worship

Supper At Wisdom’s Place
Rev. Drew Stockstill
August 16, 2015 - Proverbs 9:1-6

 

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Supper At Wisdom’s Place                                                              
Proverbs 9:1-6       

Rev. Drew Stockstill
Morningside Presbyterian Church
August 16, 2015

 

I.

The invitations have been sent: To all who are simple and without sense… so I guess we’re invited. The table has been set with a seasonally appropriate tablescape. The meal will be farm-to-table: local meats, butchered by the host herself, fresh baked bread paired with a special selection of homemade wines. And theme for the evening is, “laying aside immaturity.” Wisdom is our host. Some call her Lady Wisdom, and some by her Greek name, Sophia. She promises that if we accept her invitation we will, “live and walk in the way of insight.”

It’s an enticing invitation but who is this Wisdom woman and how can a single dinner party change a person from immature to mature or take a person who has no sense and teach them to “walk in the way of insight” and what does that mean anyway? Perhaps we who are wandering along this morning should consider the flyer shoved in our hands by the girl frolicking past inviting us to the house party down the street; the table is set after all. What do we have to loose?

If you are following along in your Bible and you wander on past this passage down a few verses, you will get another invitation in verse 13, this one from a strange loud woman sitting at the door of her house. She goes by the name Folly and she too is handing out invites to a dinner, also for those who are simple and without sense, yet her invite kind of creeps us out. It’s torn and stained and the menu is pretty sketchy. It says: “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” What? Weird, and no; thanks though. Let’s stick with Wisdom’s invitation and send Folly our regrets.

 

II.

So if this little story has you scratching your head, that’s OK. It’s not like a lot of stories we find in the Bible and, really, our passage today isn’t like the rest of Proverbs. Even if you feel a bit lost, I invite you to accept Wisdom’s invitation and come and have a seat at the table anyway; those who are confused are more than welcome here, we’re going to take this from the beginning.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” OK. You’re probably at least a little familiar with that part. They are the first words in the Bible. Of course there’s more to the story of creation but this next part is not where you might expect to find it in Genesis; it’s here in Proverbs. As Wisdom pours more wine and takes her seat, she tells her version of the story of creation in Proverbs 8. Maybe you haven’t heard her version of the story. She takes a sip of her wine and begins:

 

            The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,

                        the first of his acts of long ago.

            Ages ago I was set up,

                        at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

            When there were no depths I was brought forth,

                        when there were no springs abounding with water.

            Before the mountains had been shaped,

                        before the hills, I was brought forth—

            when he had not yet made earth and fields,

                        or the world’s first bits of soil.

            When God established the heavens, I was there.

 

Did you know that? I wonder if her version of Creation will make it into the science books of little Texans? She continues:

 

I was beside God as a master of crafts.
I was having fun,
smiling before God all the time,
frolicking with his inhabited earth
and delighting in the human race.

 

Wisdom’s view of creation is so fun so full of joy. Too bad she’s rarely invited to speak and tell of the dancing and delight that existed as God was setting up the universe, wisdom as the master of crafts. Maybe we’d have more dancing and delight in our lives of worship if we valued her role in creation alongside God’s. Wisdom, first among God’s creations, the master of crafts, is made real in the Book of Proverbs.

 

III.

OK, so, when I was in middle school and high school I loved reading the Proverbs because when other parts of the Bible were confusing, Proverbs had something clear and simple to say, no beating around the bush; here’s the deal – Proverbs 26:11, “as a dog returns to its vomit so fools repeat their folly.” My middle school favorite, and not bad advice for an adolescent boy. “Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor;” that’s 14: 21 and was important to me when I started to become aware of inequality around me. By the time I was thinking about college my favorite proverb was 31: 8-9, “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” That’s kind of how the Proverbs work, little helpful bits of Wisdom you can carry with you, there when you need them.

The Book of Proverbs belongs to a genre in the Bible called Wisdom Literature. Ecclesiastes, Job and Song of Songs, all examples of wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is unique among the genres in the Bible because it’s not very concerned with the history of the people of Israel, rather with the struggles of everyday life. From how to be a good person to a wise leader; a good spouse, son or daughter, to the really big questions about death and why there’s suffering. Proverbs hands out advice, like candy on Halloween.

There’s not really a story to follow in Proverbs, it’s more of a collection of collections of sayings. That is, with the exception of the first nine chapters, they do tell a story. Many scholars believe chapters 1-9 were composed around the time the people of Israel were returning from their Babylonian exile in 538 BCE and together these chapters form a sort of frame though which to look at the rest of the parables. That frame is the image of a mother and father talking to their son who’s making a transition into adulthood. It’s almost like he’s heading off to college but before he goes they have to have this chat. They say in the first chapter, “Hear, my child, your father’s instructions and your mother’s teaching, for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.” And then they go on for 31 chapters. By the time they’re finished and he’s finally on his own it probably felt like an escape from the Babylonian captivity. The advice they give to their vulnerable and yet maturing son is really good though, pendants of wisdom for him to carry with him as he makes his way down the streets of life.

Don’t you sometimes wish there was manual to life, or a google search option to just tell us the right answer when we are faced with difficult situations? For the youth in the room, you know when people become grown-ups no one gives us a book like Proverbs as a users guide to tell adults what to do in every situation. Most of the time we are winging it and trusting the grace of God. An e-How for life would be cool though, sometimes.

But, wisdom isn’t just pendants on a necklace or pretty floral sayings on a garland; the mother and father at the beginning of Proverbs encourage their to form a relationship with Wisdom – Wisdom, the host of our feast. Through the first nine chapters of Proverbs we learn about Lady Wisdom and we also learn of Lady Folly, the strange woman whose invitation, we later discover, leads to death. The parents, naturally, urge their adolescent to resist the temptations of Folly and to accept the invitation of Wisdom. Imagine as the young man makes his way beyond the protection of his parents, they follow him, from a distance, the way the parents of the first African American children to attend integrated schools in the south followed the buses carrying their precious little ones, vulnerable in the face of all that lay ahead: hatred, danger; love, beauty.

The invitation to join Wisdom or Folly comes along at a time of vulnerability and weakness. In life, that’s a key time – when we are exhausted and stressed, questioning our worth –  that’s the time we so often feel the temptation, hear the invitation, to turn the wrong way, to do the wrong thing, to cave to old habits and give in to fears. This is the reality which the book of Proverbs understands really well: when our senses are lost and when our understanding fails, we have before us the invitations from Wisdom and from Folly, to choose what is good and mature and brings life or what is wrong, stolen, consumed in secret and leading to darkness. It’s no surprise the Proverbs emerge from just such a time in the life of the people of Israel: when they are returning from their captivity, when their communities have been devastated, their identities humiliated, and their faith and hope nearly lost. Which way do they choose?

The Apostle Paul captures this struggle so well in Romans 7 when he says, “The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.”

The people of Israel, returning home from their years of defeat and captivity are very vulnerable but they have before them the invitation to remain faithful in their relationship with God who is always faithful to us. Lady Wisdom accepts the task of helping them remember who they are in God’s story so she invites them to a feast and she invites them to reject the invitation to hopelessness and self-destruction.

 

IV.

I spent the last couple of weeks on the planning team of the Montreat Youth Conference. Over two weeks we had 1,400 high schoolers worshiping God in dynamic ways, singing fresh hymns of praise, dancing and delighting before God (mostly Presbyterian Youth). During one of the morning keynotes, the speaker, Andy Acton, showed a video from Kid President (and if you’re unfamiliar with Kid President, go home and watch all his videos on YouTube and if you don’t have a way to that we’ll watch them together.) Kid President – aka 10-year-old Robby Novak – is a YouTube sensation who gives pep talks and hands out proverbs on how to be an awesome person. In his most recent video he encourages grown-ups to take real vacations. In the video Andy shared, Kid President delivers a “Letter to a Person on Their First Day Here,” here being on earth. He says, “Today over 360,000 babies will be born and you are one of them. Welcome! This is the world. It’s a pretty cool place. There’s lots to see, smell. There’s corn dogs.”

His letter to a newborn baby turns out to be holy, delightful wisdom for any age. As he shared his wisdom it was as if the young people at Montreat and Kid President were all gathered around Wisdom’s dinner table. We are each given a chance to listen to Wisdom’s delight-filled stories of our Creation and how her play with the early humans, we all are also all given a chance to share the wisdom God has given us. While there may not be a manual for life, we do all have among us people whom God has equipped with words of Wisdom, the stories of our souls cultivated by the Holy Spirit.

Lingering at this feast the 10 year old Kid President, Robby, might also share that he has a disease called Osteogenesis Imperfects (Brittle Bone Disease) and has suffered over 70 fractures. And with his story he also shares his wisdom. He says, “some days gross things will happen. Some days awesome things will happen. Some days you’ll get ice cream. Some days you won’t. Some days your kite will fly high. Some days it gets stuck in a tree. That’s just how it is here. There’s plenty of reasons to dance. You just got to look for them.” The Kid President and Wisdom scoot their chairs back and dance. He laughs, and says “Don’t worry though. You won’t be doing this alone. You’re going to meet lots of people here.”

And here’s the truth at the heart of the wisdom he shares, it’s the truth at the heart of wisdom Jesus Christ shares –he’s also at the table of course. He keeps breaking the bread and passing it around, telling folks it’s his body broken for them. Kid President speaks the gospel and all of us at the feast take note because it’s just what we needed to hear, “You? You’re awesome. You were made that way. You were made from love, to be love, to spread love.”

Gathered at this feast are all kinds of people, wandering, lost tired, without senses, those who can’t even begin to act like they know what’s going on, and those who are pretending everything’s alright when it’s definitely not. We’re all there at this amazing feast sharing stories and somehow these stories keep pointing us back to the wondrous love of God, to take our broken lives along with the broken bread and the pouring wine around this table and make a beloved family. This is where true wisdom is to be found: in the relationships with the folks gathered around this table with Christ at its head. As much as we might want short, sweet nuggets of wisdom to answer all the hard questions, somebody to just tell us what to do, there is no product or theory or club or income bracket to solve the problems of life. In reality the answers are not found in a wisdom candy necklace, they are found in the love of Christ flowing through the relationships of those who gather for supper at Wisdom’s place.

Last Published: August 20, 2015 8:59 PM