Faith United Methodist Church
September 13, 2015
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Proverbs 1:20-33
Prayer of Illumination:
God of all wisdom, source of truth, come to us that we may be filled with your Word. May our lives be testimonies to the hope that is found through you. And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight. In Jesus name, Amen.
Sermon: Wisdom’s Whispers
This morning I asked the children if they knew anyone who is wise. I expected their answers would include parents, teachers, grandparents. And, I wonder, if I asked you all the same would you have a similar response? When we are young we often look at our parents as the wisest people on earth. One election year I remember asking my father why he didn’t run for president. Yet, as we grow into our teenage years our opinions of our parents often change. Instead of seeing them as wise we see them as lame, uninformed, and old fashioned. (Maybe some of you are going through this with your kids right now!) Yet that ~ usually ~ changes, too. By the time we become adults (and maybe parents ourselves) we have a new appreciation for our parents’ wisdom. We understand better why they did what they did, said what they said.
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment, the quality of being wise. Now, we all know wise-guys and we all make wise-cracks, but that’s not the same as wisdom. Wisdom is rather difficult to define. Charles Spurgeon, 19th century Baptist, reflected, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge, To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it….But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” Two people can have the same education and the same life experience, but that doesn’t mean that they’re both wise. Psychology Today took a stab at defining wisdom as “…integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs.” Yet even they concede, “…it can be difficult to define wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it.”
In our reading from Proverbs this morning it’s hard to miss Wisdom because there she is personified; a woman standing on the street corner, shouting. “Wisdom shouts in the streets, in the public square she raises her voice.” The Book of Proverbs comes to us from the Biblical wisdom tradition. In Biblical history King Solomon (David’s son) is known for his wisdom. The wisdom books of the Bible are believed to have been written, or influenced, by Solomon. Proverbs raises questions of values, moral behavior, the meaning of human life, and right conduct. Sophia (the name for Wisdom in Greek) is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. In Proverbs obtaining wisdom is presented as the primary goal of religious life.
Yet in our reading Wisdom doesn’t seem to be attracting much attention. The Scripture tells us that Wisdom shouts above the noisy crowd, has her say at the city gates. Still, people seem to be ignoring Wisdom, going about their busy days, tuning out the words that Wisdom wants to share. So Wisdom complains, “I invited you, but you rejected me…. You ignored all my advice.” Wisdom offered to pour out her spirit and reveal her words, but no one seemed interested. If people generally recognize wisdom when they see it, why weren’t they paying attention?
Maybe they didn’t want to pay attention. Maybe they wanted to go about life on their own terms. Have you ever bought a new tool or gadget, ripped the package open and tossed aside the instructions because you just want to start using it? Yes? But what often happens later? Either you get stumped on the assembly or you can’t get it to work right, so you have to go find those instructions and start all over again. What would life be like if we started with the instructions?
In our passage Wisdom is doing all that she can to get the people’s attention. She is going where the people are, she is shouting her message in the city streets. She kind of reminds me of another messenger sent from God. When Jesus started his ministry he wasn’t quiet about it. He went to where people congregated ~ the lakeshore to talk to fishermen, the roadways where people gathered, the synagogues where people worshipped. And he gave the people a message from God. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is coming. Sell all you have and give money to the poor. Go and sin no more.” Some listened, but many more passed by, busy with their plans for the day.
The message of our Wisdom poem is clear. As Walter Bouzard put it in Preaching This Week, “Woman Wisdom is publically accessible throughout the city. From every quarter she calls and yet she is frustrated by the fact that the wisdom she offers finds no reception.” I wonder if Wisdom shouts because she knows the people are tuned out. I wonder if Wisdom shouts so, perhaps, she might reach one person through a whisper, a message in the midst of the background noise. Her message is that it is, “… simply better and more satisfying for us to live wisely in awe of the LORD than to live as though we were not creatures of a living God.” (Bouzard)
Kind of like those instructions we toss aside in the excitement of getting to our new toy, Wisdom plants a seed and hopes that we will return. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.” Wisdom’s shouts turn into whispers in the back of our minds when life get’s tough. Oh yeah, I think I heard something about that once. Maybe I should check that out.
Proverbs, being Wisdom literature, is not systematic theology. It is a poetic reflection on the nature of God. It employs allegory and symbolism to share the message. Was there actually a woman named (Sophia) Wisdom standing, shouting on the city streets? I don’t know. That’s not what is important here. What is important is the wisdom that she speaks, “Those who obey me will dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm.” Wisdom’s whispers that draw us back, keep us connected with God.
So what would life be like if we started with the instructions? Well, it would probably save us a lot of time, and some amount of frustration. Waiting to turn to the instructions until after everything is a mess may not be the wisest thing to do – especially if it’s Christmas Eve and your trying to put a bike together for your little boy who will be up in three hours! “Wisdom shouts in the street: in the public square she raises her voice. Above the noisy crowd she calls out. At the entrance of the city gates she has her say…” Are you listening? What message do you hear? What does Wisdom have to say to you today?