Bruce Benke: Wise Guy
Matthew 25:21, 28:18-20
I’d like to begin today by asking you a question, and answer to yourself if you agree or disagree. There is no wrong answer:
“WHO, BEING LOVED, IS POOR?” (Oscar Wilde – 1894)
I think you’d have to agree that Wilde asks a powerful, deep question in only five words. Let me share a few more quotes:
Achievement: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” (Gary Player)
Criticism:“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” (Mother Teresa)
Excellence: “Well done is better than well said.” (Ben Franklin)
Reality: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” (H. Jackson Brown)
Work: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Work: “God gives the nuts, but He does not crack them.” (Old proverb)
Observations: “To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence, the constant popularity of
All of these quotes I read came from this book, “A Father’s Book of Wisdom,” that my youngest daughter gave me on Father’s Day when she was in eighth grade. I value this book highly, and I want to draw attention to the “operative” word in its title: WISDOM. Therefore, I have to assume that these quotes are “wise” sayings. But I’m not sure that most of us have really thought about what “wise” or “wisdom” really means. I know I haven’t. And that’s what I want to explore this morning.
When I looked up the definitions of the words wise and wisdom, I found myriad definitions explaining just what these two words meant. I discovered that there were so many different ways of defining these words that I found it easier to look up the synonyms – words like them: And even there I found countless words that could be substituted for wise or wisdom. I was suffering from too much of a good thing. But here’s what I took away from the plethora:
Boiled down into two words: Wisdom may be defined three ways: As a noun which means: KNOWLEDGE or TRUTH or both. The word wisdom may also may be used as an adjective which can describe someone or something as KNOWLEDGEABLE or TRUTHFUL or both. Wisdom may also be used as an adverb which can describe the character of an action, i.e., someone acting KNOWLEDGEABLY or TRUTHFULLY.
-INTELLIGENCE & ELDERS-
I don’t think the concept of wisdom has any real value without, first, the presence of intelligence. To me, intelligence is a pre-requisite to wisdom, and all intelligent creatures, that’s mostly humans, aquire wisdom’s knowledge and truth in the course of their lives. In other words, experience. The older we become, the wiser we become, and, with all intelligent life, some individuals aquire more wisdom that others. But there’s one characteristic of wisdom that seems common to all foks: We find that all societies and cultures naturally seek wisdom from their elders. I’m living such a life now, but I wonder why I don’t have the talent, or acqumen, to gather what I exoerience in life and write or speak wise observations or quotations. I wish I could, but I am who I am.
“ON THE BALL”
When I plow through daily life, I try not to get distracted from what I’m doing, and, consequently, I don’t notice much else around me. My parents used to tell me I was single minded and stubborn. Looking back, I think they were right. But I had help: As I remember, my dad would practice baseball with me, and when it came to batting practice, he would call out at me to “keep your eye on the ball. Don’t ever take your eyes off the ball”. Then he would pitch the ball to me. When playing in the outfield and chasing ground balls, he would call out, “boy, keep your eye on the ball.” I remember, my parents would always tell me, “son, if you want to do well in life, you gotta’ keep your eye on the ball.”
After college and marriage, I began my career and all through those years, I always told myself, “I’ve got to take care of my responsibilities. I don’t have time to mess around. I’ve got to prioritize my time and focus on what’s important. I’ve got to ‘keep my eyes on the ball…’”
Well, then about 24 years ago, Pat and I joined the Methodist Church in North Carolina and began our Christian journies. We heard and accepted the Good News, became believers and comitted ourselves to Christian Discipleship. We learned one thing in those 24 Methodist years: We’re still on a learning curve. We’ll always be discoovering and sharing new truths, or wisdom, about our divine God. I have learned from scripture and sermons along the way there are two kinds of wisdom: Temporal Wisdom that attempts to explain how the world works (what we’ve been talking about so far) and Spiritual Wisdom that attempts to explain how God works.
Acquiring Spiritual Wisdom has been hard to learn for me because of who I am and how I was raised: I’ll share one last example: I like cereal for breakfast, but I hate running out of milk. When that happens, I leave the table, grab the car keys and drive to Albertson’s and buy a carton of milk. When I get back, Pat asks me if I took the grocery list with me so I could pick up everything elso we need while I’m there. “No use making two trips….” Of course not. That wasn’t my missionn: My mission was to get milk and solve my breakfast problem – keep “my eye on the ball.” If I’m going to be successful at all in acquiring Spiritual Wisdon, something has to change: I’m going to have to remember the “grocery list” I’ve got to train myself to expand my ability to look around and see what’s really there – to see and discern what God’s doing.
I know I’m going to need all the Spiritual Wisdom I can acquire in this life for two reasons: first to advance my own salvation journey and, second, to carry out my Christian discipleship. Our church is committed to Discipleship. Our mission statement says so: Let me draw your attention to it in your worship program. It says: “We seek, nurture and send Christian disciples into the world to serve.” We follow that mission statement because Jesus tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples…” (Matt 28:19). As a fellow disciple, I’m going to need to grow my Spiritual Wisdom to do my job.
So the first challenge to acquire Spiritual Wisdom for me was to Pray, and I had to learn to trust. I had to learn to wait: I had to trust that God would hear me, that He would care about my needs and that He would help me with my petitions. I know I had to learn to wait, but I wanted God to know that I was serious so I decided I needed to improve my prayers. I joined our church prayer group, and I noticed that everyone else there was discovering how to pray just like me. That made it easier to blend in, to practice and learn. I’ve been a member of a prayer group ever since, and I value the time during which we share our prayers with each other. I learn a lot about myself from the prayers of others. I found it easier to pray for others, supplication, than myself. Prayer is the way to stay in touch with God.
But struggling with prayer was the symptom of a larger and my second challenge I had to face and which I battle with every day – and that is my will. I know there’s no way I will ever acquire the Spiritual Wisdom I seek without, first, surrendering my will to God’s will. I know the surrender has been, and will be, a constant battle because of my human nature, but here’s the hardest part about surrender: trusting and believing that replacing my will with God’s will does not result in any loss of my freedom.
Simply said, what I seek through Spiritual Wisdom is this: The capacity to witness God at work in the world. Let me explain: I learned one day that there are two Realities in human life: The reality I live in and God’s Divine Reality. The first time He granted me a glimpse into His Divine Reality, I was forever changed. It happened on a hike: I was worrying about a difficult family problem I couldn’t solve and which was pressing and stressful, and then all of a sudden, BINGO: The answer appeared in a brilliant, clear vision that shocked me. I was amazed! The solution was so elegant and simple! And I knew I would never have thought of it myself. I experienced a “high” that afternoon that transported me to a “place” far beyond where any one of my previously earthly “AHA” moments could ever take me. And, yet, I didn’t go anywhere! This was a Divine Manifestation; it was a true Epiphany! I wanted more – I knew, right there on that trail, I was never going to be same again! And that’s where I learned about the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
To me, the Holy Spirit is the elusive mystery in the Christian Holy Trinity. And as I seek greater Spiritual Wisdom, I know God’s Holy Spirit will guide me, first, on my salvation path and, second in my work as a Christian Disciple. When I pray, I ask God to fill me up to the brim with his Holy Spirit – heart, mind and soul. I ask Him to help fortify me with His Spirit because I’ve always regarded the Holy Spirit as God’s “Love Force”. I read in Acts 2 that this Love Force was proven in the Upper Room at Pentecost, in Jerusalem. It also happened on my hike! And here’s what I’ve learned about how God applies His Spirit: It’s all about the “Nudge and Whisper”. His nudge is so subtle at times that I will perform an act of discipleship that He guides me to do, all the time thinking that it was my idea. Then I realize later that we’re working with His will, not mine. That’s when I realize I just gained a slice of Spiritual Wisdom – another glimpse into His Devine Reality! Another peek into His Glory! A preview into Heaven! Here’s what I’ve learned about Spiritual Wisdom: I want as much as I can get, and, therefore there are things I must not forget:
- Pray, surrender, trust and wait.
- Remember it’s all about the “nudge and whisper”.
- Take my eye “off the ball” and don’t forget my “grocery list” so I don’t miss God at work and join in where possible.
- Practice, practice, practice. Prepare for eternity.
Because here’s what it’s all about: When it’s time to step forward to meet Jesus, I want to feel His hand on my shoulder and to hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful ‘Wise Guy’”. AMEN.