In the church calendar, we are now in the “Great Fifty Days” of the church year. It is the season between Easter and Pentecost. According to some, it should be the most festive season of the Christian year; and if this is going to happen, the celebratory Easter should continue in the Sundays following.
A study of the scriptures or lectionary will reveal a rich variety of meanings this season has for the followers of Christ. Most obviously, we remember the accounts of Jesus’ appearances during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension and then the ten days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is also the time when the scripture comes alive with passages about the Holy Spirit and the life of the early church as it was empowered by the spirit. If we linger on these readings, we cannot but know the presence of the risen Christ in our midst.
Fifty days of post-resurrection happenings and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
—Adapted from the Handbook of the Christian Year.
John Wesley’s Easter Faith Hymn
The hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath,” is reported to be the hymn John Wesley tried to sing on the day of his death. However that may be, it was his Easter faith.
“I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
while life, and thought, and being last,
or immortality endures.”
- Hymn # 60, United Methodist Hymnal.
Great Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, planned his own funeral. It took place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. He included many of the great hymns of the church and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. According to his directions, a bugler positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s intoned, after the benediction the sound of “Taps,” the universal signal that says the day is over.
But then came the most dramatic turn: as Churchill had instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reveille” – the universal signal that it’s time to get up in the morning.
That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history, the last note will not be “Taps;” it will be “Reveille.” Not death but resurrection will have the last word!
(The Churchill funeral with the trumpeters has been told in many forms. This writing was attributed to John Claypool of Birmingham, Alabama.)
Today’s blog post was written by Robert H. Spain. Robert Spain is a retired United Methodist bishop and former chaplain of the United Methodist Publishing House.
Today’s Bible Lesson
Wisdom’s Part in Creation
by Robert V. Dodd
This bible lesson originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.
LESSON: PROVERBS 8:22-35
BACKGROUND: PROVERBS 8
Parents often tell their adolescents that they want them to make good choices about how they live their lives. Past generations treasured knowledge acquired by the learning and experience that the older generation possessed and looked to the older generation to provide them with wise counsel. But many people today seem to have more knowledge than wisdom. If you have a personal computer in your home, you have access to more knowledge than did any other generation in history. Today people have at their fingertips the accumulated knowledge of past generations. And yet they do not always express wisdom in the choices they make. Knowledge is accumulated data or information. But wisdom involves knowing what to do with that information: how to use it to educate and equip ourselves to serve the Lord and to help others.
My aunt Annie Rae Dodd was a keeper of our family’s history. She consulted libraries, searched the register of deeds offices, and made various trips to the state capitol and other places in search of data related to our family history. It took her a number of years to gather the information that she accumulated. She demonstrated wisdom in her commitment to creatively assimilate our family history and record it for future generations. My wife was able to build on the data that my aunt had acquired and discover additional information simply by using her computer and going online. I have often wondered what my aunt could have done to compile a family history had they had computers in her day.
Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the Song of Solomon fit into the category of wisdom literature. But Proverbs is especially concerned about passing on both acquired knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. That information is often provided in the context of an older person sharing information with a younger person. This wise elder is not described but implied by the wisdom that is shared by addressing the reader as children.
In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as having been God’s first creation and is said to have been present when God created the earth and everything in the universe. When Christians read Proverbs 8:22-31, 35, they are often reminded of John 1:1 and see parallels between wisdom and God’s living Word. But the difference is that the Word was and is God and was with God from the beginning. God’s Word was not created. In fact, it is through the divine Word (Logos, in Greek) that the heavens and the earth and all material reality were created.
Wisdom is not personified in Proverbs as being equal to God but as being more of a characteristic of God. This means that God can be said to be all knowing, all powerful, all wise, and ever loving. Wisdom is more of a companion with God than an active participant, more of an observer than a creative agent at the dawn of Creation. The personification of wisdom in this manner draws attention to God’s wisdom. It does not mean that wisdom is believed to be an entity separate from God. God obviously expressed wisdom in the creative process, and that wisdom can be observed in the way the natural world works. Everything in the created order has a place and purpose. God must have profound wisdom and knowledge in order to have created all living things on land, in the water, and in the air—things both seen and unseen, and not just on planet Earth but in the billions of solar systems in our Milky Way galaxy and the billions of other galaxies in the universe. God’s wisdom is expressed in the way that all of those things, both immeasurably immense and immeasurably minute, work together in harmony.
I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday last November and went to get my driver’s license renewed. Having grown a year older has always been something worth celebrating to me. But my age was really impressed upon me when I received my new driver’s license in the mail. The license had my photograph on it and other information, including my height, date of birth, the colors of my eyes and hair. The color of hair that was listed on my license really caught my attention because in the past I have always been listed as having brown hair. But my new license stated very plainly that my hair color was gray. I felt like taking my license back to the driver’s license bureau and telling them that they had made a mistake and gotten my hair color wrong. When I shared this with a friend, he asked me, “Have you looked in the mirror lately?” Admittedly, my hair is more gray than brown. But in my heart, I still have brown hair.
There is something within each of us that resists growing old or even having the appearance of growing old. Perhaps it is because we sense that, with age, comes diminished influence and capability. In ancient times, the elders in the community were looked up to with honor and respect. But this is not often the case today. That is one reason why I think that, in our society, there is so much emphasis on keeping up the appearances of being young. For many people, staying young implies staying viable and making an important contribution to life.
Recently, I told a class of senior adults that the advantage of growing older is that you can state your opinions forthrightly and seldom have any negative repercussions from doing so. But the disadvantage of growing older is that nobody seems to pay much attention to what you say or to take your opinions seriously anyway. In our society, the elders no longer gather to sit at the city gates so that children and youth can sit at their feet and learn from them the wisdom of the ages. Today’s children gather information by using their personal computer to go online and search any subject that they choose to consider. They can also play interactive electronic games that allow them to experience history as well as fantasy as though they are part of it. But there’s something to be said for the human touch in the process of exchanging information.
We should sport our gray hair and our wrinkles proudly. They are our badges of honor. They make a statement to the world that we have lived. And some things in this world can be learned only by having lived a long time. Youth may have access to more accumulated knowledge than ever before, but it takes time for wisdom to grow and develop. Wisdom is the product of having a lifetime of experience, living a shared life with Jesus Christ, and accumulating a tremendous amount of education—both formal and informal.
When my sons were young they had the opportunity to visit with my father-in-law and listen to him tell about his experiences as a chaplain’s assistant in the military on the island of Okinawa, Japan. They were enthralled by his stories as he described in detail the airplanes and other equipment that the soldiers used. He also told them about the panic caused by the enemy air raids on their camp and about one narrow escape he had when several of his comrades were shot and killed. His eyewitness testimony made history come alive for them in ways that no historic documentary could possibly do. Even though he was living in an apartment at a retirement home when he talked with my sons about his experience, he was in a very real sense an elder at the city gate.
Have you ever thought about the wisdom that you could share with others and how you could go about sharing that wisdom? Maybe you have grandchildren who live nearby or that you could invite to visit you when they are out of school in the summer. Depending on your physical capabilities, you could work with children and youth in and through the church. You could volunteer to tutor students in elementary or high school, serve as a hospital host or hostess, babysit for someone’s children, teach a younger person a skill or a hobby that you enjoy. Sometimes a listening ear is all that is needed. At other times, a few words spoken at just the right time can make a difference. Sometimes a vividly told story carries with it a message that communicates at a level that a straightforward statement could not.
A man I know wrote a book of poems about his life. A church made a DVD of interviews of all of the congregation’s senior adults, who shared their recollections about how their congregation was founded, as well as their life lessons. The ways in which you can share your wisdom with others is never ending.
KEY VERSE Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Proverbs 8:33