Sunday, May 15, 2011

Graduation Sermon: Unknown Unknowns

Isaiah 40: 27-31
1 Corinthians 13: 9-13

This scripture always makes me think of that song by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood’s band, Faces. You remember it?

I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. (Kinda a tongue twister)

Seeing Kelsie on her way to graduation makes me think of the end of my high school experience and the same song.

“Put away childish ways” Difference between childlike faith and being childish

But you know what—when I was younger, I knew more than I do now, or at least I thought I did. I knew it all, as most of us do at that age. That’s all right. It’s part of wisdom to learn that we have something to learn. Socrates said "I am only wise insofar as what I don't know, I don't think I know."

Donald Rumsfeld NATO press conference in 2002.
“Now what is the message there? The message is that there are known "knowns." There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.”

After five years in Morris, I still have some known unknowns. Why is it called a 5th wheel trailor? Are we really called “Morrisites?” and does that not sound too much like Parisites? I wonder what folks from OKC are called? Or Beggs? Or Mounds? Or Liberty? Or Liberty Mounds? But, I’m sure there are some unknown unknowns that I am missing too.

In our scriptures today, we hear about “knowing only in part.” Paul, as someone who is wise, understands this. Now we can only know in part, as though through a darkened mirror.

WE may think that sounds like an odd metaphor, since mirrors are basically true reflections, but that’s not how it was in Paul’s day. Corinth made a lot of mirrors, and generally, the best ones were polished brass. They didn’t give a clear reflection like they do today. There was discoloration, blemishes, etc.

Paul basically says that right now our place in the world and God’s relationship to everything that happens is a “known unknown.” We realize that we don’t see clearly. At least, this is the conclusion we arrive at when we are wise. The more you know, the more you realize how much we don’t know.

But, while knowledge can only take us so far, love can take us the distance.

The Corinthians were kind of puffed up about their knowledge. The “Known knowns” had become a dividing line between people in that community, and Paul saw what danger that held, so he talked about “putting away his childish ways” and growing up into the understanding that God’s ways will blow our minds, but not our hearts. Our minds cannot contain God, but our Hearts are where God chooses to live.

Even with how great our knowledge and understanding has become, it is still the shallow end compared to what is unknown. Prophecies will cease, tongues will fall silent, and knowledge will come to an end. But Love never fails. It will take you through. It is the boat that carries us over the expansive Wisdom of God and bring us to that place and time when “we shall know, even as we have been fully known.”

Depth of God’s love is an unknown unknown. Here’s what we can know, according to Isaiah. What we can know is that we should hope in God’s faithfulness. Isaiah says those who have that hope “renew their strength and will soar on wings like eagles.”

Before this passage that we heard this morning, Isaiah is going over a litany of things that “put us in our place” as human beings in relation to God. God is like the wind that blows over the grass and fields. We are like the grass and our faithfulness is like the flowers. Grass and flowers will wither away, but the wind remains. Vs. 15 and 17 say “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;… Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.”

Hmmm…. Think about that next time someone says “God bless America, eh?” Perhaps we should be saying “America bless God” instead!

And while the nations are regarded as dust on the scales, Isaiah tells us that God spreads out the heavens and the mountains and the oceans.

“He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”

So, young grasshopper, what can we do in the face of such a magnificent and overpowering God? Perhaps you sometimes feel this sense of overwhelming when you think about your future and all the stuff that has to be done, Kelsie, or any graduates. I find myself feeling overwhelmed with the prospects of the future, for sure! It hits me like a spear in the gut every time I look around the house and know it needs to be packed up soon!

This is how life is—but God gives us the gift of Hope. Hope renews our strength. Hope isn’t Pollyanna optimism. Hope renews our strength. It is the conviction in things unseen. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Vaclav Havel
“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead, or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, work for it, and fight for it.” - Barack Obama

And Paul says that Love is the greatest of all. If you Love God, how do you let God know? You know the answer to that question. And that answer will always carry you through.

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