Sunday, August 19, 2012


Homily for Proper 15 Year B 2012
Wisdom is one of the seven Christian virtues; one of the seven of what Harry Emerson Fosdick called "Christlike graces."
Wisdom is almost synonymous with humility and reverence, which mean, respectively, to know our human frame and to bow before God.  That is why Hebrew scripture says in various places (including our Psalm for today): "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (e.g., Proverbs 9:10). Not a cringing fear before a threatening God, but awe and reverence before a good and merciful God.
Wisdom, then, knows how much it does not know.  A good physician knows when to refer a patient to someone who knows more than they.   Humility and wisdom go hand in hand.  You will recall that it was Socrates who, having heard it said that he was the wisest person in Athens, canvassed the city, speaking with every citizen, looking for wisdom.  Socrates began his search saying, “I cannot possibly be the wisest person in Athens, for I do not know anything.”  He concluded his search by discovering that he was indeed the wisest person in Athens, for he was the only person in Athens who truly knew how very little he knew.
Scripture is candid about how scarce true wisdom is. "Where can wisdom be found?" it asks over and over. Where is its abode?
We live amidst an explosion in knowledge and an avalanche of information.  But wisdom is as scarce as ever.  I use my iPhone to Google an idle curiosity and almost instantly have my answer.  Siri, however, is no help in discerning what is just?  Information is bountiful.  Wisdom is in short supply.
In the book of Proverbs (a book long associated with Solomon, who, as you heard in our first lesson today, asked God for wisdom) wisdom is personified as a woman, the daughter of God.  Hochma is her name in the Hebrew or translated into the Greek, Sophia
God gave her to Solomon and has given her to us.  As we learn from her, we grow wise.  In the words of Proverbs, we hear this said of Hochma:
Do not abandon her, and she will keep thee safe.
Love her, and she will stand guard over thee.
Cherish her, and she will lift thee up. 
(Proverbs 4:5-8)

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that wisdom in Hebrew scriptures,
...needs to be understood as a serious way in which responsible, reasonable knowledge of the world and passionate trust of God are held together.1

We must fearlessly face what is real, looking truth and reality directly in the face. Wendell Berry says, "There is relief and freedom in knowing what is real."2  Berry is echoing Jesus who said, “the truth shall set you free.”
For people of faith this knowledge of what is real is joined to a passionate trust in God:  a Psalm 23-kind of trust where we trust there is a faithfulness at the heart of things, that goodness and mercy shall follow us all our days.  You have probably seen this wisdom in some wise older persons who've lived long enough to have seen it all and who have learned to trust in the goodness of God in all.  Truth and trust.
Jesus taught that wisdom is hearing and doing the word of God.  Not just hearing.  Jesus told the parable of the house built on rock: “everyone who hears and does these words of mine will be like the wise man who built his house on rock.”  Our Psalmist for today says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding” (emphasis mine).  Acting.  Doing.  
Imagine someone acting as though they have no fear of God.  What does that look like?  
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church in Ephesus admonishes the Ephesians saying: “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise.”  Be careful how you live, how you act, what you do.  Remember, actions speak louder.
“Where can wisdom be found?”  There is a reason we say “Thanks be to God” as a response to the conclusion of our lessons-- “The Word of the Lord.”  The wisdom of God is found in those lessons.  Before we can do the Word of God, we must hear the Word of God.
And, created in the image of God, the wisdom of God dwells within us.  Wisdom arises from the whole self: mind, heart and body.  Wisdom arises from where mind, heart, body, spirit dwell together.  Paul says to us today, “ not be foolish, but understand...”  To understand, to discern, requires a going inward.  Solomon was given understanding to discern what was right and wrong.
We must listen to the word of God inside us.  As we turn inward, go deep, we know when things are true, know when things are right; we know when things are false and know when things are wrong. Our minds tell us, our hearts tell us, our bodies tell us.  There is a spirit of guidance always trying to communicate to us through our minds, our bodies, our hearts, our spirit.  Paul gives direction:  “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”    Not a belly full of wine, but a belly full of the Holy Spirit.
Recently there was a pop song, in heavy rotation on fm radio, in which the singer, Jamie Fox advises the object of his affection that whatever she says and does should be blamed on the a-a-a-a-a-a-al-co-hol.  People are known to do stupid things when drunk.  “Don’t be foolish,” Paul says.  Be wise.  Act under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
We thirst for wisdom. We need to hear the word of God and we need to act accordingly.  And so, to that end, we come together, like patrons of a pub bellying up to the bar, we gather here to seek wisdom together.
Some people go to church looking for answers.  And, there are some churches ready with the answers. Some people go to church looking for a place they can ask their questions.  Ours is such a place.  All of us are searching for something deeper. They, we, are seeking wisdom.  And so, when we gather, we bow in awe and reverence before God and do as Paul suggests, sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks.  It’s a beginning.
1Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), p. 140.
2Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), p. 68.
3Wendell Berry, Standing by Words (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983), p. 200.