Handsome Kyle, Chambers of Death, and Stubborn Men

Based on Proverbs 8

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Have you ever searched the original language and meaning of what your name means?

For example, the name Kyle is Gaelic in origin, and it means “fair and handsome.” My parents must have known what known what they were doing when they named me 31 years ago.

Ashley’s name means, “One who lives near the ash forest”, so obviously I win that one.

Do any of you know the meaning of the name “Sophia”?

You probably don’t, because why would you, so I’ll help you out here.

Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom.  Wisdom in Hebrew is the word Hochma, but we’ll stick with the Greek this morning.

Sophia means wisdom.

And did you notice something about the text this morning? It kept referring to Wisdom as a she.  A person.  A woman.  The ancient Israelites personified wisdom as a woman.  This is where we get the name Sophia from.

Wisdom is a woman.  This is going to go fun places, so stay with me here.

In verse 2-3, we read that Lady Wisdom calls out in the public square.

At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand;  beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud:

“To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all humankind. You who are simple, gain prudence;  You who are foolish, set your heart on it.  Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right.”

Lady wisdom, Sophia, is in the middle of the city, in the public, calling people to listen to her.

Why is this important?

Because the previous chapters give a warning against the adulterous woman, which is also “folly”, or “foolishness” personified.  The adulterous woman is in the middle of the city, in the public, calling people to listen to her.

And the writer of Proverbs has this to say the people who listen to her:

With persuasive words she led him astray:  she seduced him with her smooth talk.  All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose, til an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life…

Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.  Many are the victims she has brought down:  her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.
So don’t follow that woman!  Follow this woman instead!

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Quick aside.  Both foolishness and wisdom are personified as women here, because really, most of this ancient literature was written by men, for men, in a patriarchal sexist society.  We all know that men can be wise and men can be foolish, and men can cause people to lead astray as well.  Especially Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy (McDreamy!).

And also, I think that while the adulteress is framed as a sexual temptation, I think it’s a heck of a lot more than that.  I think it’s a metaphor for foolishness, for folly, for being unwise.  But what’s one way to get a young man’s attention?

And, finally, this text was written in a different era and culture than ours, so we’ll try working at this sexist text without being too sexist.

Okay, aside over.

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So Lady Wisdom wasn’t just there to offer a different voice to the Lady Seducer over there.  Oh no.  According to the ancient Israelites, she was much, much, more than simply that.

Sophia, Lady Wisdom, was the first of God’s creation.  She was there when God made the heavens and the Earth.

When God said “Let us make humankind in our image… male and female he created them”, Lady Wisdom was one of those characters that was there.  She was constantly at God’s side, and delighting in all that God made.

But it doesn’t just stop there.  No no no no.  The ancient Israelites even kicked it up a notch.  They were audacious enough to borrow language from other cultures and set her up as a semi-deity, as permeating all creation, as nothing short of being God’s presence “up close”.  Ancient poems from the apocrypha write that Sophia creates the world, pervades all that is, and is the one in whom God and humans meet (Tom Yoder Neufeld in Studying Jesus – Learning Christ).

According to Old Testament wisdom literature, if you want to see what God looks like, all you need to do is look at Sophia, Lady Wisdom.  God, up close, looks like a woman named wisdom.

Whoa.

But it just keeps getting more mind blowing, and hopefully in ways that are a little bit applicable to our daily lives.

So, this Old Testament wisdom literature was written about 900 years BCE.  And then, about 900 years later, this guy named Jesus came and did stuff… said some stuff… and rose from the dead.  And the early church believed that this guy Jesus was kind of big deal, kind of important…

So as they were writing letters to each other, and writing songs, and writing down the stories of Jesus, they were looking for ways to connect this Jesus guy to their Jewish story.  They believed that Jesus was not only an important part of the Jewish story, but the climax of it, the culmination of it, the pinnacle of it, and so they were looking for language and metaphors and similes and poems to express that.

And as they did this, they remembered a woman named Sophia from the wisdom literature.

And they not only borrowed the language used to describe wisdom to describe Jesus, but they also named Jesus as THE wisdom of God.

In John chapter 1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  All things came to being through him.

This is even a bigger deal when smart biblical scholars tell us that the Greek words for wisdom and word were used interchangeably in the Old Testament.   So we can say “In the beginning was wisdom”.

And then the wisdom became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Or we can read Colossians 1 as well.

The writer of Colossians 1 re-wrote a poem about wisdom to be a poem about Jesus.  He calls both wisdom and Jesus the place where “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Tom Yoder Neufeld again).

The writer of Colossians 1 fused the notion of wisdom as co-creator of the world with the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom through with which the world is being reconciled.

Jesus is described as wisdom.

This is huge for two reasons:

1)  The New Testament writers used the language to describe a woman, Lady Wisdom, to describe Jesus.

I love this.  If we understand God to be beyond gender, some of us get hung up on Jesus being a male.  So, I think comparing Jesus to Lady Wisdom addresses some of that.  But also, it fits well with what Richard Rohr says.

“Like many other people I’ve continually wondered why Jesus came to us as a man and why he chose twelve men… I think that if Jesus had come as a woman, and had this woman been forgiving and compassionate, and had she taught non-violence, we wouldn’t have experienced that as a revelation.  ‘Oh well, typical woman,’ we would have said. 

But the fact that a man in a patriarchal society took on these qualities that we call ‘feminine’ was a breakthrough in revelation.  So he spent three years teaching twelve men how to do things differently – and they almost never caught on.  And for two thousand years the men in the church have never caught on. Because we wanted a God of domination.” (In Simplicity).

I just love that.  Jesus and Lady Wisdom are in cahoots because men are stubborn and have a tendency to see themselves as a hammer and everything as a nail, and power and fear and violence and domination are not part of the Kingdom of God.

2) Second reason why Jesus described as wisdom is a big deal.

So if you want to see what God looks like, look at Jesus.

If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus.

Jesus is the center of what God is doing in the world.

This is actually one of the defining beliefs in Anabaptism.  Palmer Becker writes that there are three core values to Anabaptism. One, that Jesus is the center of our faith.  Two, that community is the center of our lives.  And three, that peace and reconciliation is the center of our work.    These three things permeate everything we believe and do.

And, when we place Jesus in in the center of our faith, we join the company of the New Testament writers who used Old Testament language of wisdom to describe Jesus.

By making the connection between Jesus and wisdom, we see that Jesus, like wisdom, is the lens through which we see faith.

The center of Christianity isn’t the Bible.  It’s Jesus.  We look through the Bible to see Jesus  (Thanks Pete Enns again).  The Bible is like a treasure map, and the treasure is Jesus.

I came across something great by Brian Zahnd about God being revealed to us through Jesus, and all the ways that helps us see the character of God.

“Once we understand that Jesus is image of God, the exact imprint of God’s nature, and the only perfect theology, we can answer some important questions about God that in the past we humans have often gotten wrong.

Does God send the storm?  No. He calms the storm.

Does God cause famines?  No.  He feed the hungry.

Does God inflict sickness?  No.  He heals the sick.

Does God shun sinners?  No.  He welcomes them.

Does God condemn the guilty?  No. He saves them.

Does God blame the afflicted?  No.  He shows them mercy.

Does God resent human pleasure?  No.  He turns water into wine.

Does God take our side in our hostilities? No.  He humanizes the other side.

Does God kill his enemies?  No.  He forgives them.

Does God return with revenge on his mind? No.  He comes with words of peace.”

I think that knowing that God is revealed in Jesus, is wisdom.  I think that feeding people and welcoming people and showing mercy and forgiving enemies and bringing peace, is wisdom.  I think that living self-sacrificial lives for the benefit of others, is wisdom.  I think that living our lives as a gift, and returning that which have been given, is wisdom.

Oh, Sophia, you lady wisdom you.  May we continue to find you, and find life.

Amen.

SCOTUS, Binders, and Cheap Mennonites

Based on Proverbs 1:1-8, 3:1-8

The book of Proverbs is for gaining wisdom and instruction, for doing what is right and fair, and for giving knowledge and discretion to the young, and the understanding of sayings and riddles.

Don’t forget these teachings, my children.  Keep them in your heart, and the Lord will surely bless you.

This is a book of life lessons.  I love life lessons.  Wisdom to keep us on the right track, the straight and narrow.

This is how we treat the book of Proverbs, right?

This is also we treat our Bibles.  We treat it like an answer book, a book of rules that God wants us to follow, like an instruction manual.  This is why people sometimes think that the word Bible is an acronym for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (They’re wrong).

If people would only just follow the Bible, then we’d all be in good shape, right?

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Let’s talk about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  Because, you know, if you log into Facebook, you saw a lot of rainbows this last week.

Some of us were excited about the court’s ruling.  Others of us not were not excited about the court’s ruling.  And still others of us didn’t quite know what to think about.

My intention this morning isn’t to declare one side right and one side wrong, but rather, to make note of how some of us use our Bibles in forming an opinion.

Someone would say, “Leviticus says this!”

And someone else would say, “But it also says this!”

But what about this verse?

But what about that verse?

But what did Jesus say?

But what did Jesus NOT say?

But the Bible clearly says!

No it doesn’t!

And so forth and so forth.  We chuck Bible verses around to prove something, usually that what we believe is right, with the hope that we can deliver that knock-out punch to end the conversation and declare ourselves the winner.

A great example of this is what one of my pastor friends posted last weekend.

I have been amazed over the last couple of days how many times my Facebook feed has been filled with people talking about the ‘sins of Sodom and Gomorrah’. My guess is they are probably referencing Ezekiel 16:49 ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor or the needy.’ – A big shout out to Richard Bage for this one.

I love it.  He can just drop the mic and walk away, because it’s my hunch that most people quoting the Bible about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah haven’t read Ezekiel in a while.  Heck, I haven’t read Ezekiel in a while.   Ezekiel’s long and boring.

But what in the world are we supposed to do? Proverbs says that this is all about wisdom and making our straight path, and there are Christians who are convinced that the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage is a national tragedy, and there are others quote Martin Luther King Jr. saying that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it is bent towards justice.

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Let’s talk about elections, because, you know, there’s one coming up.

A couple of years ago, Ashley’s aunt, who works in a high school in Winnipeg, took some of her students to an election debate.

It was a debate between local candidates, all vying to become the Member of Parliament for their riding.

She was hoping that her kids would see people debating different ideas and policies on how to make our country run better.

I talked to her a few days later, asking how it went, and she said,

“What a waste of time.  But especially one of them.  He had a binder, and when a question was asked, he would open their binder to the right section and read what was written there.  Question about climate change?  Hmmm… climate change… Our party believes this.  Question about taxes?  Hmm… taxes.  That’s under the T… Our party believes this.  My aunt said that sometimes it was painfully obvious that the guy didn’t even know what he was reading.”   By the end, all the students knew who they didn’t want to vote for.

When everything is cut and dry, black and white, it can often leave us a bit unfulfilled.  “When they ask A, you answer B.”  “When that happens, this is how you respond.”  Can all of life be reduced to simple equations?

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Let’s go back to Proverbs, our little book of wisdom that’s trying to help us live right.  Let’s take a look at what it says about money, because we loooove talking about money.  (Thanks Pete Enns for helping me out with this).

Proverbs is full of advice on how to treat money.

The wealth of the rich is their fortress;  the poverty of the poor is their ruin.   This seem simple enough.   Wealth can protect us, while poverty can make our lives a lot harder.

The wealth of the rich is their strong city; in their imagination it is a high wall.  So, is that fortress we just read about real or fake?

The wage of the righteous leads to life; the gain of the wicked to sin.  So, here is says that wealth neutral, but what matters is what kind of person you are.

And then finally, Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.  So we’re supposed to depend on being righteous, not our riches.

So… our wealth is either a fortress, an imaginary high wall, or it will cause us to wither.

Which is it?  What’s the right answer?  What does the Bible say? (Wait a minute.  This is the Bible!)?  What does God want me to do?

I think those are the wrong questions.  Because, if we treat Proverbs, or our Bibles, like a little rule book, like an instruction manual, it doesn’t work all that well.  We can’t.  Does our wealth protect us, or cause us to wither, because those seem to be pretty opposite.

The answers aren’t all that clear, are they?

It’s not about using Bible verses as a little rule book.  Not only does it not work, but it’s not wisdom.

“Wisdom isn’t about finding a quick answer to life – like turning to the index, finding your problem, and turning to the right page so it all works out. Wisdom is about character formation. Wisdom is about learning how to work through the unpredictable, uncontrolled messiness of life so you can figure things out on your own in real time.  Wisdom doesn’t tell you what to do.  It shapes you over time so when the time comes to have to think on your feet, you can make a wise decision.  Wisdom makes you fit to think for yourself when you need it.”  (Thanks Pete Enns again, as found in The Bible Tells Me So.  P. 138).

The answers aren’t clear because the answers are always contextual.

Let’s use a simple example.

If someone were to ask you the question, “Should I drink wine with my child?”, how would you answer?

Well, if the kid is 4 years old, the answer is “No.”

If the kid is 17, the answer is, “Ummm… Depends.”

If your child is 40, you say, “Sure.”

If either of you are recovering alcoholics, you say, “No thanks.”

And, if both you and your child are good Mennonites, you ask, “Well, how much does the bottle of wine cost?”

This is wisdom.  It’s not a little answer book.  It’s about character formation, so that we can make the right decision when we need to.

This is what Proverbs is all about.   Not simple answers.  Character formation.  Wisdom is about character formation.

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I’m going to make one more point about wisdom and treating the Bible like a simple little rule book.  It can get a little bit confusing, at times.   It can be hard to know what it says and what it doesn’t say.  Plus, there are much smarter people out there than us who spend their entire lives studying the Bible, and they STILL come to opposite conclusions.

Well, instead of asking “What does God want us to do?”, let’s ask, “How does God want to form us as  Christians?”  And when we ask that question, we find a really great piece of wisdom in Proverbs 3:

 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and humankind.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight

Let love and faithfulness never leave you, and you will be okay. Trust in the Lord that love and faithfulness are the way forward, and our paths will be straight.

Love and faithfulness.

And, if any of you are like me, you will know that there is no simple instruction manual for love and faithfulness.  It’s like parenting.  We’re all just winging it and hoping for the best.  There is no Staples Easy Button.  Love and faithfulness is a long, complex journey, full of highs and lows, steps forward and steps backward… But as long as we are doing our trying to be faithful to God and loving to everyone, I think that’s a good start.