This sermon preached in Trout Lake, WA at First Presbyterian Church on 5/26/2013.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Let us pray: O God of the Heavens, only you have true wisdom. We see as through a shaded mirror or antique glass. You—You O Lord, have crafted the stars. How are we to understand you in the face of such might? Illumine for us your message for us today, we pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Isaac Asimov, sometime mid to late last century, wrote, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” This trend continues to this day.
Proverbs as a whole entreats us to seek wisdom, not knowledge. I am astonished at how much I have to learn in order to come even close to being wise. For example, being a relatively new parent, the more I try to figure out how to be a good one, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Perhaps realizing this is the kernel of the beginning of wisdom-at least in that area! At least, I can hope! The same is true for professional undertakings. Higher Education is a good and wonderful thing. Graduate school can take us far down the road towards professional competence in a given field; but it cannot substitute application in the real world working in the field-and with other people no less!
I have been an itinerate substitute preacher now for about eleven years, and the more I experience different church contexts around our presbytery and meet congregations-and the individuals that have given of themselves to keep their churches alive, the more I realize seminary had some holes in its curriculum! But is that wisdom or knowledge?
Even in the area of Bible Study, where I’m supposed to be well-trained, there are still surprising things that come up for which I have to seek help elsewhere in understanding and learning more. Proverbs 8:22-31 is a good example. Wisdom as an attribute of God is personified as a woman in our text for today. When I asked around to a few of my mentors about this passage, I found there are a couple really interesting translation variations in this passage. Verse 22, could be translated “The Lord created me as the beginning of his work” or “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” Verse 30 can be translated “Then I was beside him like a little child,” or it could be translated “Then I was the craftsman at his side.” Either way, we have this beautiful hymn-like section where Wisdom herself is speaking about what it was like at the beginning of Creation with God.
There is much to be said here-and perhaps linked here- to the scriptures found in the beginning of the Gospel according to John. You may recall the first verse of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then John goes on to proclaim Jesus as the Word made flesh: “He was in the beginning with God, all things came into being through him….”
And Wah-lah: here we are on Trinity Sunday, and we find the Trinitarian Godhead present from before the dawn of Time, part and parcel of the process of giving birth to Creation together, with both genders theologically and metaphorically represented. That may be a bit far out for some, but for me as an amateur student of the Bible, I find it fascinating for a couple reasons.
For those of you who are perhaps a bit more steeped in Biblical knowledge as well as the history of human kind, you might already know that for the first 80-some thousand years of human history, God-and even the pre-concept of God-as-creator was equated with the mystery of the birth of life observed in all living things- and as such was understood to be female; otherwise, how else could the Creator have brought forth life?
Here we have in our own tradition the divine feminine; and she has a voice-not only a voice, but a co-creative power present from the dawn of Creation-either as a child; or as another translation puts it, “…then I was beside him like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…”
I find it striking that in some biblical archeological temple sites, there are not one but two stones set up in the inner holy of holies. We don’t know what they represent, but we can make educated guesses. Could it be that our ancient pre-Christian brothers and sisters understood God not only to have both male and female aspects, but together have the creative force of all that is made? I imagine it must have been a simple step to take, to observe the natural cycles of birth and death upon the earth among earth’s creatures and to hypothesize that God-Creator-must mirror Creation.
It is easy to see how human beings have hungered for the knowledge of God, is it not? To not only observe and wonder, but to know why the created order is the way it is and to grasp the inner workings of the very fabric of life itself? Isn’t that what most of science today is still trying to unravel? Think of some of the current research projects: the human genome project, cloned living organisms, genetically manufactured foodstuffs, and technology that outstrips itself every couple of years. But wait a minute-now wait just a minute. We have two very different things here, don’t we? Today’s passage asks us to seek Wisdom. It does not necessarily say to seek knowledge. My Hebrew is a bit rustier than my Greek, but I suspect that those are two very different words in the original language.
What about that child-like simplicity alluded to in our passage? Just what is wisdom? The master worker – or the little child at God’s side – daily God’s delight, rejoicing always?
Perhaps, in God’s wisdom, it alludes to both. How might our reading of this text today be applied to our daily life? Let us consider that. What if, with the likeness and manner of a child-like spirit, we began to think of living in the moment? What if we put our mirrors and blinders away? What if we turned outwards to see-really see what is happening around us? What if we opened our eyes to the beauty that is all around us and, like our children’s song today, gave daily thanks to God? All of life is a gift, and all of life is precious, for all of life is a part of God’s creation even as we are.
Personally, I am not very accomplished at this myself, but I am working on it. I can see that a renewed dedication to our life purpose, which as John Calvin would say is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” can set us on the path of simplicity, of self-less-ness, of a new awareness of the Spirit’s presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us in new and wonderful ways. Perhaps that is the beginning of wisdom for us today.
Alistair MacLean, in the Hebridean Altars, wrote, “Help me to find my happiness in my acceptance of what is my purpose; in friendly eyes; in work well done; in quietness born of trust, and most of all, in the awareness of your presence in my spirit.”
Let it be our prayer that we gain the ears to hear when Wisdom speaks to us. May all glory be unto the One who lived, who died, who rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.