The Spirit of Wisdom
A Sermon Preached at the Larchmont Avenue Church
Rev. Julie Emery
August 19, 2012
Texts: Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15 – 20.
Be careful then, how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As some of you know, while I was away on vacation, my family and I joined my parents in celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Now there are certainly some in this room that can top that number, and some who are not far from it; No doubt each of these unions should be celebrated as quite an accomplishment in this day and age.
As my siblings and I gazed and giggled at my parents wedding pictures, we all noted how young they looked, and how young each of us felt upon our various wedding days, too young certainly to know what we were getting ourselves into; Far from wise, but so “in love” that we were willing to risk whatever might come our way to be together.
During the anniversary celebration, my siblings and I had an opportunity to say some words about what a gift my parents been to each of us. Each of us shared a bit of the wisdom we have gained from watching them: the gifts my folks have imparted, the values we have been given, the words of advice that have been burned on our hearts.
They were words like service, promise, unconditional love, patience. These were qualities that they may or may not have had when they first set out together; More likely they were things they gleaned together, through fifty years of life, sorrow, challenges and joys. Wisdom: learned and earned through their life together.
The lectionary texts this morning have a theme that runs through them like a thread. So strong is this theme that it was a struggle to choose only two of the texts; in the end leaving out the story of King Solomon as he prayed to God and asked for wisdom to rule his kingdom well, passing over Psalm 111, which reminds us that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of all Wisdom.” Each of these texts brings different nuances to a Biblical definition of wisdom, and how we might seek it.
The Proverbs passage, read just a bit ago by Deacon Geraldine, personifies wisdom as a Lady of hospitality. She builds her house, sets her table, slaughters animals and mixes wine, and then invites all to partake of the feast. As she goes out and calls to the simple and those without sense, she offers wisdom as a gift of free grace to all who might seek it. “Come,” she says, “Eat of my bread and drink of my wine…Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
All we have to do, it seems, is come to the table and feast… If only it were that easy.
If it were knowledge, perhaps so, but wisdom is a slippery thing, wisdom is different than information. In this age of technology everyone has access to that, and perhaps more than we can possibly take in. News comes to us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and not only news, but the opinions and conversations of anyone with access to an internet signal. We can listen to the innermost thoughts of pulitzer prize winners along with any average tom or mary. We can learn about disasters around the globe as soon as they happen, offer prayers or financial support almost immediately, and then follow progress for good or ill, minute by minute by minute.
But wisdom isn’t simply access to this, is it? Nor is it knowing and understanding facts and figures, politics or finance. It is not reading the Times or Journal cover to cover and understanding every inch of it. Sometimes, wisdom is knowing when not to read the paper or check your email.
Wisdom, then, is something more like discernment. Something closer to the hope of the serenity prayer of Alcoholic’s Anonymous: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Letter to the Ephesians doesn’t exactly give us a clear look at wisdom either, but instead contrasts the wise people we should strive to be with the evil world in which we live. While at first we might lean away from the writer of Ephesians, wondering about the starkness of his comparisons – (are these days truly “evil”? Is drinking wine really “debauchery”?) – when we look past the contrasts we might see the depth of wisdom in these words:
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time….So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit, as you sing and make melody, giving thanks to God at all times and for everything…”
A colleague of mine, who is preaching this morning on these same texts, had lunch this past week with a gathering of matriarchs in her church – those wise women who share friendship and faith along with recipes and the deep history of the church. At lunch, she asked them what were the most important bits of wisdom they’ve gleaned in life. Overwhelmingly they spoke about flexibility and adaptability to change or loss of control, whether in the face of a move to assisted living, a difficult diagnosis or even the death of a loved one, each of these women said the same thing: be flexible, and adapt.
This too is easier said than done sometimes. But if wisdom were easy it would not be wisdom, would it? When I imagined these matriarchs sharing their wisdom with my young friend, I thought of my own grandmother, whose adaptability helped her learn to drive a car and pump gas in her late eighties only after her husband died. I thought of the many women and men I have known, and the tragedies and difficulties they have met, and how that flexibility was essential to their ability to meet that suffering and still find joy. Maybe not at first, but eventually, with time.
For each of these whom I have known, the way toward that flexibility was a life of gratitude.
The letter to Ephesians calls the time in which it was written, “evil,” and while on the one hand we bristle, on the other we might relate. Certainly we might fall into the same description of our present age. We merely have to list off the kind of summer we’ve been having – from fires to shootings to vicious storms, these merely compound the daily sufferings we all experience: the struggles of caring for aging loved ones, economic uncertainty, broken relationships, frightening diagnoses…
In the face of such evil, Ephesians cautions against anything that does not ‘make the most of the time,’ does not, in effect, treasure creation in such a deep and tangible way that we live a life of whole-hearted, joyful thanksgiving. The admonition against drunkenness is a caution against any action that might anesthetize us to the true beauty of this very moment, this gift from God.
Perhaps it is too much wine, or consumption of food or goods merely to consume them; But perhaps it is also the way we numb ourselves behind computers or smartphones, the way we barely pay attention to the people we pass on the street; the way we are always doing more than one thing at a time, so as to prevent us from being truly present to the precious thing or person that is right in front of us.
It is no question that often the price of wisdom is the experience of loss and grief, change and suffering. But these are the things of life, they are what make us mortal, human, real. It is not only that we experience these challenges but how we experience them, the Spirit we bring to the challenges we face, that is the true gift of the wise.
“Be filled with the Spirit,” we are reminded, take the time to sing, making melody in your hearts, giving thanks to God at all times and for everything. Even when the car brakes down, even when your body can no longer keep up with the pace of your mind, even when it is time to say goodbye to the thing or person we love the most, even when our hopes are dashed and are dreams thwarted. Even then, most especially when we face the change that is the only constant of life.
Paul Tillich once wrote, “Without the experience of awe in the face of the mystery of life, there is no wisdom.” Make the most of the time that you have. Be grateful. Count your blessings. Name one thing for which you can give thanks; One thing that brings you joy. Be in awe of the mystery that surrounds you. And there you will feast on the Wisdom of God.
In the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit, Amen.