–8:1; Mark 8:27-38
My brother, Mark, and I have a kind of tradition. Each year, on our birthdays, we send each other a card attempting to one up the other with some gentle teasing. As we became older, age became fare game, too. On my 50th birthday, he sent me a card with a cartoon drawing on the front, of a man feverishly climbing a hill. The caption on the front read, “With age, comes wisdom.” On the inside, the man has reached the summit and sat contentedly at the foot of a sage, old man sitting in the lotus position. The caption read, “Isn’t that right, oh ancient one?” Let’s remember, he is 2½ years older than I am.
I suppose that card came to mind as the subject of this week’s readings – generally, speaking – is wisdom. And wisdom is something that we tend to associate with age, right? When someone reaches advanced age, the theory is that person will be wise. Wisdom is defined as, “Soundness of action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Now, we know that there are plenty of folks who reach older age without being what we would call wise. So, it is really experience, as much as age in-and-of-itself that grows wisdom. We learn, we make mistakes, and our experience grows, if we feed our lives with positive energy, with something we might call wisdom.
But worldly wisdom generally gravitates toward self, if we are not careful, and the self wishes to be fed with experience that leads to wealth, position, safety, and – with any luck – happiness. We may have some hard knock experiences along the way but, the wisdom we gain is one that leads us to wise decision and, ultimately, worldly success.
But God in Christ calls us to a different wisdom – one that leads us to experience that God is good, God is love, and that life with God in Christ is often one of sacrifice but always one of hope and blessing.
Galatians 2:19b-20 — Our wisdom in God is one of hope born of our experience of God – God is the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ that calls us to be crucified with Christ. Now it is more and more Christ who lives in me, a life that calls me to radiate the love, mercy, and grace of God to the world, in the world and that the world might more fully know the love of God by knowing me.
[But the world does not work according to the will of God much (even most) of the time. It is not because we are evil or desire to hurt others or ourselves. Much of the time our challenge is that our lives are directed too much toward the success market of the world. A recent GMC (auto) campaign derided just being good (which is very clearly equated as adequate or getting by) and implores the viewer to, instead, live "like a boss, like a rebel, like a standard-bearer, like a pro." Now living like a boss might be passé in 2018 but it implies that being the best is crucial and connects it to owning a certain vehicle, in this case. But we are often pressed to surround ourselves with stuff, to be powerful, to be beautiful, to possess the world, as opposed to sharing a world that is connected to some sense of God in it.]
There is a scene in Paul, the Apostle of Christ (after September 22nd at 6 pm when we show the film here, you won’t have to hear me reference it again, I promise … sort of) Paul and Luke are hauled before the warden of the prison in Rome where they are both being held. The Roman wonders how words can threaten an empire – words are pretty much all Paul and Luke have to offer. “Maybe they are not just words,” Paul says. They are the truth of things.” The warden sneers, “Truth, truth? The truth according to you … but to be powerful, not weak. To be rich, not poor. To have servants and slaves, not to be one.”
The Roman speaks the wisdom of the world throughout the ages. Even the homespun wisdom of Benjamin Franklin says, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Seeking the self is so much a part of any wisdom we are likely to come across, even if it is couched in self-help language and even if it actually means well.
1 Corinthians 1:27-30a — The wisdom of Paul came from who his experience told him Jesus Christ was: merciful, loving, self-sacrificing, and Son of God. The wisdom that Paul proclaims is that Christ elevates the weak, not the strong; to be foolish to shame those who would call themselves wise; chose the low and despised (sinners), rather than the in-crowd to bring to nothing the things of the world that “are” – pride, arrogance, pursuit of wealth or success for its own sake, persecution of the poor – so that we might focus our lives on God in Christ, the source of wisdom and life. There is a final, upside-downness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it is a wisdom not of the world but of God, as God would have the world be.
Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks his Twelve. The messiah, the son of God, Peter answers. Peter’s experience of who Jesus is – what Peter has seen, heard, and felt – tells Him who Jesus is; the wisdom of God has found its way into Peter’s heart. But Peter immediately stands in the way of Christ’s living into the sacrificial nature of being God’s son and thereby shows that the world still has a strong hold on him. Jesus rebukes Peter but only for a moment and then calls everyone around and says, “If you are to possess the wisdom of God in me, you must take up your cross and follow me.”
If your experience tells you that I am the Messiah, and you wish to follow God in me, there are sacrifices to make but there is joy to be found, strength to be tapped into, and life to be lived in community. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then our wisdom tells us that acting in the world in Christ’s name makes a lot of sense.