Sermon “The Call of Wisdom”

Scripture Reading: Proverbs 8: 1-11, 32-36

Sermon for July 2nd, 2017, “The Call of Wisdom”

I’m climbing into the pulpit again this morning! For me at least, I feel like walking up to this place elevates my call and responsibility to preach, both literally and spiritually. Perhaps it’s the idea of having a specific place to worship together, to offer Holy Communion together, and to offer the sermon in this place where many pastors before me have shared their experience of God and Scripture. As I practiced my sermon from this very place this week, I started to wonder, “Is there wisdom to be found in this space?”

As the bread and cup are lifted containing the ordinary made extraordinary gifts of bread and the fruit of the vine, as we speak our prayers aloud and silently, as we sing God’s praises, as the word is proclaimed, as the church has been doing it since the time of Jesus’ first followers, again, I wonder, “Is there wisdom to be found in what we do and how we do it?”

Several people in my family and even in our congregation have noticed a little gray coming in on my beard and my hair. Some of them say you’re getting so wise, I respond, “You’re just saying I’m old.” Others will say, “You’re getting so old” and I’ll remind them I’m just getting wise,” so which is it? Is wisdom only found in those with gray hair and a few years behind them? Is it really about age and maybe experience? Again, I wonder, “What is wisdom? Where is it found? Can we learn it? Do we have it?”

We find plenty of examples of wisdom throughout Scripture. King Solomon of Israel asked not for money, or glory, or a long life, but for wisdom. Paul taught about it, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise; understand what the will of the Lord is” (from Ephesians 5: 15-17). Jesus was said to be full of wisdom in the Gospel of Mark and Luke tells us that he grew in wisdom rapidly (Luke 2: 40; 52). Jesus also told the disciples in Luke “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21: 15). We also have the book of Proverbs that describes wisdom and living wisely.

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Sophia, Holy Wisdom Icon. 1860

Wisdom calls out to us according to the author of Proverbs. It’s not that we find wisdom or attain wisdom; it is Wisdom that calls out to us. Our response? We listen to the voice of Wisdom. We often think of the wise as those who have experience and years behind them. Maybe we think of those who have obtained power or influence as wise. Could it be that it’s something we carry with us? And maybe it’s not so much what we say, but how we are present to God and one another?

Many of us think of the wise as those who have gained knowledge. We might think of professors from college, authors, researchers, etc. If there’s one thing I have realized time again, I cannot gain enough knowledge to keep up. There are plenty of moments when I am reminded that I really don’t know much of anything, places where I lack in knowledge. It doesn’t mean that I stop pursuing knowledge and grow through my study and learning, but it’s not the end goal in life. Wisdom is different. It’s not something found in a book or a class or a career.

There is a difference between gnosis and sophia. Both are Greek words. Gnosis means knowledge, while sophia means wisdom. The early teachers and writers in Christian history pushed back against what’s known as Gnosticism, a way that had it’s grounding in knowledge and proclaimed that Jesus was only spirit, not really flesh. In the pushback against Gnosticism it also seems like we have lost sophia, or Wisdom. She calls to us according to Proverbs. She, being Wisdom, is often described in feminine terms. I know what some of you are thinking, “See I told you,” is creeping into the minds of the women in this church right now. Proverbs is poetry and the chapter we heard this morning is a poem of praise. Wisdom in Hebrew is a grammatically feminine noun, but there could be more truth to that than just grammar and maybe I’m wise enough to know not to push too hard against the feminine nature of this word.

I heard the story once of an angel that appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior, the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom. “Done!” says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them and says, “I should have taken the money.” There is a difference between gaining knowledge and being gifted wisdom.

The Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr, is an author and teacher I go back to again and again for his deep insight and teaching. In his book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, he wrote, “Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth. Wisdom is a new, different way of seeing and knowing the “ten thousand things”. I suggest that wisdom is precisely the freedom to be truly present to what is right in front of you. Presence is wisdom! People who are fully present know how to see fully, rightly, and truthfully.”

This speaks to the later part of our reading from Proverbs Chapter 8, “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” It’s about simply being in the presence of Wisdom.

Fr. Rohr continues in his book, “Presence is the one thing necessary for wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep (1) your heart space open, (2) your mind without division or resistance, and (3) your body not somewhere else—and all at the same time! Most religions just decided it was easier to believe doctrines and obey often arbitrary laws than the truly converting work of being present. Those who can be present will know what they need to know, and in a wisdom way.”

I greatly appreciate his three points to keep our heart space open, keep our minds without division or resistance, and keep our body not somewhere else. He’s essentially saying, be present and to be present we become open and to become open we begin to listen. “Listen to my instruction, blessed are those who listen to me, for those who find me find life,” we read in Proverbs.

There’s a quote by columnist and author Doug Larson that says, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.” This past week, I had the chance to speak to my spiritual director who I have been with for almost two years now. She is a Sister of St Benedict and has been a spiritual director for years. I left this week thinking what wisdom and insight she shared with me about my own spiritual journey, then I realized, she really didn’t say much. She listened, asked a couple of questions, and pointed out the place that God was present in my life when I didn’t fully realize or appreciate it. I don’t always trust the voice of Wisdom deep within me, I question, I doubt, I just assume it’s something else; there are many times I need the help of my spiritual director to listen. And that’s the key, the secret, and the call; to be present and listen together.

During the next few Sundays in July, we’re going to begin a series where we look into the lives of the heroes of faith. Next week, Pastor Steve will help us consider what it means to look for a hero, then we’ll begin looking at the lives of people like Abraham and King Saul, Peter and Paul, Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa. I hope that we’re able to hear Wisdom that was found in their lives and begin to learn how to experience and listen to it in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

There’s wisdom in listening for the Spirit of God. We have many things competing for our attention and we listen to many voices, but not often enough the voice of Wisdom.

We think we can attain wisdom, we can steal wisdom, we can learn wisdom, when all along, the voice of Wisdom is calling deep within you and within others. Let us listen for Wisdom’s call together, the call that’s all around us in our children and youth, in our seasoned believers and new followers. “For those who find me find life”. It’s already there. Wisdom is already within you.

As I close this morning, I want to invite us into a time of prayer using a prayer written by Teri Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor from Chicago. Let us pray:

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

Before all began,

God , Word, and Wisdom

Creating, calling,

from the foundations of the deep

 

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

From the mountain tops

Earth, fields and sea

Creating, calling

From the foundations of the deep

 

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

To those who suffer

God’s love is given

Endurance blossoms

From the foundations of the deep

 

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

Daily, God’s delight

You, me, every one

Given hope, grace, love

As the foundation of our lives

 

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

Poured into our hearts

That we may become

Christ’s hand and heart, love

As the foundation of our lives

 

Listen! Wisdom is calling!

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Proverbs 8: 1-11, 32-36

Wisdom’s Call

Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

 

32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”

 

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