Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 CEB
Doesn’t Wisdom cry out
and Understanding shout?
Atop the heights along the path,
at the crossroads she takes her stand.
By the gate before the city,
at the entrances she shouts:
I cry out to you, people;
my voice goes out to all of humanity.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his way,
before his deeds long in the past.
I was formed in ancient times,
at the beginning, before the earth was.
When there were no watery depths, I was brought forth,
when there were no springs flowing with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
before God made the earth and the fields
or the first of the dry land.
I was there when he established the heavens,
when he marked out the horizon on the deep sea,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he secured the fountains of the deep,
when he set a limit for the sea,
so the water couldn’t go beyond his command,
when he marked out the earth’s foundations.
I was beside him as a master of crafts.
I was having fun,
smiling before him all the time,
frolicking with his inhabited earth
and delighting in the human race.
What springs to mind when you think of learning? Do you think of a classroom, of pressing facts into the fabric of your brain, hoping they’ll stick? Do you think of the first time you gave shape to something with your own hands? Do you think of the passed down stories of grandparents and the shared experiences of your elders? In all of its forms, wisdom delights in learning, and God delights in wisdom. What do we imagine when we think of wisdom? In our reading from Proverbs, she is the Wise Woman, who stands at the pathways, byways, entryways, and highways of our lives. She calls out to us, beckoning us to follow, beckoning us to pursue the wise and righteous path. When she calls us, it is not with a dour expression and stern voice but with a smiling face, inviting us to join in joyous dance. When she invites us to follow, it is a call to whirl and twirl in her wake as she swirls and sways before God and in all creation. In Greek, wisdom is given a name, Sophia, and in the early church, Sophia, the wise woman, is attributed to the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of wisdom, this part of the Trinity, calls us ever and always to understand reality from God’s point of view.
After Pentecost, it feels right to continue to talk about the presence and power the Holy Spirit has in our lives, and nothing is more fitting than how wisdom is portrayed and personified in Proverbs. The church often does not talk about the Holy Spirit as much as we should, but I even think that when we do talk about the Spirit, we do not talk enough about all the fullness of that Spirit. She invigorates the disciples, she allows us to turn from our old lives into new ones, and here in our scripture this morning, she can be found in all the places where wisdom dwells. Proverbs is our wisdom book of the Old Testament, a collection of all the shared community wisdom of Israel, written down in hopes of teaching future generations how to live their best lives as God’s children. In our reading this morning, the Wise Woman, Holy Sophia, speaks, sharing her origins and her place in God’s good creation and in all of our lives.
In the opening verses, wisdom stands at all of the avenues of our lives, beckoning us to follow at every crossroad. There are decisions that each of us faces in life, with the option to go in one direction or another. It could be something mundane like deciding whether you want to make breakfast at home or eat out somewhere like the Black Bear to savor something special. These decisions can also be the ones that change the course of our lives and relationships. For instance, maybe you have had a frustrating day, the truck wouldn’t start, so you’re now facing extra unknown expenses. Maybe you received the bad news that a close friend is sick. Now, your phone is ringing, and it's your spouse calling with one more thing to add to your emotional plate. Here you are, about to spill over in frustration and anger. At that moment, wisdom stands by at this crossroads, calling to you that there is another way. Do you listen? What does Sophia say and sound like to you? Do you hear the words of a grandparent, giving sage advice on what will happen if take out your anger on a loved one? Are the words an old sermon from a pastor reminding you to be compassionate to yourself and patient with another? God’s wisdom is always with us, and always with every human person across the span of time and the face of this earth. It is always beckoning and calling, trying to show us the right way, the life-giving way.
We see this life in the Wise Woman’s birth. In verse 22, wisdom says that the “LORD created me at the beginning of his way, before his deeds long in the past.” The verb for “created” has nuances that point to the LORD birthing and fathering wisdom, pointing to God as both the mother and father of wisdom. Wisdom has existed with God since before the shaping of the world. Proverbs goes onto to describe the shaping and forming of creation. The setting of the mountains, the very bones of the world, and the shaping of the boundaries that keep the waters in their place. God in these verses comes across as an artisan, molding and crafting creation, and all the while, wisdom is there as a child, excitedly playing around her parent as they work. God delights in sharing their work with wisdom, while she in turn delights in her heavenly parent’s craftsmanship! Wisdom is excited by creation so much, that we are told she “was having fun,” and in Hebrew, this phrase from the CEB can also mean “frolicking” or “doing cartwheels!” What fun wisdom has with God! This is not a dour and somber God, but one who is joyous and whose wisdom rejoices in us and in all of creation!
Wisdom delights in the right, in truth, in righteousness, and in knowledge. Regretfully, Christianity has sometimes had a rough relationship with learning and knowledge, along with wisdom. Somehow and somewhere it has been seen as contradictory to faith to try and learn and know and understand, but these verses today paint a different picture altogether of wisdom. She has been present with God and in the Trinity since before the world has been made. She is not something to hold us back, as she reminds us that she was brought forth and has been with God since the very beginning. It gets even better, as the Hebrew word for “brought forth” can also be translated as whirling or dancing. Wisdom dances into being, and in turn, wisdom invites us to join the dance, whirl with the rhythm of creation, the very tune set down by our Almighty God. We can trust wisdom, as we told in the closing verses of our reading this morning that wisdom delights in the human race, so we are reminded that God’s wisdom is a gift for all of us. Rather than being the opposite of faith, Holy Sophia enhances and promotes faith as we learn more about God and God’s ways.
We all share in this gift of wisdom, we all possess it. As that is what the book of Proverbs contains, after all, the wisdom of the people of Israel. They see their wisdom as being shared with them by God. They now seek to pass it on, to make the way easier and more fruitful for their children and their children’s children. Proverbs even sounds like the bits of wisdom a parent might say to a child. Listen to some other proverbs, and you will see what I mean:
“The skilled mind accepts commands, but a foolish talker is ruined” (Proverbs 10:8 CEB).
“With lots of words comes wrongdoing, but the wise restrain their lips” (Proverbs 10:19 CEB).
“Riches don’t help in the day of wrath, but righteousness rescues from death” (Proverbs 11:4 CEB).
I feel like all of these might be something we could hear today, for instance for us the wisdom might sound like, “If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” We also share things like “measure twice, cut once” or “you cannot take it with you.” These words do not necessarily sound profound, but that is because wisdom is remarkably practical as it seeks to teach us how to live better. We all have different things to share, different experiences, and different sets of knowledge. It could be how to change a tire, grow a garden, raise livestock, accounting, run a business, a college education, or even a seminary education. Wisdom delights in us and we should delight in each other. She delights in creation, so those who study creation find wisdom too. Sophia can be found in different walks of life and different experiences. She knows no barriers of race or religion or creed or custom. God has shared wisdom with all of us as God has shared grace with all of us, both are without limit and both are for our betterment.
The question for all of us is are we curious enough to find her? I shared an example earlier of standing at the crossroads of anger, but there are many other decisions out there that need wisdom’s guidance. We may have that wisdom but it may also come from someone else. Are we willing to hear it? Are we curious enough to ask for the wisdom of our neighbor? Do we only want to hear wisdom from certain people, cutting others out of the dance? Do we say someone is too young, too urban, too old, too rural, too foreign, too this, or too that to share their wisdom? Do we make ourselves dour and serious in our discipleship? Wisdom is meant to bring us joy as we are guided! Let us be curious, let us delight in learning! That is the way of our Lord, and it has been since before the beginning. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman