The Rock group “Styx” was named for the river that formed the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead in Greek mythology.
But they weren’t thinking of anything that cosmic when they choose the name…
They choose it because they needed to be called something and according to one band member… “It was the only name none of us hated.”…that is disappointing.
But they had a hit in 1990 entitled “show me the way” that does reveal a bit of an internal struggle with larger things in life.
“Every night I say a prayer in the hopes that there’s a heaven and everyday I’m more confused as the saints turn into sinners.”
That line and the next have come to my mind frequently the past few months as humanity looks to the various experts to “save us”
“All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay and I feel this empty place inside so afraid that I’ve lost my faith.”
I haven’t thought of those lines, because they describe how I feel…they don’t.
But I think one of the causes of anxiety in humanity at large these past few months…has been the loss of confidence in the ability of human heroes to save us…politicians, scientists, generals, entertainers…their feet of clay have become evident.
“As I slowly drift to sleep for a moment dreams are sacred, I close my eyes and know there’s peace in a world so filled with hatred.”
“Then I wake up each morning and turn on the news to find we’ve so far to go…”
Reality, comes crashing into peaceful dreams via the news every morning…and now, all throughout the day…not just a morning newspaper.
Then the great question follows… “Who do I trust? During times like this. How do I live?”
“If I see a light, should I believe, tell me how will I know? Please show me the way.”
Who do I believe? What do I believe?
Not just about the virus…definitely no masks, definitely masks.
But about what my life…who do I listen to as to what life is about.
Who do I believe regarding with is valuable to spend my life on?
Day by day…my life is being played out…there are no do-overs.
In Acts 17 We find Paul waiting in Athens for some friends to join him (no travel ban at that time)
There in Athens, was and is still the famous Parthenon…a building we have all seen a photograph of…the remains are almost 2500 years old.
It was built to celebrate the goddess Athena or Athene after she supposedly gave the Greeks victory over the Persians…of course she didn’t keep them from being whipped by the Romans…but oh well.
There were many smaller temples build around it…like the Temple of Nike (Greek for Victory)…it’s not shaped like a giant “swoosh” by the way.
Paul was preaching the gospel of Jesus there and was brought to a court in the Areopgaus, or the “Hill of Mars”…Mars was the god of war.
Paul told them that the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and he does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
Luke poked a bit of fun at the folks who gathered in Athens during those days when he wrote… “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived their spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” 17:21
Wow does that sound like right now or what?
But Luke, even in his pointed way…shows that they were used to lots of people with lots of novel ideas…
Yet Paul’s teaching caused them to take notice…it was different than the other continually new ideas being tossed around.
We read that some of them began to dispute him, because he was “preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.”
America’s symbol is an Eagle (proud and free).
Athen’s symbol was an owl, we have coins as old as 520 BC with owls on them from Athens…they prided themselves on wisdom…an owl has long been that symbol.
But Paul tells the Athenians and anyone who would listen…that true wisdom is recognizing that the One Creator God has unveiled his purpose for the world…
…this purpose is centered on Jesus who was crucified and raised from the dead.
This year we are mostly working through the book of Proverbs…this month we have left that book and are looking at Jesus, the wisdom of God.
I had planned to do that, this month…even since last summer…but it certainly has fit well with what is going on in the world this Spring.
Here is the plan for our time this morning:
- We will acknowledge the limits of human wisdom…it is a view through a straw.
- We will acknowledge the limitlessness of God’s wisdom…it is a perfect and complete view.
- We will apply the wisdom of Jesus to our lives now.
The limits of human wisdom…it is a view through a straw.
We have been singing a song called the “doxology” to end our services this past month.
Doxology comes from a word that means “glory”
A Doxology is an expression of praise to God for his glory…glory means power, pre-eminence.
Listen to Paul’s own doxology in his letter to the Romans.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” Amen. Romans 11:33-36
Just like in his conversation at Athens…he writes here that we have nothing that God needs, but he has everything that we need.
We can rummage about on the planet…exploring, inventing, tearing things up…and even venture out a bit into space…but how much of reality can we really know?
Consider this fact for moment…of all that can be known…how much do we know?
Of course, not very much.
And in terms of the purpose of life…meaning…and ultimate destiny…humans cannot discover those things on their own.
We love to guess…and invent ideas about what is valuable, important…but we cannot know on our own.
The thing that is made…cannot by itself…know why it has been made
As I quoted earlier from those non-theologians and aging rockers…“Styx”…our heroes and legends have fallen to idols of clay.
We are seeing what should have been evident all along…we are not wise.
The expression “idols of clay” comes from an idiom….“feet of clay” that means someone who appears to be smart, powerful, great…but turns out to be just “human” after all.
It comes from a prophecy in the book of Daniel (2:31-33)
Here’s the quick backstory:
Daniel was an Israelite who had been taken into Babylon after they had defeated Israel.
He was a part of a group of smart guys that the King had turned into a foreign-born advisory team.
When the King had a troubling dream, he brought his Babylonian advisory team in to interpret the dream…but he didn’t include the foreign-born Daniel at first.
The problem was the King wasn’t going to tell his smart guys the content of the dream.
He knew they could just make stuff up if he did.
So, he said “Tell me what I dreamed then tell me what the dream means.”
They were aghast… “How can we know what you dreamed?”
“WE are just smart guys…we are not gods!”
The King replied… “Okay, what good are you smart guys…you are high paid and worthless to me”
He ordered them executed.
Daniel heard about this…because he was included in the execution order…so he asked for a shot at the King’s dream.
Daniel cried out to God for wisdom and God gave Daniel the content of the dream in a vision.
Daniel wrote a hymn of praise to commemorate the event…this is important because it shows that the really smart guy, Daniel…understood the source of wisdom.
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes the times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Daniel 2:20-21
Daniel went to the King and made sure the King knew…that only God is truly wise…he is the source of all human wisdom.
Then he told the King the dream and the meaning behind it.
In the dream there was a huge, dazzling statue…awe inspiring…head of pure gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.
Then a rock, cut out of the mountain by God’s hand (not a human force)…smashed the statue…it fell to dust and the wind swept it away without leaving a trace.
But the rock became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.
The meaning of the dream was that a succession of kingdoms would rise up…Babylon was the gold, then silver, then bronze, then finally an iron one…a kingdom that smashes everything…but it has a fatal flaw…it has feet of clay.
There are a couple of views about what these kingdoms were but let’s go with Babylon, Persia, Greece, then Rome.
We do know who the stone stands for…Jesus, he would crush the power of human kingdoms through sacrifice, love and resurrection.
Ultimately, he will return…but for now…his rule is in the hearts and lives of his people…his church spread out across the globe.
His people continue to live out the wisdom of God in the midst of the various kingdoms that rise and fall.
So, let’s go back to Paul…standing among the remains of the Greek empire…and facing the power(and the clay feet) of the Roman empire…as he speaks of the reality of the power of the gospel.
God cannot be contained by human works and wisdom…he made everything…and everyone…and all of us depend completely on him…even if we don’t know that we do.
And Paul pointed to the fact that they even had an altar to an unknown god.
Paul saw in the artifacts of human wisdom…sign posts that point to God…he said …
“That which is unknown to you (but you somehow know is there)…I can tell you about…because the God who is there…has made himself known.”
All around us…always…but very obviously so now…people are looking for meaning, for hope, for peace, for relationship…these are artifacts of truth…that God has built into the world of humans.
Sign posts built into human hearts and cultures of the reality that we are designed by God.
Yet we cannot make sense out of what we see without God telling us what is true and real and valuable.
We see through a straw…you cannot navigate life…with that limited of a view.
The limitlessness of God’s wisdom…His is a perfect and complete view.
Paul and Daniel…acknowledged the limitless wisdom of God and the very limited wisdom of men and women.
We see through a soda straw…small, incomplete pieces of reality at a time.
God sees all time and all places…fully, perfectly…instantly.
For us…we see an infinitesimal piece of time and place.
For God…all time and all place…is an instantaneous “now”.
God is said to be light and to live in perfect light…this is a symbolic way of indicating his perfect ability to “see” everything…his wisdom.
Light is symbolic of true wisdom…
Light us allows us to see…wisdom is seeing what is real and true and valuable.
God’s light is his ability to “see” with perfect clarity.
Light allows sight…dark obscures or hides what is there.
For us to see(wisdom)…we must live in the light.
The light of God’s wisdom has been revealed in the gospel of Jesus.
Walking in the Wisdom of Christ now.
Listen to 1 John (1:1-9)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
Why does he begin like that?
Well for some then, like now…they were saying “Ah, Jesus wasn’t real…the gospel is a good story, makes you feel better and all…but it’s not really, real…not like concrete, and chocolate, and covid-19 are real.”
John said…just to be clear…as to what we are talking about here…Jesus is the eternal God…and we have seen him with our eyes and touched him with our hands.
So, before we go on, John is saying…make sure you keep all this in the category of the really real…real as in touch and see and know.
Not religious ideas…but real things that shape your real life.
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Light is a metaphor for truth, and beauty and purity…all the things that are rolled up in this thing called “wisdom”
Wisdom is from God…and is experienced in relationship with Jesus.
Now…let’s bring this all home.
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
You gotta love how John starts with the Eternal Christ…uses great illustrations of light and dark…but then brings it all down to…love God, love people.
The word he uses for this is “fellowship”
Fellowship with Christ will lead to Fellowship with one another.
The word Fellowship means a “common bond”…in essence it is “committed relationship.”
So, here is wisdom at the street level…here is evidence of living in the light of God…seeing things are they actually are…it shows up in “fellowship” with one another.
The wisdom of Christ…shows up in how we treat the people we live around.
Wisdom is revealed in…Committed, grace-giving and grace-getting…relationships.
To understand “fellowship” you should think Tolkien and “Fellowship of the Ring”
Whether you are a fan or not…he got the use of the word right.
A group of very different people…not only different ethnicities…but different kinds of beings…Elves, Hobbits, dwarfs, humans…united in a common purpose…together in war, in a grand adventure…with everything at stake.
Their fellowship meant their differences were nothing compared to their grand mission.
Tolkien was showing that unity of purpose…can bring a unity of heart.
Our great purpose is the glory of God…fellowship with God.
This is not merely the fellowship of Bible study over a cup of Coffee…sitting chairs…or watching a streaming video.
Our is the fellowship of the life and death pursuits of God’s purpose in committed community.
Hammering out differences and disagreements…in prayers and tears…anger and frustration…feeling like giving up but refusing to do so…
Because we are committed to “fellowship”.
In this Fellowship of the King…King Jesus
There are misunderstandings, and failures, and disagreements and hurt feelings (have you ever read the NT, Paul’s letters?)
But there is this thing called “Light”…God’s light…God’s wisdom lived in relationships.
It illuminates the truth…and allows us to have fellowship with each other…because to live in God’s light…is to live “receiving and giving forgiveness”
Look at the last two verses.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8,9)
So, what are God’s cosmic purposes in this world-wide event?
Do you know?
“How could I know? No one knows”
Well…we know…because he has told us.
His purposes are that you, and me…right now…today…and if we wake up tomorrow…walk in the light.
And what this will mean is that we live committed to the people God has called to love…in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in…in Covid confinement…or not.
Your purpose is love…Love God by loving the people God has given to you love.
Fail to do that…doesn’t much matter what else you.
Fellowship with Christ and one another…what matters most at the end.
This is what matters most now…April 2020…Covid-19 or whatever.
God’s purposes for us are fixed…and right in front of us.
Super simple…super hard.
We are to take in God’s grace and forgiveness…because we will need it…we won’t do this perfectly.
And we are give out grace and forgiveness…because the ones in our fellowship…they will need it from us…they won’t do it perfectly either.
From Babylon…the head of gold, to Rome and feet of clay…To America, and China…and whatever else humans cobble together into nations…God’s purposes remain fixed at the macro and micro level.
The macro level…his glory revealed among the nations
The micro level…his glory revealed in your life and mine as we live lives of love…receiving grace from God…and giving and receiving grace from one another.
This is wisdom…this is gospel…this is the way.