Enduring Wisdom in Changing Times: Walking with Jesus in Today’s Vietnam
God’s Wisdom is about accepting risk and individual loss to act for the good of the community. It’s about engaging with people and situations we never have before because we know that God is with us. God’s deep, enduring wisdom strikes the world as foolish calls us to set aside our misconceptions and our fears and to act to help bring about God’s peaceable kingdom on Earth.
Staggering to think about the change one lifetime can bring and the wisdom that can be found in one lifetime — and yet God’s wisdom is far deeper and more enduring even than this.
Today I want to talk about how...
- God’s wisdom changes the frame
- God’s wisdom casts out fear
- God’s wisdom pushes us towards action
...and I’ll be sharing and reflecting on my two years in Vietnam throughout.
1 | God’s Wisdom Changes the Frame
God’s wisdom changes and challenges our limited human viewpoints.
God’s wisdom cuts to the heart of issues and tells the whole story — it doesn’t settle for surface explanations and easy answers.
God’s wisdom changes the frame so that we can see the structures that push us toward hatred, fear, and inaction. — Verse from slide
God wants us to reframe challenges to see the ruler, authorities, and powers that divide us.
Earthly wisdom used to say that Vietnamese and American people were enemies. Earthly wisdom now might say there should still be a lot of animosity. With God’s wisdom we can set aside the boundaries that the world tries to use to separate us.
I don’t like to focus on the war in Vietnam, but I also think it an important thing to shift the frame on.
Consistently blown away by the nuance and grace Vietnamese people who lived through the war have shown. How can we replicate this nuance in our circumstances? In conflicts with China? Russia? Political conflicts?
God’s wisdom isn’t the world’s wisdom — it pushes us to set down our misconceptions, change the frame, and be willing to learn from everyone we meet.
2 | God’s wisdom casts out fear
1 Corinthians passage from today says, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
One of the strangest, and most Godly, decisions we can make as humans is to not be afraid. So often fear is used to divide us.
Fear of...loss of security...loss of income...otherness...change.
We can face all these things because God’s wisdom says that he is with us even the most difficult times. God is with us in the face of death. God has been with us through massive societal changes — like Covid, immigration to new lands, learning new languages, and forming new communities.
Saying God’s wisdom drives out fear, however, might seem to fly in the face of some common wisdom — the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. I don’t dispute this, but it’s important to note that the world’s fear and God’s fear are very different.
Saying God’s wisdom drives out fear might also seem to go against the story surrounding the 10 commandments. I think it doesn’t — over and over in the books of Moses we see fear holding God’s followers back. hey are afraid to leave Egypt (slavery), they are afraid to enter the promised land (even though it has been promised), they are afraid to let go of their superstitions and other gods (even though they have seen God’s power).
But while Moses’s first instinct may have been to be afraid — he is willing to enter the thick darkness where God was. He remembers what God has already been through with him.
A big part of not being afraid is shifting our frame of memory — so that we remember what God has already been through with us.
Today is the third Sunday in lent. Lent is when we are imitating Jesus fast in the desert, when we are called to leave our comfort zones and challenge our fear so we can connect with God.
MCC workers in Vietnam during and after the war — incredibly unsure. Thick darkness of conflict. Working in Vietnam in that context seemed incredibly foolish in the eyes of the world — yet it has gone on to have an impact on generations of Mennonites and Vietnamese people.
After the war ended in 1975 Vietnam became a very closed country, and for awhile MCC wasn’t able to place people in the country. MCC one of the first groups to have westerners enter, in 1983 people were able to enter again, and over and over the MCC representative Louise Buhler would find children being scared of her — they had been told that Americans — she was Canadian but they didn’t know that — would eat them! Fear of Vietnamese government of outsiders — spied on constantly. Louise fear — days from contact with anyone outside the country. By setting aside fear healing was able to begin.
Where are the difficult places in your life that God is calling you to engage? Where are the places of thick darkness in your life that you might encounter God?
God’s wisdom changes the frame to show that we don’t need to be afraid — that we can find God even in the most difficult of circumstances, and in fact God will always be there before us.
3 | God’s wisdom pushes us towards action
Cleansing of the temple sometimes skipped over by Mennonites — kind of violent. Perhaps we can chalk it up to the willingness to destroy property, to break the rules, to demonstrate God's not being followed. Jesus demonstrates that being unafraid is not the same as not caring — he still cares, deeply, the point of the ultimate personal sacrifice, for God’s kingdom.
Jesus was willing to ruffle feathers in the name of truth — we should be willing to do the same.
But we act not out of fear caused by the misframing of conflicts, but out of the assurance that making a more-just world is what God wants us to do. We act not out of fear, but out of God’s overpowering wisdom.
How can we tap into Jesus’ wise zeal for God’s peaceable kingdom?
This past week conversation with Daniel, a friend in Vietnam, became Christian in high school — why do you get so riled up about social justice? If we believe in Jesus that’s enough.
I don’t necessarily refute that, but I can picture the moneychangers in the temple court saying the same thing to Jesus — why are you getting so riled up? We all believe the same thing.
Jesus fundamentally cares about our actions and the unjust reality of the world.
Right belief vs right action — long-term struggle within Church history, today’s scriptures clearly point towards right action. I won’t solve it today.
Fascinating to look at the ten commandments because they aren’t about belief — they are about practice after believing. First: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. But after that, they aren’t about splitting hairs over theological differences — they are about following God in our actions.
God’s wisdom emphasizes right action even when that action is foolish and costly by the standards of the world.
Our calling as Christians isn’t just to believe that all people are made in the image of God, or believe we should live fairly and at peace in the world, it is about trying to make the world a more peaceful and more just place.
Sometimes this seems impossible, it may seem like the forces of darkness are too great.
But through my time in Vietnam I saw how even in a war torn, closed, impoverished country, and in a massive, dynamic, modernizing country there were opportunities for partnership, growth, work for justice, and forgiveness.
We don’t need to go far today to find places of conflict. While things in the US certainly aren’t in a great place at the moment God has worked miracles through his followers in places and times much darker than here.
Conclude — Wisdom isn’t truly wisdom if it isn’t put into action. Wisdom is about accepting risk and individual loss to act for the good of the community. It’s about engaging with people and situations we never have before because we know that God is with us.
God’s deep, enduring wisdom that strikes the world as foolish calls us to set aside our misconceptions and our fears and to act to help bring about God’s peaceable kingdom on Earth. God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us. May it be so.