Wise – Br. Mark Brown
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Jer. 31:7-14/ Psalm 84:1-8/ Eph. 1:3-6, 15-19a/ Luke 2:41-52
Paul calls Jesus the “wisdom of God” [1 Cor. 1:24]. And Jesus seems to refer to himself as “wisdom”—“wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”[Mt. 11:19]—somewhat obscurely, with a little gender-bending. And today we see the wisdom of God, the Word made flesh, the One through whom all things came to be, as a cheeky adolescent. Cheeky, but increasing in wisdom. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years…”
We know nothing about the education of Jesus: schooling, teachers, mentors, family life, travels. We can only fantasize what it might have been. Smart kids have a way of making the most of resources at hand, even attracting mentors. It’s not difficult to imagine Jesus under the wing of the local rabbi, even if he spent a lot of time in the carpenter shop. Nazareth was no Athens or Rome or even Jerusalem, but it was not isolated. Trade routes connecting Africa with Asia and Europe went through Galilee–Jesus could have met people from all over the known world passing through.
The Mediterranean is only a few miles away, with ships plying the waters of a far-flung Empire. Did he hop on one of those ships? Did he attach himself to commercial or military enterprises that might have taken him to far away places? To Gaul, to Spain, to Britain? North Africa? Arabia? India? What languages did he learn? The colloquial Aramaic for sure. But Greek and Latin were also widely spoken. Did he meet the itinerant Greek philosophers that wandered the ancient world? Jesus may well have been exposed to a wide range of influences.
And what were the relational experiences that informed his grasp of the human condition? How did he get along with his parents, all those brothers and sisters? How did he get along with his peers? Did he ever fall in love? Did he ever suffer some serious injury or illness or the death of a loved one? Just how was it that Jesus “increased in wisdom”? We can only imagine.
And, what about us? If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, how would we “increase in wisdom”? What would it mean for us today? And what is “wisdom” anyway? It’s a great big word, “wisdom”. We may have an intuitive sense of what wisdom is, but it may very well be a life’s work to come to a full understanding.
It’s more than facts and information, but that’s a good place to start. Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the Word made flesh, the One through whom all things came to be. All things. Ponder those words: all things. It’s a mistake I think to make a distinction between so-called secular knowledge and so-called religious knowledge. A Christian worldview rightly embraces all things: all knowledge, all inquiry, all exploration. Science, hard science, social science, behavioral science, technology and engineering of all sorts, the arts, literature, music, drama, dance. The study of law and politics; economics and commerce. All these can be embraced by a Christian worldview.
Learning about the Bible, the tradition and history of the Church, learning the particulars of our way of doing things, reading the classics of Christian spirituality, absorbing a particular kind of piety: these are part of increasing in Christian wisdom. But, so is everything else! Jesus didn’t live in a stained glass window, and we don’t either.
A few months ago, when I was obsessing about the presidential election, I came across an interesting article on the Web. I discovered I was guilty of the practice of “cocooning”. Cocooning, in Internet-ese, is when you habitually access websites and blogs that reinforce your point of view—and you avoid websites and blogs that present contradictory information. I was only reading stuff that confirmed what I already believed, politically speaking, that said what I wanted to hear.
This is not wisdom. But we religious folk can do a fair amount of cocooning, avoiding anything that might challenge beliefs and assumptions—even if it’s true. (Although, I would say that Episcopalians tend not to be the worst offenders on this score. Cults are an extreme version of cocooning.)
We might draw a distinction between Christianity and what I’ll call churchianity. Churchianity is cocooning: shrinking the world to fit the confines of our understanding. Accessing information that only reinforces what we already believe. Authentic Christianity is, I believe, not about shrinking, but expanding our religious thinking to embrace the whole of life. Wisdom, in the authentically Christian sense, embraces the pursuit of all kinds of knowledge. All truth. He said the Spirit would lead us into “all truth”.
He even said, I am the truth. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Anything, therefore, that leads to truth, leads to God. “God is love, and where love is, God himself is there” (the old Latin hymn, Ubi caritas). We could equally say that God is truth, and where truth is, God himself is there. Or, God is life, and where life is, God himself is there.
Wisdoms seeks truth. Wisdom seeks life. Wisdoms seeks light. And, surely, wisdom seeks love. Wherever these things are to be found. Maybe in church. Maybe in the lab or the museum or the concert hall or on a stage or screen. Maybe in our relationships.
Perhaps wisdom is not so much a particular thing or a particular understanding of things, and more an attitude, more a disposition of expansiveness. A disposition of openness to the heights and depths and breadth of the human experience–and whatever is beyond it. Wisdom may be less a place, less a destination, less an accomplishment or arrival, and more a direction of movement—a kind of all-embracing, forward moving expansiveness.
If Wisdom Incarnate has created all things, then the proper scope of Christian wisdom is all things—and whatever is beyond them. And if that is so, the scope of our ignorance is breathtaking! Perhaps the mark of true wisdom is delight, astonishment, even euphoria in a growing awareness of the scope of our ignorance. Perhaps to be truly wise is to be delighted and astonished at the breathtaking scope of our ignorance—to know joy in knowing how much more there is to know.
The Wise Men are even now making their way to the baby’s crib. May we who would be wise join them there in a dazzling epiphany of our ignorance.
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Having arrived at a chronological age of wisdom, I am gaining a greatee appreciation of what it means to be wise! Thank you, Brother Mark, for this meditation on wisdom as life, light and love the depths of which age teaches us.
Did so enjoy this! Expansiveness, openness, movement – do love those words and hardly know why…… Perhaps brother Mark it is because it is wisdom and reflects who God is and perhaps because these qualities I would like myself. Makes me think of ” the truth will set you free” – I think it is the truth of who God is, that sets us free. Loved the quote by Mary Oliver – she has been mentioned before I think and so somehow that name is familiar? Thank you for this
I have just returned from ten days on the west coast. Your sermon is so apro pos – life is constantly a revelation of how little I know. Sometimes that is wonder-full (yesterday’s sermon) but other times unbelievably sad. How could I have been so unaware of another’s agony? We are more than two people: the one that we wear on the outside; and all those others that clamour within us.
Thanks be to God who knows me better than I know myself and forgives me for those things I do not see and understand. Christina
Truly enjoyed this Sermon and BR. Mark’s insight ! What a beautiful reflection.
What you wrote is wonderful, but I would like to see a mention of Wisdom being associated with Sophia and the Holy Spirit. I find it a comfort that the feminine aspect is an expression of God.
Dear Br. Mark Brown: a HUGE ‘word’ – fabulous. The ‘disposition of expansiveness’ . you present the essence of our life. Thankyou. barbara f lowe.
” “Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver
“Churchianity” is a great word I’ll add to my vocabulary. Last night I attended an Iftar dinner with Muslim neighbors to celebrate them breaking their 17 hour fast during Ramadan. What grueling devotion to go so long without water, to get what they describe as a mind haze about what’s happening now to help them focus on what’s happening in their broader faith. Yet they could invite me to and bless me at their table, giving me a sense of what the humility and devotion of faith–my faith–can mean. Contrary to my upbringing I was not struck down by lightning for stepping out of Churchianity, but my wisdom expands. Jesus has given us all the wings of a butterfly, so let the birds make a nest out of my cocoon. Thank you!
Great quote, Robin, thanks! anders
Dear Mark, your sermons always take me so far beyond my usual realms of thought that listening to them or reading them is like looking through one of the world’s great telescopes and feeling both that one’s vision has been enlarged a millionfold and that one is very, very small. Yet somehow your words don’t make me feel diminished, but rather inspired. What an enormous table God has spread for our delight!
Jesus did not live in a stained glass window and neither do we and How many languages did Jesus speak? These together have bee a very calming Ah Ha moment. A reminder that Jesus was very human. Thank you.
I frequently read these sermons and find myself thinking “oh, yes!” This is one of those experiences: “Yes!! Oh, yes! A dazzling epiphany!!”
This is a truly fabulous sermon which I will ponder and treasure. I will be visiting your chapel for a service soon and look forward to meeting you then!
Peace and Blessings,