Sermon: Evelyn Underhill

You all may know that I have a white standard poodle. His official registered name is Ezekiel’s Mystical Dream. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so we call him Zeke, at least some of the time. The rest of the time he is known as Fur Face, Dumb Dumb, and ADD Boy. Everyone says it’s not nice to call him Dumb Dumb, but they’ve never lived with him. It only takes being around him a short period of time to realize he’s a bit light in the gray matter. For example, he was four or five and had lived through a few Montana winters, but on one particular day he decided to lick the metal fence post. It was -16 degrees when he tried that. And, yes, a dog’s tongue will stick to a metal fence post.

Perhaps my silly dog didn’t know any better, but why is it – every year that I lived there – you would read or hear of some kid getting his tongue stuck to a metal pole and the fire department having to rescue them? You know they’ve all seen the movie A Christmas Story or at least Dumb and Dumber, where characters in both movies get their tongues stuck. You know their parents have probably told them not to do it. So why does it happen? Perhaps they’re just showing off, or it was a dare, or perhaps they’re only as bright as Zeke, but whatever the case, they are demonstrating the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

The dictionary defines wisdom as: “The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Therefore, wisdom is the intelligent application of knowledge. Knowledge tells me that my tongue will stick to a -16 degree poll. Wisdom tells me, “Don’t be an idiot and try it.”

When it comes to God, Proverbs 1:7 teaches us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” In this case, “fear,” is not defined as reading The Shining by Stephen King while you’re home alone, but is more accurately defined as reverence and awe, a recognition of who God is. So, a rewording of the Proverb could say, “The recognition of who God is brings knowledge.” The true wisdom that proceeds from that knowledge and is then put into practice is made evident in the life and teachings of Jesus. As we read in our first lesson, Wisdom “is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” True Wisdom, the spotless reflection of God, is Jesus.

So how do we go from knowledge of God to wisdom through Jesus? It requires contemplation of God, and it is the contemplation of God that is often referred to as mysticism.

The word mysticism from a negative perspective is seen as new age hocus pocus and from a positive perspective as something that is only achieved by some of the greater Saints, such as Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. However, Evelyn Underhill, who we celebrate today, teaches that the mystical life is attainable to anyone who nurtures such a life. In The Spiritual Life, she writes, “a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” A contemplative life, a mystics life is available to anyone who would place God at the center and strive for a deeper understanding of Him.

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus was saying, it is not about where you worship or how you worship; instead, worship is about spiritual union with God. Evelyn Underhill teaches that this union is available to us all, if – like anything else we want to be successful at – we dedicate ourselves and practice. Through practice you can gain wisdom into the things and nature of God.

Take the knowledge you have of God – God is love, faithful, merciful, etc. – and by intentionally contemplating that knowledge, allow it to draw you into greater union with Him.

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