Monday, June 4, 2007

Wisdom to See and Hear

This is no ordinary Sunday. It is Trinity Sunday, yes, but in our gathering here to make our weekly sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving on the Lord’s Day, some are preparing to be part of the panoramic pageant of Williams College commencement, as the class of 2007 steps onto that dais and is ceremonially changed in status from undergraduates to members of the Alumni Association, with all the rights and tax-deductible responsibilities pertaining thereto.

We rejoice with you who are here for such additional high purpose today, and we’re honored to welcome family and friends of Williams seniors who have become very dear to us during their years in this purple valley. We’re honored, as well, to welcome this weekend’s baccalaureate speaker, Sri Lankan supreme court justice Shiranee Tilakawardane, a dedicated leader in the Anglican Church.

Madame Justice, in our own small way today we represent the Anglican Communion as we rejoice that you will be honored for your pioneering work on behalf of women and children, internationally.

It’s also not every Sunday when we get to hear a portion of the Book of Proverbs. It was not a frequent flyer in the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, but now that we’re using the Revised Common Lectionary we’ll be hearing it more often.

It’s a biblical book that feminists struggle with, because its voice is strongly patriarchal: in Proverbs, women are defined by their relationships with men. But what can we expect from literature that is so very old? It is in this vein that some of the proverbs set up a straw woman, the adulteress, who can bring ruin upon a man and his family (as if it could all be her fault). “Her house is the way to Sheol,” we are warned.

But there is another feminine presence in the book, a dominant presence, and we hear her voice today: this is the voice of wisdom. “Wisdom has built her house,” we hear in the chapter that follows ours today, “she has hewn her seven pillars.. she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’”

In our portion today we hear her say, “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago… before the beginning of the earth… when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there… then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…" Are these cherished words that open John’s Gospel shaped by more ancient words that we have heard this morning, from the Book of Proverbs?

In John’s Gospel, it’s the Greek idea of Word that matters, the rational order that lies at the foundation of reality. In the Hebrew worldview of Proverbs, it is Wisdom that matters. As one commentator puts it, “Wisdom requires a humble, earnest effort to hear what the other person says and a willingness to see our world in the other person’s terms.”

Oh, let us pray for wisdom to matter more and more in this 21st-century world that we inhabit.

In relations among people of differing religious faiths, and in the dialogue that people of religious faith have with religionless culture, the earnest effort to hear, the willingness to see.

In the leadership exercised by those who order our reality, in government, in the media, in education, that earnest effort to hear and that willingness to see… and courage to act upon what is heard and seen.

In our self-understanding as human beings accountable to global belonging and stewardship, not just national citizenship, wisdom must matter more and more.

And in our friendships and constantly changing family structures, the humble grasp of terms that matter, and the letting go of those that do not.

All three of our Bible readings today cause us to understand that God is active strategically in this stunningly complex world that we inhabit. Our New Testament readings proclaim the animating, revealing, guiding power of the Spirit that God pours into human hearts, the Spirit of truth that causes faith, faith that reorders all human experience, faith that welcomes and takes part in the transforming of all things, even suffering, into peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And from the Hebrew scriptures the voice we hear is wisdom calling from “the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads… beside the gates… at the entrance of the portals…” at all times, in all places, wherever we may step across a line that could change our status, change our minds, change our outlook, change our fortunes, inviting us to walk in the way of insight first and so understand, by listening to what we do not yet know, how and when and where to place our feet and our hope and our faith, so that we will be instruments of peace and truth and justice.

Word and wisdom: let the Church cherish both and train us in both, so we may always have a community that calls and empowers us to let the Word be made flesh as we pour ourselves into the world, and a community in which we may understand what happens to us when we do.