Finding A Word: Listening to the Texts
March 24, 2019
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Albany, NY; Rev. Kathy Donley
I purchased this oil lamp from a woman named June Keener Wink. She created these lamps with this handle for people to carry to outdoor activities in the Berkshires where she lives. I bought the lamp when I attended a weekend workshop that she conducted with her husband, Walter Wink. Walter Wink was an internationally known scholar and theologian. He developed a method called Transforming Bible Study. He sought to engage the Bible in ways that would lead to personal and social transformation. When we gathered for those weekend sessions, June would light one of these lamps and she would invite/
encourage/cajole us into movement. She got everyone up on their feet and moving. It was like a dance, but without prescribed steps or motions. There were adults of all ages and we ranged from good to bad to plain awful in the dancing department. But eventually, June taught us to pay no attention to the people around us. June and Walter believed that this kind of physical movement, which we did for 20-30 minutes before even reading the scripture helped enhance communication between the left brain where language and logic were believed to reside and the right brain where creativity and emotion were. There are new ideas now about how the hemispheres of the brain are wired, so I can’t speak with any confidence about their theory. What I can say is that those Bible studies led to some very profound understandings and insights. We were not as interested in knowledge about the Bible – like the location of Jericho or the names of the 12 apostles – so much as in wisdom from the Bible – like Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies – that could form and transform our lives.
Information, knowledge, perhaps even wisdom seems to be on offer in all kinds of places. From talk-show hosts to newspaper columnists to self-help seminar leaders to random strangers who write comments on other strangers’ Facebook pages to self-proclaimed life coaches, there are no end to the voices clamoring for our attention. Which makes it kind of interesting that in Proverbs 1, Wisdom is a woman crying out in the marketplace. She demands attention at the places of communal life, at the sites of bustling relationships. This is not an ivory tower, theoretical kind of knowledge; this is life-giving understanding.
Where do we find this wisdom? What we are remembering this season, is that wisdom requires attention, requires listening. But listening to what? Today’s answer is listening to sacred texts, listening to the Bible. In the Bible, we have this collection of ancient stories and songs, poetry and prayers. In the Bible, we have wisdom distilled from human experience and encounter with the Divine over thousands of years.
Lady Wisdom warns us that is we do not pay attention, if we do not listen to her and gain wisdom for ourselves, it will not be there when we need it. This is why we read the Bible. This is why we offer group Bible study, why we teach our children its stories. We are storing up wisdom against the day when we need it. Yes, there are other sources of Godly wisdom. Sometimes, we seek and find counsel in the stored wisdom of another person. Sometimes, we do hear that still small voice of God in silence or in our hearts. But for centuries, God’s people have formed ourselves around the wisdom within holy scripture.
The Bible is formative, when it teaches us to love ourselves, our neighbors and even our enemies. It is formative when we hear Jesus’ admonition to forgive 70 x 7 times. It becomes transformative when life happens and we apply that knowledge. It is the way that leads to life and wholeness when our circumstances became unbearably unjust, when an enemy harms us in a way we never imagined possible, or when we find ourselves at a crossroads. If, in those difficult moments, we can draw upon the instruction stored within us, then, Wisdom says, we will gain deep understanding of the ways of God.
In today’s text, Wisdom is a woman calling out in the marketplace. Imagine her with me. Her name is Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom. Here, Sophia is a mature woman. We might call her an ancient soul. Her face is kind. Her eyes take in everything. She has the understanding that comes with experience and even with suffering, as the lines on her face bear witness. Picture Wisdom in your own mind as this mature woman named Sophia.
Proverbs 8 describes wisdom as established by God before the beginning. Before there was any watery deep, before mountains and hills, before oceans and seas, before the beginnings of the dust from which humans derive, wisdom was there. And here, wisdom is a young child. She skips along beside God, rejoicing in the universe God creates. The whale and the giraffe delight her. So do mountains and waterfalls and sunsets. She is inquisitive and exuberant and gentle. Picture Sophia in your mind as this young child.
As history moved forward from the time of Proverbs, this concept of wisdom was linked to the idea of word. And then John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That Word, of course, was a reference to Jesus the Christ, God’s wisdom in human form. Some people understand the relationship between Jesus and Wisdom to be so strong that they use the title Sophia-Christ. Picture Jesus in your mind as Holy Wisdom.
So we have three images of Wisdom – Sophia the mature woman, Sophia the delighted child, and Sophia-Christ whom we know in Jesus. Perhaps there is yet another image of wisdom that speaks best to you.
Let me invite you to imagine one more thing. Go ahead and close your eyes. You are sitting in a darkened theater. There is silence in the theatre as you wait. They say that Wisdom is appearing here today. The velvet curtain is down on the stage in front of you, but you sense that it will soon open. You wait expectantly, paying careful attention, listening. The curtain begins to rise. Watch, look, see Wisdom appear. What do you see? Is it Sophia the child? Is it Sophia the mature woman? Is it Sophia-Christ, Jesus? Look and see -- Wisdom is there.
Wisdom appears on the stage and seems to be searching the audience just for you. Then you sense that you have been found with intention. As you continue to watch, Wisdom moves down off the stage and slowly comes up the aisle to your row. There is an empty seat beside you. Wisdom slips in right next to you and looks at you with those kind, searching eyes. Listen to what Wisdom says to you right now . . . .
When Wisdom has spoken, she moves away, leaving you to wonder, to delight, to know yourself in the love of God.
You may open your eyes. If you heard the voice of wisdom just now, I invite you to pay careful attention. If you did not hear the voice of wisdom, you will not be alone. Wisdom, like many other things about God, is not something we control. Wisdom comes from God and for reasons that God only knows, may be found only when God offers it.
Sisters and brothers, our task as God’s people is to stay available, to keep listening. In an insecure world, we attend to the wisdom that is grounded in the voice of God, calling us into the way that leads to life. Amen.
Image: Divine Wisdom by Shiloh Sophia McCloud