Monday, July 18, 2016

Deep Wisdom: Pokemon, Joseph and Paul

A Sermon for Evensong

Only I could see it.  There was a Zubat in the kitchen.  Quickly I lined up my Pokeball and threw it at the creature.  I caught it, and gathered it into my Pokedex.  For the uninitiated, I am talking about the game Pokemon Go.  It is an app for phones and tablets that allows you to see the mystical Pokemon creatures in the real world.  Samuel and I went for a walk yesterday and caught about ten different Pokemon.  The Cathedral, I am sure you are aware, is a PokeGym, and has been welcoming a range of new, younger visitors over the past couple of days.  The Church of Englandhas issued guidelines about this.  More worryingly, so has the NSPCC.  Pokemon Go works with the idea that there are things beyond the reality that we can see and touch and smell.  All it takes is the right software and technology and a new and exciting world can be seen in the midst of our world. There is something deeper and beyond our world.  You could even find a Pokemon in your kitchen.

Both readings this evening also speak of the deeper wisdom of God being encountered in the middle of our ordinary material reality.  First, there is Joseph.  The dreamer who is able to interpret dreams.  Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh’s aid.  The prisoner is made presentable and brought before the king.  “God has shown Pharaoh what he is to do, and God will provide the interpretation” he says.  Pharaoh, while asleep, has seen a glimpse of what God is planning.  But it takes someone hurriedly brought out of the dungeon to provide the wisdom needed to understand this insight.

Insight and foresight are things we rightly value in our political leaders.  From my place of undoubted bias, I can assure you that vicarage children do posses these qualities.  But just as Pharaoh found, political leadership needs to listen to those on the margins of society, the poorest, the forgotten and the ignored, if true wisdom is to be attained.  The story of Joseph is, amongst other things, a story about wisdom.  A story about how the true wisdom, God’s wisdom, is obtained.  In that story Joseph learns the importance of humility; Pharaoh learns the need to listen to those on the margins; and God’s wisdom brings security and food to a land that would otherwise have starved, and a new home for his people.  Humility and listening to the marginal – that would be a good starting point for all of us as we head together into the new world of post-Brexit Britain.  We might then begin to glimpse the true wisdom of God that can bring us security and life.

St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is also speaking of a deeper reality and a true wisdom that go beyond the simple material world that we can touch and smell and see.  But Paul is writing to those who have decided that they already know what is true and wise.  They are rich, powerful and successful.  What need have they of bringing disreputable and shabby prisoners before them to help them understand?  Paul, unlike Joseph, refuses to disguise his unkempt appearance.  Indeed he parades it before the Corinthians.  He is foolish, weak, disreputable, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, tired – the rubbish and dregs of the world. 

Paul’s point is this – in their wealth and power and success, the Corinthians have stopped looking to Jesus, and especially to the crucified Jesus.  They look only on the world as it can further their interests and careers and power and wealth.  Paul reminds them of Jesus.  Earlier he has told them that while he was with them, “I decided to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2).  If we want to see truly, to know what is really happening in this world, then we need to look through the lens of the cross of Jesus.  It will radically change how we see.  It will radically change how we act.  Through the lens of the cross of Jesus our wealth and success and power is shown to be shabby and foolish.  Wisdom is found in those who appear weak and disreputable.

How then do we encounter the deep wisdom of God.  Let me suggest three ways that we may put ourselves in contact with that wisdom.  Paul and Joseph have much to say to us, but the first insight I think comes from Pokemon.  It is simply this: slow down.  You cannot play Pokemon Go from a moving car, the game is configured so that it works best if you walk or cycle or move at a slower pace.  As Samuel and I walked around to find Pokemon yesterday, we came across other groups of people searching.  We shared our finds and benefitted from theirs.  Sharing and connecting with others is a fruit of slowing down.  A spiritual guide once told a church leader that he had to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.”  We need to slow down to encounter God’s wisdom.

If the first thing to do is to slow down, then the second is to pray and to worship.  Here we open ourselves to God, we acknowledge that God made us and everything there is.  Here is Joseph’s hard-won humility, and the fault of the Corinthians.  To pray and to worship is to admit that we are not the sum total of everything that matters.  So it is worth thanking the choir, all gathered here this evening, for all they do to help us to worship, to lift our hearts above ourselves, and to offer us inspiration.  St Augustine reportedly said that the one who sings, prays twice.  Thank you choir, for helping connect us with the wisdom of God, and helping us realise that we are not what this world is about.

So, to connect with the deep wisdom of God we need to slow down and to  pray and worship.  The third thing we need to do is to be in touch with those who are on the margins.  As a Cathedral, we do this regularly with those who come here in need, with those who sleep here in the winter.  As individuals we need to ask ourselves the question of how we can encounter and listen to those on the edge of our society.  Neither Joseph nor Paul speak the wisdom of God from places of power and security. How do we ensure we listen to them today?

Slow down, pray and worship, encounter those on the margins, these are the things that will put us into contact with the wisdom of God.  They are simple to grasp, but difficult to do.  I too struggle with them.  But they are gifts, interruptions into our self-contained universes.  They help us to hold the cross of Jesus before us, and to change the way we look and the way we act to be more in tune with him.  So recharge yourself, slow down, pray and worship, encounter those on the margins, and connect to the wisdom of God that longs to break into our lives.  Amen.

First given at Derby Cathedral 17.7.18.

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