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One of the great joys of parenting is seeing the world through the eyes of my daughters.
A few weeks ago, the three of us headed outside to prepare the square of dirt at the back of our yard for planting. By then the plot was riddled with weeds, especially grass that had transgressed the brick border lining my garden bed and crept into the fertile soil where my vegetables thrived last summer. I grabbed the hand tiller to begin breaking up hardened dirt and loosening the weeds. To me, this task seemed a chore. To my daughters — well, this was a novelty. Who could imagine a more delightful way to pass the time?!
The four-year-old insisted on frequent turns with the tiller, which was interesting as the garden tool is roughly her height and equipped with prongs that could have done a number on her little sister’s fingers. And Little Sister’s fingers could have easily been in the way, since she decided her job was to carry weeds to the weed pile. As I plucked the transgressors from the soil, the two-year-old would retrieve a handful with a delighted “thank you” and, then, deliver them to the sidewalk. To be fair, her dedication to the task was short-lived. Before long, Eliza decided the freshly-turned dirt was way more fun, and spent the remainder of our time rolling around in the garden bed.
The girls brought equal enthusiasm to the task of planting. When we returned to the garden a few days later, they were eager to help Mommy get the tomatoes and cucumbers and marigolds into the ground. Very eager. So, to ward off the squabbles of siblings who both wanted to do everything, I gave each one a job. After I dug out the dirt, Eliza would fetch a plant and plop it in the ground. Then Iona would fill in the hole. And so, together, the three of us worked: Scoop; plop; pat, pat, pat. Scoop; plop; pat, pat, pat. Until the tomatoes and cucumbers and all 18 marigolds had a home in our garden.
In case you’re wondering — even with our assigned jobs, this was not the most efficient way to plant a garden. Involving children under 5 is never an efficient way to do anything. But, let me tell you, it was a far more joyful way to approach the work.
Then I was beside him,
like a master worker, Wisdom sings.
And I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
Now, to be clear, my tale of garden adventures is not an analogy for creation. And I am not aligning myself with God the Parent. But I do think my girls give me a glimpse of the delight our Creator feels as Wisdom plays alongside, rejoicing before God day in and day out. I do think my girls, like all children, give us a glimpse of the delight Wisdom takes in the Created Order — in sculpted mountains, in mischievous monkeys, in the whole human race — which Wisdom helps bring to birth.
You see, according to this poem from Proverbs, Wisdom was the first act of creation: Before the beginning, when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep … Before the beginning, when the Spirit of God swept over the waters and the Divine Word said “Let there be light” … Before the beginning, Wisdom was. She was with the Creator, like a master worker, rejoicing before God. The text here in verse 30 is ambiguous. The Hebrew word your pew Bible renders “master worker” could also be translated “little child.” Scholars have made the case for both. And — I’ll admit — in this instance, I like the uncertainty. I like that Wisdom could be an architect, drafting the blueprint of creation. Or she could be a little girl, marking the boundaries of God’s garden with a scoop; a plop; a pat, pat, pat. Even better, Wisdom could be both — the artisan, the novice — who joins the Creator in the work of creation, both delighting her companion and delighting in the work of God’s hands.
And – just like an architect who rejoices in exquisite design, or a toddler who revels in arranging toys in a methodical, if curious, way — Wisdom delights in giving shape to a shapeless void. Earlier in the book, the writer of Proverbs tells us that “the LORD by wisdom founded the earth” (3:19). And, here — in chapter 8 — we see Woman Wisdom serve as the ordering principle of creation. She was there as God raised up mountains and carved out fields, as God propped up the skies and — most importantly — assigned the sea its limit. This was most important to our ancestors, at least. For, in the ancient world, the seas represented the forces of chaos; they represented the Israelites’ “deepest fears of their world being hurled into turmoil.” But, by wisdom, the Creator assigned the sea its limit so that the waters might not transgress God’s command. By wisdom, the Creator assigned the sea its limit so that chaos might be contained.
One scholar summarizes the work of creation this way: “It is by means of (a lot of) wisdom that the world becomes a habitable place, which makes it possible for people to live a good life.” This is still true, of course. The presence of Wisdom was not only necessary in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Her presence is necessary to the ongoing work of creation — to maintaining the world as a habitable place where people may live a good life. That is why Wisdom, the one who played alongside the Creator, also stands at the crossroads and beside the city gate. She calls out to passersby, urging all that live to abandon crooked paths and to walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice (8:20). Her cry echoes God’s promise of shalom — the promise of wholeness that finds fulfillment when justice and peace embrace. Woman Wisdom stands in the public square, beckoning all that live to embrace God’s vision. She invites all people to do the very thing she does — to partner in God’s creative work and to delight in a world-made-right.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In this way, Woman Wisdom sounds not only like a First Testament prophet, but also like the Messiah we have come to know through the texts of the Second Testament. The early church identified this description of Wisdom with Christ — the second person of the Trinity — and we hear echoes of Proverb’s poetry in later writings about Jesus. For instance, Colossians describes Christ as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15). And the prologue to John’s Gospel proclaims the Divine Word was central to the act of creation: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1, 3a) Sound familiar? I expect the historic alignment of Woman Wisdom with Christ is the reason the Lectionary assigns Proverbs 8 as the first reading for Trinity Sunday. But more than their shared claim to being present with the Creator at creation, it is their shared commitment to calling us toward ways that lead to life that causes me to believe Jesus embodied the words of Woman Wisdom.
Proverbs places Woman Wisdom along thoroughfares and in centers of justice and commerce, where her cry can be heard by all. For her message is for all. “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold,” she cries. “For my fruit is better than gold … and my yield [better] than choice silver” (8:10, 19). Yes, wisdom is more prized than riches. For it leads to the right ordering of human society, to the flourishing of creation. Woman Wisdom raises her voice on the heights because she wants to offer us a better way. As theologian Elizabeth Johnson puts it, “her constant effort is to lure human beings to life.”
And Woman Wisdom’s voice echoes across Scripture whenever Jesus stands on the mountaintop or along the roadside or in the temple, calling us to a better way. Saying to all who live:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6).
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29).
“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Despite the invitation of Woman Wisdom, despite the summons of Jesus Christ — humankind has chosen time and again to follow crooked paths, to walk in ways that do not lead to life. Proverbs tells us that: “The fear of the Lord (read: The reverence of the LORD) … The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7). And also that: “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.” (Prov 8:13). And, yet, the past month has made it abundantly clear that some in our nation have too high a tolerance for evil. The horrifying epidemic of gun violence, and the lack of any meaningful response, makes it feel like the forces of chaos have overrun their limits, like our own world is being hurled into turmoil.
Now, as ever, we need wisdom as the ordering principle of God’s ongoing creative work. We need the one who was present as God raised up mountains and carved out fields, as God propped up the skies and assigned the sea its limit. We need the one who worked alongside the Creator — like a little girl, marking the boundaries of God’s garden with a scoop; a plop; a pat, pat, pat. After all, “It is by means of (a lot of) wisdom that the world becomes a habitable place, which makes it possible for people to live a good life.”
The good news is that Wisdom still calls; understanding still raises 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.
She is there, calling out to all that live — if only we have ears to hear. She is there, continuing to guide human affairs — if only we seek her counsel. Wisdom is there, in the centers of commerce and justice, encouraging human beings to follow the way that leads to life. Do you hear her voice?
Perhaps her voice echoes in the testimony of Uvalde’s only pediatrician, who pleaded with members of congress this week, begging them not to look away from this horror. Maybe her voice rings in the phone calls and letters and emails of concerned citizens, some of whom have called their Senators every single day since that gunman entered Robb Elementary School. Perhaps you’ve heard Wisdom’s voice in the protests and prayers of parents and grandparents, educators and students, survivors and advocates, and outraged Americans of all stripes who are demanding an end to this bloodshed, who are calling upon our leaders to walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice.
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? Listen closely. She is there, beckoning all that live to participate in God’s vision of wholeness and peace. She is there, inviting all that live to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world, so that all creation might flourish. And you know why? … Because the Triune God rejoices in the inhabited world and delights in the human race. Like a child who runs to a backyard garden, eager to plunge little hands into fertile soil, our God revels in the garden of this world … especially in the children that grow here — each unique person, including you and me. Yes, the One who ordered the world by wisdom, cherishes the human race and wants all people to live a good life. So Wisdom calls, inviting us to participate in God’s ongoing creative work … To till the soil and pluck up weeds and carry them to the weed pile with the eagerness of a toddler. To mark the boundary of God’s garden with a scoop, a plop, a pat, pat, pat, so that everything planted there might flourish and bear fruit. Wisdom calls because God yearns for a world in which justice and peace embrace, a world in which all of us may share fully in the Triune God’s delight. May it be so.
God of Wisdom. God of Justice. We come before you this morning with so many things upon our minds and hearts. We come devastated by the violence in our country, anxious and saddened by the lack of peace in our world, and struggling with the fact of an ongoing pandemic that has caused immeasurable harm, pain and grief to countless people throughout our world. We ache for justice and fairness for all of your people and yet time and time again we see how this dream is thwarted. And, for sure, this list could go on.
And yet… and yet, O God, you assure us that there is hope if we would but listen. For there is your Word. There is your Wisdom. There is you, whom we know as God in three persons: Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Yes, even before the world was created there was you and your way and your plan which is a call to each of us. It is we who are called to be your witnesses. To be your ambassadors of peace. To be among the ones who reach out and who work for justice, peace and love.
Again, let us listen intently to the words of Proverbs, “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: To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.”
For these, and all the inspirational and revealing words of Scripture, for the gift of music, for the life and resurrection of your Son, Jesus, for the Holy Spirit and for your message of hope and your truth we are grateful, O God. We are grateful that despite the daunting challenges of this world, and of our individual lives, that you have shown us the way to meaning, to redemption and how to live our lives so as to help create the world in your image.
We pray that as we think upon your Wisdom and your call to justice and partnership, that we might shed our fear, cast off our anxiety and replace our lack of confidence with the peace, the determination, the hope and the purpose that comes only from you.
Hear our prayers this morning, our God, those both spoken and unspoken, and grant us the assurance, and the inspiration only you can provide. This we ask with praise and with gratitude in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us how to live, and taught us how to pray saying …
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give is this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.
 Juliana Claassens, “Commentary on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31,” www.workingpreacher.org.
 Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002), 87.
 Sara M. Koenig, “Commentary on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31,” www.workingpreacher.org.
 Johnson, She Who Is, 88.
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