The Rev. Kathi Johnson
ACTS DMin in Preaching – Core 1: Preaching as Interpretation
23 June 2017
Text: Proverbs 8:1-11
About a year and a half ago, I had the honor of walking with a family as the matriarch’s health declined and she prepared to die. My friend Vicki’s mother, Prue – short for Prudence – was 100 years old when she died, and Vicki asked me to lead her memorial service.
As we began planning the service together, Vicki brought out notes, written in Prue’s own handwriting, giving us instructions for the service. The notes were written confidently, asking us to sing the hymn “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought!” But Prue added one very specific direction for the singing of this hymn:
And that was Prue. Up until the last few weeks of her life, she didn’t drag, and so it’s fitting that she would tell us not to drag, either.
There is wisdom in these words of Prue, telling us not to drag. “Sing it,” she’s saying, “And don’t mess around. Don’t let these words about Jesus be dragged out of your mouth. Sing. Proclaim. Tell it.” There is an urgency in her instruction.
So it is, too, with another Prudence character – appearing in Proverbs chapter 8 as the woman named Wisdom. As the writer of Proverbs presents her, she’s calling out, walking all around those ancient streets - streets that were filled with people. She’s raising her voice, she’s taking a stand – she really wants us to hear her:
“You are so limited in your thinking!” She says. “If you’re lacking wisdom, you can learn from me – I am Wisdom, in the flesh!”
Why? Why should we listen to Wisdom?
She tells us why – because Wisdom speaks honorably, she always speaks up for the right, she won’t ever lie to us. Did you hear that last one? In a world that is full of lies, Wisdom won’t ever be untruthful. Wisdom will always say words that are just and true and straight as an arrow. The words of Wisdom won’t go from truth to untruth back to truth again.
Contrast this with another Woman who appears in Proverbs – the character that I’ll call Foolishness. At the end of chapter 7, we read that Foolishness leads our hearts off track, and eventually, Foolishness will cast us down, down – all the way down to a hell of our own making.
Recently, a prominent politician in Washington said that poverty is just a “state of mind” – as if, through the power of wishful thinking, the poor can improve their state in this world.
And yet, if we listen to poor people - if we listen to their stories and we hear what they have to say, we learn that poverty is often systemic and often out of their control. They may work and work, day after day – at multiple jobs – and struggle to afford a safe home, and food to eat, clothes to wear, transportation to their jobs – let alone school supplies for their children. There just isn’t enough. And to say that these people can think their way out of this situation – well, that’s just Foolishness.
So, in Proverbs chapter 7, the character Foolishness is leading people away from Wisdom, and Foolishness is seductive. Foolishness says – as the saying goes - that we can have our cake, and eat it, too, but then that we can take the cake away from our neighbor, and eat their cake, too. And in the real world – in our world – that means that many are poor, and no amount of wishful thinking on their part - or on our part - is going to change that condition.
So where, then, is Wisdom to be found?
She’s there, too. Foolishness is more seductive and sometimes is noisier, but Wisdom is there, too. Wisdom is found in people who take a stand and say, “We have had enough of Foolishness and we are going to help people eat” – and then they do just that by offering healthy meals in our local schools over the summer, when otherwise, children would go hungry. Wisdom is found in our own congregation, whenever we buy canned goods for the Co-op, or school supplies to be distributed by Lutheran World Relief. That is Wisdom.
Because, if you think about it, Wisdom walks hand-in-hand with Love. And they don’t drag – they walk side-by-side, leading us to acts of caring for our neighbor, casting aside the Foolishness of the world that says everyone can do everything on their own. Wisdom and Love say – “Not so fast – we can help, and we will help.”
If we try to understand Wisdom’s ways, we will surely learn from them, especially if we remember that Wisdom’s constant companion is Love. There is much in our world that calls us away from Wisdom, and much that calls us away from Love – but we cannot allow the Foolishness of this world to seduce us away from God’s Wisdom. Loving our neighbor depends on it.
At Our Redeemer, we are now in this long season after Pentecost. In some traditions, it’s called the “Green Season” because of the color of the paraments. But beyond simply being a color that we use during this season, it’s a color that is representative of something bigger, for the green represents growth.
And so I ask you today: In what ways can you grow over the days, and weeks, and months to come? How is God calling you to leave aside the ways of Foolishness and to follow the ways of Wisdom?