Transcribed from the sermon preached August 16, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: I Kings 3:5-14, Ephesians 5:15-20
“Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word.
What is wisdom? I thought for a while, and finally what got me off and running was thinking of wise people I know? Then I asked myself what qualities they display.
One wise person, Barbara Brown Taylor, says, “Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wisdom atrophies if it is not walked on a regular basis.”(Taylor, An Altar in the World) Wisdom is an applied knowledge; it is knowledge that works in action, in relationship. Wisdom may be in part the knowledge of experience. There is good reason for the commandment to honor our elders. Experience helps us with wisdom. That is not necessarily the case; many of us go through life without allowing experience to teach us much. There is no shortage of stubborn and ignorant older folks, but the wisest people I have known tend to have had a few years of experiencing life.
So what are some of the traits of wise people?
- Wise people are confident in self and determined but humble and grace filled:
Abe Lincoln, second Inaugural Address, “Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Solomon isn’t afraid to lead but he realizes he could use some help from God.
- Wise people can know they are an expert at something without being arrogant. They see their talents as gifts.
- Wise people seek to learn. They admit mistakes and learn from them.
- Wise people enjoy loving and nurturing others, especially children. They not only are not afraid to share their knowledge, they enjoy sharing.
- Wise people are tough and straightforward speaking to injustice, but loving in expectation and presentation. They expect that people can change if they really put their minds to it. Jesus, Daud Nassar, Gandhi, MLK have what I consider the highest form of wisdom – wisdom with love, hope, and grace. They walk with divine hope and confidence that love will win. It defies logic, but still feels wise.
- Wise people have integrity and grace. Their actions and beliefs correspond. They are both tough and forgiving of themselves and others. They are tougher on the forward momentum of meanness, easier on bad choice in hardship. Jesus is rough on those wanting to kill the woman caught in adultery, forgiving of the woman herself.
- Wise people do not define themselves by one issue. We all know people who are all about one thing. No matter where they are or who they are with they will let everyone know that left handed lobster lovers deserve their day in court. Wise people may become known publicly through one issue, but when you get to know them they are not just about that one issue. Others may define them narrowly – this is Joe, he is a gay rights activist, this is Jane, she is an African American feminist. The wise person may be an expert, who is publicly known in one area, but the person doesn’t define themselves narrowly – they are first a well-rounded human being, loving and enjoying, and suffering many things. The one issue they are known for is just one aspect of their lives.
- A wise person can acknowledge sexuality without engaging the gears. There is no need to deny and repress, but neither do they allow it to derail the good path or good cause they are on. The wise person is able to be intimate without becoming possessed. They can say, “Thank God from whom all blessings flow, but this is not the time or person for more than internal mental acknowledgement. We might say Solomon failed in this respect
- Wise people know when people don’t matter, or should not be our primary focus in our decision making. Being considerate is not the same as being consumed and driven by the opinions and whining of others. They understand the value of the search for objective truth in science for instance. They understand the necessity of the integrity of law and justice. And they can play or dance without self consciousness if and when the time is right. Wise persons know when to dance and when to mourn. As the wisdom literature Ecclesiastes notes, there is a time for everything under heaven.
- The primary question of the wise is how is God looking at this? They seem to have the ability to draw back in perspective, beyond themselves, beyond their immediate needs and desires and say, not my will but thine Dear Lord.
- Wisdom does not necessarily coincide with super intelligence. Intelligence helps but there are plenty of smart people who are not wise, and plenty of wise people who are not geniuses. We can be less than a genius with regard to school learning and still be wise. Perseverance, love and grace, often key elements in wisdom, do not require a high IQ.
- Hope is not a requirement for wisdom but it is found in its highest form. Chris Hedges is short on grace but he is a prophet with brilliant and wise lessons about war and religion. Amos was cynical, but the mess of injustice and compromise of moral integrity spelled disaster for the Israelites, and Amos was simply wise enough to see the bad news coming.
Is there a type of wisdom for each class? Amos is the common people’s prophet of anger and judgment, perseverance and hope. The wisdom of the middle class would be humility, the gratitude to recognize an opportunity has been placed before you, so you should take advantage of it and make a contribution. Then ruling class wisdom would run in the form that Solomon asks for – give me wisdom in making decisions.
Wise leaders listen to prophets. Wise people know wise people and pay attention to them. Popular opinion will blow this way one day and that way the next. A leader must compromise, while a prophet speaks a certain truth. A good leader will know when it is time for the bold acts called for by the prophet. A strong wise leader will not make knee jerk reactions, and will have other wise leaders who help discern the right way to act.
Wise people learn from failures and try again. Either that, or they can discern when trying again is not wise. Especially in personal relationships, we get very used to our way of behaving. And our usual solution to failing and failing and failing again, is to do the same thing once more, only try harder. Wise people know when it is time to try something new to deal with an old problem.
Nobody loves change all the time; the wise will know when it is time to change before they are forced to. . Some people have the ability to change when they see a problem developing, before they are forced by the problem to change. If you find someone who has the mental and spiritual health to change before problems force them too, follow that person, copy them, try to learn from them. Hang out with them.
And finally, from Nelson Mandela:
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being an optimist is keeping one’s head pointing toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, give up in despair, but I would not, could not. That way lays defeat and death.”