Here is the message that I gave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 21 September 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Proverbs 31: 10 – 31; James 3: 13 – 4: 3, 7 – 8; and Mark 9: 30 – 37
I am sure that we all remember Benjamin Franklin’s dictum “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Wisdom has been something that we have looked for and cherished in our leaders and in ourselves. When we speak of a great leader, we often say he or she was a wise and just leaders.
I think that is part of the reason why the Old Testament readings for the last few Sundays have come from the Book of Proverbs. This collection of wise sayings was designed to offer ways of leadership to the people of Israel.
Of course today, when we view the actions and behavior of politicians, no matter if they are national, state, or local leaders, I think that the term “just plain dumb” comes to mind more readily. For it seems that our leaders and many people today have forgotten what true wisdom is and have sought success without wisdom.
Solomon knew that gaining wisdom was not the easy task. Faced with many difficult challenges, especially where the governing of Israel was concerned, he knew he could have trouble if his wisdom was lacking. So when God asked him what he wanted most, Solomon asked for wisdom.
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
And now, O 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. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give 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. God 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, I now do according to your word. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. (1 Kings 3: 3 – 14)
Now, it is interesting to note that Solomon, who could have asked for anything that he desired, asked for wisdom and in doing so, got everything else.
In the reading from the Letter of James today, James points out that there are two kinds of wisdom.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
As James points out, when our wisdom comes from above, when we turn to God, then the wisdom we gain can better our lives. That is what Solomon found out. But if our wisdom is driven from our earthly desires, then results we obain can never be successful.
Throughout the history of the Kingdom of Israel, the Israelites sought leaders who were as much wise men as they were powerful leaders. And when they were not wise but boastful, when they choose to leave God, failure was often the result. Both Solomon and David, at the end of their reigns found this out as well.
As Solomon found out, seeing wisdom first will lead to everything else. For if we do not have wisdom, if we cannot know how to make the right decision, then all that we do will be based on our earthly desires rather than on our heavenly goals. But God did give Solomon one instruction to go with the fame and fortune that would come with his wisdom. He (Solomon) had to follow in the path of God. If he left the path of God, he would find that everything he had would be lost.
The disciples are walking with Jesus to Capernaum but it must have not been a good walk for as the scripture notes,
. . . he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
It is easy to understand why they did not understand the nature of the resurrection because their wisdom, as James might say, came from the earth and was based on worldly experiences, not from God.
Jesus had been telling them about His coming death and resurrection but the disciples did not understand what he was talking about. For as the next part of the gospel reading tells us, the disciples were more interested in their place in the kingdom and who would be the greatest.
As Jesus tells his disciples, as He is telling us,
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Who ever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
There are those who have trouble with this approach. For common wisdom, wisdom from the earth, if you will, says that we cannot be last. We cannot put others before us. Yet, what is that we most admire about Mother Theresa? That she forsake everything because those for whom she ministered had nothing. I found it very interesting to read that she would go to a banquet to accept an award but leave before the dinner was served because the banquet was more that what the people of her ministry were eating.
I find the following an interesting commentary on the nature of thought and wisdom.
The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.
Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.
The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.
Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life. The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain. (“As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen)
From where do our thoughts come from; from where do we gain our wisdom? The challenge we face today, the decision we must make today is from where shall our wisdom come from. It is an easy thing to look at the world from a worldly viewpoint but what will be gained? If we take Christ into our own heart, if we allow His presence in our lives each day, the wisdom we gain will provide us with the right direction in our lives and make the lives of others better as well. If we are to seek wisdom, then we must understand how we are to use that wisdom..
My own readings this week focused on being a wise steward, of understanding that what we have comes from God. If we think with the wisdom of the world around us, we can never understand what God wants us to do, we can never reach the Kingdom of Heaven. But when we accept Christ in our hearts, the wisdom we gain provides us with the riches we seek but can never have.