It’s the last couple weeks of summer vacation! While some of you may feel bitter about such a thing, I was always excited about the beginning of school. I’d lay out my new clothes and shoes and backpack and school supplies, and I’d imagine seeing my friends as I anticipated the beginning of school. Our ministry context is perfectly situated to give life to such excitement, and I’m glad to say we are prepared to welcome the college students back or to campus for the first time on August 23 at the TU Activity Fair, and celebrate a new schoolyear beginning with our annual worship focus on Wisdom during the majority of August. I’ll be preaching with the influence of a book called “The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture,” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on August 12, 19, and 26th.
I have to admit there is some tension (and intentional juxtaposition) between this particular topic and the reality we are facing as a denomination that seems anything but stable at the moment, with a Special Called General Conference looming in February which is filling many with concern. One plan has been recommended by the Bishops, but it seems clear that there is a formidable opposition to it by some churches who consider themselves more “traditional” and are backing another plan. Some progressive groups also seem unsatisfied with the plan recommended by the Council of Bishops and back another plan put forward by the Reconciling Ministries Network that simply removes all references to human sexuality being incompatible with Christianity. There’s a lot of “chatter” right now, and I’d like to try to offer information to you in a Q&A format in the next couple of months outside of worship. Stay tuned for details on that. We have some good resources to help us understand things better and let our delegates to General Conference know what you would hope they’d support.
By and large, our faith tradition has much praise for the pursuit of knowledge. The wisdom tradition is embedded in our scriptures with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and portions of many other books of our Bible. Proverbs 4:7 is worded rather strangely in my opinion, but nonetheless gets the point across: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get Wisdom. Though it costs all you have, get understanding.” I like this notion of “getting” understanding. How is that done? Proverbs makes it clear that the ‘getting of wisdom” is a continual project. But what does it “cost” us? Those of you who are in the midst of sending a son or daughter to school (or those of you paying for higher education yourself) would probably immediately think of the tuition bills and the cost of housing. But I believe there is another cost associated with “getting understanding.” I’ve known ministers who have been critical of the decision to go to seminary. In some quarters of Christianity, there is a well nurtured anti-intellectualism. It seems that the cost of “getting understanding” to these folks who oppose seminary for ministers is our soul. I think, more truthfully, the cost of “getting understanding” is a sense of certainty we learn to be false and unfounded. Usually, there is some “deconstruction” that has to happen before “Getting understanding” happens by exposing ourselves to new ideas. New ideas don’t very often reaffirm all our existing ideas. So, I have no doubt that education seems threatening to some people who thrive on traditions and thought patterns handed down over generations. The questioning of dogma and tradition can feel and actually be costly.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” I think some people are not only threatened by education, but by the educated. Some folks undoubtedly feel disdain toward educated people because the educated are sometimes “puffed up” with their own knowledge. This is why we must approach “getting understanding” with the determination of all we have, but also with the humility that there is nothing we can come to know that will save us from ourselves. What ultimately counts is not how much we know, but how much we are known.
As Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor sing to each other in Moulin Rouge! “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” This is indeed the ultimate education, and I really like that the notion of “being loved in return” requires education on our part as well. Many sermons have been written on “learning to love more like Jesus,” and that is important—but sometimes we have just as much (or more) difficulty learning to “be loved in return.” We buck against it, we test it and push at the “boundaries” we may think exist. But, with Christ that love “knows no boundaries.” It surrounds us and infuses us and “will not let us go.” So—Get Wisdom—and at the limits of our understanding, may we continue on in the Love of Christ.