The book of Proverbs isn’t just a bunch of witty sayings….it’s a story about Wisdom.
12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) – August 16, 2015 – Proverbs 9:1-6, John 6:51-58
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Turn in Here – Pastor Evan Davis
I love taking walks through my city – I spent hours roaming the streets of D.C. and Philly when I lived there, and now I love strolling through Harrisonburg…not quite the same, but what I love here too is just seeing people – people vastly different from one another. This week I walked past the same man asking for money on Court Square who I see every day, I saw the servers flying around at the six restaurants right down the street, keeping the customers happy, I saw locals jogging by, students getting together, lawyers and court workers hustling in their suits with coffee in hand. It’s a diverse city. You see all of God’s children, some with an easier path through life than others, some more privileged than the next. People from different backgrounds who see the world through different eyes, who live by different principles, listen to different songs, admire different heroes, and dream different dreams.
It’s easy to separate different people into right and wrong, or as Proverbs would say, wise and foolish. Some of y’all might be pretty sure you could point out some foolish folks to me, but when we’re honest we know we’re all a little of both. We all have the same human weaknesses…we’re easily led into the foolishness of greed and laziness, fear and anger. And we all have the same human possibilities – to be the unique people God made us to be, to come alive, using our God-given individual gifts, perspectives, and aspirations, to contribute to one another, to creating a community in which everyone can thrive, united in wisdom. Which voice will we hear, and follow, as we walk down the street?
This is how the book of Proverbs imagines wisdom and foolishness – as two different voices calling out to us as we walk down the street. Proverbs is not just a collection of pithy little nuggets of wisdom (we all have our favorites…I like “better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it”1). Proverbs was made for the age of Twitter! But more importantly, Proverbs is a story about a woman named Wisdom. Wisdom is a woman, she is female (some of y’all knew that already!). In Hebrew, her name is hokmah, and in Greek, sophia.
Wisdom is contrasted in the book with the “foolish woman”2 who “is ignorant and knows nothing.3 She sits at the door of her house […] calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, ‘You who are simple, turn in here!’ And to those without sense she says, ‘stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” The foolish woman is sitting on the doorstep offering stolen bread and water to those passing on the street, and her way leads to death.
Wisdom, on the other hand, has built her own house of seven pillars. Those of you who studied Revelation this summer know that seven is the number of perfection, of completeness, so it’s an image of a great house. She has slaughtered her animals – she offers meat on her table, along with bread and wine, with servants to wait on the guests. Like foolishness, she also invites the “simple,” but when you eat of her bread and drink of the wine she has mixed, you “lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Wisdom’s feast leads not to death but to life, the life illumined by her insight.
This mysterious woman Wisdom who calls us to her table to feast on the bread and wine that gives life…she’s mysterious. We need to know more about her. Who is she? Well, there’s more:
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…
…when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Wisdom was there in the beginning with God. Wisdom was created before Creation, the first of God’s acts, there beside God, daily God’s delight…a master worker, implying that Wisdom takes part in God’s act of creating, and Wisdom rejoiced in that Creation – in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race. We would hear this story again.
For John the gospel writer, Wisdom became the Word. In the beginning was the Word (like Wisdom), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John took the pre-existent, co-creating Wisdom from Proverbs and called it logos, the Word, meaning the key principle of God and the universe, or God’s underlying reason, idea, or logic. The key to the universe…maybe what we would call, “the meaning of life.” The Wisdom of God, the Word of God. And John takes it further, because he says something so radical no one else had ever really even thought it before…he says the Word became flesh and lived among us. That Wisdom that prepares a feast, a rich feast that leads to life, to insight….that Word of God…..takes on human life and becomes a feast for you and me. That Wisdom of God, that Word of God, is Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is the mind of God, the Wisdom of God. What does that tell you about God? What does that tell you about Wisdom? It means, at least, that the Wisdom of God is not predictable, it’s NOT logical, it’s not the same kind of Wisdom as the wise sayings of Solomon. It’s not God’s secret plan on how to become healthy, wealthy, and wise to the world. It’s the Wisdom of the cross.4 The Wisdom of the One who is immortal, above all Creation, who became mortal, taking on human flesh, just so he can be closer to you. Just so he will know, in his flesh and blood, the same pain and struggles, and joys, you face in your life. If we can know anything of God’s Wisdom, we know only love, self-emptying love. The Wisdom of the One in whom the first are last and the last are first, in whom the insiders become outsiders and the outsiders become insiders, the king whose throne is the cross, whose victory comes in defeat and whose life comes from death. God’s Wisdom is the love of the One who does not only host a meal that gives life, but becomes that meal himself.
Whoever you are, whatever songs you sing and whichever heroes you admire, whatever dreams fill your mind: hear the call of Jesus, because he’s speaking to you: you who are simple, you who are weary, you who are hungry for the mind and heart of God, turn in here! Come eat of my bread, the living bread from heaven, my flesh, and come drink of my wine, my blood, and live. Be filled with me – with my Wisdom, my Word, which is nothing more than my irrational, unreasonable love, and have eternal life, the life of eternity, right now and lasting forever. Amen.
3The contrast was illumined for me by Scott Shauf, Commentary on Proverbs 9:1-6, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2601 (accessed August 13, 2015).
4There’s not enough time to venture down this path in this sermon, but anyone interested in the Wisdom of the Cross (what Lutherans call the “theology of the cross”) should read 1 Corinthians 1-2.