Sermon – 7th March 2021

Sermons index

Third Sunday of Lent

Sunday 7th March 2021

As public worship has again been suspended because of the pandemic the service was recorded and made available online. That can be found here.

Lent 3
Exodus 20.1–17
John 2.13–22

Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs

Maureen Hoobs

A reflection on wisdom and foolishness

The 10 Commandments, can be seen as God’s wisdom for humanity. If more of us lived according to these rules, we would all be happier and the world would be a better place!

But when we see Jesus getting angry, driving out the money changers and the sellers of doves and sacrificial animals from the temple precincts, do we think he was being wise? We can argue that he was doing God’s will, God’s work. And yet this put him on a direct collision course with the religious and civil authorities that would – within the week – lead to his death on a cross. Was he perhaps being foolish – at least in human terms, in order to be wise in God’s?

Who do you regard as being particularly wise I wonder?  The scientists providing data to the government, Jonathan Van Tam and Chris Whitty?  Religious or political leaders urging their people to accept the vaccine when it is offered to them?  Maybe for you our Prime Minister is someone who you regard as wise? (Or maybe not!) Maybe it is the wisdom of age that you value? Perhaps you remember things your granny or granddad used to say – maybe you scoffed at them at the time, but now when you think back, you are surprised at the good sense and wisdom that they demonstrated?

Wisdom tends to be a bit like that – sometimes we can only recognize it for what it is, well after the event!

A writer that I have come to respect – Richard Rohr- has this to say on the subject: “Wisdom is clearly more than mere intelligence, knowledge of facts or information. Wisdom is more synthesis than analysis… more a dance than a march!” – in other words it can be fleeting and elusive.

In order to grow in wisdom, we need to move beyond book learning – get out of our heads and in tune with our hearts. And there are several things that can move us towards greater wisdom.

First our minds, our intellect. This is the result of formal education and has to do with science, reason, logic and what we call intelligence. I said we need to get beyond book learning – but not do away with it all together!

The Second is the Will. This wisdom comes from making choices, commitments and decisions; sticking with them and living with the consequences. Anyone who has made a solemn vow – like a marriage vow –  will know something of this. Any husband, or wife, knows there are times to speak and times when it is wiser to be silent!

Third are our emotions. Love, ecstasy, hatred, jealousy, fear, despair, anguish. Each have their lessons to teach us. Even anger and rage can be great teachers if we listen to them and recognize them. It is said that people die and live far more for emotional knowing than they ever will for rational, intellectual knowing.

Fourth are our senses; knowing that comes through our touching, moving, smelling, seeing hearing, breathing, tasting – and especially at a deep or unconscious level. This is how the grace of the Eucharist or Communion ‘works’ on our souls. Being aware of our senses allows us to know reality more deeply, on our body’s terms instead of our brain’s terms. It is no surprise that Jesus touched many (though not all) of the people he healed.

Next comes images and imagination. Through our dreams and fantasies, through symbols; through poetry, pictures and well-told stories we can become aware of a wisdom that was inside us all along – but we did not know it until the catalyst of the event or object sparked our imagination into life.    

The last way of knowing is sometimes called Epiphany or Revelation.  We might think of it as a parting of the veil, the penny dropping, a life-changing moment. It is the radical grace which we cannot make for ourselves. It comes as a gift from somewhere outside ourselves – unexpected, unearned, and larger somehow than our ordinary existence. We cannot control or train for these moments, only ask for them, wait for them, know they are given and thank – God, or Someone afterwards.

When Jesus acted or spoke he knew he was appealing not just to the minds of his listeners but to the whole person; heart, body, mind, senses, imagination – breaking open all our assumptions about “the way things are” ; challenging us and leading us towards moments of transformation.

And what of foolishness? Well St Paul wrote of the cross that it seemed the greatest folly to heathens, but to those who believed, it was the most sublime wisdom and never forget that in the OT Wisdom is often seen as the companion and playmate of God – assisting in the very act of Creation.

We think of wisdom and foolishness as being opposites whereas I think it is probably better to look at them as two sides of a single coin. For what can seem foolish at first – like closing down our social and economic lives, can with the benefit of hindsight be seen as the wisdom that enables lives to be saved and epidemics to be – if not defeated, then at least contained.

When we look at our stewardship of the natural world, where is wisdom to be found? In the relentless plundering of the earth’s resources to amass more and more things? Or in restraining our lifestyles and freedoms in order to protect the natural world? Or do you think it is foolish to try and follow a less fossil fuel-dependent future, when other countries in the developing world are still opening up coal mines or drilling for oil? Is it foolish or wise to be the first to try a new way of relating to the natural world?

So which do you take for yourself as we move on through Lent this year? Wisdom or foolishness? And how will you define them in the choices you make?