Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"Wisdom" Pentecost 21, Year A

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

Matthew 25:1-13
“Then the realm of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Please pray with me. God of knowledge and wisdom, you do not hide your face from us; everyone who looks for you finds you. Strengthen us in your wisdom, that we may recognise you when you come into our lives and be prepared to serve you. In all your names, amen.

The source of the first reading may not be familiar to all of you. The Wisdom of Solomon is part of what many churches call the “apocrypha.” This is a group of writings which Martin Luther removed from the Bible when he translated it into German, as he felt they should not be in the Bible—most Protestant churches have followed him in this, and readings from it are rarely found in the lectionary, that cycle of readings used by most churches. Readings from the apocrypha are alternatives in several occasions, however, and I think it is good to read them when we can. When you purchase a study Bible, I recommend purchasing one that includes the Apocrypha—it will usually tell you on the cover, or you can look for one of the books included in the apocrypha, like Tobit or Maccabees.

So—Wisdom. It’s in the very title of the reading for today. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and five were not.

Wisdom. What is wisdom, who is wise?

From the gospel reading, it appears that Boy Scouts are wise—be prepared looks like the moral from this story! And maybe that is part of wisdom—looking ahead, considering options and possibilities, what might lie ahead and how to handle it if or when it comes. Certainly people we call foolish don’t look ahead—they are the people who spend their whole pay check at the Bay even though the rent is due on Monday and there’s no more income before then. 

But I think it is more than that.

Have any of you read The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster? It is technically a children’s book, but it is one of those rare books that also works for adults. Juster tells the story of Milo, a boy who is terminally bored, because he never looks up, doesn’t pay attention to the world around him, and is generally self-absorbed. One day he finds himself in another land, where he learns a great deal about knowledge, but also wisdom. What he learns is not facts—about spelling or fractions—nor only how all knowledge fits together. It is true that we could not explain fractions or bookkeeping without language and metaphor, but it is no less true that words have meanings that we agree upon and can’t be changed without turning things upside down. When Milo learns this, he is able to rescue Rhyme and Reason and set the kingdom to rights. He is able to see more, to look up and be aware of the world as a whole and how very much there is to do in the world—he has become wise. The book is full of puns and wry comments that fly over the heads of kids—and some adults!—and every time I read it, I discover a joke I missed the last time I read it.

Looking around you. I think this is why Wisdom is described as being easily found—not hidden or difficult. Our reading today says Lady Wisdom is to be found in the gate—the centre of activity in an ancient city—she is radiant, she makes herself known to those who are looking for her, she actually looks for people who are interested in her, and meets them.

If we would just open our eyes, if we would look around us, search, study—we will find wisdom. It isn’t hard—she is everywhere, and she is looking for us, too.

So what does all this have to do with the realm of heaven? How do we connect wisdom and the realm of God—where all is as God intended it to be?

Wisdom leads us there—it is through this understanding, this awareness of the world, of the universe, this ability to connect, that we find the way to the realm of God.

Wisdom is not about intelligence, or book knowledge or university degrees or professional certificates. Some of the wisest people in the world don’t have any of the above, and some of the most foolish do. The Dalai Lama has no college degree. Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, had several.

Wisdom is a way of perception, of seeing and understanding. It doesn’t require any special training—you can find it simply by looking for it. You will know it when you find it because it will be radiant, and clear and you will recognise it. You don’t have to go far to find it—no long trips to exotic places, no expensive teachers are required. Wisdom is waiting to be found right here where we are, if we just seek it out.

Those wise bridesmaids weren’t smarter or richer or better educated than the others. They were wise because they were looking beyond the moment, looking to other possibilities in the world, open to change and difference, aware that change can and must happen, one way or another, observing what was happening, and thinking about those events—in the case of the bridesmaids, the non-arrival of the groom, which meant they would need more oil to keep their lamps burning.

And that is what wisdom is about—learning from the world, from what we see and experience and understand about the world, being able to do what is right because we have observed and thought and come to our own decisions.

Wisdom is waiting for us, seeking us; wanting to be a part of our lives, wanting to guide us.

Does that sound familiar? Yes, that sounds a lot like God. Wisdom, in fact, has often been identified with the Holy Spirit—God guiding us, speaking to us, leading us, inspiring us.

Look up and around you; Wisdom is there, waiting to be part of your life. Wisdom doesn’t ask for university degrees or a variety of life experiences or a long life or perfection of living. All Wisdom asks is that you seek—and then you will find. “Wisdom is found by those who seek her.”

Seek Wisdom and find the realm of God. In the many names of the one loving God, amen.

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