Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You Got To Know When To Hold 'Em; Know When To Fold 'Em

When one of our priests, Fr. Vince O’Neil,
         was in the second grade, his teacher was a nun.
She would make little Vince stand at his desk
         and grill him on his catechism.
“Vince,” she would say, “Why did God make you?”
And Vince would answer “To know, love, and serve him.”
She would say, “That is correct. Now notice what comes first.
         Knowledge. Knowledge is the basis.
         So study, Vince, study."

Sometimes in the Eucharist we recite the summary of the law.
It comes from an exchange between Jesus and a lawyer.
The lawyer asks Jesus the greatest commandment.
Jesus answers,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind,
with all your heart, and all your strength,
and . . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The same summary of the law is in the teachings
         of Jesus’ contemporary, Rabbi Hillel.
Someone challenged Hillel to sum up
         the entire law while standing on one foot.
The Rabbi said, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind,
         all your soul, and all your strength.
         And love your neighbor as yourself.
         The rest is commentary. Go study.”

Rabbi Hillel said the central point is simple.
But how we live it in a complex world is complicated.
That’s why we have to start with the mind.

Jews don’t just have the summary of the law.
They don’t just have the 10 Commandments
They have 613 commandments
which amount to a lot of commentary.
The applications of those commandments
in the Mishna  and the interpretations in the Talmud
are further commentary.
So to be a good Jew, you have to study.

It is the same for Christians.
There is a lot to know.
And it all adds up to Wisdom.

The lectionary actually gives us a choice
         of three Old Testament lessons for today.
One is from Isaiah, “the Lord has given me the tongue
         of a teacher.”
Jesus was a teacher too. The apostles were teachers.
The first two spiritual gifts Paul listed in 1st Corinthians
         were the gifts of teaching wisdom and knowledge.
The Lord sends us teachers
         because he expects us to be students.

Another possible lessons for today
 is from Proverbs.
It says, “Wisdom cries out in the street;
         In the squares she raises her voice.
         At the busiest corner she cries out . . .
         ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? . . .
         I will pour out my thoughts to you.
         I will make my words known to you.”

In our third choice, the Wisdom of Solomon, we read,
         “for wisdom is a reflection of eternal light,
         a spotless mirror of the working of God . . . .”
The Jewish folk idea of Wisdom, hachma, in the Hebrew,
         evolved into a philosophy of God.
At first hachma meant knowing how to do your craft well.
There was a wisdom of the farmer,
a wisdom of the basket weaver,
         a wisdom of the camel trader.

We might say there is a wisdom of the gambler,
         that is “to know when to hold ‘em,
                  know when to fold ‘em,
                  know when to walk away,
                  know when to run.”
The writers of Scripture eventually realized
         what Wisdom teacher Kenny Rogers makes so clear.
The ways of a craft can be expanded into a way of life.
Just as a basket can be woven well or badly,
         a life can be lived well or badly.
Just as you must know certain things
         to be a good farmer, camel trader, or gambler,
         you must know certain things in order
                  to be a good human being.

By the time today’s lessons were written,
         Wisdom had come to mean a very part of God.
 Wisdom is the order of things, the pattern of the cosmos.
Wisdom is the mind of God expressed in the world.
We learn Wisdom by keeping alert to the world.
But we also learn Wisdom from the past.

Scripture and Tradition
         – the lives of the saints
         – the teachings of theologians
         – the insights of mystics
all these together are a rich storehouse of Wisdom.
We can’t learn all that in Vacation Bible School
         as children.
It’s a lifelong project.

That’s why the Episcopal Church has adopted
         the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation
         calling on each diocese to keep educating our people
                  all their lives long.
That’s why Nevada has created
         the Frensdorff School for Christian Formation
                  to teach the teachers.

A church is a worshiping community,
         a praying community,
                  and a caring community.
But it is also a learning community.

This is a wonderful diocese.
We do lots of good ministry here.
But the adult education programs
         of all but a few of our congregations
                  are woefully behind.

We have to change that,
         and we need a few strong parishes to lead the way.
All Saints has the critical mass of people
         for a first rate adult formation program.
All Saints has people with the gift and the passion to teach.

That brings us to the point.
“Wisdom cries out in the street;
         In the squares she raises her voice.
         At the busiest corner she cries out . . . “
God invites us to learn Wisdom’s ways
         so that we can live better, fuller lives.

In our Baptismal vows we promise
         “to continue in the Apostle’s teaching.”
There are two ways we can do that.
We can teach or we can study.

We need to know the Bible.
We need to know that fundamentalism
         is not the old way of reading the Bible.
It was invented between 1910 and 1915.

The first theologians taught that each text
         must be read on four different levels – not literally.
Fundamentalism is neither orthodox nor mainstream.

Did you know that the idea that whatever happens
         is part of God’s plan is a highly debated point
                  in Christianity?
Do you know why we bring the bread and wine
         from the back of the Church to the altar?
It means something – something profoundly important.
Most of the divisions in the Church today
         come from the failure to study and to think.

So, study, brothers and sisters.
It is fascinating stuff we have to teach.
It will touch your hearts as well as your minds.
It will change your life.
Wisdom’s ways are the Way of Christ.
Thanks be to God.