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Sun, Feb 09, 2020

At the Crossroads

Duration:17 mins 3 secs

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 8, verses 1-8 and verses 19-21, and then continuing with chapter 9, verses 4-6. Within the Book of Proverbs, we find two different styles of instruction. What is most familiar to many is the series of short sayings, admonitions, and exhortations that comprise the latter half of the book. However, the initial nine chapters of Proverbs are more poetic and appear to reflect a teacher addressing students. Our text for today from this first section and is a poem about the nature of wisdom. In true poetic fashion, wisdom “speaks for herself” as she calls everyone on the way to listen. Let us hear this Word of God.

1 Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
5 O simple ones, learn prudence;
acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
6 Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
7 for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.

19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
along the paths of justice,
21 endowing with wealth those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.

9:4b To those without sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

A few months ago, during a visit to Brandon Wilde for our quarterly communion service there, I shared a story about wisdom that the residents seemed to enjoy. As that is our topic for today, I thought I would share it with all of you.

There once was a man who set out to find his fortune by making a long journey to a certain wise hermit. Along the way he met a starving wolf, a beautiful unmarried woman in distress, and a dried-up tree growing beside a river. A kind man, he promised to ask the hermit’s advice for them as well.

Upon arriving at the hermit, the man fell at his feet and asked, “Wise sir, how can I find my fortune?” The hermit, not happy to be disturbed from his solitude, told the man, “Your fortune is asleep. Go home and wake it up.” Then true to his word, the man asked wisdom for the wolf, the woman, and the tree and was given answers to those questions as well.

Hurrying home, he advised the tree that it was dry because there was a pot of gold buried beneath blocking its roots. The tree begged him to dig up the gold, which he did. Having no use for gold, the tree offered it to the man, who refused saying he was in a hurry to get home and wake up his fortune.

The man continued on his way and found the woman in distress. He reported to the woman that she was lonely because she had not met a kind companion. The woman, realizing the man’s kindness, asked him to marry her, but he refused, saying he had to race home and wake up his fortune.

Finally, the man came upon the wolf sleeping in the sun. He woke up the wolf and explained how he had dug up the gold and spoken to the woman. The wolf asked, "What did the hermit say about my fortune?" The man replied, "The hermit said you should find a foolish man and eat him and you would never be hungry again." So, the wolf, now wide awake, ate the man.

That particular story is a folk tale from Armenia. It is a humorous look at what it means to be wise and foolish. So often in these stories, the wise man is a hermit who lives by himself in the forest or alone at the top of a mountain. Somehow the wise person has achieved a special knowledge in their solitude. And from this position he dispenses short, pithy statements of wisdom to those who make a long journey seeking enlightenment. The foolish man, on the other hand, is often one who lacks of common sense, who cannot see things the way they really are, and who misses the opportunities given to him in life. In this case, the fool wakes up the wolf who will devour him. Yes, the wise man and the fool are classic types found in many different folk tales and they are always good for a laugh.

So, it is interesting to note that in our text for today, that wisdom is presented not as some “thing” a person attains alone in the woods or on a high mountain peak. Wisdom is not a pithy phrase to be memorized or even to be posted on Twitter or Facebook. No, here wisdom is personified as a woman. And this woman stands at the crossroads or at the gate of a city. She calls to those who are passing on the way to heed her words and learn from what she teaches. She declares:

To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. … I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.

It is fascinating to me that wisdom sits not somewhere distant and removed from life, but is present here in our midst, calling out with a vision of a good and noble life. But perhaps that is why it also seems so hard to hear wisdom’s call these days. For there are so many things crying for our attention.

Our world seems something like a “college campus activities fair.” Did you have one of those at your college? At Davidson each campus organization, fraternity and eating house, and club had their own table. With cookies, candy, and enthusiastic upperclassmen they all tried to entice or encourage freshman to sign up for their particular group. The options seemed endless and those were only the officially recognized campus organizations. There were also hall parties, dorm meetings, trips into Charlotte, town activities, and all the other things that happen on college campuses. I remember it was quite a struggle to find those things I truly wanted to be a part of because of the infinite options crying out for my attention. And today, with the rise of media and social media it is much, much worse.

In the midst of this cacophony, wisdom cries out. On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates of the town, at the entrance of the portals, wisdom calls, trying to make her voice heard above the din and commotion of all the other competing claims. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” Calling above the crowd, she appeals to everyone. Anyone who stops and listens may hear her words and become wise.

Now, we should admit that kind of open invitation is not the case with all kinds of wisdom. My brother is a professor of Computer Science at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Years ago, when he was working on his PhD, I remember him showing me a paper that he was going to present at an international computer science conference. This conference was a big deal so we were excited for him and eager to read the paper. When Mark handed the paper to me, I began to read the title page. But unfortunately, the only words I understood and recognized on the whole page were my brother’s name. His paper was written not for those, like me, who use the computer for writing sermons, e-mail, social media, and internet searches. No, it was a paper written for those with great wisdom and knowledge in the field of computer science. Through no fault of his own, his wisdom created a barrier to a novice trying to understand his work. We have had the same problem and experience in our conversations when I start throwing around big theology words. Wisdom has a tendency to create special classes of people who share specialized knowledge.

That actually became quite a problem for the church in the early centuries. A branch of Christianity developed in Egypt and North Africa that claimed to have special wisdom or knowledge from God, a unique and private set of teachings by Jesus. Access to this private revelation could be granted only to a few. It could not be shared with everyone because common people were not worthy of this “wisdom.” Yet, this branch of Christianity, called the Gnostics, argued that without extra wisdom one could not be saved and thus salvation would be restricted to the elite few. The Church eventually recognized that secret revelation was not the good news of the gospel. No, echoing Proverbs, “my cry is to all that live,” the church declared that its “good news,” its wisdom, was open to all.

For, my friends, the heart of Christian proclamation is not some secret kept on a high mountain. It is not a hidden gem one must seek at the end of a long journey. No, the heart of Christian proclamation is the cross. To proclaim the message of the cross is to insist, as scholar Bruce Fisk writes, “that God has used the grisly death of Jesus to inaugurate a new age of salvation.” And thus wisdom, or we might better say “salvation,” depends on Christ, who is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It is Christ who still calls on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates of the town, and at the entrance of the portals for all to come and follow him.

To heed Christ’s call and to respond to the wisdom of God is to risk placing our very selves – heart, mind, soul, and strength – at Christ’s disposal. It is to trust with all our hearts in the goodness of God. It is to reason with all our intellectual powers so we might faithfully hear God’s call in this minute and this day. It is for our souls to be united not only in life, but also in death, with one who is faithful always. It is to devote our last ounce of strength to serving God and others instead of ourselves.

My friends, the false calls and the lies of the world threaten to overwhelm us. But, if we seek wisdom, we need not journey to a distant land or a deserted place. We just need to open our ears and our hearts to listen for wisdom’s call. At the crossroads of life, in a quiet voice amidst the din of fools, God speaks to us the only word that is finally and ultimately true: Jesus Christ died for you and for me. Yes, you are loved.

Heed that call. Trust that promise. Be wise as you live in faith, hope, and love.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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