Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
August 16, 2015
“Are You Foolish or Wise?”
“Hear now these ancient words as written in Ephesians chapter 5, verses 15 thru 20.”
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,
16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,
20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Allow these ancient words, spoken so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to God’s Wisdom”
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An American author named Isaac Asimov makes this thought provoking statement: “The saddest aspect of life ‘right now’ is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” It is true, we are gathering knowledge at extremely accelerated rates, way beyond anything ever previously experienced by humankind. We have more computing power, vastly improving processor speeds, seemingly limitless data storage capabilities, and these technologies give our educators and all professional fields of interest the ability to enhance their work – thus knowledge at every level is rapidly increasing! Yet, it is so apparent, frequently we seem to have given up on trying to absorb this knowledge and put it to the ultimate needs of our societies. Our technologies have not failed us, but we have become so dependent upon them we seem to have stopped using some of our basic God given talents when making the choices of life we are given every day! Yes, oh yes as a society, we often seem to lack wisdom.
Where or what is the value of knowledge, that we so greatly cherish, if we cannot seem to feed all the children, even here in our own country? We are so wealthy in knowledge that we have learned to export our manufacturing to other countries, yet, although we pay laborers throughout the world to make our clothing, sadly we have not found ways to cloth the children of those that labor on our behalf!
As a pastor I find myself relying more and more on the sayings and examples set by those that have come before me than ever before. I find that things I want for myself often do not feed the hunger in my heart. Thus, as I accumulate more things and more knowledge of things, I find that those things I truly need are still just outside my grasp. I find myself relying on some of the simpler truths which I have acquired to help me through each day.
When I was in seminary I was instructed to write a sermon relying only on the text of the Old Testament. I chose a passage from the book of Jeremiah. Within the passage I saw the lack of justice from the rulers over the common people of that time. Social injustice in the time of Jeremiah! Can you imagine that! I preached like the novice I was in the art, yet no one missed my point. I was shaking my finger at the unjust political leaders and raising up the points of injustice in society! My remarks were honed entirely from the realm of the scripture passage from the ancient writings of Jeremiah, not from the current realm of our society in the 1990’s. I hadn’t read a newspaper in weeks nor watched any television; I was totally immersed in my studies. The outcry from the congregation, at the church where I was a student pastor, was loud. “How dare I pick sides in a politic debate, especially in light of the election that was to take place the next week?” I am not sure, to this day, if anyone believed in my naiveté. Yet, from where I stand today, twenty five years later, I know I was; therefore, I now see plainly that the real story here… is that human nature has virtually stood still, with little or no progress or change, while technologies and knowledge have dramatically increased and changed; and have greatly affected how we live!
Looking back, I remember how I was told by my mother, when I was a youthful adolescent, that “a fool and his money are soon parted.” If only I had listened to her.
When I took my first public speaking class the professor told us to never tell your audience that you are nervous, because it will make them nervous; so I never tell you.
Maurice Switzer is quoted as saying: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”
Two great philosophers seem to contradict each other on the subject of wisdom. Aristotle says: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Whereas Socrates tells us that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” And then we have William Shakespeare speaking the ultimate contradiction: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
This week I foolishly told several of you on Wednesday I had yet to find time to start writing this sermon; of course the most foolish aspect was I committed to this topic rather than trash it and recycle an older sermon.
Charles H. Spurgeon expands on his hypotheses: “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” Our scripture passage this morning starts with the statement in verse /15/ “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.” Thankfully the writer goes on to tell us how we might accomplish this. /16a/ “Making the most of the time.” A few verses previous, verse one, we are told to “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Our days do not need to be lacking in wisdom and sound just reasoning. All we need do is live well each day raising up the values of God as seen in the life of the Son of God. This is the formula for actually being ready to follow the instruction in the following verse. /17/ “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The key here is to know the will of God.
OK, now we get into the heart of this message… the will of God! I know a great many of us have them, so please pull out your smart phones and google for me “the will of God.” “The will of God, divine will, or God’s plan is the concept of God having a plan for humanity.” Thank you Wikipedia! How could we live without our on line reference sources! The very next source says “What is the will of God and how do we know it?” And on and on we have thousands of references and spins on this simple phrase at our fingertips, yet no one single source tells us anything we don’t already know! And so few of us actually claim to know the will of God – or perhaps I should say – very few of us believe that the other people around us know God’s will. Way too many of us, we the children of God, foolishly think we have the only source of knowledge for correctly knowing God’s will.
Russell Rathbone, is a founding minister of House of Mercy, in St. Paul, Minnesota; he challenges us with his thought: “How are we supposed to live in love the way Jesus did if we avoid the people Jesus loved?” So who did Jesus love you ask. Let me see now, his disciples were common men who labored to feed their families. He reached out in love to prostitutes, thieving tax collectors and outcast people like those ostracized and blemished from leprosy. He performed miracles for beggars and those possessed by demons, the mentally ill. He himself was persecuted as a criminal and flogged and executed by the social justice system of that time. Most of his followers were either jailed or persecuted. Most were eventually executed. Let me ask you and challenge myself in the asking, how many of us avoid these types of people in our day to day activities?
Google search relies entirely on input from our knowledge based systems. And nowhere in that system and string of knowledge do we have a page where we totally agree on what is the will of God, nor does it tell us how to acquire it. Yet, wisdom, something we all seek after can only come from knowing God. Because wisdom comes from knowing the will of God.
I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. I followed my calling from God to do this work, believing that this is God’s will for me. I pray every morning asking for guidance. I ask that I might do the will of God each day. Then, I get out of bed and realize once again I am only human. Thankfully, before the day is done, I acknowledge God’s presence and in gratitude thank God for the guidance I have received, and all the blessings and gifts of the day. This past week has been a full one. Every day I have needed to slow myself down to stay focused on the tasks set before me. It has been hard to stop the chatter and noise in my head so that I can feel the leading of God’s guidance in each step I take. You see, your pastor is only human.
I, like most men of my age, often light heartedly joke that wisdom comes from the graying of our hair. If this were so I would be a truly wise man. But truthfully, gray hair comes from stress and age and from the string of genes that run in our veins. I do pray that now and then I am able to put together a wise though or wisely step aside so that someone with the wisdom of the moment can guide me, guide us forward.
Rev. Dr. Alan Bream, at Hickman Presbyterian Church (Hickman NE) was quoted as writing “The way of wisdom is a life filled by the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, serving in the strength the Spirit provides, adopting the attitudes inspired by the spirit, attitudes of joy and gratitude and humility and respect.” I feel in my heart I knew this, yet I could not find the words to express it. I do believe that true wisdom comes from taking time to weigh the knowledge at hand and then pray for some guidance to use it wisely. And in the time of reflection to seek out some advice from those who have gone this way before us. It is only when we take a piece of knowledge that we have acquired and foolishly apply it to a situation – without thinking it through – or considering what God… or better yet, what Jesus might have done ‘in the same situation’; it is only then that we are indeed foolish!
Let us move into that next moment with care. Let us rely on the grace of God that has been with us throughout our journeys. If we stay open to the Spirit of God to guide us, perhaps we will cloth and feed a few more of the needy and inspire one more child to seek the warmth of God’s love. And even move one step closer to following the will of God in our lives.