Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Lady Wisdom, God, and Us”
Sermon, Year C, Trinity, May 26, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and John 16:12-15

I think I mentioned in the announcement time that today is Trinity Sunday. Last Sunday was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came among the people that were gathered. It is the day considered the birthday of the Church. The first indwelling of the Spirit among Jesus’ disciples. And today is Trinity Sunday when we celebrate the Trinity, that mysterious and confusing thought that has caused so much conflict in the Church over the years about how to define it. So I am not going to talk specifically on that. I was much more taken by Wisdom in that Proverbs passage that we read.

Proverbs doesn’t show up very often in the lectionary, and in the few times that it has I am not sure if I have ever preached out of Proverbs. But I was really taken by this passage this week. It spoke to me. This Wisdom, and Wisdom personified in this passage. The writer of Proverbs here makes Wisdom to be a person. Or at least a created being. At some level, Wisdom is a living entity or spirit entity. It is more than just a concept. It is something that God created. Wisdom. And Wisdom is a woman. Wisdom is female here. It is a she. And she dances and rejoices and delights in Creation. Wisdom is, in Greek, sophia. Often that is what wisdom is called, and from it we get the name Sophie. The root word is sophos from which we get other words like sophistry, sophomore, philosopher, and sophisticated, which all come out of this concept of wisdom. Though in Hebrew the word is chokmah, in Greek it is sophia.

One of the things that struck me in this passage I had not noticed before. As I mentioned, I haven’t preached out of Proverbs very often, if ever. I have read it, but I never really looked at it seriously. So it struck me this time that Sophia, Wisdom, here is mentioned as being created before anything else. And none of the other creation stories in the Bible, in Genesis 1 or 2 or any of the retellings later on, there is never any mention of God first creating Wisdom. It’s just not there. But here it is in Proverbs. The first thing God does is to create Wisdom. And then Wisdom is present through the rest of God’s acts of creation. And eventually Wisdom says that she delights in humanity. Rejoices in what God has made.

In the New Testament, the writers equated Jesus with Wisdom. Which is an interesting move since Wisdom is always female in the Old Testament, and Wisdom is often personified as female in Greek mythology and in the other Semitic ancient near-eastern cultures. Wisdom is thought to be a female thing. But the writers of the New Testament end up equating Jesus with Wisdom as part of an attempt to fit a Platonic idea of wisdom with the Old Testament understanding. Then we end up instead of using sophia, they talk of the logos, which means “the word”. And logos is the word that shows up in the beginning of John: “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Through him all things were made, and he was the light that dispels all darkness.” So you have the logos, and Jesus becomes the Word of God: God’s Wisdom. The second part of the Trinity. And unfortunately in doing that move, we’ve taken the Divine Feminine and put it under Jesus’ masculinity. And so instead of Wisdom being God’s first creation, Wisdom becomes something that has always existed with God and was not created, but was begotten. And, boy, there is a long loooong Church argument in that debate. And I am not going into that now. There are nuances of language about what it means to be co-existent and co-eternal and not made, but begotten by God. And it gets confusing and frustrating and head-on-tably obsessive with detail. We get one result of that argument in the Nicene Creed.

And by the time the Church started arguing about those things, and having these arguments over the meaning of words, the Church was a couple hundred years old and by that time the culture of the Church had become very male dominated. The female leadership by that time had just been completely pushed out of the Church. And female imagery had been lost. It became very male-centric, which is very different than in the beginning of the Church. We have been reading from Acts throughout Easter, and a lot of women were part of the leadership and supporters of the early Church. Part of the attraction of the early Christian movement was that they included women, the poor, the marginalized, and slaves, and really believed in this equality of all people. It was a very egalitarian movement, so it was very attractive to people on the outsides, or not part of the power structure. But as any human endeavor, once it got going, people felt it needed some rules and some doctrine and someone to be in charge. And as is often the case, the men decided they were the ones best equipped.

So we had all these arguments over various things, and we end up pushing out Sophia, the woman called Wisdom, who was God’s first creation and replace it with Jesus, the man of wisdom, co-equal with God which allowed them to very tightly wrap up the Trinity in the formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But I think you could, with the Proverbs passage and others, make a pretty good argument from scripture that instead of being a three-in-one, God could be a four-in-one, with God the Father, God the Mother or female in the form of Wisdom, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But that is an argument I would make another time. It is something to think about, though.

What to do with this Wisdom? This woman, lady Wisdom, who is there at creation. See if we can bring her back. Celebrate her. As she celebrates in us. We have this image at the end of that passage of Wisdom rejoicing and taking delight in the creation, and in us. And as a being of God, one could in some ways say that Wisdom also is God. And certainly in our Trinitarian formula with Jesus as Wisdom and Jesus as God, this is God delighting and rejoicing in us.

Which is a powerful image if you think about it. Because we are not always worth rejoicing. And we are not always delightful people. As individuals, and as a collective, sometimes we are pretty awful. Tomorrow is Memorial Day when we remember those who have died in our wars. I can’t think of much more that speaks to our brokenness and ability to succumb to evil than war, and sending our young men and women off to die, to be killed, or to kill. There have been other things in the news lately. Those women who were held captive for all those years recently rescued. And other stories of people being kidnaped and held for hears, being abused and tortured. You can find many stories. All you have to do is listen to the news to find out how awful we are. Though I think we are much better people than the news would have us think. Even in all of that, God delights in us. God delights in us. Not because of what we do, though I really do think we do a lot more good than we do evil. Just think of how many people are on this planet. We hear negative stories in the news partly because bad news sells. But I can’t imagine that of the 7 billion or so of us on this planet, I think every one of those people is doing something good every day, if not many acts of good. Every day. And very few are doing acts of evil.

So god delights in us, not because of what we do, but simply because of who we are. Because we are God’s people. We are made by God. We are made in God’s image. And part of being in God’s image is that we do that capacity and freedom to choose evil. But we are also a people who have available to us God’s Wisdom. Sophia. Lady Wisdom. We also have available to us this Wisdom to know what is good and exercise our ability to choose that.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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