The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight

13 November 2017

“The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.”
Prov. 4.7

I love the book of Proverbs for their pithy sayings – originally used for teaching the young wisdom. They are often couched in providing the positive in comparison to the negative:

It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Prov 16.19

Such sayings make you pause and ponder for a moment. Most of us probably know the famous Chinese proverb – ‘may you live in interesting times’ – well yes we do live in in testing times.

In the New Testament we find in the letter of John – not Proverbs but questions that make us think. Today the question we read in 3.17 is a challenge to us all:

‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?’

I’ve been reflecting this week on two particular issues where people are in need. They both relate to power – it’s use and abuse. Rather than wisdom what is demonstrated is a selfish and unwise use of power.

I’m not at all interested in celebrities, film stars or anything that I regard as social gossip. Yet this week I’ve been struck by the countless stories about alleged sexual assaults by the Movie Director – Harvey Weinstein. Here is a situation that many knew about but it continued until someone was brave enough to speak out. Eight women had come to legal settlements that included a non-disclosure clause – preventing them from telling their stories. The initial abuse of power was covered up by a subsequent use of the power of money and the law.

I was struck by comments made this week by Tom Hanks – who said that what men needed to do at this moment is be quiet and listen to the stories of women in all walks of life about the abuse they suffer at the hands of men. The radio 2 Jeremy Vine show asked the question – is there a Weinstein in your office? The lid is being lifted as it has been on child sex abuse.

The abuse of power is not confined to sexual abuse. I remember working at the RD&E when the first woman consultant was appointed. It was a major breakthrough. The same stories apply in many many fields of work where women have experienced considerable prejudice.

Sadly, I’m ashamed to say that the Church is a major culprit. It is only very recently that we have lifted the pay cap for women clergy and allowed them to be ordained as Bishops. Bishop Sarah, a very experienced nurse in the NHS, has found far more sexism in the Church. Every week she experienced some form of sexism in her current role. Still some people will not receive communion from her. For some reason, we appear to allow such behaviour to be acceptable for theological reasons. Yet in God’s image we are created equal.

The second issue this week is modern slavery. The 2017 UK annual report on Modern Slavery was published. It is thought that globally there are around 45 Million people enslaved – in the UK it is estimated that it is well over 10K. 2,255 slavery offences were recorded by Police in the year to March 2017. That is a 159% increase on the previous year. Potential victims were reported to originate from 108 countries. The most common for adult victims was Albania and for those exploited as children was the UK. The largest number of them being young girls for sexual exploitation – yet another abuse of power by men.

This week the Church of England launched the Clewer Initiative to engage local communities to combat slavery. Named after and funded by the Clewer Sisters, an Anglican religious order which was founded in the 19th Century to help vulnerable young women who found themselves homeless and drawn into the sex trade.

This is not a quick fix. It aims to work in each Diocese to help build the capacity to spot the signs of modern slavery and raise awareness within parish communities.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?’

The question posed in John’s letter can be read about those who are wealthy giving to those in need. Yet is can also have a wider meaning – for those who have power how do they help rather than exploit the powerless? How do our attitudes and behaviours reflect God’s love abiding within us?

All of us men must look hard in the mirror, admit our sins and lack of wisdom in relation to the use of power. For women to speak up and tell their stories so that God’s love can abide equally in all without fear or favour.

Amen.

The Revd Canon Dr Mike Williams (preached as a sermon on Sunday 22nd October 2017)

 

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