sermon gill barnett

Two kinds of Wisdom

‘Two kinds of Wisdom’ was preached by Gill Barnett at St John with St Mark’s on 23rd September 2018. It’s one of her last before she moves on to her new home in Rochdale. It’s based on the Book of Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, James 3:13-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37.

How wise are you?  Is it the same question as ‘how intelligent are you?’  What is wisdom in the world’s eyes compared to wisdom in God’s eyes?

Fish knife or Swiss Army knife?

A picture of wisdom was drawn by the Christian comedian, Milton Jones, comparing it to cutlery.  He said wisdom is not like that special set of knives and forks you keep for certain occasions, locked away in a velvet-lined box – all pristine and shiny. We used to have a set like that home (fish knives), brought out only on special occasions.  Rather wisdom is like a Swiss Army knife, worn and pitted, used and useful, honed and sharpened. A daily help in jobs both big and small.  Used and useful – not so precious that it’s kept hidden away and protected and unused.  ‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’ James asks.  ‘Let him show it.’  Get that Swiss Army knife out and put it to use!

Where does the world look for wisdom?  Who does it judge to be wise?  I suspect those who are successful in business or entertainment, many celebrities are judged to have wisdom.  Is it true wisdom?  Does the world perhaps not mistake selfish ambition, envy, pride, being false to the truth for wisdom?  Mistaking fame for knowledge or celebrity with wisdom?  Too often putting others down so you can rise to the top. Even our entertainment programmes are bent on belittling people so that the ‘wise’ can get a laugh and earn their salaries and status. Jeremy Kyle, Britain’s Got Talent, The Apprentice.  And where would we start in the world of politics – those who are elected to govern us with wisdom? How wise are their pronouncements, their arguments especially when they’re in a tight corner?

Peace and mercy

James says that:

  • selfish ambition, envy, pride, being false to the truth only leads to disorder and wickedness but
  • the wisdom which comes from God leads to peace and mercy without partiality or hypocrisy.

Remember last week’s reading about not preferring the rich and successful over the poor of the world?  How wise does that seem in the world’s eyes?  That’s an example of worldly rather than heavenly wisdom.  Heavenly wisdom is quite different.

God gives us wisdom for a reason.  In Proverbs, Wisdom is depicted as a woman calling out in the highways and byways to anyone who would choose to hear.  So wisdom is not kept hidden away.  It is not meant for the posh, the privileged, the elected, the successful in the world’s eyes.  Wisdom is God working at street level.  Wisdom is at home rubbing shoulders with everyone and anyone – great or small.  ‘Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?  On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.’’

Two kinds of wisdom

Most of the things that the world currently regards as wise or clever come from or lead to, disorder. But ‘the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.’  But what sort of newspaper headline would that give?

True wisdom is not related to intelligence or learning, academic achievement or life-experience. And it is not restricted to seats of learning, colleges and universities.  Rather, its place is in the street.

The gospel story today tells us of how the disciples lacked wisdom and insight into what Jesus was about – even though he had been preparing them for the end story all along.  Did Jesus refer them to scholars, scribes, back to the Torah, to the temple?  No, Jesus ‘took a little child and put it among them.’  Wisdom is found in the most ordinary, least glamorous places.  Wisdom leads to ‘a harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace.’  It is not found in fame, money, celebrity, drugs, possessions, achievements.  Wisdom comes from God and God alone and it is his desire to reveal to us how to live fully, completely, in peace.

Put it to use

People are still searching for this wisdom and it’s right here waiting to be taken up and put to use – not locked away.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself.  The wisdom from God is about love, not of self but of God then others.

‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’ James asks.  Let him show it.’ So, get out that Swiss Army knife and put it to use!

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