'Life is like a box of chocolates' - sermon for 16th August
Readings: 1 Kings 2: 10-12; 3: 3-14; Proverbs 9: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 15-20.
If God said to you: 'what shall I give you?’
If you could ask for anything – absolutely anything -
What would you ask for?
It’s a tantalising question, isn’t it?Being very predictable: I’d be fighting the incredibly strong urge to ask God to install a lake of chocolate in the backyard.But in the book of Kings, God does ask someone the question.
Solomon is praying – interestingly, not at Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant is – but up in the heights at an altar.
And in a dream God comes to him and asks that ever-so-tantalising question:
'what shall I give you?'
And Solomon, after thinking it through asks for wisdom. And God is pleased with the request – so pleased in fact, that fame and wealth and the potential for a long life are all thrown in as well.
But what is wisdom?
I’ve been thinking about wisdom this week – mostly, wishing I actually had it. A couple of days ago I was digging around my bookshelves and came across a small book quietly gathering dust, which seemed somehow oddly appropriate when thinking about wisdom:
it’s called ‘The Wee Book of Calvin’, and it’s filled with lots of different Calvinist-inspired home-spun wisdom – the sorts of things grannies or great aunties would be likely to come out with when the occasion merited - or perhaps that’s just my gran and great aunty!
The book has sayings such as:
Self pity never boiled a haddock.
Let the laddie play with the knife. He’ll learn.
And the cheering thought: For every summer morning, a winter night to come
And my own two personal favourites:
No whip cuts so deep as the lash of guilt
Swim in sin and drown in sorrow
Not particularly ‘sunshiny, put a smile on your face’ stuff… which is possibly the point, because underneath all of these different bits of home-spun wisdom there’s a deep sense of foreboding:
the understanding that,if you’re enjoying yourself, you’ll pay for it at some point.
We laugh at it a little ruefully, recognising that it’s something that’s pretty engrained into the Scottish psyche. It’s the sense that life is a serious business, not to be frittered away by being frivolous. One must be circumspect and live wisely. Living decently… and in good order - very Presbyterian!
And, as you’ll have no doubt noticed, our bible readings this week all seem focus on wisdom. We’ve mentioned Solomon already, who prays for wisdom at the beginning of his reign.
In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is portrayed as a hostess, who has prepared a banquet of good food and wine – and invites everyone to the party.
And in the letter to the Ephesians, there are two contrasts: foolish behaviour and wise behaviour, and between being filled with wine or filled with the Holy Spirit.
All of this again begs the question:
what exactly is ‘wisdom’?
While ‘self-pity may never have boiled a haddock’, can wisdom be boiled down to a bunch of pithy [or even ‘fishy’] sayings, or is there more to wisdom than this?
What is wisdom and how do we get it?
If we were to read on, in the book of Proverbs, we’d learn that ‘the first step to wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and knowledge of the Most Holy One is understanding’
Or to parphrase a little simplistically: If God is the source of all wisdom, perhaps it’s a good plan to get to know God – and in effect, to tap into the source.
As Paul says to the Ephesians: Let the Holy Spirit fill you…
Last week, we thought about what it was to be imitators of God. We talked about individual and group acts of kindness – being kind or loving to ourselves, our families, our neighbours… which reflected God’s love, spilling out into the world. And Paul continues that theme of what it is to be Christians in God’s community of love.
Being filled with the Spirit,
being filled with God’s love,
being wise in the way we live our lives as we acknowledge God’s love in our lives,
would result in behaviour which is shown in the way we speak:
to one another in psalms, hymns and songs, making music from our heart to God, and giving thanks every day for every thing: this, in Paul’s view is the wise way of living.
But there’s more:
If we wander back to Solomon’s request, we find out about the impact of wisdom: Solomon’s understanding about wisdom is centred around being a just ruler – to be able to discern good from evil.
If one can’t do that, Solomon says, one can’t rule properly.
Wisdom here, is about justice, about ‘just’ living not merely just living!
And, there’s more:
Back to Proverbs: Wisdom is portrayed as hospitable –
setting out a banquet and asking even the foolish – especially the foolish to come:
to drink from the table of wisdom
and to live fully.
It’s a party for everyone:
Wisdom is inclusive and welcoming, not exclusive and unwelcoming.
And contrary to the notion that we shouldn’t be enjoying ourselves, or else we’ll pay for it, following the path of wisdom leads to good, filling, tasty food for both body and soul –
a theme we’ve also been following these last couple of weeks in the ‘I am the bread of life’ sayings of Jesus.
If we were to read on further in Proverbs, we’d see that Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Lady Stupididity:
this lady offers refreshment too, but unlike the rich banquet on offer at Wisdom’s house, here the offer is stolen water and bread eaten secretively. If you go into Lady Stupidity’s house, you are ultimately unfilled – unfulfilled - and going there leads to death.
Pretty grim stuff.
Wisdom and stupidity are woven together throughout the bible, and often in the context of contrasting worldly wisdom against spiritual wisdom.
To those wise in the world, the choices that people of faith make,
the way we live, appears foolish.
The wisdom of the world is the wisdom of now.
It’s the wisdom of choosing a sound-byte over a long-term solution to a difficult problem.
It’s the wisdom of get all you can,
while you can,
whichever way you can.
It’s the instant, knee-jerk reaction to yet another home-spun saying: this from the movie Forrest Gump:
‘life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get’.
In the face of this ‘life is random’ attitude, the wisdom of the world says ‘grab what you can, now!’
The focus becomes self-centred, self-absorbed.
We know that in some places of the world, that this sense of randomness echoed in Forrest Gump’s saying is shown quite dramatically:
in random acts of violence brought about by war –
being in the wrong place at the wrong time;
in seemingly random acts of government –
I’m thinking here of the situation in Burma/ Myanmar and what’s been happening these last few weeks with the case of Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
In our own lives, life can seem like that box of random chocolates:
the suddenness of the credit crunch and subsequent job losses,
in businesses closing;
someone unexpectedly moving away, getting ill, or dying …
And yet, in the midst of the seemingly random world we live in, as God’s people, we can plug into a deeper wisdom –
God’s wisdom –
which teaches us that life is not random, but in God’s hands…
and so wisdom is a source of comfort and strength.
But also, as God’s people in the world, called to be imitators of him-
called to be wise-
we follow the path of God’s wisdom, the path that Jesus walked before us.
That path takes us to where we bind the wounds of the broken-hearted –
the one’s suffering the affects of those who’ve trampled heedlessly down the path of foolishness grabbing all they can;
It results in us crying out against injustice;
It is the path of peace in the midst of conflict;
It is the way of restoration and sharing, as we feed those left starving from Lady Stupidity’s banquet with the bread of life that always fills.
Wisdom is not necessarily about being someone with a giant brain or having a massive IQ, nor does it necessarily have anything to do with being older.
I remember a gazillion years ago when I was a teenager –
I was 15 and doing that thing you do of looking ahead to the future.
I mentally doubled my age – wondering where and what I’d be doing at 30.
30! I actually remember being very impressed with how old that sounded.
But I was looking forward to reaching it, because I knew in my teenage heart of hearts that while life didn’t make a lot of sense in the present, when I got to the age of 30, I’d be incredibly grown-up and wise.
I’m well past 30 and am still waiting to be both grown-up and wise!
But my sense of wisdom as I pick through the readings on offer today, is more that wisdom is tied in with understanding what really matters in life;
it’s working out how to live fully.
It’s understanding that being connected to God is important and not only that,
it’s working at staying connected to God through life.
Thinking back to the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest, we’re told, has an exceptionally low IQ, and yet, paradoxically, his seeming simplicity is used as a foil to demonstrate that while those around him may be smarter in the IQ department, Forrest is the one who has wisdom:
he is the one who understands at a profound level what truly matters in life:
love – of God, of others.
But what still niggles is that home-spun wisdom saying:
That ‘life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.’
I have to confess that the saying breaks down a little bit for me, because I’m one of those dull people who opens the box and looks for the wee flavour chart that’s inside…
Nevertheless, the saying is an acknowledgement that none of us really know the future and that life can take random twists and turns…
Again...what is wisdom?
Where do we find it?
Perhaps wisdom is found as we look to God –
through understanding and trusting that although we may not know the future, we’re on a journey with the One who is the Fount of all Wisdom,
the One who holds our future in his hands.
It’s knowing that in God, there is indeed a future –
as well as a present –
which is abundant and life-giving,
and that we are called to share God’s abundance,
God’s fullness of life, with others.
A disciple once asked his spiritual director a question:
‘Holy One, what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?’
The holy one answered
‘When you have knowledge, you use a torch to show the way.
When you are wise, you become the torch.’
Let us go into God’s good world as torches, shining – and sharing –
and God’s profound wisdom in the world.
In Jesus’ name, amen.