"The Ways of Wisdom"
Sermon preached by Anne R. Ledbetter
May 30, 2010
Scripture - Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31

As I begin this morning, I want to remind us that all of our language about God is descriptive - metaphors for the God who tells Moses simply, "I AM WHO I AM."  We know that the infinite God is beyond our finite minds' imagining, but we search for clues to God's nature and ways in scripture...

Today we meet a little known character - Lady Wisdom.  She surfaces as a major figure in the Old Testament book of Proverbs.  In his translation The Message, Eugene Peterson calls her Madame Insight.  She stands in the busiest part of town - at the entrance to Target, outside Prices Corner, inside Christiana Mall, on the corner of 10th and Market Streets, calling out in a friendly yet urgent voice, "Listen up, friends! I've got news for you!  Money won't buy happiness!  I know the way to true fulfillment.  Seek God's realm and righteousness, not a larger home, more luxurious cars, or fancier gadgets.  There's a better way, the road less traveled.  It sounds hard and foolish, but it leads to abundance."  Would that we could find out way to Wisdom, to a joyful and meaningful life!

In a rather lengthy poem Lady Wisdom describes where she originated.  Scholars refer to her by her Greek name, Sophia; and as she tells her story, Sophia explains that she was birthed by God.  A good translation of verse 22 is "the Lord created me as the beginning of his way" as if in giving birth to Wisdom, God gives birth to God's way.[i] Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann summarizes Sophia wisdom's three claims in our text today:

Ø      she has been in creation since the beginning,

Ø      she was God's agent or partner in accomplishing creation, and

Ø      her relationship with the Creator is one of deep and endless joy;

together they rejoice in the world and delight in humanity.[ii]

But alas, Sophia has an evil step-sister, Dame Folly, and Folly also calls out to the people, enticing them to come spend time with her.[iii] As one might guess, Folly plays the loose woman, loud and lascivious, wayward and unfaithful, eager to partake in pleasure and practice deceit.  Sophia warns us that her sister is treacherous, and has led countless astray.  Many have been victims of Folly's charm, and her way leads to Sheol, or the bowels of death.


What we hear in this poem is a description the world's wisdom traditions - that there are alternate ways of living in the world - one leading to life or enlightenment, and another to death and destruction.  Unfortunately, the latter is the freeway lit with glitzy neon signs, but the former is the narrow or more hidden way, and thus we need Wisdom to guide us in the way of life.

You would think that in our 21st century world where scientists routinely send people into space, a world with medical miracles such as artificial hearts and robotic prostheses, a world where researchers are unlocking codes of human genetics, that wisdom would flourish.  But alas, human wisdom falls painfully short of Divine Wisdom.   Consider the ready evidence....

This Memorial Day weekend we remember those soldiers who have died in service to our country.  Some in this sanctuary suffered the loss of a loved one in WWII, others bore the death of someone dear to them in our nation's conflicts in Korea or Vietnam, and still others may have lost a brother, sister, son or daughter, friend or classmate in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, war continues, and though we may not witness the regular unloading of coffins at Dover Air Force Base, we as a church remember this war's cost in human lives by listing the names of the fallen in the back of the bulletin each week and urging prayers for their families.  It is sobering, and indeed tragic, to read the names of these young men and women whose lives have been extinguished by war.

These past two weeks have sent us on a thermal roller coaster ride with the temperature hitting a near record 90 degrees on Wednesday and a cool 58 degrees Friday night.  And the Dow Jones has given us a similar hair-raising ride -Monday fall 227 points the first three days of the week, jumping back 285 points, and falling 122 points on Friday.  For the non-mathematicians that's a loss of 64 points, and the worst May since 1940. [iv]

No surprise then, of continued speculation and fear that the European markets may still crash.  After our government has sought desperately to address the economic disaster resulting in part from sub-prime mortgages, we wonder what is to come if the world markets continue to slide precipitously downward.  We are indeed a global economy, and when one member suffers we all suffer.

What about the BP oil spill?  Personally, I'm having a difficult time with the word "spill" when authorities estimate that an amount equaling 19,000 barrels of oil is gushing uncontrollably into the gulf each day.  Absorbing the news, we realize that this disaster has quickly eclipsed the Exxon Valdez.  Moreover, we are flabbergasted that corporate geologists and engineers, as well as government advisors, remain bewildered on how to stop the torrent of oil - that black gold as Jed Clampett called it, a substance to which our economy and we as consumers, are addicted, a substance that is killing birds, fish, turtles and plant life in an area covering over 4000 square miles - so far, and destroying not only a precious habitat of creation, but also the livelihood of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast.[v]

Human wisdom frequently leads us and our world astray.  Do we really think that human wisdom can wage and win wars?  Do we believe that banks (and mortgage companies) can employ unscrupulous lending practices on a mammoth scale to make money and not create havoc and suffering?  How long will we give in to our dependency on oil ... to the point where we destroy our natural resources in the Gulf, Alaska, and other parts of the world?  The stakes are high, and corporate America deludes us into valuing money more than anything else.

We need Sophia, God's Holy Wisdom, to show us the right road, God's way.  For we continually lose our bearings, wandering off the narrow path that leads to life, that road less traveled, and forever finding ourselves on the wide and well-worn path that leads to ruin.  So it has been throughout the ages, as people turn their back on God's way and seek their own path only to discover that self-indulgence does not lead to fulfillment, self-interest does not lead to happiness, and self-preservation does not lead to peace.  Indeed, it is quite the opposite.

We need Lady Wisdom today as desperately as God's people did in ancient Israel.  If only she could show us the way.  And maybe she has.

Scripture testifies that God has sent Sophia to us, and put Wisdom in human form.  In the gospels we encounter Jesus - a remarkable rabbi and amazing wisdom teacher.  Jesus lived in opposition to the wisdom of the day, which taught that ritual purity and strict observance of the law would lead to righteousness.  Jesus taught an alternative, subversive wisdom, comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to

  • a mustard seed (something tiny, and a weed no less!)
  • a woman putting leaven into flour (note both women and leaven were impure according to Jewish law)

Moreover, he preached that the kingdom is for children - who were viewed as unimportant - in other words, the kingdom of heaven is for nobodies.[vi]

But Jesus went beyond teaching Wisdom, he embodied the Wisdom of God, living out an extravagant, inclusive love - healing the blind, raising the dead, eating with outcasts and sinners, touching lepers, Canaanites, women, and Gentiles.

Anyone familiar with Lady Wisdom in Judaism, will recognize her in the prologue of John. The gospel writer employs Sophia imagery to describe the Logos-Word.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and without him not one thing came into being.  This was language used centuries earlier for Wisdom.[vii] Jesus was both Incarnate Word and Incarnate Wisdom, and so we sing in a classic hymn, "Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word!"  Sophia and Logos are one and the same - Jesus the Christ.

In writing to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul describes the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.  He goes so far as to say that the wisdom of God is foolishness to people, because it appears in stark contrast to human or conventional wisdom.  Paul writes, "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."  A few lines later Paul wrote, "God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God."[viii]

The Wisdom of God continues to seem foolish to the world.  God's Wisdom Incarnate says, "You cannot serve God and wealth.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God."  Sophia Christ bids us to draw near and pay attention, saying, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  (For) the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."[ix]

Have you lost your way in life?  Are you aimlessly following the crowd, striving to keep up with the Joneses, cutting corners to get ahead?  Have you hit rock bottom with a perilous addiction, or developed an ulcer from a senseless job?  Perhaps it feels like your life is running you, and not the other way around.  Are you tired of the world's values and ready to explore a different measure of life?

Sophia Christ says, "I am the way, and the truth and the life."



Let us pray:


Day by day, O dear Lord, three things we pray:

To see thee more clearly

To love thee more dearly

And to follow thee more nearly...day by day by day by day by day.


[i] Debbie Blue Blogging toward Sunday May 29, 2007

[ii] Walter Brueggemann, "Preaching the Word" www.sojo.net/ptw

[iii] Kate Huey "Wisdom Calls" online article.

[iv] Online news "reputable" news site

[v] Online news "reputable" news site

[vi] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1995) pp. 80-81.

[vii] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1995) p. 108.

[viii] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1995) p. 106.

[ix] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1995) p. 81.