Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prevailing Wisdom

Each era has its own prevailing wisdom:
    My childhood- Dr. Spock

    My children's birth years, more likely to seek wisdom from la Leche League
    Farmers’ Almanac - still used some but once was key source of wisdom for the ordering of planting and harvesting.   
 Street wisdom - Orin’s fear of police, not because he had done wrong, but he knew that police stop men who appear to be loitering. Orin, as a homeless man, was always in fear of having to explain why he was in a particular area in case he had to answer to someone. It is not something most of us ever worry about.

    Biblical wisdom is a concept we hear about even today. People talk about living aka to the Bible. I often wonder what they mean because I find some pretty horrible living conditions during some of the Biblical eras.
    It is easy to forget that the Bible doesn’t represent a set time but includes many generations therefore biblical wisdom includes types of wisdom from many eras.
    Here’s 3 types of biblical wisdom: from Thomas Steagald Feasting On The Word (Louisville:WJK, 2008) 340

1. The early days of the Bible record are called “Early Covenant” - obviously b/c they were the days when God first made a covenant promise with God’s people. This was the time of the 10 Commandments and other laws given by God. The ‘Prevailing Wisdom’ was “Deuteronomic” (like the book)
God’s was seen as present and active in the world. (God spoke to Moses directly after all...and in the years that followed, people still remembered those days.)
God was omniscient to enforce a basic and binding moral code.
God rewarded the faithful and punished the wicked - IMMEDIATELY
The world was predicatable and orderly so

2.  The next major period is the EXILE, when Israel is conquered by Persian and most of the people are exiled to Babylon.
The world was still seen as predictable but upside down!  The EXILE caused a major re-working of theology and the times were “Apocalyptic”.
The righteous usually suffered at the hand of the wicked
Evil prospered
Most believed there would come a day...when all would be put right. But meanwhile the righteous had 3 choices to make;
1 Oppose the wicked, which might result in your death
2 Collaborate with the wicked, which would get you in the end, day of judgement
3 (A middle road, not entirely safe...MAINTAIN your IDENTITY, “keep Kosher”, worship underground, avoid detection. (Much like Orin’s street wisdom.)
WISDOM = BEING ENCOURAGED BY HEROS, and their stories. Trusting that the faithful will eventually prosper. (Stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Hadrack, Meshack, Abendigo in the fiery furnace.

3. 3rd Major Wisdom Era for today brings us to the time of PROVERBS. It was after the Hebrew people returned to Israel and eventually rebuilt the temple, mostly Solomon’s accomplishment. (at great cost of an increase in the taxes for the middle and lower classes.. BTW - :0)))

People saw an unpredictability in their universe;
sometimes the righteous won
Sometimes the evil win
God is not obvious, or immediately evident to bless or to punish.
WISDOM IS AN ALMANAC for negotiating these times of tension and a way to INTERPRET the ambiguity of the times.

Hence, Proverbs, poetry written to describe the current state of affairs, to give encouragement at times, to provide guidance for the righteous to find a way to live in such uncertain times.

In Proverbs we usually hear a plea to look further down the road than one’s immediate vision. It’s as if we hear someone say, “in the end, you will see that...”
I think it’s the kind of thing we ‘senior adults’ say to our younger peers.

    The older we get the more we realize that Short-sightedness can lead to lack of wisdom. Perhaps because we learned from our own mistakes.

    In a community such as ours, we have ‘Shared Wisdom’.  I met with Pastor’s Kristen and Stan this week from Bethel and St. Hildegard’s. We are planning a fall retreat for senior adults on October 4. After each session we want to include a time of ‘shared wisdom’ to allow us to learn from each other. Whether it is possible to learn from someone else’s mistakes may be a matter of personality, yet surely we can try..
Dirk Wilhelm a famous Anabaptist Martyr

    There is a “Shared Wisdom” that is particularly Anabaptist. When I served on staff at the Manassas church, a discussion began in the congregation about how we could ‘display’ our peace values in a constructive way. No one wanted to dishonor people who choose to serve in the military yet we wanted to strongly state our belief in peace.
    How could it be done? The discussion centered around displaying a banner on the front lawn. At the time, the Friends, also known as Quakers, had a yard-sized sign that said, ‘War is NOT the Answer’.

    We talked about displaying their banner, but felt that we wanted something of our own. As is often the case in such discussions, there were a few voices that were louder than the others. My colleague discerned the ‘wisdom’ of having everyone share. This was unique in that no one could stay in the background, everyone had to express not just how they felt about a banner, but more so, what they believed about the Brethren peace witness and how we might appropriately ‘stand for peace’.
    It was a powerful moment! The spectrum was wide and yet everyone spoke to their convictions as christians. Voices normally silent spoke softly but with passion, people referred to scripture, & sought a sense of unity for the body of brethren in that place and time. And we sought to be true to our heritage.
    The end result was the decision to display a message from scripture (rather than our words). After examining a few choices, the verse you heard read earlier in the service was chosen. “Seek Peace and Pursue It”. The banner later resulted in a series of yard signs, some of which we have here.
Signs still available from Manassas Church of the Brethren 703-368-4783

    Using the shared wisdom of the entire community we not only solved an ‘issue’ but found a new way to witness to our faith.

    If only God’s People always chose the way of wisdom. . .

We think of Solomon as one who chose the way of wisdom. In today’s scripture story God offer’s Solomon anything and he asks for wisdom, wisdom to govern well. (In this election season we might pray that all our rulers choose so wisely...)

    If we read on, we will find the well-known story of Solomon hearing the claims of two moms. They lived in the same house, they both gave birth, but tragically one baby did not live. The mom of the dead child apparently switched babies and they both end up before the King claiming that the living infant is their own.
    Solomon’s decision to split the baby in half with a sword and give half to each mom is quickly halted by the ‘real’ mom’s cries. She says let the other woman have the child, just let him live. Solomon recognizes her loving concern as the authentic mom, and gives the child to her.

Such wisdom.. But unfortunately in Solomon’s later activities, the Way of Wisdom seems to be lacking.

In today's world, wisdom often seems lacking. Our preference for sound bites and 140 character tweets can seem more like fortune cookie advise than real bits of wisdom.
    One of the professors of Bible at Duke Divinity school (Ellen F. Davis) was asked to do a retreat for a church in California on ‘Wisdom’. The scripture was chosen for her and she was surprised to learn it was the book of ‘Proverbs’. 
    She imagined that the turnout would be small, just the faithful few, but instead the room was packed. People engaged her with questions until she finally had to ASK for a break.
    She queried them on their excitement about these ancient writings.
“Immediately someone answered, ‘Oh, most of us work in Hollywood. We write commercials and advertising copy. When we were in training they told us to read Proverbs!’...then she continued, ‘But now I see that most of what we write is aimed at the people Proverbs calls ‘fools’.’”1

You have already heard a few sayings from the biblical wisdom tradition of Proverbs. These sayings usually come in couplets. They are lines of poetry that are almost like Haiku. Dr. Davis explains that they are very accessible sayings that don’t require a lot of seminary work in order to get started learning. “All one has to have,” she said, “is some life experience..and to slow down and savor the words as with any good poem.”2

    You sure don’t want to read too many all at once, or you lose the effect.

You may notice that sometimes the 2nd line reinforces the 1st by intensifying the statement. Sometimes the 2nd line compares an opposite. Other times it just repeats by saying the same thing in a different way.

If Proverbs sounds stereotypical, you are right because it does use general types and categories that are broad in order to make statements about people. The Wisdom sayer describes everyone as ‘either’ WISE or FOOLISH.

Some sections refer to general living, some to family life, others to characteristics of personality, the ways of the world.
And a Key emphasis is that wisdom is not something humans attain on their own. It is a gift, ..from Sophia, the wisdom of God.

Since we are a gathered community AND
    Since brethren, and anabaptists have always stressed discernment by the ‘body’, believing strong that God speaks thru the community when we gather for that purpose, I thought we engage just a few tidbits of wisdom today and see how the Spirit of God’s Wisdom; ‘Sophia’, will speak to us today.

Invite congregation comment - draw from the basket and read into the mic. You don’t need to be the one to comment. EVERYONE is invited to consider the saying and give voice to what comes to you.
    Can you affirm the statement? Why?
    Have you experienced something similar in your life?
    What do you think it means?

Proverbs 9:1-6 (Let's listen again)
Wisdom built her house;
she has carved out her seven pillars.
2 She slaughtered her animals,
mixed her wine, and set her table.
3 She sends out her female servants; she issues an invitation
from the top of the city heights:
4 “ Whoever is naive turn aside here, ” she says to those who lack sense.
5 “ Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed.
6 Abandon your simplistic ways and live; walk in the way of understanding. ”

I don’t recommend we start spouting proverbs at each other after today. I do think these words give us opportunity to pay greater attention to the ways we attempt to share wisdom in this community. And we might notice the ways we teach wisdom to our children.

As Paul Tillich, the famous theologian said, “Without the experience of awe in the face of the mystery of life, there is no wisdom.”3
     Perhaps that is a proverb of its own.

 I will remember this experience of shared wisdom and I hope you will too, because today we practiced listening to the voice of Sophia, the wisdom of God.

I trust that with our listening we brought a little bit of timeless wisdom into the here and now of our particular time. May we all ‘walk’ in the way of wisdom and understanding.

 1. Ellen F. Davis, “Surprised by Wisdom; preching proverbs” Interpretation Vol. 64, No. 3, July 2009, 269 2
2. ibid 265
3. Paul Tillich The Eternal Now (Scribner’s Sons, 1963, 168) in Interpretation Vol. 64. No 3 July 20009, 291

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