Trinity Sunday – Scripture passages are Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The title of our sermon for today – “This is Wisdom” – is not meant to point to the sermon itself. (I’ll do my best!) Rather it refers to our readings. As I was reading the four scripture passages assigned for today, and trying to choose one to preach on, I said to myself after reading each passage, “this is about wisdom!” All four readings tie into the concept of wisdom, comment on it, and build on it.
So “This is Wisdom” points to all four of our scripture readings. Our focus for today will be mostly on the reading from Proverbs, but we will touch on the others as well.
I think we also need to start out with a working definition of wisdom. Wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge or book-learning. There’s an old joke that says knowledge is what tells us the tomato is a fruit, and wisdom is not putting tomato in a fruit salad. I like that definition. Wisdom gives us insight beyond just facts and figures, into meaning, and purpose, and intent… insight into the mind of the Creator God.
I give thanks to God that wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge. Knowledge, education, and book-learning are good things. Personally I’d love to go to school for the rest of my life if I could afford it! But there are people for whom education and book-learning is not easy. I have a friend who can take a computer apart and put it back together… or take a car apart and put it back together!… but don’t ask him to learn how to do these things by reading a book. That’s not how he learns. Those of us who do well in school are blessed, but I thank God, God’s wisdom does not require being good at book-learning. Wisdom is available to all people, no matter how we learn.
The author of Proverbs tells us “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”. That is, the reverence of God, listening to God, taking God seriously. Wisdom requires a heart for God.
Towards the beginning of the book of Proverbs the author writes:
“Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for [wisdom’s] income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Prov 3:13-17)
Later on the author writes: “To get wisdom is to love oneself.” (Prov 19:8)
Throughout the book of Proverbs, we are encouraged, over and over again, to “get wisdom” and to desire wisdom above all else. The writer of Proverbs says get wisdom first, and everything else will follow.
So how do we go about doing this? In our passage for today Proverbs says:
“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out.” (Prov 8:1-3)
The first thing we notice in this passage is, wisdom is not hidden. Which, given how rare wisdom is in our world, may come as a surprise. But wisdom is not hiding; wisdom cries out. Wisdom makes her voice heard. The question is, who’s listening?
And then as the reading from Proverbs continues, the speaker changes: and we hear Wisdom herself speaking, saying “the Lord created me at the beginning – the first of God’s acts of long ago.”
“Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth… When he established the heavens, I was there, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep… I was beside him, like a master worker…” (Prov 8:25, 27, 28, 30, edited)
Whenever we talk about creation, the language is so poetic… and yet when we learn about the origins of our world, somehow science and poetry seem to pull us in different directions. It’s like we’re saying ‘OK, over here are the scientific facts, and over there is the poetry’. But why should the two be opposed? Many of today’s leading scientists who study the origins of the universe now believe that the ‘Big Bang’ was made up primarily of light. The poetry of Scripture agrees when it says in the creation story, “let there be light”. Proverbs says, Wisdom was there, witnessing these events, a master worker, rejoicing in the work! Verse 31 says Wisdom was rejoicing before God, rejoicing in creation, and “delighting in the human race.” (Prov 8:31)
The great conductor Leonard Bernstein once said he believed God did not so much say ‘let there be light’ as God sang it. I believe that. And I believe that’s what Proverbs is saying here. The Big Bang was no accident. It was designed. It was deliberate. And it is infused in every way with wisdom and with music and with joy.
There is an awesomeness to creation. We’ve all felt it, in those quiet moments… perhaps gazing at the vastness of the stars at night; or perhaps watching a newborn infant sleep, and wondering at this new life… when we become overwhelmed at the grandeur of God’s creation, the sheer profound knowledge that God speaks to us through creation.
I am reminded of a time long ago when I went on a church trip out to the Colorado Rockies. One morning I sat on a mountainside, looking out over miles and miles of mountains and valleys at the utter grandeur of God’s creation. You can’t help but praise God sitting in a place like that! The Rocky Mountains are so huge, and we are so small by comparison, it’s overwhelming. And as I prayed that morning I sensed the Holy Spirit whispering “Do you see all this? All this grandeur? This is nothing compared to the grandeur I’ve created in every human soul.”
This is wisdom. And this is what King David was getting at in Psalm 8 when he wrote:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, … O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9, edited)
David says we have been made ‘little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor’. This is wisdom. This is who human beings are; what we were created for – our purpose, our destiny. Where people run into trouble is when we forget we’re a little lower than God and start denying God, or playing God, or trying to take the place of God, or in some other way thinking we don’t have need of God. When our thoughts head in this direction, wisdom slips from our grasp.
David says God has given us “dominion over the works of God’s hands” – that is, all of creation – which we see in the book of Genesis when God brings all the creatures to Adam to be named. Thousands of years later scientists are still discovering new life forms and giving them names! God’s work in creation continues to this day. But the human race runs into trouble when we forget we are stewards of God’s creation, not owners; when people abuse creation, damage it, pollute it, or neglect it.
David’s words are wisdom. And there’s one more thought in Psalm 8 that often gets overlooked and that’s in verse two:
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.” (Psalm 8:2)
So often we only hear the first line “out of the mouths of babes…” and we forget the rest of the verse. Out of the mouth of a child God has founded a bulwark – a defensive wall, used in battle – to silence the enemy! David is looking forward to the coming of the baby Jesus, the Messiah!
This verse reminds me of a piece of music called A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, often heard at Christmas time. One of the carols is called This Little Babe and the text includes these words:
This little Babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise the gates of hell he will surprise
His camp is pitchèd in a stall, his bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystacks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels’ trumps alarum sound.
And the song ends by saying, “… If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.”
David’s words lead us to wisdom, to the birth of the Messiah, and to the words of the apostle Paul:
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – [the Messiah!] – through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand..” (Romans 5:1-2)
This little babe has come, and for those who believe, he has reconciled us to God through faith. This is wisdom. Salvation is wisdom, reconciliation to God is wisdom.
Justified by faith, we now have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Not through good works, not through church-y things like being baptized or confirmed – which are good things to do – but through Jesus alone we are justified, and therefore we can boast in God’s glory.
The world tries to tell us we’re believing in a fantasy – but the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah are historical facts, recorded not just in the Bible but by other historians who witnessed these events.
And Wisdom also speaks through the Holy Spirit, as the apostle John writes. The Spirit “takes what belongs to Jesus, what belongs to God, and declares it to us”. Jesus says:
“He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14-15)
Jesus is wisdom incarnate, and the Holy Spirit is wisdom in us, who guides us into truth and speaks God’s word into our hearts.
So what can we take away from all this?
First and foremost, the call to “get wisdom” and to seek after wisdom, a knowledge of God and God’s word that grows deeper and richer over time, and results in rejoicing – a deep-seated joy that nothing can shake. Wisdom is the result of being close to God, and spending time with God… and the longer we do, the greater our wisdom grows.
Secondly, wisdom surprises us. God’s wisdom turns the world’s wisdom on its ear. Who would think to send a baby to save the world? God did. God brings down the mighty and raises up the humble. God uses the small and the powerless to change the course of history. Wisdom is always surprising.
And with wisdom, even our sufferings are turned into good for us – as Paul says in Romans, “we boast in our sufferings (because) suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5) With wisdom, even the negative things in our lives are turned and used for our good.
Third, when we seek and follow wisdom we are seeking and following Jesus in the power of the Spirit. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah:
“The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might.” (Isaiah 11:2)
Wisdom was with God in Creation, was with Jesus in the Incarnation, and is with us in the Holy Spirit – wisdom, the joyful servant of the Trinity.
Brothers and sisters, seek wisdom. AMEN.
Preached at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 5/22/16