Proverbs 8:1-4 & 22-31, Romans 5:1-5
Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the birth of the Church. Emmett Eldred, a good friend of mine and a fellow member of the Church of the Brethren, described the events of Pentecost as “a room full of people with their hair on fire. And the observers watch with doubt, confusion, and concern.” Emmett uses this image to remind the church today of its call to stand apart from the world, putting God’s calls for relationship and community over social norms of cultural division, even when living in this way is met with confusion from those around us.
It is written that the Apostles “were cut to the heart” by the call of the Holy Spirit. Although the church today may not have directly experienced the call of Pentecost and may struggle to identify with the idea of calling as a violent gush of wind or tongues of fire, we too have made a commitment to discipleship. Thus we join the Apostles as following this event they ask “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37). Well friends, what should we do? How do we, as the Apostles, turn the fiery covenant of Pentecost into a daily commitment?
The scripture today depicts Wisdom, as present at creation and as calling out to all people. When first reading that, I found the idea of Wisdom somewhat daunting. Wisdom seems like an un-human possibility, or at least one that is so distant from myself so as to be irrelevant. Just like the call of the Holy Spirit, the call of Wisdom still leaves me asking, “Sisters, what should we do?”
I want you to picture Wisdom in your mind for a second. What do see? When I first read today’s scripture passages and began to think about Wisdom I was picturing wise individuals secluded from society, perhaps on a high mountain, whom one might take a mighty spiritual pilgrimage to go visit. Yet, this image of Wisdom relates as little to the Wisdom of this scripture which calls out to all people and actively shapes the world as it does to the realities of my daily life. That left me wondering, what does this biblical Wisdom look like?
In order to begin to answer this question I want to tell you a little bit about two incredible women who I have the privilege of knowing. Growing up in my Church, all of the interested middle school and high school students were matched with mentors who tended to be older members of the congregation or others who had a bit of time to set aside to getting to know us slightly unruly group of teenagers. I was very excited to find out that I had been matched with Harriet Kaylor who often sat behind my family in church and whom I had curiously admired from afar ever since she had talked in Sunday School one day about her time growing up in Nigeria. For the next few years Harriet and I would get together and whip up the most delightful cookies and then she quickly beat me in a game or two of pool. Sometimes we would take off around town with a GPS in search of the latest geocache. When I got to high school I decided to switch to a different mentor so that I could get to know another person. This time I was placed with Becky Mitchell. Becky was always introducing me to new things, taking me to gymnastics matches and spending days walking me all around New York City to make sure that we saw everything from the meat packing district, to the M&M store, to the highline. In her retirement she had started taking Spanish classes at the local college and made sure that I got a chance to meet the visiting language professors and practice my own Spanish. One time we even went zip lining although I don’t believe that that is an experience that she would be too eager to repeat.
When I think about my time with Harriet Kaylor and Becky Mitchell I think of stories of companionship between generations, of trying new things, and being a little goofy. My memories are very grounded in the world around us, that which we touched, heard, saw, smelled, and tasted. We were exploring the world together. Although there were many subjects that they knew far more about and years of education which I have not yet had, we were learning together. Although there were multiple generations between us, we were living together. So how does our living relate to Wisdom?
Eugene Peterson writes in the introduction to the Book of Proverbs in the Message Bible that, “Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. It has virtually nothing to do with information as such, with knowledge as such. A college degree is no certification of wisdom—nor is it primarily concerned with keeping us out of moral mud puddles, although it does have a profound moral effect upon us.”
He writes, “Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes towards others that make for peace. Threaded through all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God.”
In today’s scripture Wisdom cries out, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” Every day each one of us is making choices that have profound effects upon not only ourselves but all of those around us and the earth itself. We all have the power to affect. You all know the saying, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I would say, with our power comes the absolute need for wisdom. We reach for this wisdom when we seek to respond to God in our daily actions. When while realizing that we can’t know what is right, that we do the best we can and work to be better. This is what some describe as faith: choosing to act even with the appreciation of our own incomplete Wisdom.
Wisdom is described as accompanying God during creation “when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker.” Yet, in looking at other translations of this scripture I found that master worker can also be translated as little child. This new image of Wisdom is not one of an omniscience judging eye, but instead that of a little kid.
Perhaps, we too are like the small child. We have great creative power and are continually called to co-create this earth with God. Yet, we cannot forget that like a small child we must always seek to learn more about the world and about God. We must ask questions.
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his book, Between the World and Me, “I don’t know that I have ever found any satisfactory answers of my own. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old talking heads meant when they spoke of being politically conscious…As much a series of actions as state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.” Perhaps, Wisdom too is found in a process of questioning: questioning the conventional “wisdom” of the world around us in search of God’s wisdom, questioning how we live our daily lives in search of a Christ-like walk, and questioning the path of our communities of faith in search of a community fueled by the Spirit. Wisdom may then become the search for a way of life, what we should do day-to-day.
Until a couple of days ago, when a classmate and I were discussing our respective religious traditions, it hadn’t struck me how central this idea of an open, active, and learning Wisdom is to the core being of the Church of the Brethren. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” We affirm the idea of a community of believers and celebrate each individual as a revealer of God’s will for humanity. Wisdom cries out to all people. We walk together in the same direction although on many different faith paths. All see Wisdom in their questions. We live daily in the best ways that we are learning how. All are like children before God.
So again we ask, what should we do?
Let us have the courage to ask difficult questions, struggle with those posed to us, and have the faith to act as best we can in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.