A Sermon on Wisdom

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The following is a sermon based on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31.  I share it with you because of the response it received in my congregation.  I hope it stimulates some thoughts and actions in you. 

We are going to begin with a question this morning – a fill in the blank.  And I am looking for responses so after I give you the question just go ahead and shout out your answer if you have one.  Okay, here is the fill in the blank question, “In the beginning God created, . . .what?” 

We go to the book of Genesis and quote those familiar words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” Yet this morning we are going to learn that the Bible bears witness that before the heavens and the earth, there was something else that came forth from God – Wisdom.

Before the heavens and the earth God brought forth Wisdom.  In addition to being the first creative act of God, Wisdom in the Hebrew language is feminine.  And I don’t think there is any man here who wants to argue with the idea that the first act of creation is a wise woman.  This idea of the female presence being the first creative act of God is what is possibly behind the famous painting of Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel where God reaches out a finger to give life to the inert Adam.  As you can see in the crook of God’s left arm there is a woman – Wisdom - who accompanies God in this creative activity.  Before Adam and Eve.  Before the sun and the moon. Before the mountains and the oceans. Before the birds of the air and the fish of the waters, before anything else was created – God brought forth Wisdom.   And since Wisdom in the literature of the Hebrew Bible is most often associated with age, Wisdom’s early existence authenticates her wise reputation.

Of course, behind all the theological questions that dwell behind this imagery of Wisdom being the first created entity along with its feminine qualities, is the question of what is Wisdom for us and what does it mean for our lives?  What does it mean for us to possess Wisdom and to make wise decisions? 

Well this description about Wisdom we have read this morning appears in the book of Proverbs which was a book meant to help the youth of its day achieve success in life and avoid all the snares and dangers that life has. It is an optimistic book, in that it finds order in the world, which a person can know and in knowing benefit from it.  Proverbs like:

            Whoever belittles another lacks sense.

                        But an intelligent person remains silent. 

Or this one

            Rash words are like the thrust of a sword,

                        But the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Wisdom for us is the perspective and insight to how life works.  Wisdom is about paying attention to life.  Wisdom is a propensity to see things clearly, to discern right from wrong.  Wisdom is about making good choices that enhance and empower life for ourselves and for all others. And it is an ability to see through the façade of those who use religion or politics for personal gain.  Wisdom is about how to make it through life the best that we can for ourselves and with all whom we are in relationship with.  As one scholar wrote:

Wisdom is a deposit of reflections upon human experience, the trivial along with the ultimate, both superficial and profound.  Wisdom is rooted in the soil of life; truth springs out from the earth.  (IDB, p. 860)

One of the most important things for us to learn from our reading this morning is that Wisdom is not limited to a single group of people.  Though the words about Wisdom are in our sacred text, the insights of Wisdom are not limited to us alone. In our reading Wisdom says of herself, “To you, O people, I call and my cry is to all that live.”    The voice of Wisdom which calls out from the very depths of creation is a voice that is intended for all to hear – whoever lives has the opportunity to hear the call of Wisdom’s voice. 

Sadly, there are places in the world which limit the voice of Wisdom only to its particular sect, its particular grouping in life.  If the church is to be wise it must remember what Wisdom says of herself, that her cry is to all that live.  In her book, Christian Doctrine, Shirley Guthrie writes:

If the Christian faith claims to speak the truth, it must have some correspondence with the truth we can learn from the natural sciences, philosophy, modern psychology, and the attempts of artists to grasp the mystery of life . . . God is not the prisoner of the Christian church.  We must expect God to be present and at work also outside the sphere of those who know about and depend on Christ and the Bible.  (Feasting, p. 28).

We can hear the voice of Wisdom in the church, and in a moment we will talk about where we hear that voice so clearly . . . we can hear the voice of Wisdom in the church, but the church is not the border of Wisdom’s work.  As Wisdom says she calls to all who live.  In my office, there is a small poster that I have had hanging in my different offices for a number of years.  It is the words of Mahatma Gandhi, not a Christian, but a Hindu who did have deep respect for Jesus.   The poster is of Gandhi’s seven deadly social sins and they are words of Wisdom.   He says that the deadly social sins are:

Politics without principle.  Wealth without work.  Commerce without morality.  Pleasure without conscience.  Education without character. Science without humanity.  And Worship without sacrifice.  .

The voice of Wisdom, of how things work to enhance life for you and all others, is a voice that cries out to anyone who will listen.  We can hear the voice of Wisdom in the laws crying for equal justice for all.  We can hear the voice of Wisdom in education calling for everyone to understand that development of the human mind is foundational to humanity’s well-being.   We can hear the voice of Wisdom calling out in the world of business, imploring us to remember that all workers deserve a fair wage for an honest day’s work.  Wisdom is to be found in the church, but the church is not the border of Wisdom’s work. 

And we learn that from the one who is the church’s guide in pursuit of Wisdom, our Lord Jesus himself, who the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Corinth, is the very Wisdom of God.  We learn from Christ the way we as his people are to live.  We learn from both his wise words and his wise actions.  His wise words:

            Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

            Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

            Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

            In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. 

            You who is without sin cast the first stone.

Wise words and wise actions – eating with anyone who wished to set at the table with him, touching the leper, welcoming the outcast, washing his disciple’s feet, forgiving those who mistreated him.  In the church we hear the voice of Wisdom calling out to us from the words and life of Christ. 

Wisdom is about learning how to live in this world in a way that enhances life for you and for all others.  Wisdom is about seeking the truth of the universe in how we should live in relationship to others and even to creation itself.  Wisdom calls out to all who will listen as her voice is to be found throughout time and space. 

Have you heard the voice of Wisdom calling to you, it calls out from the very fabric of creation to all of us.  I remember hearing her calling very clear to me when I was in boot camp with the Marines, laying there in the rack at night when the voice of the Drill Instructors rested for the day, she spoke in my ear and asked me what kind of life did I want to live – one where I focused on self and all that I might have or one when where I focused on service to others and what joy could be found there.  I made a choice that night I heard Wisdom speak to me and I am glad I did.   Wisdom came and sat beside me on the mourner’s bench too, first when I lost my brother Earl and later when my brother David died.  She just sat there with me at first, offering the wise silence of someone who had been around from the beginning, but then Wisdom, she spoke, and reminded me that life has no guarantees, no day is promised to us – so everyday should be lived to its fullest in love and grace and acts of reconciliation and peace.  And that if we can live that way even our mourning shall be turned into dancing.   Wisdom was present at the birth of my children and she has spoken to me throughout their lives reminding me that there is no more important role I play in life than the role of their parent.  That my parental responsibility to love unconditionally and help guide them through life doesn’t have a time frame on it, when I decided to be a parent it was my role for all my days.  Wisdom came and spoke to me this week when one of my former parishioners came up to me and said that they had a drawer full of notes taken from sermons he had heard me preach and that he still went back and looked at those from time to time.  Wisdom told me that there is no word spoken that is unimportant and if people are going to give listen to what I say, I better have something worth saying.  Wisdom has spoken to me out of the dark recesses of my life, when I have battled times of darkness and depression, and she reminded me that the light shall shine again, that there will be laughing and dancing and joy in life once more even after the difficult days. 

Wisdom has come and sat beside me in life and spoken just what I need to hear.  My deaf ear and dull mind have not always heard her, but when I have my life has been blessed. 

Have you heard the voice of Wisdom calling in your life?  You might hear her voice hear in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning in a word spoken or a song sung, but it is by no means the only place.   Wisdom, she will call to you when you watch the sunrise and remember life’s beauty and that the day is to be spent as a gift from the One who breathed life into the universe.  She will call to you in your successes and failures of life to learn what you can from both the good times and the struggles.  She will call to you in the marketplace reminding you that despite all the advertisements that say differently, the actual necessities of life are very few and life’s real meaning isn’t to be found in what we own but in how we love. 

Wisdom calls to all and she calls to the church reminding us of the expansive nature of God’s love, that our role isn’t to draw a circle so close that others are kept out, we are to open our arms so wide that others feel accepted and wanted.  Wisdom calls to us telling us that in a world full of the prejudice and selfishness of Lady Folly, we are to be people of inclusion and service to others.  Wisdom calls us to learn from our past, serve others in the present, and set a course of love and grace for the future.

In the verses right after our reading for this morning, Wisdom continues to speak and this is what she says:

And now my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.  Hear instruction and keep wise, and do not neglect it.  Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting besides my door . . .

For whoever finds me finds life. . . .

Wisdom is calling – she is calling to me, to you, to us.  May we listen and find life.  Amen.