Sermon delivered on Trinity 15B, Sunday, September 12, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Proverbs 1.20-33; Psalm 19; James 3.1-12; St. Mark 8.27-38.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We turn our attention today to the biblical teaching on wisdom and foolishness, looking at both in the context of how our other lessons apply them. When Scripture speaks of wisdom and foolishness, what is it speaking about? In the Bible’s economy, how do we know a wise guy (or gal) from a fool? How do we become wise? These are some of the things I want us to look at today.
We are introduced to Lady Wisdom in our OT lesson. At first glance she appears to be quite harsh and demanding, threatening to mock those who do not seek to know her and wind up in a pickle. But when we look closer at her words, we see she is warning us to do what we can to escape the consequences of our foolish thinking, speaking, and behaving. Unlike current “wisdom,” Scripture is very clear in teaching us there are consequences to our words and actions. Better to be wise than to get jammed up over our foolishness. We would be wise to heed her advice.
And what is the essence of wisdom? Pr 1.7 tells us: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge (wisdom). In other words, wisdom is based on us developing a real relationship with God so that we know him and as a result of that knowledge can develop a healthy, reverent appreciation and awe of God (and sometimes knee-knocking fear when necessary) to help us navigate through life with all its changes, chances, and complexities in ways that allow us to become fully human and thus live up to our status as God’s image-bearing creatures. Simpletons in biblical language are those who have not yet learned this truth regarding our need to conform our lives to God’s teaching, will, and created order but are open to it; whereas fools and mockers have been exposed to the truth and reject it, and worse yet, even mock it. As we shall see, wise folk have a hope and a future. Fools and mockers do not.
Before we look further at wisdom and foolishness, let us first acknowledge that the human race is prone to foolishness because of our fallen nature and enslavement to the power of Sin. We only become wise by the grace and power of God, not chiefly our own efforts, important as those efforts are. So what does wisdom and foolishness look like on the ground, in the context of our mortal lives? All our lessons provide us with some key insights and wisdom (no pun intended) into this question, although the manifestation of wisdom is certainly not limited to what our lessons show us. As we shall see, Scripture often teaches us truth inside the story of the history of God’s people contained in it. We would be wise to learn this simple truth as it helps provide us with needed context to better see how God operates in his created order and its creatures.
We turn first to our Psalm lesson with its declaration that all creation declares the beauty and handiwork of its Creator (cf. Rm 1.18-20). We see the breathtaking beauty of God’s created world and order—the beauty of nature, of a starry sky at night, of families and all healthy relationships, especially the God-ordained relationship of husband and wife consecrated at marriage. All these proclaim God’s goodness, wisdom, and beauty without ever speaking a word. Wise folk experience them and we just know in our bones that it’s all good, reflecting the bold declaration of Genesis 1-2 (that God created all things good). Fools do not and mockers actually scorn this truth. Then of course there is the beauty of God’s law, how God’s created order is intended to run and how we are to conduct ourselves as God’s image-bearers. Wise people follow God’s law and created order, submitting themselves to it. When they do, they find God’s blessing (not necessarily a reward) in the form of God’s peace and contentment. God’s wisdom teaches the wise to be humble and act accordingly toward God and people because we know we are only mortals and our days are but as grass: fleeting, temporary, prone to the vicissitudes of life. Fools reject this truth, generally favoring their own disordered and brave new world, a world that produces chaos and madness and disorder, a world that swirls around us with increasing intensity. The psalmist puts it like this: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good” (Ps 14.1, 53.1). Despite the testimony of God’s created order and of Scripture and God’s people, fools and mockers reject it all and even mock it. Perhaps the best biblical example of this is the chief priests and scribes at Calvary, mocking our Savior as he was dying for them (Mk 15.28-32). They were too foolish to accept God the Father’s appointed way to save them from eternal destruction because they didn’t have the needed humility or wisdom to see that they were incapable of saving themselves. And their formal training made them too proud to allow themselves to consider the possibility that when God’s Messiah did come, he might come in a way they never expected or anticipated. And we don’t get a free pass on this one either. How many times do we read and study God’s word and truth only to reject it by not believing it? How many times do we in effect say, “There is no God” because we think we know better than God in how his created order and our lives should be run? Every time our pride leads us to refuse to repent of the sins, or refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us, or refuse to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, and the unborn, or worse yet when we fail to challenge the lie that Jesus is just one of several ways to God, to name just a few, we are those fools about whom the psalmist speaks. Doing the opposite shows we are learning wisdom because we seek to follow God’s will made known supremely and uniquely in and through Christ.
This leads us to our gospel lesson where we see wisdom and foolishness clearly on display, the latter in abundance. The story is a classic. St. Peter goes from the penthouse to the doghouse in the blink of an eye! He shows wisdom by acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah or anointed one, presumably from his interactions with our Lord up to that point. No beating around the bush for St. Peter! He comes right out and answers Christ’s question clearly and boldly. You are the Christ! But then St. Mark tells us Christ used St. Peter’s confession to teach his blind and foolish disciples that their thinking about God’s Messiah was all wrong. Christ was indeed God’s anointed one, but he had come to rescue not only Israel but God’s entire sin-sick world from our slavery to the power of Sin, not by being a mighty conquerer and lording it over others, but by dying for us to take on himself the Father’s holy and just wrath on our sins so that we would be spared of that wrath and made fit to live in the Father’s holy presence forever, starting right here and now in this mortal life. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense, Lord! St. Peter exclaimed. You see, Christ had totally violated his expectations of who God is and how God works. End-time judgment there will be and there will be no mistaking it when it comes. But not before our Father came to us in weakness and love to save us from ourselves and the power of Sin. The Kingdom comes on earth as in heaven via the cross and Christ’s blood shed for us, not via shock and awe as the world understands power. Only the wise, those who know the heart of the Father and are able to recognize and see it in the life and teachings of God the Son, God become human, can possibly hope to learn God’s radical new (yet very much old) wisdom made known in Christ. And to learn this wisdom requires the God-given humility to listen, ponder, and talk it over, both with God and each other. It is the humility and wisdom needed to submit ourselves to the power and authority of God’s word contained in Scripture, rather than putting ourselves above it so as to interpret it in ways that make us feel good and comfortable. If we don’t know God and are unwilling to get to know Christ and his ways, denying ourselves and carrying our cross so that we can follow him, we can never hope to become (or be) wise. Like the big shots of Jesus’ day (and ever since), we consider ourselves too smart, too sophisticated to believe in all this dying for our sins stuff. And the Resurrection? No way, baby. We all know dead people don’t rise from the grave. Yet here is Christ our Lord, inviting us to see him for who he is as he lives out the very heart and love and goodness and justice of his Father. Know God and we will know Christ. Know Christ and we will know God. Peter at this point in the story didn’t know either very well and he attempted to fit both into his own scheme of things. The result? His Master’s doghouse. Satan had tempted him in the wilderness to abandon his path to the cross and in St. Peter’s (likely) well-intentioned rebuke, Jesus saw the same dynamic at work. Christ could go to the cross because he knew without a doubt the Father’s will for him and had the humility to do that will, massively hard as it was (cf. Phil 2.5-11). The wise know Christ for who he is—the embodiment of the Living God—and believe his promise that we are freed from our sins by his blood and by the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that one day we too will have eternal life in a new embodied existence, all because of the Father’s great love, mercy, and grace. Fools reject this and live their lives accordingly. It’s no small thing to have to deny ourselves, our base and disordered desires in us, and be willing to learn how to live in the manner of Christ. It takes a lifetime and none of us do it perfectly. In fact, most of us do it rather imperfectly most of the time. But Christ is the only way for us to ever enjoy eternal life in the manner the NT promises it. Are you wise in this matter or a fool?
Last, we turn to our epistle lesson because here we see an important way we as Christians learn to live out our faith in Jesus Christ: taming our speech. We just saw how St. Peter’s tongue got him in trouble. We also spoke of the foolish speech we heard at Calvary as the leaders of Israel mocked God as they crucified him. We add our own folly to this. How many times has a thoughtless word caused harm and sometimes irreparable damage? (This is why gossip is so severely condemned in all Scripture.) It causes damage and harm, division and rancor. It is also a terrible witness to our faith. When we speak and act in the manner of the world (think Twitter, Facebook, all the discordant voices that swirl around us), how are we witnessing to Christ? How are we demonstrating a different and better way, a way the world desperately seeks but can never find in the secular domain? I see some of our own people regularly post things on FB that make me cringe. If I were one who hungered and thirsted for truth and beauty and real life and saw some of the stuff we post, I would high tail it as fast as I could. And we will have to give an account for our loose tongue as Christ himself warns us—rather worryingly, to me at least—about this: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5.22). Here we see wisdom and folly in action again, this time in the realm of speech. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger, says Proverb 15.1. Wise folks understand and practice this wisdom. But at other times, a stern word may be needed. Wisdom tells us when, where, and how to apply it (or not). Fools reject this wisdom and act according to their own selfish and myopic desires.
I could give thousands of examples to illustrate the above, but you get the point and I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on this and talking about it together. In short, if we are putting anything or anyone above following Christ to the best of our ability in the power of the Spirit, or if we do not believe him to be who he says he is, the crucified and risen Son of God, we are fools and headed for utter and eternal destruction. There is no cause, no person, no identity, no political party, nothing in all creation other than Christ, that deserves to have our ultimate love, loyalty, and devotion because only Christ offers us eternal life. Learn this wisdom, my beloved. As Christ’s body we are called to live out God’s wisdom (and all that that entails) together, not just individually, and that means we must delve into the word deeply and together. To know God requires that we have a robust prayer life as well. And of course when we come to the Table to receive our Lord’s body and blood, we learn wisdom because we actually consume Christ as we rehearse and become part of God’s wisdom proclaimed in our Lord’s Death and Resurrection. May we all become wise guys and gals as we grow up to the full stature of Christ. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.