“Understanding & Wisdom”
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, June 16th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words from the book of Proverbs, chapter eight, verses, one thru four and twenty-two thru thirty-one.”
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 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, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, 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.
“Having heard this ancient writing let us now ask God to open our hearts so that we too might come to understand more clearly how wisdom calls out to us today.”
“Understanding & Wisdom”
Here it is Father’s Day, yet our scripture begins with the voice of a woman. Frederick Buechner, in his Blog, tells us that Wisdom is a woman. “In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman. “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,” she says (Proverbs 8:22). She was there when he made the heaven, the sea, the earth. It was as if he needed a woman’s imagination to help him make them, a woman’s eye to tell him if he’d made them right, a woman’s spirit to measure their beauty by.” Feminist and women’s right’s activist would have quite a lot to say about this point. Yet, I feel that it would be disrespectful to the fathers in our midst to push this point to its full potential today. We can leave that conversation for another time. Even with this said, I can’t help but celebrate with John C. Holbert as he speaks out regarding this moment in scripture. “Today I celebrate the delight of Lady Wisdom, who delights her God always and who sheds that delight on all of us.”
Bringing our focus back into the acknowledgment of Father’s Day in our society, perhaps we might go back to one of the early commentary’s, an earlier writing’s understanding of these verses. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary speaks of wisdom in these words. “Where there is an understanding heart, and willingness to receive the truth in love, wisdom is valued above silver and gold.” Good, honorable, fathers and mothers, whom desire to be good parents surely live by these creeds. Without these values attributed to wisdom, parents would fail more often than they already do. The wise parent, the wise father would do well to study the feminine pros of this wisdom writing. Indeed, “wisdom is something to be valued above silver or gold!” An understanding heart is a priceless gift. The willingness of any parent to receive the truth in love, shall strengthen their effectiveness exponentially, to the power of ten, twenty and beyond!
Most fathers, good ones at least, and mothers also, would recognize the wisdom of this writing as well. “…true wisdom is to realize that one cannot always control events, not to speak of the many others with whom we travel together on this earth.” The author of that sentence, Juliana Claassens, surely has spoken from experience as well as from her scholarly approach to things, as she writes her sermons. Parents, young and old, rich or poor, know all too well, through the rocky roads of parenthood, that believing we can – ‘control the events of life’ – is unreal. To believe otherwise will only lead to unwanted despair and anxiety as expectations of things continually go unmet! No, it is prudent to anticipate that all things shall not go as planned. Nor shall others follow through as agreed upon. Not to mention the people outside our daily circle of life whom may abruptly enter in and alter the course of our lives.
How often have we believed the path forward was a straight line, only to find ourselves needing to reevaluate, and make a few detours along the pathway? Jim Edlin, Professor of Biblical Literature and Languages tantalizes us with his opinion regarding how “Life can get crazy at times. In fact, for many people their lives feel more like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine.” I think we can all relate to this illustration. Yet, he teases us with a reference to a story he does not finish; at least not in the commentary in which I found his words. He authenticates his remarks by telling us that “Such is the testimony of one young woman whose story I recently heard.” Even though we do not know the details of that woman’s plight, it would not take much to come up with numerous confirmations to the truth of it. Surely, we all know ‘Life is a bit crazy, now and then.” Indeed, the journey in front of us all, shall have many unforeseen moments and obstacles. This fact is not in question. The challenge to us is this: how shall we negotiate the ever-changing flow of life?
Take for instance a moment in my life and that of my wife, Lois. We have a one car garage and a driveway only big enough for two cars… when one is parked behind the other. We needed to go out on a recent Friday evening to an event but thought it prudent to put Lois’ car at the entrance to the driveway, as she would be leaving earlier than I the next morning. So, about half an hour before we needed to leave, we went out to do just that! We no more than got into our cars and got them switched around then the wind which we had ignored, turned into Florida rain! I jumped out of my car and the rain chased me into the garage, Lois was no were in sight. The rain was coming down in buckets’ you know what I mean, hard bands of tropical like rain was upon us. Consequently, Lois sat alone in her car for about twenty minutes before I dared to venture back out with a large umbrella. In the end, we got to our destination on time, and I was well bathed by then! I suspect we could all tell a story or two, or three about a crazy time in our lives; many surely with more substance than the ‘rainy’ example I have offered up.
It can be reassuring to know that the “Wisdom” personality of God has been there throughout Creation. You did catch on during the reading, did you not, that ‘Wisdom’ goes back to the beginning of the understanding of God? In our reading it is written this way, “The Lord created me (me being Wisdom) at the beginning of his work.” And Wisdom continued throughout as clarified in verses 26 thru 31 of our reading this morning. “When God (the Creator) had not yet made the earth, when God established the heavens, I was there, and when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when the Creator assigned to the sea its limit, when marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God and I was rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” /Proverbs 8:22-31/ A theologian named Larry Broding points out for us how this writing played a role in the early understandings of God. He tells us that “…no matter how people interpret the author’s meaning of “wisdom,” there can be no doubt these passages (and those like them) were critical in the development of the Christian view for God, as three persons, three personalities.
What is truly critical for you and I, to note, is that the essence of ‘Wisdom’ is clearly within the movement of the Living Spirit of God whom interacts with us – on a continual basis. This is important for the fathers and the mothers as-well-as, all parents among us to understand. It ought to be reassuring, as wisdom is a multifaceted expression, taking in not just understanding, but continues-on with knowledge, insight, good judgment and prudence. All of which are key elements to being successful parents. Yet, I encourage us to have good sense about this, as we have only connected wisdom to parenting, in honor of Father’s Day. ‘Wisdom’, however, via the Spirit of God is available to all of humankind! Albeit, a great many people do not seem to be strongly connected to this crucial tool for effect living, especially in these times and in these places where you and I reside. Don’t misunderstand this critique easily applies to other areas of the world where an abundance of humankind resides!
One author, in her comments, points out how parenting has to do with ethics and justice. Amy Erickson tells us of her battles with this text. “One of my struggles with the text, and, I suppose, with parenting, has to do with ethics and justice.” She is not alone as I think, in modern times, these terms have been repeatedly brought up. But, unfortunately, too many of our society and that of others, is that these terms are used and misused before being ‘tabled’ into the ‘back room’ of no action!” Ethics is all about integrity and principles. Justice is about fairness, truthfulness and righteousness. And clearly wisdom is in the middle of these struggles as understanding is an essential element in grappling with the pros and cons of ethical choices. Justice, like wisdom, demands that we speak out in behalf of the rights and needs of others. We need to do more than simply collect a couple of jars of peanut butter for the hungry; we need to advocate and speak out to move others to join us in sharing a bit of our abundance with those who do not even have their basic needs met!
Regarding this discussion about the Wisdom aspect of God points us to our human need to ‘divide up’ the many and various attributes of God. Trying to put the full understanding of God into in one body is simply beyond our capability of understanding. Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, a good Presbyterian Pastor speaks to us about the significance of our God of ‘many faces’ and ‘multiple personalities’. “The point of the Trinity is that God is a God of love, love that acts for us and among us. Love that reaches out to us and seeks a relationship with us. It is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world and takes great delight in the human family.” Fathers, mothers, single parent families with all its variations and forms, all forms of parenting need to celebrate today, that God is here with us all! All the personalities of God are needed to successfully navigate and negotiate the pathways of parenthood! We lift-up ‘Wisdom’ on this day, as wisdom is that crucial aspect of parenthood that is at the core of understanding that next generation of God’s Creation. We raise up our voices in praise to God for giving fathers and mothers and all parents the capabilities to love and care for the children that they are responsible for!