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“Be Thou Our Wisdom”


Scripture: I Corinthians 1:18-25

Not too long ago a fellow parent in our community said to me, I never knew parenting would be so hard. That could have been any one of us – who have children.

Before we have children we think of children in general but we never get general children. They are all specific children.  Special – Barney taught us to call them!              

Every child I’ve ever known has unique gifts but also has specific problems; which we could never anticipate when we were dreaming of general children.

A child who can eat only 6 foods till he is 4!

What’s up with that?

That isn’t what I ordered!                             

Doesn’t God give us a warranty for children?

From the start it is hard work… and then it gets worse when we have to help them adjust to the world!!!

The world likes those general children. The general child in our culture is:

  • Attractive and can read by the time he/she is 4 years old.
  • Athletic and gets good grades.
  • Has problems – but only of the general kind, problems that everyone has and grows out of.
  • Acts juvenile, but only as a juvenile.
  • Does not have any learning disabilities.

 There isn’t much worry about dealing with insurance companies because our general child is healthy. He/She may get mono, but everyone gets that, and that’s simply a sign that he/she is dating,which means he/she is popular!

 The general American child is particularly good at:

  • Math and science.
  • He/she plays an instrument, of course – but isn’t so foolish to see that as a career.
  • He/she will have good marks on the SAT.
  • Has a high IQ.
  • And get scholarships to go to a reputable college.
  • He/she will get a career ideally in some technological field or another well respected and high paying job.
  • Earn enough money to support a spouse and at least a couple of children.                                          

General children of course they will even have a general dog and there will always be enough money to go to Disneyland. This image is called conventional wisdom. A picture of how life is supposed to go – should go.

All of us, before we are gifted with our specific/special children have this image in our heads because culture recognizes and rewards certain qualities and not others. It starts in preschool when every parent wants their child to be the one who knows their ABCs first! We choose IQ over EQ, reason over intuition and math over art.

Our culture does not lift up and praise the person who has a special sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. This is particularly true amongst boys who, if they show any sensitivity, are called gay; which is an insult to gay people and to boys. So we have many doctors who are very smart but don’t have such good bed side manner and all of us would rather have the child who becomes a doctor than a mere nurse.

Remember the movie Meet the Parents where Gaylord Focker is dismissed because he was a nurse rather than a doctor? No, worse, he was a murse!

Parenting is difficult not only because children are not at all Easy to Assemble. It gets worse when we have to help them live in the world of conventional wisdom, that’s part of why middle school is hell!

When Paul talks about the wisdom of the world this is what he is talking about. He is not talking about the intellectual elite. Whatever that is! This is not about philosophy,it is about how a culture or the world views what one’s life should be.                                                                                                   

What do we think of when we say that someone is accomplished? As I believe I have pointed out to you before there was a time when pastor would come to mind but this has changed.

Pastor’s Kids are often not enthusiastic about telling friends what they parent does.


Isn’t that kind of nuts?

 Much better to say that my parent is the CEO of an Internet start up.

 In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates this passage in this way:

 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hell-bent of destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense.  This is the way God works, and most powerful as it turns out.  It is written:  I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head; I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.

 There was a time when Paul was very accomplished, in the eyes of his world – of Jewish Culture when he studied the Law and followed all its precepts, when he was a Pharisee recognized by the culture as the best performers. It was also the time when he watched Stephen get stoned to death.

For Jews, at that time, conventional wisdom was to study the Law and follow it.

The Greeks were a bit more like we are today; the accomplished person was the person in power, a person of influence and wealth. Forget the Greek philosophers – they wanted their children to be rich!

Paul stands all of it on its head! The Cross is nuts – by the standard of any conventional wisdom!

How do we translate the Cross into a way of living that will be successful?

Paul is trying to get us to see a different kind of wisdom than conventional wisdom. Paul is not offering another way to success but is saying throw out success altogether.

  • Forget about economic security.
  • Forget about achievement.
  • Forget about getting into the prestigious college and stop thinking about that general dog! We will have someday go down to the pound and get a mutt.
  • Forget about the Law and power and influence.                            

The Cross is like a big Koan (that is a irrational question in Zen Buddhism).

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

That is not meant to be figured out so we can get control of it and use it to be successful in life.    It is meant to shock us out of conventional ways.

We have tried to live: success, knowledge, skill sets, prestige, wealth, alacrity at sports, recognition – all, out the window!          

The Cross is not a new way to succeed it is a challenge to success itself.

In the next chapter of I Corinthians Paul extrapolates a little on what this Cross initiated Divine Wisdom is:

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.  But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory….these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?  So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, bestowed on us by God.  And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

If you feel confused – it’s OK.

How does one talk about what is mysterious without sounding – mysterious?

It’s like Paul wants us to enter into a totally different world, another dimension. One in which the Spirit reigns in which none of the values and expectations of conventional wisdom apply.  Where grades are less important than kindness; where achievement, success, wealth, having a high IQ – all are sidelined (it’s kind of like Linsanity!); where economic values do not dominate and all people are specific and still loved.

The Wisdom of God is about letting go of the question itself – what is accomplished in life? Where the murse is equal to the doctor and  getting into Stanford doesn’t drop jaws.

It’s like getting totally new glasses! Before we saw gain and money and triumph now we have a what? Crosses to bear?

The problem is I’m still a parent. We still live in this world of conventional wisdom. I still worry about my children succeeding at least in terms of getting a job and not being homeless.I even dream once in a while that they will be able to support us in our retirement. Fortunately, neither son has express aspirations to be a pastor.                                                                               

God also knows, I want much more for my children than conventional success. I want them to live in the Spirit, to have just as good an EQ as IQ – even if they are not rewarded for it.

The world will never reward us for our growth in the Spirit. We rarely are recognized for love and kindness for having an open heart and a strong sense of justice, these attributes are actually liabilities on Wall Street. Isn’t there at least a part of us simmering inside that wants to let go of the path of conventional wisdom and to follow the path of God’s wisdom; as stupid as it seems to the world around us?

You did what?   You went to medical school only to decide to become a murse because you have more time to spend comforting people.  Are you nuts?!

Are you kidding me?  You decided not to have your own children so you could spend your life being a foster parent?!

You worked your whole life in order to retire and now you want to go into the Peace Corp?  Are you crazy?!

You want to become a monk? Oh my God!!!

Your kid was accepted into Stanford but you let him became a social worker instead?! Jesus Christ  – Jesus Christ…indeed!!

You really believe all that stuff about the Cross?ARE YOU NUTS?!

 Before I became a parent and was dreaming of general children – who just might go to Stanford some day.  I didn’t know how hard it would be to navigate them through a world of conventional wisdom and still live lives in the Spirit. But, of course, this isn’t just about being a parent – parenting is a part of life and this is about life.

 How do I feel accomplished?

 What dimension am I living in?

 To what… to whom to I give my heart?

 Paul says:

We do speak of wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age…these things are revealed to us through the Spirit, we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, not taught by conventional wisdom, but by the Spirit…                                                                                                                                          


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