The theme of this year’s UH Interfaith Sermon Slam was “Wisdom.” Students were given 5 minutes. Below is Blake Burns’ sermon, which was awarded “most inspiring” sermon of the night.
First of all, asking me to give a talk on wisdom is like asking a fish to give a talk on breathing air. I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s like asking a dog what it’s like to use a litter box, or asking Donald Trump to speak on women’s rights. I don’t have any wisdom to talk about. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to talk about other people’s wisdom, and how I’ve experienced it. I’m going to try and tell you what it looks like, and maybe we’ll get somewhere.
When I look around at all the wisdom in the world from my Facebook page, I get the impression that wisdom is this ability to take a vast, multi-dimensional situation and bring it down to a singular, concise phrase, one cover-all colloquial aphorism, like: “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” “Everything happens for a reason.” And one’s ability to be wise and erudite is based solely on being able to find the exactly right 140 character verbal band-aid for a situation. Everyone envies the person who has a mental arsenal of quick-fix proverbs, always having the right thing to say. But how do we get wisdom?
When we look at almost any wise fictional character, they all have two things in common: they are old, and they are bearded. The wise people in stories are the Mr. Miyagis, the Gandalfs, the Dumbledores. This follows with our cultural stereotypical view of wisdom – we believe wisdom comes with age, and it usually does. But when I think of the wise people in my life, they are, disappointingly, not all older, gray-bearded wizards and kung-fu masters like they should be. But they do have something in common with the stereotype: experience. Each of them, even when they happen to be young, has dealt with, in a healthy way, a major episode in their life. They are the people who have endured divorce, infidelity, death of their loved ones, and grown somehow.
Anglican author CS Lewis says in his book The Magician’s Nephew, “no great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.” This quote comes from a villain trying to justify his actions to the hero. And it would be easy, looking at wisdom born from pain and sadness, to agree with this idea, that wisdom does not come without sacrifice, but it is only another one of the bumper-sticker remedies, one of the phrases that sounds nice but is on closer inspection, ugly and empty. Wisdom does not come with a price. Wisdom is not the earnings of hardship and turmoil. Wisdom is the medicine.
The reason my wisest friends are those who have been hurt the deepest, is because it is in our moments of deepest pain when we grow closest to God. He, as the source of all Wisdom, dwells in those places.
When my family was devastated by the revelation of my step-father’s three year-long affair, no one thought it was wise to say to us “it is better to have loved and lost,” but the loving wisdom of my friends taught me how to forgive the man I never thought I would be able to forgive.
When I was in the hospital with a broken spine, contemplating if I would ever live another independent day in my life, no one thought it was wise to tell me “God doesn’t give you more as you can handle;” “everything happens for a reason.” Instead of cheap words, the wise and loving thing was to be with me in my pain, not take it away. The wisdom I experienced in those moments was from the great comfort of those around me who had the wisdom and presence of mind to love me well. Wisdom was not the price of their hardship, it was the gift they received and passed along. Wisdom is the mechanism we use to forgive each other. Wisdom is how we love each other. At least, that’s how I see it.