Street Wisdom: Master Worker Not Miracle Worker
The First United Presbyterian Church
“Street Wisdom: Master Worker, Not Miracle Worker”
Rev. Amy Morgan
September 2, 2018
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.
9 They are all straight to one who understands and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. 12 I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. 14 I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength. 15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.
17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity.
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.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth--
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.
15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.
16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
There’s an island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. There’s nothing noticeably feminine about it. There are restaurants and shops, vacation homes and hotels, beaches and a small port where the Ultramar ferry spills out tourists every half hour.
Those tourists are greeted upon arrival with a cacophony of solicitations. People offering scuba tours, trips to a turtle sanctuary, and golf cart rentals call out to them. People selling jewelry and scarves, hats and little bobble-headed animals cry out “Mira! Mira!” “Look! Look!”
Having traveled to this island numerous times, I walk past them all with a polite, “no, thank you,” treading the familiar path to the hotels, restaurants, shops and beaches I know will serve me well. Experience, and guidance from local Mexican friends, has given me the street smarts to navigate Isla Mujeres, to book hotels for mission groups, to negotiate with vendors and keep more money in my pocket.
These are the fruits of Lady Wisdom, who, the book of Proverbs claims, is standing right alongside those noisy solicitors and vendors, calling to us on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads…beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portal. “Mira!” cry the vendors. Learn prudence; acquire intelligence calls Wisdom. “I’ll give you the best price!” shouts the tour director. I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength, calls Wisdom.
This image of Wisdom in these public spaces, these places where we expect to find many voices competing for our attention, urging us to desire what they are selling, is the complete opposite of how we often think about wisdom. Wisdom is not sitting with the sages in ivory towers. She is hawking her wares alongside golf carts and sunglasses. Her cry is to all that live, not exclusively the elderly or the young, the wealthy or the poor, Christians or Jews. Wisdom is not the exclusive purview of any religion, philosophy, class, race or gender. No, Wisdom’s call is universal, and her availability is infinite.
So it is a wonder that so few people avail themselves of her offer.
We readily answer the calls of those promising us entertainment and happiness, status and power. We listen to those offering us the good life, or the real truth, or best deal. We heed those selling us success and confidence and control.
And in all those voices, the cry of Lady Wisdom is lost, drowned out, or even ignored.
Because what Wisdom offers is not knowledge as power. It is not personal or professional advancement. It is, instead, something that has very little commercial value in our society. It cannot be commodified or used for capital gain. Wisdom cries out to us, enticing us with prudence, discretion, fear of God, righteousness, justice, and peace.
A few years ago, NPR did a segment on how parents were raising their children to reflect their values. It focused on the values of “goodness” vs. “success” in parenting. Most parents interviewed for this story claimed they wanted to raise their children to be “good.” They valued compassion and kindness, and they wanted them to be healthy and generous and loving. But what the interviewers found is that most parents, even those who were committed to raising “good” kids, were actually more focused on raising their kids to be successful. When push came to shove, they encouraged their children to stay home and study for the big test instead of joining the rest of the family in serving at the soup kitchen. They placed more emphasis on good grades and hard work than on rest, healthy life habits, and sharing.
The voices clamoring to offer us success drown out the voice of Wisdom, calling us to goodness.
Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, says that “The Bible shows no interest whatsoever in abstract knowledge – that is, knowledge abstracted from goodness…Israel was not interested in any form of knowledge that is abstracted from the concrete problem of how we may live in kindness and fidelity with our neighbors, live humbly and faithfully in the presence of God.”
Wisdom, as she is presented in Proverbs, is concrete, practical. It is “street Wisdom,” guiding us through our personal, public, and cosmic existence. That “street Wisdom,” calling us to goodness and faithfulness, is what we will be exploring over the next several weeks as we hear Lady Wisdom’s voice through the ancient sages of Israel in the book of Proverbs.
In this morning’s selection, we’re going to see how Wisdom applies not just to our individual lives, but also to the order of communal life and to the cosmic order of creation.
In Proverbs, Wisdom claims that by me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly. Note the important caveat at the end of these verses. “All who govern rightly” reign with Wisdom and decree what is just. Those who govern rightly, who govern with Wisdom, lead with prudence, discretion, fear of God, righteousness, justice, and peace.
Wisdom is in our political space, just as she is at the crossroads and in front of the town gates, calling to those who govern. But her voice must compete with all those selling personal gain, professional advancement, success and status. These Proverbs were written long before the advent of our representative democracy, before it was conceivable to choose your own leaders. In a government that is, at least in theory, “by the people,” we all require Wisdom in order to govern rightly. The responsibility is not solely on our elected leaders, but on us who elect them, to engage Wisdom in our politics, to listen for her voice in this sphere of our lives. We are called by Wisdom to vote for those leaders and policies that will help us “live in kindness and fidelity with our neighbors, [and] live humbly and faithfully in the presence of God.”
Proverbs portrays Wisdom calling to us as individuals and guiding our corporate life and governance. But Wisdom is more than an angel on our shoulder or a citizenship handbook.
In our reading this morning, Wisdom says, The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. Wisdom has cosmic origins. Before there was earth and sky and sea, there was Wisdom. Before there were creeping things innumerable, there was Wisdom.
Wisdom works alongside God, as a master worker, as God’s daily delight. Wisdom rejoices with God in the creation and especially in the human race. This rejoicing compels Wisdom to teach us, as God’s master worker, to become co-creators with God, to follow God’s will and God’s way until the kin-dom of God is complete.
On one of my first mission trips in Mexico, I was placed on a team building a wall for the perimeter of a school. My first job was to watch the master worker as he skillfully applied mortar and placed level blocks side by side, row by row. I delighted in how quickly he worked and how evenly the blocks laid. He made it look easy.
Then my teammate and I were invited to take over. We slopped the mortar too thickly on one side and too thinly on another. The blocks didn’t fit together right. We couldn’t get them level, even after dozens of adjustments. After we had constructed several rows, the master worker came back over to check on us. He looked doubtfully at our wall.
“Do you think you can fix it?” I asked.
He replied, “Soy un maestro, no un milagro.” I’m a master worker, not a miracle worker.
Those who seek Wisdom diligently will find her. But she is a master worker, not a miracle worker. She calls, she teaches. But she requires our participation. First, we must desire to learn from her. Ellen Davis claims that “Desire is never spiritually neutral.” We come to know and learn about that which we desire, for good or for ill. “Through holy desire,” Davis says, “we may indeed gain what Israel called wisdom, which is a true, realistic knowledge of God, ourselves, and the world.” On the other hand, “unholy desire leads to distorted perception of world, self, and God.”
If Wisdom is truly what we desire, discipline, obedience, and fear of God are those things Proverbs tells us will help us learn from this master worker.
After my failure at wall-building, I was placed with another master worker who taught me to bend rebar to create support posts for beams and trusses. It sounds easy enough, but the curves of the metal must be exact in order to fit the frame. After my last debacle, I really wanted to learn to do this right. I paid close attention to the master worker, disciplined myself to line up the bends exactly, to go back and adjust each curve until it matched the model perfectly. I did everything the master worker told me. I knew that he was the boss, and I was not. It wasn’t right unless he said it was right.
On our last trip to Mexico, I volunteered for the team bending rebar again. After several weeks of performing this task hundreds of times, it came back to me quickly. The master worker was soon giving me other people’s imperfections to fix. By the end of the week, he turned to me and said, “Tu eres la maestra.” You are the master worker.
Wisdom requires the discipline to try again and again, failure after failure, to follow God’s perfect model, Jesus Christ. It requires us to obey what we are taught by God’s master worker. And it requires us to remember that we are not God, which is what fear of the Lord essentially means.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, we are renewed in our discipline. We are obedient to Christ’s command to eat, drink, and remember him. And we are confronted by our fear of God, our recognition that we are not God but are dependent on God’s love and grace. In coming to this table, we seek Wisdom, we heed her call, walking past all the voices crying out to us, offering success, happiness, control. We walk through the crowded port, through the familiar streets, to the table we know will feed us, nourish us, and give us life. “Mira!” Look! Wisdom is calling to you.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.