Sunday, July 03, 2011

DIVINE WISDOM -- A Sermon



Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

John the Baptist was a spoil sport who wouldn’t dance when the band played and didn’t wail with the mourners at funerals, and so they decided he had to be demon-possessed.  Then, along comes Jesus, who hangs out with the wrong crowd – sinners and tax-collectors – so he must be a drunkard and a glutton.  As they say, you can’t win for losing!   Now, John wasn’t really demon-possessed – though he did dress in camel skins and eat a diet of locusts.  But, just because you’re an eccentric, that doesn’t mean you’re demon-possessed.   As for Jesus, I doubt if he really was a drunk or a glutton – though he did make wine from water (though that’s a different Gospel)  and of course he did go to lots of dinner parties, but he did hang out with the wrong sort of people, and as they say – you can know the character of a person by the company they keep.  But that’s conventional wisdom, and divine wisdom is often different from conventional wisdom.   As Jesus says “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”  

Since it’s “4th of July Weekend,” it’s worth bringing Benjamin Franklin into the conversation.  Franklin was well known in his day for dispensing  “conventional wisdom,” some of which continues to be passed on today.   One piece of this conventional wisdom suggests “God helps those who help themselves.”   Although many Christians believe that this piece of “wisdom” can be found in the Bible, it was coined by a 17th century British writer and then passed on by Franklin to his readers.  It’s a popular bit of conventional wisdom, but does it fit with divine wisdom?  

Another way of describing conventional wisdom is what some call “common sense.”  Trust your senses and you’ll know the truth.  So, when you experience a rather cool and rainy spring, you may find it difficult to believe the scientists who keep telling us that we’re experiencing global warming.   Since what you’re experiencing doesn’t seem to fit with what the scientists are saying – they must be wrong.  

Then there’s something that may look like wisdom, but is really nothing more than conspiracy theory.  Something that some politicians like to share with us to get our support for their cause, or that bit of wisdom that our “friends” share with us in emails that need to be checked out on Snopes.com.  On matters such as these, the wisdom of Mark Twain certainly fits!    "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."  

On the other hand, Jesus says that there is a wisdom that God reveals not to the wise and intelligent of this age, but rather to infants.  It’s the sort of wisdom that suggests that if you want to follow Jesus you might want to sell all you have and give it to the poor.  That certainly doesn’t sound very much like common sense, but as you know, Jesus told one young man to do just that.    

Divine wisdom is different from conventional wisdom or even common sense wisdom, but “it will be vindicated by her deeds,” which Jesus says is revealed in his invitation to those who are weary and carry heavy burdens to go to him and let him take on this heavy load.  All that we have to do, Jesus says, is take upon ourselves his yoke, which is easy and light.  

In preparing for this sermon I discovered something I hadn’t seen  before, or at least I hadn’t really paid much attention to before now.  What I discovered was that this invitation to lay down our burdens and take up the yoke of Jesus, that sign of servanthood, is rooted in a passage from one of the deuterocanonical books called the Wisdom of Sirach, and in Sirach, Wisdom, who is described in feminine terms, invites the weary and the heavily burdened to let go of these burdens and worries and take upon themselves the yoke of wisdom.

18My child, from your youth welcome education, and you will continue to discover wisdom until you are gray-haired. 19Approach her like one who plows and one who sows, and wait for her good fruits.When cultivating her, you will labor a little, but you will eat her produce soon.   20Wisdom is rugged terrain to the uneducated, and the fainthearted won’t persevere with her.  21The will be like a heavy stone that tests them, and they won’t hesitate to throw her aside.  22Wisdom is like her name, and she won’t be visible to many.  23Listen, my child, and welcome my opinion. Don’t reject my advice.  24Put your feet into her shackles and your neck into her collar.  25Bend your shoulder down and carry her, and don’t chafe at her bonds.  26Come to her with your whole being, and keep to her ways with all your strength.  27Track her down and seek her, and she will become known to you.When you get possession of her, don’t let her go.  28In the end, you will find rest in her, and she will turn to you and make you happy.  (Sirach 26:18-28 CEB)
This discovery has proven very helpful in understanding what Jesus is doing in this passage of Scripture.  You see, without ever giving attribution to Sirach, Jesus suggests that he is the embodiment of divine wisdom, the kind of wisdom that comforts, sustains, and supports us.   Jesus seems to be saying that if you want to know true wisdom, then you must know me and follow me, because God has handed down this wisdom to me, and to those to whom I reveal it.  So, come and follow me by putting on the collar and shackles of wisdom, then you will find rest and happiness – not as the world understands it, but as God understands it.     

And this is good news, for many of us carry many burdens.  Some are sick, some mourn, some  are angry, some struggle with their faith, and some are anxious about their lives and their futures.   We’re weary and having sought help in many places, not knowing where to turn, we receive this word of wisdom from the one who embodies wisdom: Come take my yoke and I will give you rest from all your burdens.  This wisdom the writer of Proverbs says is more desirable than anything the world has to offer, including gold, silver, or even fine jewels.  It was the first manifestation of God’s creativity, and through wisdom, God has created all things, which makes divine wisdom, as opposed to conventional wisdom, the fount of life and divine favor (Prov. 8).   And it is found, Jesus says, by letting go of our need to control life and embrace his invitation to be a servant of God.   And, “wisdom will be vindicated by her deeds.”  

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, Michigan
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2011

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