The Voice of Wisdom Calls
A sermon based on Proverbs 1:22-33
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 16, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott
There was a boat race between a team with wisdom and a team without it. Those with wisdom verses those who were unwise, the foolish. The foolish team lost the race big time. So they hired an expert to figure out what went wrong. The expert reported that the team with wisdom had one person steering and eight people rowing, while the unwise team had eight people steering and only one person rowing. “Aha,” said the foolish team and they immediately restructured so that there was one senior manager, seven management consultants, and one rower. In the rematch, they lost by a mile! And after further intensive consultations, the foolish team fired their rower! I tell that story because it has a major point of the Lectionary text, that there are consequences to both the presence and the lack of Wisdom in the race of life.
Last week we heard the story of the Syrophoenician Woman where a female voiced wisdom to Jesus. In that story the wisdom was providing love beyond God’s children in Israel. Jesus accepted the wisdom that the woman voiced and acted on it. We discussed how the story reflected the Church’s early decision to spread Jesus’ Way of love to both Jews and Greeks, to work on love of everyone.
Wisdom appearing in female voices is a theme in the Bible. One of the threads in that theme is Wisdom appearing in a powerful prophetic female voice – like in our lesson. Some still like to claim that She –Wisdom– is a human prophet but, more and more modern theologians are admitting She can be heard as a female image of God.
I have found that even in the 21st Century there is much opposition to assigning a feminine image of God. Basically the argument I encounter is usually something along the lines of God is like a male and only like a male and it is heresy to claim otherwise. Yet, as I have mentioned up here and in writings before, the Bible has references to God being like a woman– a woman giving birth, a midwife helping with new birth, a mother fending for her cubs, and, in fact, no less than Jesus claims God as being protective like a mother animal.
The Bible actually starts off in Genesis not only with the feminine image of God giving birth to creation, but also with an unequivocal claim that women are made in God’s image. So it should really not be controversial that, sure enough, God’s image has feminine aspects to it in the Bible. And just as in Genesis where the feminine Hebrew word “Ruach” is used for God’s Spirit that speaks creation into being, in Proverbs the word for Wisdom, “Chokmah.” is also feminine in nature.
And as Wisdom in our lesson SHE is speaking God’s voice not in private, not in a house of worship, but smack dab in the business of life. Wisdom is all over town. Everywhere you are, there She is. Our lesson even tells us that She covers every entrance and exit. So, see, there is absolutely no way to miss Wisdom’s prophetic voice or choose to have Her on your team as you row with others through life with. You can avoid prayer and you can avoid worship, but, by God –literally– you will hear Her voice anyway because Wisdom cannot be avoided, only ignored and disobeyed.
Here is how one commentary sums up THIS ubiquitous Divine presence and prophetic vocalization, Pastor James Hopkins writes:
In this passage Wisdom, believed by many to represent the ever searching, ever calling, ever challenging Spirit of God, is personified. Wisdom shows up in the places where human beings live their lives. She shows up in busy streets. She shows up in the public square. She shows up in the bustling intersection. She shows up with a challenging question “Is anyone out there listening to me?” She shows up with a stern warning – “To ignore wisdom is to choose destruction.” She shows up with a compelling invitation: “Those who listen to me will be blessed.” 1
Wisdom in our lesson today declares “I will make my words known to you.” It is like I said, one way or another WE know what’s on Her mind, and in this text there is a “I would listen to me if I were you” attitude to God in this everywhere Wisdom Woman image of the Divine.
And a good part of the lesson instructs us about what happens when we do not heed Wisdom. When we scoff at Her and laugh at Her and ignore Her the consequences are we feel what we dish out. It is dealt back to us while we are mired in the calamities caused by not doing what is wise . . . what Wisdom dictates.
That may sound harsh and un-loving for the God of love, but we do not need to understand that God literally scoffs, laughs or ignores our suffering for being unwise in not following Wisdom. It is that we feel as if creation mocks us in our troubles as payback, but actually … its not payback from God it is the ripples of trouble WE set off coming back at us . . .“What goes around comes around kind” of thing. There are consequences to not heeding Wisdom. One theologian calls it the “inexorable tide of justice” 2
See justice means getting that which is due and what is due has a way of coming around in response to unwise actions and inactions. Consequently if we ignore or countermand God’s wisdom, we are quite naturally without it, and calamity comes calling not so much as judgement but as the end result of the ripples of injustice WE set off by lacking Wisdom. Because what is due to God is our listening to and heeding Her Wisdom and what happens when we don’t is the direct result of being unwise . As Wisdom herself tell us in our text from Proverbs:
Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
That last part, “sated with their own devises,” gives us a clue that this is not God’s imposition of calamity, but our own. Sated means to be satisfied or filled or full. Those who do not heed the Wisdom of God, and fill themselves with their own unwise ways suffer the consequences that lacking Wisdom brings about. As the lesson also puts it, they eat their own fruit. As we might put it, they get their just desserts.
If WE think about it this makes sense. We know that accountability is pretty much built in to unwise choices. Right? If WE choose to have one rower in a boat that’s racing seven rowers, the consequence is WE are going to lose by a mile.
The converse, having Wisdom on board, is also addressed in the reading. Wise choices have consequences too– we can win the race with it. Our lesson tells us what happens when we listen and heed the Wisdom of God. She says that while:
waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.
There’s gloom for those acting without Wisdom There is the promise of peace for those acting with Wisdom. That makes wise sense.
So . . . what is the wisdom of Wisdom? Well, in today’s reading we can glean that She tells us we must choose to have “fear of the Lord” and accept Her counsel, to listen to Her.
Okay . . . But what does that mean? First of all, lets’ address the “fear of the Lord” part. Old Testament Professor Kathleen O’Connor notes this very important point about that phrase:
“Fear of the Lord” does not mean sniveling terror before God. The phrase is an ancient code for the proper behavior of the religious person in relation to God and creation. It involves awe, respect, and obedience; it summarizes righteous living. People who fear the Lord have their feet planted on the ground, see around them truthfully and live in harmony with God and the world. The foolish by contrast, are to be abandoned to the “fruit of their own way,” to “be sated with their own devises.” 3
That makes a lot of sense. It is wise counsel!
Proper behavior in relation to God and creation will rather obviously keep us out of trouble with God. And proper behavior is just what it sounds like awe, respect, and obedience towards God.
If we understand God to be, as Paul puts it, that which we live and move and have our being in, then we can see why Professor O’Connor claims Wisdom is calling us to have “our feet planted on the ground, see[ing] around [us] truthfully and liv[ing] in harmony with God and the world.”That is the aim of Judaism, Christianity and most other religions. It is the aim of Wisdom: living in harmony with God and the world. That is Wisdom personified in every sense of the word. If, and when, we do that – live in harmony with God and the world– we will live into the truth that Wisdom calls from every nook and cranny of our existence then. “Those who listen to [Wisdom] will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
So the million dollar question remaining is how do we live in harmony with God and the world? In Proverbs 3 Wisdom goes on to provide the general answer (I am reading from the NIV):
My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
I love that because you know what? Jesus and a lawyer gave the same answer when the lawyer asked Jesus how to “inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Andd [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28).
Jesus– who is the Divine revelation of God for Christians– tells us to properly live, to live in harmony, to gain eternal life we need to love God in all of creation, ALL OF IT, especially every person. And we need do ALL that loving with ALL of our heart, soul, strength and mind.
Wisdom tells us the same thing. We need to let love and faithfulness never leave us; to bind them around our neck, write them on the tablets of our hearts. That makes sense. When everyone loves everyone we get peace.
Wisdom and Jesus’ answer is Love, love of God, love of others and love of self. When we do that creation wins . . .we win, Love wins. Love is the wise thing to do.
1. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol 3, p 51
2 Ibid. at p 50
3 Ibid p 55
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