The Feast of Wisdom
To You, O God, All Creatures Sing
O Grant Us Light
Scripture: Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
“The Feast of Wisdom”
Peter and I walked up the large, sweeping staircase in Barmakian Jewelers. A small, tastefully lettered sign pointed the way: “Diamonds and wedding bands: second floor.” I was as jumpy as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We had made the decision to get married, and buying the engagement ring was the next step in making it official. I was a wreck. Here I was, forty years old and never married, and I was planning to finally tie the knot with a man I had known for just over a year. I was having a little trouble getting my head around this whole engagement thing. Some friends gave us a bottle of wine for an engagement present with a label attached that read: “This is for your fifth anniversary.” “Who said anything about a fifth anniversary?” I said. “We’re just getting engaged here!” As we climbed the stairs I kept wondering: “Is this going to be OK? Are we doing the right thing? Is this a wise decision? Are there any church members shopping in Barmakian’s today?”
We signed the list and sat down to wait for a salesperson to call us. Soon, a woman in her late fifties with bleached blonde hair right out of a bottle and hands covered with flashy rings called our names. I scowled. As the daughter of a jeweler, I know what jewelers were supposed to look like, and she didn’t fit the bill. But she extended her hand toward us and said “Hello, my name is Sophia, please follow me,” and she turned to lead us across the thick pile carpet toward a small office.
“Did you hear that,” I hissed to Peter as I clutched his arm “her name is Sophia. Sophia. It’s a SIGN from God!” I started whispering excitedly about how Sophia was the wisdom figure from the Old Testament, and a goddess of wisdom figure in some cultures, and that she was an important image of the wise old woman, in the Biblical narrative Lady Wisdom, Sophia, was a gift to all who followed her guidance.
“It’s a blessing!” I exclaimed, digging my fingers into Peter’s arm. Peter looked at me as if he was seriously reconsidering this engagement thing. To be reminded of Sophia at that important juncture in my life was enough to calm me down enough to take the next step in living out my decisions. Sophia was the last person I expected to meet in Barmakian Jewelers as Peter and I took a leap of faith, but she was just what I needed.
Sophia, Greek for wisdom, is a unique personification of wisdom in Hebrew literature. As one biblical scholar puts it “The wisdom tradition deals primarily with the human search for insight concerning how to conduct life successfully. This tradition concerns itself with the structure of the created order as God designed it and how to conform oneself to that order.” Following the ways of Sophia, or wisdom, assures that we will avoid “moral disaster” as we move toward well-being.
Wisdom is not information, or intelligence, or even experience, but a combination of all of these things and more that leads us to a certain way of knowing. And old saying goes “a wise person is made, not born.” As Barry Schwartz says in his TED talk on Our Loss of Wisdom, “The good news is you don’t need to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom brilliance isn’t enough- and brilliance without wisdom is as likely to get you and other people into trouble as anything else.”
Lady Wisdom is connected with God’s actions in creation, for in Proverbs she is described as one of God’s first acts, before God created the earth. In Proverbs 8:30 she is described as “a master worker,” one who delights in the human race and has left her mark on their development. The Sophia wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures has a thread of connection with the development of wisdom Christology, with John referring to the preexistent Christ as Sophia: “In the beginning was the word…” There is a sense, in the wisdom tradition, that we are all called to engage in the way of wisdom, the one who guides our decisions and life choices so that they might be life-giving.
The Book of Proverbs is attributed to King Solomon, who though not always wise, certainly understood that wisdom was something to be valued. Early in his reign, he has a dream, where God asks what Solomon most wishes for. The reign of Solomon marked a new phase in the life of the people of Israel. His father David had brought the kingdom to a new level of stability. Unlike previous kings, Solomon did not come to power through his charismatic qualities or feats of bravery. When his father King David was on his deathbed, he put the finger on Solomon, choosing him as his successor. Those in positions of power had not been in on the selection of Solomon, so he knew he had to earn the trust and respect of the people.
God comes to Solomon to ask what he wishes for at this important moment in his life. Like other ancient stories of the genie who grants three wishes or the fish who promises to give the fisherman anything he desires if he will throw the fish back in the water, we have a story of someone whose character is revealed by what he wishes for.
Solomon may have wished for power or success or riches or fame, but he doesn’t. Instead, he wishes for one thing: wisdom. The ability to make good choices, the ability to tell the difference between something that is life giving and something that erodes, diminishes, or corrupts life. “Give me wisdom,” Solomon said. His request was pleasing to God.
As we listen in on this conversation between a young king and God, we can’t help but be touched by his wish. Solomon looks at the great kingdom his father has built, and he thinks of his father’s dream to build a temple for the arc of the covenant. He knows that his job will be a difficult one, and he wants wisdom.
When we stand at any major crossroad in life, when a big transition is about to occur, if we have any sense at all, we wish, we hope for the blessing of wisdom. You may wish for many other things, but perhaps the most important desire is for wisdom. You hope for the capacity to assess your life, your choices, and your own character with honesty. You know that your decisions are important and that God gives you the freedom to choose one thing or another. You hope your choices are congruent with the abundant life God envisions for you and that your choices will bring life not only to you but also to those around you. You pray for wisdom.
Alyce McKenzie explores the biblical understanding of wisdom in her book Preaching Biblical Wisdom in a Self-Help Society. She writes: “The sage’s counsel comes from varied contexts: field and king’s court, hearth and home. It represents a pool of advice on how to be successful in the most important arena of life- not in dieting or investing, but in being faithful to God, the source of wisdom for living both in the safe harbors and the high gales of our day-to day lives.” (P. 20) McKenzie also points out that in the book of Proverbs wisdom is described as “the way,” implying the wearing down a path by patterns of behavior, “the tree of life,” indicating health that comes from living deeply rooted in God, and as “the art of steering.” This last image “…drawn from a set of steering strategies based on ancient Egyptian methods of navigating the Nile River by pulling the ropes on one’s boat. Wisdom is ‘learning the ropes.’” (McKenzie, p. 21) Wisdom helps you to steer through challenging passages.
OCBC is at one of these turning points in its life. In this Interim period, you are asking for God to bless you with wisdom. In the House Meetings over the next few months you will be sharing your hopes, dreams, fears, concerns for the future. You will wish for many things, some of them feasible, some of them not. And above and beneath all of your wishing, hoping, and visioning, you are trying to listen for God’s wise voice in the midst of all of your sharing. That wisdom will help you examine your desires carefully to see if they align with God’s desires for this church in this place.
In the book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom, or Sophia, builds a house and spreads a feast that is so rich and sumptuous that it is not to be imagined. Everyone is invited to this abundant, generous feast. The implication is that God does not withhold this life-giving way of knowing, but rather offers wisdom to us in generous portions. God longs for us to be wise, and to make wise choices. As OCBC is moving toward its future, envisioning its ministry and selecting a new pastoral leader, God is busy setting a table of wisdom in the midst of this congregation and inviting you to partake through thoughtful discernment. And just as I was reminded that day in Barmakian jewelers, Sophia, wisdom, will show up when we least expect it, to bless our choices and to help us live into a future overflowing with life abundant. Sophia will show up and say: Please, follow me. Amen.