Readings Proverbs 2:1-11 and Deuteronomy 30:11-14
The Bible is saturated with the love of wisdom, with the delight in commandments, with the imperative to learn and walk in the way of God.
Lifelong learning, as I mentioned in the kidzchurch blessing, has become an increasingly ubiquitous concept in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries. Amplified in some ways by rapid and perpetual changes in technology, in part by extended retirements, and in part by increasing insecurity in employment. The concept suggests that learning is not something divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace). Learning unfolds continually in different contexts, for different purposes, and in different styles. Lifelong learning also draws attention to the ways in which we are always learning, not just when we think we are. We construct knowledge all the time, as we observe others, as we participate in a shifting society, as we make sense of our experiences; through all this we learn and unlearn.
This concept of lifelong learning fits very well with what it means to be a disciple. For to be a disciple is to be a lifelong learner in the ways of wisdom. To be a disciple is to perpetually reflect on our life in the world and ask, what does it mean to love my neighbour in this moment? To be a disciple is to relish a life in which we get to learn more and more about God, knowing we can never exhaust that pursuit.
This learning does not need to take the form of academic, formalised study. There are many ways in which we can learn more about God, scripture and the Christian life. These come through observation of one another, through pleasure in the created world, through worship, prayer, and proclamation, through service and mercy, through the pursuit of justice, through the sharing of lament, through feasting and dancing. Because, as we heard in Deuteronomy, the commandments of God, the wisdom of life:
It is not in heaven… Neither is it beyond the sea… No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
Wisdom abides within us, she encircles us, encountered and revealed within our relationships and community. Wisdom is not off in the heavens – as if this knowledge were esoteric and reserved for the religious elites. It is not beyond the sea – as if it can only be found through pilgrimage to the purportedly sacred places. Wisdom is within and before us always.
This is why we are not commanded to take a particular path into wisdom, as if the way I learn to enjoy God is prescriptive for all of you. No, we are asked simply to love wisdom, to delight in the law, to seek first the kingdom. In this posture we remain open to new knowledge, surprising discoveries, the satiation and fuelling of curiosity.
As we heard in our reading:
make your ear attentive to wisdom
and incline your heart to understanding;
cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
seek wisdom like silver.
For with wisdom,
you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. What a line.
Christianity sometimes gets the reputation of being anti-intellectual (sometimes Christianity has earnt this reputation). Christians – perhaps even some of us – have been warned off asking too many questions, pulling on too many threads, lest our faith unravel, less too much uncertainty creep in, lest we lose our way. And yet, we see in these readings (and in so many more places throughout the Bible) that the pursuit of knowledge, the love of wisdom, the study of the commandments, the discernment of the way is a holy pursuit, is a commended pursuit, is even a necessary pursuit. Again, this is not to be conflated with intellectual, academic study alone (though there’s nothing wrong with that). It is about a posture of openness, a posture of curiosity, a posture of humility, and a posture of trust. Because, if we confess that Jesus is the truth incarnate; then the pursuit of truth, the speaking of truth (even if that truth is that we do not have all the answers) can only lead us closer to Jesus. Can only lead us closer to the Spirit of freedom.
And so let us be a people who love wisdom; who open ourselves to the wisdom of God (and whatever surprises she has in store for us). Let us be a people who study the commandments – observing the way we see love displayed in our community, our neighbourhoods, our world. Let us be a people who seek to know more about ourselves, and most importantly a people who desire to know more about God. Let us desire to know more about God even as we know there is no end to that knowledge, even as we know that to know more about God often feels like wading into a pond to discover you’re in an ocean. Even as we know that sometimes, the pursuit of knowing more about God asks us to lay aside some things we thought we knew about God – perhaps an unhelpful lesson from our past, which presented us with a God more gleeful for vengeance than redemption, a God more concerned with mastery than adoption. It can be scary to lay aside familiar perceptions of God, but such questions, such doubts, such a journey is a holy one, one which draws us closer to the truth. For where the truth is, there is Jesus. Where the truth is, there is freedom. Where the truth is, there is the wisdom of God – present since creation, calling to all people, to come and taste her knowledge which guards the paths of justice and preserves the way of God’s faithful ones.
Image: Julian Rossi Ashton, Wading (1909)
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.