Wisdom 7:22-28, Mark 8:27-38, Rev. Karen Bowles
I speak with you this morning on the difference between perhaps what we would like Jesus and his being the Messiah to mean, and the radical truth.
We have heard from the book of Wisdom – who here has ever read this book? Give me a show of hands. I am not surprised that there are very few who have read this book. We do not often read from this book in the Protestant tradition as it is not one of our canon. And this is the case with many writings that were written in the time of ancient Israel. And that is unfortunate – they have been excluded sometimes because of poor reasons like findings of heresy or political infighting. Sometimes they have been excluded because they were not known at the time the Canon was finalized. This book of Wisdom also known as the Wisdom of Solomon is interesting in that it is excluded by Protestants but included by the Roman Catholic church the Eastern Orthodox church and the Armenian and Ethiopian church. It is certainly worth a read.
What I love about this passage and indeed this book is that it provides for us some insight into the swirling and many faceted philosophies and mythologies and theologies in play in the time of Jesus. It tells us some of what people were thinking, were debating – Sometimes I think we read the gospel stories as if the borders of ancient Israel and its environs constituted the entire world – as if all that all that was going on in those times contemporaneous with or before the time of Jesus was not relevant to the story of the Jewish people told in the Hebrew testament or to the stories of Jesus and his band of followers of the Christian Testament.
But as Sandy has read for us – this book of wisdom, thought to have been written about 50 BCE, give or take, written by a Jew in the city of Alexandria – not that far as the crow flies or the barge poles from ancient Israel – this description of Wisdom bears hints and not so small ones of Athena and Minerva the Greek and Roman goddesses of wisdom respectively. This time of human history in which the Jews wrote their books and latterly in which Jesus lived and died, shows us, who have the benefit of wisdom gleaned from the sweep of history as a time an change – what has been coined by those who write about such things as a great turning or changing in how the world was viewed – it is today with the benefit of hindsight viewed as an axial age.
Because we are not able to delve too far into this topic -suffice to say today it was generally a time when we went from a multiplicity of gods to one God – it was a time when human sacrifice fell into disfavour and offerings of firstfruits and young goats were made instead to influence divine favour. These were large leaps in our collective wisdom. Sure, God was still the one wholly outside of ourselves, the male who punished or rewarded with the giving or withholding of rain – there was no other way of explaining the water cycle – God was still the one wholly outside ourselves who caused a lunar eclipse – interpreted as as evidence of the giving or withholding of divine favour. But the nature of our relationship with God and our understanding of God, was changing.
And the nature of this wisdom was changing as well. We have heard today a portion of this. Wisdom or Sophia is always described as female in the old writings just as god is always male. So we hear that Wisdom is the breath of the power of God, she is the reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness – A virtual cornucopia of descriptive metaphors for this Wisdom. And the ancients were good with this balance between wisdom and God between male and female – but it was lost in the ascendant of the male one God. And we as followers of Jesus have a history of dealing with this idea of a male god – if we read our history we get with much sorrow an understanding of how skewed our understanding of a solely male God remains in many places on this planet.
And so to wisdom – we hear in the reading Sandy read that wisdom, is the agent of renewal of all things, that she passes into souls in every generation and and makes them friends of God. A far cry from this goddess wisdom who ruled from Mount Olympus. From wholly outside to available inside. The nature of how we viewed wisdom was changing as well. Unfortunately she was not accorded equally billing with her male counterpart – this God who was the amalgam of all Gods – and so we lost balance and continue to do so – how skewed our understanding of God remains without benefit of understanding of the cultures and peoples whose stories have been interpreted depending on who wrote stories down, who were victors and who were vanquished. Much has been lost and most that remains are the stories of the victors. History does not favour the meek or the vulnerable.
And so we turn to the dramatic and startling passage from Mark about Jesus. And here is where I am blown away by Jesus. Jesus is in a village near Cesearea Philippi a city that was located in the present Golan Heights. A boat journey from Alexandria. And making conversation with his disciples the teacher asks what turns out to be an explosive questions – Who do people say that I am? Elijah or John the Baptist or a prophet is the answer. And who do you say that I am? And Peter answers : You are the Messiah – or in common parlance – the one who is going to deliver us from the Romans. And instead of preening or nodding with assent – Jesus tells them to not say a word about him to anyone. And then he begins to tell them of his death and resurrection and when Peter rebukes him, probably saying – oh no you are not going to die – you are going to save us from the Romans – he responds with some pretty hurtful words. And then Jesus begins to teach. And there are many sermons in what he says and many crossing with wisdom for our time but I just want to speak of 1 here this morning and I want this one to speak to your inner wisdom – Like an ability or a muscle – hearing your inner wisdom is strengthened by exercising it.
Jesus declares: Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. And I want to cry out – Who is he kidding? Surely the strong, the powerful will live to have their story told – their wisdom lives on. All else are dust. But Jesus insists : Everyone must take up the same cross and follow me. What manner of Messiah is this? We may not die before 4 score and ten and I am pretty sure we will not die in the manner Jesus did – and I do not say to make light of how Jesus died but I do say this to change the way we may look at these words of Jesus. Jesus is capable of being scared – of digging deep for courage – witness the garden of Gethsemane – take this cup from me if it be your will he says on the night he is arrested. And here with his disciples he knows the lay of the land – he knows he is treading on very thin ice – he is speaking truth to power – both Roman and Temple – and he knows the danger he is in and the probable result of his scandalous teachings in a world not yet able to hear. And so he tells them to not say a word about who they think he is.
“Courage doesn’t count…until you can count on your convictions getting you arrested and yet you will not stop preaching them.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Courage doesn’t count…until you can count the number of the days you have left with someone you love and can still listen to the angry one in the check out line as you buy your groceries complaining of something very irrelevant
Courage doesn’t count…until you can count the bruises on your body and still declare you are loved
Courage doesn’t count…until you can count the number of friends you have less the one who just stopped being your friend and still go to school pretending you do not care.
Courage doesn’t count…until you can count on your hands the years left until you have found forgiveness for your actions and still know you are loved
Courage doesn’t count…until you grow old and watch your capacities fall away and know you are still the same person who danced and sang and loved fiercely and with your whole heart.
And here is where I am blown away, flabbergasted by Jesus and his teachings. In the middle of his time and place – in the centre of his knowledge that his teachings will have a very bad end – he demands that we have the wisdom he offers:
Courage doesn’t count…until you can literally count. None of us probably remember the day this became true – the day you knew you had a lifespan that could be counted in years, the day you became aware of the hurt and the harm we can do to one another and to ourselves. Just as none of us probably remember the day we became aware as the title of Kundera book – aware of the Incredible Lightness of Being – because that day would have come before we could count – before we needed courage. And that is the wisdom Jesus is always trying to teach – you must become as a child – a vulnerable one – to become aware of the kin dom of God – you must remember who you are – this is not an exclusive club – it is an invitation –
There is a place when all is still,
an inner space both fair and mild,
and sitting there one sees the world
with eyes of wonder, of the child
who lives within,
who longs to view
the small events that pass us by,
the leaves that fall from gentle trees
and dance their way down from the sky.
This wondrous child of graceful days
knows nothing but a world of peace,
and cannot know why those who fight
would rather lose the lovely ease
of living from a child’s pure heart,
and seeing with a child’s new eyes.
In keeping faith with wonder’s gifts,
this child remains forever wise.
And this is the gospel Jesus asks us to follow? This is this cross he asks us to take up?
From Richard Wagamese – an Indigenous writer
What’s the hardest spiritual thing I am ever going to have to do?
Old woman: To see every person as a gift.
Me: What kind of gift?
Old woman: the best kind. Based on the way you receive them.
Me: I don’t get it.
Old woman: I know. But you will. If you receive others as worthy lovable spirit creations – perfect just the way they are – you get to see the highest possible version of who you are. You get to be that. Experience that. And you become a gift to the world.
Me: Sounds hard.
Old Woman: The longer you think that, the harder it gets.
And Jesus and old woman was right. That is it. Take up your cross and follow me he said – the gospel in a few words. That was his gift and the seat of his courage and wisdom. Even when he knew he would die for it. His was an invitation to exercise the muscles of wisdom and connection we have been given. Refusing to do so does us no good – in fact it harms us. Witness walls and hatred and fear of the other. If you receive others as worthy lovable spirit creations – perfect just the way they are – you get to see the highest possible version of who you are. You get to be that. Experience that. And you become a gift to the world.
I speak with you this morning on the difference between what we would like Jesus and his being the Messiah to mean and the radical truth. Wisdom, is the agent of renewal of all things. Wisdom passes into souls in every generation and and makes them friends of God. Remember who you are before you needed courage and courage will not count but will follow. Remain forever wise – get to see the highest possible version of who you are. Before you needed courage you were wise and you knew God.
Radical? yes. wise? yes. True? Yes. Faithful. Yes.