Faith In Real Life Blog: “Sharing Wisdom”
Faith In Real Life Blog
Rev. Vernon Gramling
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Oct 6, 2022
Acts 18:1–4, 24–28
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila from Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. 4 Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks….
24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos from Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
1 CORINTHIANS 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
The topic in our ‘Practicing Generosity’ series this week is Sharing Wisdom. In today’s scripture, Apollos is eloquent and well versed in the scriptures. “He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”… but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when that conversation took place. Imagine pulling our senior pastor aside to explain the “Way of God to him more accurately.”
He, as any of us, may need that feedback but on the face of it, it feels presumptuous. Particularly when we are discussing faith and religion, many of us have had such ‘wisdom’ presented in intrusive and unsolicited ways. The speaker in these cases usually seeks to impart a particular belief or understanding. This so-called wisdom becomes a litmus test to determine if we agree with that belief. In these cases, the implicit message is that if we do not agree, one of us is wrong.
The almost immediate response in our FIRL groups was to distinguish between sharing and prescribing wisdom. As one person put it, there is a big difference between Lording it over someone and sharing what we know and experience. How we offer our wisdom makes all the difference. This is a very familiar difficulty. I personally like a quote from Lord Chesterfield: “In seeking wisdom, thou art wise: in imagining that thou hast attained it—thou art a fool.” It is easy to think of wisdom as having the right answer and such thinking seriously impairs our learning and our sharing.
Whenever wisdom is understood as some kind of right answer or correct knowledge, we invite adversarial exchanges and dichotomous thinking. We diminish ourselves and others. Linda LeBrom commented that it was often difficult to recruit teachers because they felt they didn’t know enough. How could they teach if they didn’t know themselves? Learning that not knowing is as important to wisdom as knowing is difficult to live into. Linda also told the story of overhearing a teacher describing how Zecheria had climbed a tree to see Jesus. She had to restrain herself from correcting the teacher but she did so because the factual detail was less important in that moment than the teacher’s engagement with the children. Sometimes the very best wisdom comes from a closed mouth.
Our theology is not based upon belief or knowing, it is based on loving. As Paul puts it, “If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eloquence and knowledge coming second to loving. Any knowledge, wisdom or life learning that we hold dear is unimportant if we can not be loving when we share it. Jesus himself never required belief or acceptance. Nothing he did was so compelling that all who saw believed. Jesus presented a new way and was invitational. He lived with us. (The word became flesh and dwelt among us.) He provided guard rails and warnings but, at least as I read them, they were not to punish but to protect. When we choose to speed, it is far more likely that we will be injured. If we choose to jump off of a tall building, we will almost certainly die. There is not a caring parent in the world who does warn their children of such dangers. And in real life, it is terrifying and painful to watch children run headlong into a brick wall that we have tried to warn them about. Our experience and wisdom can warn but ultimately can not protect our children.
This is a very uncomfortable truth about loving and most of us resist it. Faced with open defiance from a child, it is tempting to continue to up the ‘or else’. We can get louder and have increasingly severe punishments but our coercion and intimidation tactics are rarely effective. The circle of mutual anger only grows stronger. Whether with children or with nations, when we detach ourselves from our immediate reactions, we can see what doesn’t work. I discovered this the hard way when I found myself angrier than I have been in years when my grandson defied me. At that moment, I lost all ability to look for alternatives. In the seventies, there were any number of ‘boot camps’ or wayward adolescents. It sounded good but it didn’t work. Frightening people has been less effective than simply sharing the likely alternatives.
Does respect, mindfulness and regard always work? Absolutely not. But we believe it gives us the best chance, In fact Christians believe Jesus taught that his life is the life that gives life. The wisdom that Jesus shared was love and regard trumped coercion and intimidation—even if you were crucified in the process. Of course this is a guide post, not something most of us can do consistently. But when it does work, we are better people.
Every year I have at least one or two people who hesitate to join FIRL because they don’t know enough—or they can’t stand what they think is Christian wisdom. I had one woman say “I didn’t know you could ask these questions and still be a Christian.” The entrance qualification for FIRL is not knowledge, it is an open mind and an open heart. It is a willingness to receive respect and regard and a desire to offer it. In that atmosphere, we all gain new knowledge and new wisdom. We are not seeking agreement nor are we seeking the ‘right’ answer. We are seeking a community in which we can doubt, question and learn. We are seeking a community that puts regard over any particular opinion—where differences (age, gender, theology and race—to name a few) can be occasions for curiosity rather than argument. That is an entirely different kind of wisdom. It is the wisdom of learning to share wisdom.
Try not to be clanging cymbals insisting upon our own way. Be curious. Share wisdom as Jesus taught us.
Let it be so.