Lady Wisdom

Last week was Trinity Sunday and the lectionary handed us Proverbs 8, a gorgeous poem that describes divine Wisdom. Thoughts after the jump.

This has got to be one of the most beautiful and under-used passages in the Bible. Take a minute and read back over it. It’s on the first flap inside your bulletin. Let the rich imagery wash over you.

This is an ancient poem that personifies divine Wisdom. In the poet’s imagination Wisdom becomes a figure who raises her voice and cries out at the crossroads of town. Wisdom is older than creation itself, and was a joyful companion and co-creator at the beginning.

As Christians we’ve merged this image of Wisdom with our ideas about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the Trinity. Even though it’s Trinity Sunday, we’re not going to get in the weeds of trinitarian doctrine—a thumbnail sketch will suffice.

The Trinity, like any theological concept, uses words to try to capture an experience. Early Christians experienced God as out there, inaccessible, transcendent, insanely powerful, and they also experienced God as totally present and fully embodied in this guy they’d known named Jesus, and at the same time, they experienced God as somehow within and among themselves. I think most of us can connect with this on at least one or two levels. Maybe you’ve had a sense of holiness that is much bigger than we are—in the immensity of the night sky, perhaps. And maybe at other times you’ve sensed that this holiness is connected to something as personal as our own breath or the love we share with a partner. That experience that sometimes the divine seems one way and other times another way, that experience is what the Trinity tries to sum up. The Trinity wants its cake and eats it too. It says God is like this, and like this, and like this.

The Holy Spirit is probably the most abandoned part of the Trinity in terms of our modern spirituality. It’s definitely the most abstract of the three primary images for God.

If you have a hard time with images of God that are overly literal or concrete, the Holy Spirit might be the way in for you. We can think of it as God’s breath, given to us in the gift of life. The Holy Spirit is the power in the room when we lift our voices and all hit harmony on an old favorite song, or when we are united in prayer for someone in our midst going through a rough time. The Holy Spirit is the strength that comes from beyond ourselves when we’ve reached the end of our own rope. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows us into new relationships, that prods us into confession or forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. It is the breath of Jesus breathing within us.

And, as Proverbs tells us today, the Holy Spirit is Wisdom. We all have a gut-level sense of what Wisdom is, and the way Proverbs tells it, Wisdom was here when the world was made. Wisdom was God’s artist, drawing atoms and galaxies into their dance, forging the chains of connection that bind the deepest oceans to the tallest trees, setting in motion the processes of evolution and development. Before we were ever here, wisdom was weaving the world into its interconnected web of beauty.

But Wisdom is not just some kind of unmoved mover that created the world and has since stepped back. Proverbs claims that Wisdom is still here—crying out for our attention.

There are at least two interesting things here. One is that Holy Spirit Wisdom doesn’t seem to be a quiet, solemn thing that you can only find if you go on retreat or meditate for long stretches of time. Of course Wisdom can whisper, but it’s not her only mode of communication. She also hollers. Lady Wisdom is not particularly ladylike.

She shouts and cries out—where?—at the crossroads, by the city gates. This is the other interesting thing. In ancient cities, gates were where business was conducted. Wisdom isn’t hanging out at retreat centers or in quiet sanctuaries. She is in the thick of things—on I-5, in downtown Tacoma, in offices and courthouses and rowdy playdates, right smack-dab in the middle of our busy, hectic secular lives—that’s where Wisdom is shouting.

That’s not to say that we won’t find wisdom in quietness and contemplation, or in the grandeur of untouched wilderness, or in the hush of an early morning. John Calvin said, “Wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of [God’s] glory.”

The point today, though, is that if getting to that totally quiet contemplation is just not possible for you, you are not out of luck. Wisdom is standing right in the midst of our busy lives. In the middle of days that are too full, with too much work, to much to do, too many people—Wisdom is there, shouting to get our attention.

She’s calling, as she has been since the beginning of time, asking us to wake up, and see those sparks of glory.

The question is, are we listening? Are we listening for Holy Spirit Wisdom in our life? We don’t have to stop everything we’re doing—she’ll come to us in the midst of it—but we do have to pay attention.

Are we watching for those sparks of glory? As we listen to our partners, or our friends, or co-workers, or maybe most importantly, those people who drive us up the wall, are we listening for the voice of God? How would it change those encounters if we did? Might we hear their love which they struggle to put into words? Would we hear people’s fear, and deep kindness, and innate wisdom which we need to complement our own? Wisdom is crying out, in the people we encounter every day. Are we listening?

As we navigate our way through difficult decisions and tough situations, are we listening and watching for Wisdom? Or are we looking for the fastest solution, the path of least resistance? If we listened to Holy Spirit Wisdom, would we see new roads open for us? Would we find courage to try things that scare us? Would we move ahead in our marriages and our business and our daily work with more honesty, more hope, and a little more attention? Wisdom’s there, in the midst of all our daily work. Are we listening?

Sometimes Wisdom shouts plain as day—love your neighbor, even if you don’t want to. When there is a choice between peace and hate, choose peace, even if it’s harder. Tell the truth. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.

Sometimes Wisdom means following the old paths—taking our time, learning from our elders, stopping to ask what’s gone before, studying scripture, engaging the ancient disciplines of the church.

Sometimes Wisdom means daring something new—inviting in a stranger, striking out for new territory, doing something that no one in your family has ever done before, learning new patterns, praying new prayers, singing new songs.

No matter where Holy Spirit Wisdom points us, her promise is that we who find her, find life.

This is your challenge for the week—for your lives, really, but we’ll start with the week—listen for the voice of Holy Spirit Wisdom. Listen in the midst of your daily, busy lives. When you get overwhelmed, worn out, too busy, listen—Wisdom is calling out. Pay attention. And by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and power of the Holy Spirit, may you have the courage to follow her call.

by Sarah W. Wiles
May 26, 2013
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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3 Responses to Lady Wisdom

  1. Judy H says:

    Sarah, I think this is one of your most beautiful (among many) sermons.

  2. Carolyn Joy says:

    Amen and amen.

  3. Phil Bangert says:

    I am guilty of wanting to plagerize your sermon. Most of the time the Holy Spirit is what you might call the “main” being in the Trinity for me. Anyway, thanks

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