Sermon on Proverbs 8 for Holy Trinity Sunday
Where is wisdom found? It is graduation time, and the question may be on the minds of students preparing for the next chapter of academic life. Who will we choose to be our teachers? Plus, it’s campaign season, so in that context, too, some wisdom could really come in handy for the decisions we need to make together as a country. Then besides all of that, who doesn’t seek wisdom in navigating both the big choices and daily challenges of one’s own life? Where is wisdom found?
Surprisingly, the poet of the Hebrew book of Proverbs says that Wisdom is not difficult to find. Wisdom calls out on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads. She raises her voice beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the city. These represent places of great importance for day to day life, and they are precisely where God’s wisdom is present and active. The places where commerce is conducted and where judges’ decrees are pronounced and where policy decisions that affect the common good are made: there wisdom makes herself known. Wisdom, this biblical teacher says, is not confined to mountaintops or to ivory towers. Wisdom isn’t achieved only after a long journey of hard work and determination. No, wisdom seeks to be heard and heeded in the nitty gritty of real life. Wisdom speaks in this very moment.
Further, Wisdom is not confined to one nation or one sect or even one religion. Wisdom speaks to the whole of the earth. “My cry is to all that live,” she says in that beautiful Proverbs chapter. All that live in this one interconnected web of species we call Earth are the recipients of Wisdom’s urgent message.
What does Wisdom say? The message takes different forms and meaning depending on the context of the moment, but it is consistent at its root: We cannot live without God and one another.
It sounds really quite simple, doesn’t it? Oh, but so often foolishness tells us it is possible to make it on our own, without God or neighbor. And we can, for a while. Living by and for ourselves might even seem to pay off in the short term. But it doesn’t last. It can’t. Wisdom is the way of things in God’s world. Wisdom is woven into the fabric of the universe. Wisdom is available to all; not a secret attainable by only a few. The problem is that foolishness can appear so attractive, its call to self-sufficiency, accumulation of wealth and stuff, quick fixes that avoid real relational problems. This is why wisdom must call out so boldly and persistently.
Where is Wisdom found? Just about any place you look, wherever there is a need to restore right relationship with God and neighbor. She was found, I believe, in the crowds who gathered in six continents this week to call on governments to break free from overuse of fossil fuels and abuse of the earth’s atmosphere. She was found in the Mall of America rotunda not long ago, that huge center for commerce, through the prophetic voices who gathered to insist that Black lives do indeed matter and that systems built on privileging only certain lives cannot stand in God’s interconnected and interdependent world. She was found in the advocates at our State Capitol this week seeking funding to help people who are homeless and living in poverty. She was found at the General Convention of the United Methodist Church where people of faith in that church body would not back down and will not back down from the conviction that God’s inclusive vision can never exclude people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
You see, wisdom does not deal in meaningless platitudes; she speaks into real life concerns and situations with an invitation to a life-giving, sometimes difficult, way of abundant grace. She relates to what really exists. And often she speaks through real people like us.
I think the concept of wisdom as described by Proverbs could be exceptionally helpful in our world, where many think of God, if they think of God at all, as an absentee creator who’s just waiting around to dole out punishments from time to time. Proverbs is clear that the Wisdom of God, who was present at the very beginning of creation, is still creating. Wisdom is still designing and setting limits to chaos. Wisdom is still delighting in human beings and all the inhabitants of creation.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson points out that there are a number of images used to describe Wisdom in the book of Proverbs: street preacher, life-giver, agent of justice, architect of creation, God’s darling child, butcher, vintner, sender of prophets, and compelling host.
I have to say that the image of architect is one that has interested me this week. Now, if you had asked me a year ago what architects did, I probably would have said that they sit at big drafting desks or computers and design buildings. And that’s true. But as we’ve progressed through our building renovation here at church, I have seen how architects also revise plans, work with contractors, work with committees and even present at congregational meetings, select materials, make trips to city hall, revise plans again, cut costs, paint shovels gold for groundbreaking ceremonies, and celebrate when the work is done.
What a comforting image that is for our God, especially when there seems to be so much chaos and disorder in the world around us. God, through the master craftsman and architect Wisdom, is still creating, still designing, and yes, still taking delight in human beings and the rest of creation.
In one of my favorite novels, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes the powerful love that her narrating character, 76-year-old John Ames, feels for his 7-year-old son. Rev. Ames writes this to his son: “There’s a shimmer on a child’s hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. Your hair is straight and dark and your skin is very fair. I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
That, to me, is wisdom. When we are able to find joy and wonder in mere existence, the existence of other people, the existence of creation, the existence of God, then we have listened to Wisdom’s call.
Where is wisdom found? In a lot of voices inside and outside of the church, thanks be to God. And Wisdom has come to each one of us. May we be still enough to listen, to remember that God is God, and to take delight in all that God has made.