a sermon on Proverbs 1:20-33 for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
preached on September 16, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
We know more about our world today than ever before. Scientists are discovering things about our universe that seemed unimaginable even a hundred years ago. The giant retailer Wal-Mart handles more than 1 million transactions every hour, and the resulting databases contain 167 times more information than the Library of Congress. In 2010, The Economist magazine reported that Google processed as much information in five hours as the US Postal Service handles in a year’s worth of letters, and I suspect that the information available on the Internet has only grown larger since then. With the right equipment and a bit of expertise, we can turn to a computer or smartphone and get an almost immediate answer to nearly any question. Knowledge is everywhere and more accessible than ever before—and as the old saying goes, knowledge is power.
Yet something seems a bit strange these days. While we know more than we have ever known before, our ability and capacity to process that information hasn’t changed quite so fast. So I think there is some sort of distinction between knowledge and wisdom, maybe that knowledge is all the “stuff” we know, and wisdom is how we sort out all that information to make our world a better and more faithful place. So in this day and age, when we have more knowledge than ever before, we don’t necessarily have any more wisdom than we did, partly just because we are reasonably struggling with how to process all this information but also because we ignore the incredible gift of wisdom that we need to understand it all.
Our reading from Proverbs this morning offers us a powerful description of this wisdom and challenges us to seek it in new and varied ways amidst all the knowledge of our world. Here, Wisdom is not just a tangible thing but a person, depicted as a woman who can cry out on the street and raise her voice in the square. Wisdom doesn’t just speak in the quiet corners of the believer’s heart or even in the beautiful sanctuary of the faithful, but she offers her challenge to the world at the busiest corner and at the entrance of the city so that everyone can hear her. Her words call out to everyone:
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Wisdom demands to be heard. She alone can guide us through the challenges of sorting through our extensive knowledge amidst our quickly-changing world. She alone can offer us thoughts and words and actions that bring us transformation and possibility and hope.
Yet too often, Wisdom says, people have ignored her call to a different way. She has cried out, and so many have refused. She has offered a hand, and no one reached out. She has spoken generous advice and counsel, but it has been ignored. Instead, people have trusted themselves and missed the opportunities and possibilities that she offers.
Since people have stopped listening, Wisdom has nothing to do but simply sit back and wait and watch.
I will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you…
They will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
She hasn’t really turned against anyone but now simply leaves us to our own devices and lets us face the consequences of our actions instead of continuing the seemingly impossible battle to bring us back around.
These words from Proverbs are a stinging indictment of those who ignore Wisdom in all its forms, but we’re in church, so they surely don’t apply to us, right? Well, I’m not so sure. Amidst all the knowledge of our days, we so often think that we can sort out the best option for ourselves, without listening to the guidance of anyone or anything else. This is the core of the challenge Wisdom offers us here: she cries out in the streets, in the squares, at the busiest corner, at the city gate so that we might not just listen to ourselves but live in a different way and follow in a new path, recognizing that we don’t know everything and can’t figure it all out on our own. She longs for us to might make our relationships right and order our priorities as God intends. Her words set the tone for all that follows in the book of Proverbs—even the most quotable words offered here should impart this kind of knowledge and hope. She challenges us not to use our knowledge in the service of power but rather in the service of God and neighbor (Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., “Pastoral Perspective on Proverbs 1:20-33,” Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 4).
Wisdom is less concerned about what we say than about how we live. She seems to care less about our words that directly acknowledge God and more about how we use the many gifts that God has given us. She cares less about the particulars of religious practice and more about how we relate to God and creation. She calls for “the fear of the Lord,” not because we should shake in our boots out of worry about what God might do to us but so that we can offer righteous living that shows awe, respect, and obedience. As commentator Kathleen O’Connor puts it,
People who fear the Lord have their feet planted on the ground, see around them truthfully, and live in harmony with God and world. (“Exegetical Perspective on Proverbs 1:20-33,” Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 4)
And most of all, amidst this “fear of the Lord,” Wisdom says that we don’t—and can’t!—have all the answers! She says that we don’t need answers to the questions of life so much as we need guidance to find and live in this new way, and so she promises us exactly that if we will just listen to her.
So how can we follow in this way of Wisdom? How do we respond to her cries to listen and act? What might this new way look like in our world of information overload, where we so often struggle to make sense of even the most basic things as they become more complicated and wonder how we are to respond in the face of such changing ways?
First, I think we must listen for the guidance of Wisdom amidst all the words of our world. Sometimes Wisdom speaks loud and clear, making it impossible to miss where we should or should not go. But just as often, we are pulled in many different directions, and the best option is not so obvious. And so Wisdom demands that we listen for God’s voice amidst the din of the world, in the words of scripture, in the voices of others who walk this path of wisdom with us, even in the still, small voice of something new rising up with each one of us.
But Wisdom also demands that we not just leave things there. She says that we have to make that new way of life real and clear and here and now. She calls us to participate in her ways of listening and living that affirm anyone who will step up and join in. And so she calls us to set aside the power and comfort that we find in knowledge and instead trust in the confident gift of a new way of life from God. With this, she offers us the gifts of true security, trust, and freedom from fear. When we listen to and make Wisdom’s way of life real in our lives, the relationship that emerges opens us to a pathway of grace and hope. As Kathleen O’Connor puts it:
She will not merely lead [us], but will live with [us], reveal her thoughts to [us], be in kinship with [us]. She will accompany [us] and keep [us] secure.
And so Wisdom challenges us to walk in this new way and to trust in this new path, not by trusting ourselves or the knowledge that we can accumulate in this world but rather by trusting God and the possibilities of all that God gives us so that we can set aside all our fears and embrace our wildest dreams as we join in God’s work of making all things new.
Friends, may the Wisdom of God be real among us and show us the way to new life, now and always. Amen.