Tag Archives: coronavirus

The Wisdom Of The Wise Men

Divine Wisdom by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

A sermon for Epiphany based on the readings Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

What makes a wise man or woman for that matter? Is it having knowledge of many things? Is it using the knowledge you have to make wise decisions? I would say it needs to be both, after all knowing that a tomato is a fruit does not mean it will go well in a fresh fruit salad…. or maybe it would if you’re Heston Blumenthal!

Today Matthew gives us a beautifully compact version of the story of the wise men, no word is wasted. I say version, because there is an ancient manuscript, The Revelation of the Magi, but that is an apocryphal gnostic text, so let’s stick with the gospel.

These men have the knowledge that they have gained from studying the stars, researching their own texts and discerning what the appearance of an apparently new star might mean. They could have parked that knowledge there, recorded it for future generations to wonder if it were in fact, just the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn to produce a Great Conjunction that we could witness in 2020, for the first time in 800 years.

But then it wouldn’t have got the more familiar name of ‘the Christmas Star’. What they did was to use this knowledge to make a wise decision, to follow it and see where it might lead, and to come prepared to honour a child that was foretold to be the king of the Jews, a king worthy of homage and the travails of the journey.  

So, these were indeed wise men. Then I found this unattributed quote that says, ‘Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge of the righteous as a gift from God showing itself in action’. Surely in this story, here is wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action.

‘Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge of the righteous
as a gift from God showing itself in action’

But what of wisdom itself? Over my desk, I have a lovely painting of a figure entitled Divine Wisdom, she is called Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom, and she is a central idea in Hellenistic philosophy and Christian theology. She appears in the Book of Proverbs, ‘Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice’ (Proverbs 1:20). However, she come into her own in one of the accepted apocryphal books which is often used in our lectionary of readings, The Book of Wisdom. She is described as, ‘more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior (Wisdom 7:29) and ‘She gave to holy people the reward of their labours; she guided them along a marvellous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night’ (Wisdom 10:17).

The Book of Wisdom, was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ. Its unknown author was probably a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria in Egypt and his profound knowledge of the earlier Old Testament writings is reflected in almost every line of the book; the first ten chapters in particular providing background for the teaching of Jesus and some New Testament theology about Jesus. However, its primary purpose was to convey the message about the splendour and worth of wisdom.

Accordingly, here too is wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action.

In Jesus, the mystery of God was revealed, as Paul tells the Ephesians ‘In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5)’ and it was to those who not only gained this knowledge but who were to act upon it that wisdom was given, ‘so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities (Ephesians 3:10)’

So why should we, as the church and as individual seek wisdom today?

Well, there has been much over the last year that has tested us like never before. The free will that we have, to gain knowledge and learn and discover, means that we are much wiser about a virus that has threatened and changed nearly every aspect of our lives.

Wisdom and knowledge have led us to develop new medical devices, procedures and medicines as we have pooled that knowledge. Our governments and global organisations have had to gain wisdom and knowledge to understand what is happening and then to apply that knowledge in the wisest way possible.

Of course, there are always those who would say they have not always been so very wise, and hindsight is a wonderful thing; but whilst the foolish or unwise have developed conspiracy theories that frighten and disable, theories that can be debunked just as quickly as they spring up, wisdom enables us to recognise the difference.

Definitely then, wisdom as knowledge and wisdom in action

On an individual level, I think we have learned a lot about ourselves. Maybe things that have surprised us. We have experienced emotions and seen and heard things first-hand as never before in our lives, whether we are young or old, wise or unwise.  

However, as Christians we are privileged to receive God’s grace that gives wisdom. Our knowledge of God and our faith enables us to see his leading, to hear his guidance and gives us a heart of courage to journey faithfully and find our way even when the path may seem difficult and dark.

It also means that we are enabled to reach out and to bring light into the lives of those around us. To shine in the darkness by putting our knowledge of God into action – to make known the wisdom of God.

The star that shone so brightly some two thousand years ago, can still illuminate and reveal the way – the way that leads to a child, who would grow into a king. The king of the Jews, the king of all God’s children, the king of the past, the present and the future, the king of kings, the wisest king of all!

Amen

The Magi

Faith – By Sight? By Touch?

The Eagle Lectern at St James’ Church, West End

A recording made of an informal talk for a Service of the Word for St James’ Church, West End during the present Coronavirus Pandemic whilst our church door are locked. A transcript of the talk is printed below as well.

based on the following readings:

Psalm 16 – The Golden Secret, A precious song engraved in gold by King David
from The Psalms – Poetry on Fire (Passion Translation© tPt

1 Keep me safe, O mighty God
I run for dear life to you, my Safe Place.

2 So I said to the Lord God,
‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master.
Any good thing you find in me has come from you’

3 And he said to me, ‘My holy ones are wonderful,
my majestic ones, my glorious ones,
fulfilling all my desires’

4 Yet, there are those who yield to their weakness,
and they will have troubles and sorrows unending.
I never gather with such ones,
nor give them honour in any way.

5 Lord, I have chosen you alone as my inheritance,
You are my prize, my pleasure, and my portion.
I leave my destiny and its timing in your hands’

6 Your pleasant path leads me to pleasant places,
I’m overwhelmed by the privileges
that come with following you,
for you have given me the best!

7 The way you counsel and correct me makes me praise you more,
for your whispers in the night give me wisdom,
showing me what to do next.

8 Because you are close to me and always available,
my confidence will never be shaken,
for I experience your wrap around presence every moment.

9 My heart and soul explode with joy – full of glory!
Even my body will rest confident and secure.

10 For you will not abandon me to the realm of death
nor will you allow your Holy One to experience corruption.

11 For you bring me a continual revelation of resurrection life,
the path to the bliss that bring me face-to-face with you.

and Acts 2:14a, 22-32 and John 20:19-31  

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Can we simply believe what we see? I would say yes, most of the time. Even so, sight can deceive the brain because after all isn’t that what we call magic? We only have to think of magicians who have claimed to have made whole buildings disappear, such as David Copperfield and the Statue of Liberty, and the people there as witnesses at the time would have sworn on their lives that it really did happen – they saw it with their own eyes.

No don’t get me wrong, there is no suggestion of magic taking place in any part of our gospel this morning, or indeed in any part of the Easter story, but sight and witnessing are at the heart of it – except there was one who despite all of this wasn’t convinced – he doubted.

A few weeks ago, I spoke about worrying and how it wasn’t helpful, in that it can produce fear; may be a bit like the fear some of us might be feeling at the moment because of the necessary self-isolation and social distancing; and what fear does to your mind is that it leaves you doubting, it paralyses your thoughts. This sort of doubt is definitely not helpful. It’s the thing that stops us from doing the things that God is calling us to do. As the psalmist said, ‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master. Any good thing you find in me has come from you’

‘You are my Maker, my Mediator, and my Master.
Any good thing you find in me has come from you’
Psalm 16:2

Doubt, therefore, can stop us realising our true potential when we think, ‘I doubt God would want to know someone like me’ – yet we forget that we are exactly as God created us to be in all our diverse and different personalities, blessed with a variety of gifts and talents

On the other hand, doubt can be a useful, self-check tools – giving us a moment to pause and to consider. Perhaps Thomas was right to say, ‘hold on a minute, I not only need to see this for myself, but I need to have physical evidence as well’, because surely the physical always trumps the visual? So, when Jesus appears a second time he offers this opportunity for Thomas to confirm his physical presence – that he was not just some holographic projection. Yet in both of his appearances it doesn’t record that any of them reached out and actually touched Jesus. On the contrary, Thomas immediately answered Jesus’ offer with a firm declaration, ‘My Lord and my God’.

This was pure faith, the same faith that enabled Peter to later step forward and point out to the crowd that King David was undoubtedly dead and it was his faith that led him to boldly and unflinchingly declare ‘we all are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead’.

We all are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead
Acts 2:32

Oh, that we would be so bold, the ones that have not seen and yet have come to believe. How though are we to convince people about the truth of the resurrection? If we go back to that first encounter that the disciples had with Jesus, we can actually see that his main concern is not to provide proof of this. The first thing he offers is reassurance that its really him and the disciples rejoice – but Jesus moves swiftly on – his purpose isn’t to linger on the miraculous fact that he’s risen from the dead, but rather to enable the disciples and us, through the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and to be able to discern when it is called for. He is inviting them and us to extend the same Peace he spoke to them in that locked room, to begin to share that in faith with others, to start others on that journey of discovering the truth for themselves.

Yet how can we do this when our own faith journeys can often be full of ups and downs. There are times when our faith runs deep and there are times when doubt threatens to take over. The fact remains that we simply cannot force anyone else to believe – indeed we can not even force ourselves to believe. Faith comes only and always as a precious gift – but it is helped by being surrounded with others who carry and hold that gift of faith as lovingly as we do.

Whether our faith runs deep or shallow we can still live as one who believes, bearing witness in our words and actions to the truth that Jesus lives because God brings us ‘a continual revelation of resurrection life’. Sight may be fallible, the physical may be convincing, but as John declares in his purpose for writing these things down, it is the written word that is something tangible, to provoke thought and reflection, to come back to time and again, to give us better understanding through our experiences to show something in a new light.

Fear can be overcome; doubt can be set aside, and faith and belief are the keys to life in all its fullness through the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen