Knowledge is Power; Wisdom is Life

Sermon Preached at
Church of the Transfiguration on
Sunday, August 21, 2006 (Proper 15B)

"When I say knowledge is power, I mean it. Use it to your advantage." Donald Trump wrote these words last year in an article touting the benefits of continuous education and self-study.[i] Trump was not the first to assert that “knowledge is power” nor is he the only one who understands the value our culture places on knowledge. Consider your own desire for your children and grandchildren to do well in school, to go on to college. The expression “Knowledge is power” was first used by Francis Bacon who found his inspiration in the Book of Proverbs which says, “Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones, and those who have knowledge [are mightier] than those who have strength.”[ii]

Our first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, talks about Wisdom. We heard, “Wisdom has built her house. . . She calls from the highest places in the town, ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’” This is not a text about knowledge; it is a text about Wisdom. To be sure, knowledge may be a part of Wisdom, but Wisdom herself is much greater than mere knowledge. One can have knowledge and still be unwise. We all know people like this. And, more importantly, we all probably demonstrate this at one time or another in our own lives.

Just this week I was listening to an interview with Vigen Guroian on the Mars Hill Audio Journal that gave me new insight into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Guroian is an Orthodox theologian who teaches Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore. He is also an avid gardener. Here is what he said about his experience with gardening over the years:

“I was [initially] gardening because of practical necessity and the opportunity to be able to enjoy some things that might cost more than I could afford when [my wife and I] were first married. . . . [Gardening] was an instrumental good and I suppose I could have gone on that way. On the other hand, if you garden enough, it seems to me the garden teaches you. . . . The garden taught me how to view it differently. I dare say that anyone who has been gardening for a while. . . will begin to discover beauty in the garden and God in the garden, even if they don’t name God and that’s what happened to me. So, at this point, while I enjoy consuming what’s in the vegetable garden, for example, I probably take more pleasure, daily, in being in it than I do in consuming what grows in it; which is odd given the culture that we live in. . . . ”[iii]

Anyone with knowledge about gardening can grow a garden. Plant seeds at the right time of the year, ensure that they receive the right amounts of water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil, harvest at the right time of the year. Knowledge is such that we can now grow gardens in deserts or on rooftops, we can even grow them without soil. The possibilities seem endless with knowledge. Knowledge gives us the power to control the environment in such a way that it will grow a garden. In the interview with Guroian, it is what the interviewer refers to as “mastery by way of systematic manipulation.”[iv] Knowledge.

But, to do more than grow a garden, to actually be a gardener, you need more than knowledge – you must seek Wisdom. And that Wisdom comes not from yourself, but, in this case, from the garden itself – from creation. Once you begin seeing Wisdom in the garden, you appreciate the garden for its beauty, for its revelation of God. Knowledge allows us to do the things that make a garden grow. Wisdom allows us to simply be in the garden. The knowledge doesn’t go away – Guroian continues to harvest the vegetables that grow in his garden; but the knowledge is subsumed by Wisdom – Guroian’s realization that just “being” in his garden gives him pleasure.

Let’s go back to our text from Proverbs again. Here we have an image of Wisdom personified. She has prepared a feast and goes out to “the highest places in the town” to extend her invitation. The invitation goes out “to those without sense.” I love that expression because, in English, it has a double meaning. On the one hand, it can be sense as in “common sense” or perhaps even “knowledge.” But, on the other hand, it can mean sense as in the five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. An invitation is extended to all of us who have become unaware of our five senses - unaware of our environment, unaware of the beautiful tastes and smells that surround us. An invitation to “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.”

When I was a little girl, my mother used to bake. And when I came home from school, I knew as soon as I walked in the door when she had been making bread because the house smelled delicious. To this day, the smell of warm yeast and fresh-baked bread is the smell of home. To be sure, more often than not, I go to the store and buy bread because it is faster and much less messy. I know this. But there are times when I’m not seeking knowledge, times when I just need a bit of home and that is when I pull out the wooden bread board and the big mixing bowl and get to work, as my mother taught me. The smell of the warm yeast, the feel of the pliable dough in my hands as I knead it, the sense of wonder as I watch the dough rise in the pans, and the taste of fresh baked bread with just a little bit of butter and jam – there is nothing that compares to that experience. That experience of just being with this marvelous creation is, for me, an experience of Wisdom.

And so it is with Lady Wisdom’s invitation to come and eat of her bread and drink of her wine. This is not an invitation to gain more knowledge, my friends, it is an invitation to taste life and to walk in the way of insight. When do you taste life and feed your senses? We spend much of our time juggling too many appointments, too many activities, too many carpools, too many obligations and we become more and more disconnected from those places, times and experiences that promise us new life. If you are like me, you can’t imagine where you will find the time to take-in the life-giving Wisdom that surrounds us. A few weeks ago, I added an appointment to my calendar each day. It is a 30 minute time slot and it is reserved for prayer and meditation. Some days that takes the form of writing in my journal. Other times it involves reading Scripture. Most of the time though it takes the form of just sitting still, listening to my breathing, becoming aware of thoughts that go through my mind, listening for the voice of Wisdom as she calls to me.

I invite each of you to try this: in whatever place you record appointments, meetings, sports events, whatever, schedule (in ink) 30 minutes to just be. If every day sounds like more than you can manage, then try it just once a week. It will be hard at first, but don’t be discouraged. We have been in training to be doers for most of our lives. So it is not a surprise that just being will take some training as well. But, if you stick with it, you will begin to experience something new. See if it doesn’t make a difference in your life. Just 30 minutes – Wisdom invites us all to “live and walk in the way of insight.”

[i] Donald Trump, “Use Knowledge to Your Advantage,” Inside Trump Tower, Issue 4: June 21, 2005 accessed online at Trump University on August 17, 2006.
[ii] “Knowledge is Power,” Wikipedia accessed online at on August 17, 2006; Proverbs 24:5.
[iii] Vigin Guroian, Interview by Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Journal, Vol. 80(4), May/June 2006.
[iv] Ibid.


Voices Found: Womanspirit Rising

Last night 9 women gathered at the Borders in Orland Park for the first meeting of Voices Found - a women's theology book group. Our discussion focused on a collection of essays published in Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow.

A number of us thought it would be great to continue the discussion online and so this post is to set up a forum for continued discussion. In addition to those who took part in the book group, any who have read the book are welcome to add their thoughts/questions here.

For those interested in joining us next month, we will meet on September 21st from 7:30 - 9:00 pm at Borders in Orland Park. For more information, click here.


On False Dichotomies and the Good News

Sermon Preached at Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park, Illinois
Proper 14 - Year B
Texts can be found here.

Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Do you think we should teach our children abstinence or should condoms be available at high schools? Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq? Do you support the war in Iraq or are you anti-American? If you are like me, then, at least some of the time, your answer to these questions and others like them is “could I have another option please?” False dichotomies, such as these, offer two alternative points of view which are held to be the only choices available, when in reality the options presented are only expressions of extremes without acknowledging the many positions that exist between the two extremes. Or, they offer two views that are not even mutually exclusive. And this is why, for example, the question, “Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq?” leaves me in a quandary. Because I do support the military, one might assume then that I also support the U.S. involvement in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma. While I think that the young men and women who enlist in the armed services are admirable for their courage and should be well-compensated, should receive health benefits for themselves and their families, and so on; I also think that our government made a mistake entering Iraq. Now that we are there, I think it is more complicated than just saying we should pack our bags and go home, but I am clear that I am against the war in Iraq. The false dichotomy inherent in the question – do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq - does not permit my answer – instead, it paints me into a corner with little way out.

In today’s gospel the people began questioning Jesus because he claimed to be “the bread that came down from heaven.” These people knew Jesus as the son of Joseph - you know the guy down the street with the carpenter shop on the corner. So they ask one another is this man the son of Joseph and Mary or did he come down from heaven? Because they knew him and knew his earthly parents, they rejected the possibility that Jesus came down from heaven. What they did not recognize was the false dichotomy they had created. We understand that the answer to their question is yes, Jesus is fully human – the son of Mary - and yes, Jesus is fully divine – the bread that came down from heaven. We confess this each time we say The Nicene Creed - “he came down from heaven: was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”

Jesus’ response to the question was to say to them “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Don’t worry about where I’ve come from, don’t create more confusion for yourselves which overshadows the message that matters most. Instead, pay attention to the will of the one who sent me. Pay attention to the will of God. Because “whoever believes has eternal life.” That is the message that ultimately matters.

Before we become smug about our own wisdom, clearly superior to those people in John’s gospel who were questioning Jesus, we would be wise to hold back just a bit longer as we consider some of the issues confronting us today in our churches.

Just last week the Chicago Tribune ran an article stating that, “The leader of a network of conservative Episcopal dioceses says the global Anglican Communion will unravel unless the archbishop of Canterbury helps U.S. conservatives distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.”[i]
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
The New York Times reported last week on the upcoming election of a new bishop for the Diocese of Newark with this headline, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift.”[ii]

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
While what is reported by the media is far from representative of all that goes on in our churches, it is nonetheless disturbing to see the headlines’ converging lens focused on our debates over such issues as the gender of our clergy, the sexuality of our clergy, and the number of times our clergy have been married and divorced. Yes, this is indeed disturbing; but, my friends, it is not surprising.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
And while there are many points on which we agree – many things we believe in common - our own focus has been on those points on which we disagree – points which we hold-up as though they were theological truths. So instead of authentic dialogue, instead of being a Church centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have become a people who lob distorted sound-bytes at one another leaving precious little space or time for discerning God’s will for the future of the Church – for our future.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
What might you and I need to let go of in order to make room for the beauty of creation to be revealed in our lives, and the lives of those we touch, each day? What opinions ought we to hold lightly so that the bread that came down from heaven can be witnessed in our ministries? What ministries are we called to enter into so that the Holy Spirit working through us is more worthy of the media’s attention than our in-fighting? What ideas about how we “do church” might we be willing to let go of in order that the one holy catholic and apostolic Church may become visible in our world – may grab the headlines?

“Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Let us be a people who “find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, [more grace] in the questions than in the answers.”[iii] And let us focus, not on arguments shaped by false dichotomies, but on Jesus Christ who is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” For we have been promised that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

[i] Tribune News Service, “Anglican Leader Asked to Intervene,” Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2006 accessed [ii] Tina Kelley, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift,” The New York Times, August 5, 2006 accessed [iii] The Center for Progressive Christianity, “The 8 Points: Point 6 – Study Guide,” accessed online on August 10, 2006.