Sunday, November 9, 2014


“Wisdom is radiant and unfading.
She is discerned by those who love her
            and easily found by those who seek her.”
Protestants don’t include the Book of Wisdom in their Bible
because it because it was written in Greek
            instead of Hebrew.
But Christians from early on included it,
            up until Martin Luther reworked the canon in the 16th Century.

Wisdom isn’t really by King Solomon.
It is by a late first century BC Jewish sage in Alexandria, Egypt.
It would have still been on the New Release rack at Barnes & Noble
            in Jesus’ day.
Wisdom Literature expressed a shift in Judaism happening
            around the same time that Greece launched
                        the whole project of philosophy.
In Alexandria, Jewish thought and Greek thought
            bumped up against each other to spark Wisdom Literature.

The idea that Judaism and Christianity are ways of wisdom
            is very old.
Before Christianity was called Christianity,
            It was called “the Way” which in Chinese
            would be translated as “the Tao.”
Christian and Taoist teachers in China respected each other
            and had a lively interfaith dialogue going
until the evil Mingh dynasty wiped us out in the 8th Century.

Today, I want to use the Book of Wisdom as an entre into all the books
            of the  “Wisdom Literature”  -- Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes,
Ecclesiasticus, and Song of Songs.
These books set out to impart the wisdom of God,
            to show us the way to life.

The problem is that the wisdom teachings are wildly inconsistent.
When Job is in travail, his counselors guide him by quoting Proverbs.
Job replies, “Quote to me no more these Proverbs of dust.”
At the end, God shows up and says Job is right.

Ecclesiastes teaches a dark, cynical, hedonistic way of life.
But today’s book, Wisdom, quotes Ecclesiastes,
            then says, “This is how they reason,
                        but they were led astray.”

It’s a maze of contradictions;
            so what is it all doing in the same Bible?
We like to cherry pick the Scripture verses we like,
            and hold them up with “Thus sayeth the Lord,”
But other verses we’d just as soon ignore.
How do make sense of that?
We may get a hint from the Argentinean poet,
            Jorge Luis Borges.
Borges’s poetry celebrates the way
            ideas bounce against each other striking sparks
                        In the darkness.
To Borges, no idea in itself captures truth.
Truth is the spark struck when ideas collide.
Ideas are at best partial truths.
But when we bang them against each other like subatomic particles
            in a nuclear reactor, the collision emits a light, the light of Christ..

We might also learn something from dear old Plato,
            since the author of today’s lesson from Wisdom
                        seems to have read Plato a bit.
Rebecca Goldstein’s clever book, Plato At The Googleplex,
            demonstrates that Plato was not a Platonist.
He did not intend the things he said
to add up to a comprehensive system.
He was striking ideas off against each other like flint and steel.

Once we get this, all sorts of things fall into place.
 Ideas are linguistic constructs that contain only partial truths,
            but the interplay of ideas sheds a larger light.
That’s why the Hebrew Scriptures
            do not present a sustained religious teaching
            but rather, as Walter Brueggemann says,
            they are an ongoing argument between conflicting
            visions of God and human life.

Same thing with the New Testament.
Jesus didn’t come out and say,
            in some direct, comprehensible way,
                        “This is how it is” – but rather spoke
            in zinger stories that leave us scratching our heads.

“Wisdom is radiant and unfading.
She is discerned by those who love her
            and easily found by those who seek her.”
But she cannot be tied up in a bundle of words and ideas.
Wisdom is not something we can see,
            as much as it is the light that enables us to see
                        all things clearly.

So the first point about Wisdom Literature is:
good religion opens our minds.
It doesn’t close our minds.
Good religion doesn’t tell us the answers.
It wakes us up with the questions.

When we baptize a new Christian, we pray,
            “Give her an inquiring and discerning heart.”
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said it best
            in his Letters To A Young Poet:
            “I . . .  beg you sir, to be patient with all that is unresolved
            in your own heart and to try to love the questions themselves,
            as if they were locked rooms . . . . Don’t search for the answers
            which could not be given to you now
because you would not be able to live them. . . . .
Live the questions now.
Perhaps someday, far into the future, you will gradually
 . . .  live your way into the answer.”

It is a common mistake to think Christians are people
            who have all come to the same answers.
We are not.
We are people who  have agreed to stammer together about the questions
            in the same language of symbols, rituals, and stories.

We agree to be in relationship with each other,
to pray together, to follow the same traditions,
and to serve the world in a common love.
But we don’t promise to agree about everything.
That would make the whole thing boring.

That leads the second point: we need each other.
Sociologist Bill Bishop wrote a book, titled:
The Big Sort: Why The Clustering Of Like Minded Americans
Is Tearing Us Apart.
His point is that people are withdrawing into silos
            inhabited by other people who all talk, dress,
            think, and act alike.
The result is a fragmented society that doesn’t work.
So why do we do it?
Silos keep life small and manageable.
They protect us from the risk of thinking.
Our social silos keep the subatomic ideas from colliding
            and emitting light.
Evil has always shunned the light.
Today more than ever, we need to Church to be true to itself.
The Church is meant to be “a learning community.”
We learn from the interplay of multiple viewpoints,
            not from monotonous group-think conformity

Look at the disciples Jesus assembled
-- Zealot rebels and Roman collaborator tax collectors,
                  sinners and Pharisaic moralists,
                  Greeks, Galileans, Judeans, and Canaanites.
It was an assembly of the mismatched and wrongheaded,
      who all called Jesus “Rabboni,” “Teacher,”
      not because he told them how it was
                  but because he made them think fresh thoughts,
                 and see the world through new eyes.

Today we will confirm and receive new members of the Church.
I hope they won’t all think alike because thinking alike is not thinking at all.
We need a plethora of ideas and feelings stirring around in this pot.
That’s how we are all enlivened. That’s how we are changed.
That’s how God teaches us the art of love and the cosmic dance.
So let us welcome our new members in the hope that they will
            disturb our assumptions and challenge us to think and feel anew.