Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Voice

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Proverbs 8:1-11
July 5, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

This week is the third in our series drawing our texts from the books of the Bible that are known as wisdom literature. In the 66 books of the Bible, we find a range of literary genres – history, poetry, prophecy, letters, and wisdom. Proverbs is an anthology of wise sayings, but it is not a random collection of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations of ancient history.

Throughout the book, several poetic themes and metaphors arise again and again. One of them is the personification of wisdom as a woman. In much the same way, our country, the United States of America, is personified as Columbia, a woman. That imagery is reflected in Lady Liberty, the beloved statue who lifts her torch at the gateway to America, welcoming immigrants, strangers, and travelers to this country.

In Proverbs, this image of wisdom as a woman helps us to see how God’s person transcends gender – God is both loving father and mother hen, both King and Wise Woman. This helps us encounter the vast and awesome glory of God – beyond our imaginings, but embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. In his commentary on this passage from Proverbs, David Atkinson says:

“Wisdom is no abstract concept; wisdom is personified: she is described as a woman. In some places she is depicted by just a line drawing, one or two of her features emphasized for a particular purpose. In others, we are given a richly coloured, almost three-dimensional portrait. Taken together, these sketches introduce us to a woman who speaks the wisdom of God, and who points the way of life. This personification of Wisdom is not a (mere) literary device; it reflects the essential nature of biblical wisdom. Wisdom is embodied. Wisdom is for living. In fact, nothing is truly known until it is lived out in the everyday world. …Proverbs 1-7 gives us a number of preliminary sketches of Wisdom, before her full-colour portrait appears in chapter 8. [1] Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Proverbs 8:1-11

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for 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. They are all straight to one who understands and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

She is calling out to us, standing on the hilltop and shouting to us. Here she is again, on the sidewalk in front of your house, at the four way stop on the way to work or school, hollering from the city limits sign on the edge of town, standing in your doorway.

No still small voice, this.
She cries out.
She projects.

This is not some internal monologue that only you can hear, not the little voice inside your head that suggests what to do or say. It’s a big voice, a Susan Boyle kind of voice. You remember Susan? She was the kinda mousy older woman who walked out onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent and wowed the judges with her voice. She was a church choir lady with “mad hair and bushy eyebrows” and now six years later she is an international sensation.

That’s the kind of voice that wisdom has, in this text.
She may look like a kindly older lady with not much to say, but when she opens her mouth, out comes the voice – the voice of wisdom. Listen up -- everyone that is alive, listen! Use good judgment, make better choices, don’t just be brainy, be WISE! You need to smarten up! (Can you believe she would say something like that to us?) But she only speaks truth – she is not insulting us, she is exhorting us, pushing us, pulling us, dragging us to listen to her wisdom.

Her voice calls us away from wickedness and toward what is noble. She will not steer us wrong, but will lead us in a straight path. That’s what she says, anyway. Many of us may not hear her voice, even though she is shouting. It will make sense if we will only set aside our egos and pay attention. We may not hear her over the clamor and chaos of our lives. But it isn’t for her lack of trying.

Maybe she is trying to shout down our egos, that part of us that insists we ARE better, we KNOW better, and our needs are MORE important than anyone else. There are plenty of voices to chime in on that pack of lies. For example, there’s Ayn Rand, the darling of the Tea Party movement. She called her way of thinking “the voice of reason.” According to her philosophy, which she dubbed “objectivism,” your sole purpose on this earth is to get what you can for yourself. Caring for others is scorned; the only moral imperative in life is seeking one’s own happiness. According to Rand’s so-called voice of reason, the world is divided between winners and whiners. Rand’s take on liberty is that we are free to take whatever we can, and that government should leave us alone as much as possible.

It has some appeal, this way of thinking.
It works well for the strong, the swift, the smart.
Everyone for themselves, no need to worry about others, no need for compassion, no need to be unselfish, no need to care for the poor. Your self, your desires, your urges, drive your actions.

For Christians, that’s not a voice that merits our attention. It is not a voice of wisdom. It’s the voice of ego, a voice that puts self on the throne of our lives. If we are listening for the voice of wisdom, for God’s wisdom, we still that voice, or at least ignore it.

If we believe, as we do, that true wisdom comes from God, as do life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if we believe that, we need to listen to the voice of wisdom, not ego.

Interestingly, psychology has recently caught up to scripture in this regard. It turns out that if we want to tap into the voice of wisdom, that part of ourselves that speaks noble truth, that encourages and strengthens our best selves, we need to talk to ourselves. Many of us who already talk to ourselves will be relieved to know this! But what is crucial about this discovery of psychology is that it works better if we do not use the first person voice when we talk to ourselves. What makes self-talk work, what makes it valuable, is to use the third person – to use our own name! Somehow, if we address ourselves by our names, give ourselves a good talking-to by name, our God-given wisdom can come to the fore.

For example, if I am struggling with how to decide an issue, rather than saying “I must be faithful, and I know what is right,” I would say “Christina, you need to make a faithful decision. Christina, you know what is right.”

An article in Psychology Today, said “the psychological distance gained by using one’s personal name confers wisdom. It resolves what [the researcher calls] Solomon’s paradox:

As exemplified by the biblical King Solomon, people reason more wisely about the social problems of others than they do about their own. First-name self-talk shifts the focus away from the self; it allows people to transcend their inherent egocentrism. And that makes them as smart in thinking about themselves as they typically are about others.”[2] Perhaps when we speak our own names, we open our ears for the voice of wisdom to be heard.

Another interesting tidbit about wisdom – as we get older, apparently we sound wiser!
Isn’t that good to know! Last year researchers published an article saying that young people who listen to older people (even when they don’t want to!) have “positive impressions of older speakers’ greater wisdom, which were associated with distinct age-related vocal qualities.”[3] Wisdom does have a voice, and it’s an old person’s voice!

Wisdom is not exclusive to the Old Testament. Throughout the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters, we encounter Wisdom as embodied in Jesus Christ. In every instance, that wisdom is relational – it depends on our participation in a relationship that is accountable to others and to God. That wisdom is embodied, incarnational – it is not abstract words in a big thick book of philosophy, but it is lived – demonstrated not only in weighty thoughts but in meaningful words and actions.

That wisdom also involves choice – the freedom of our will – to take the path of folly or the path of righteousness, to walk in crooked ways or in the way of Christ. And while our wisdom is in the image of God’s wisdom, ours is finite, while God’s is infinite. The work of the church is to be a channel for that infinite wisdom – to be the bearers of righteousness, and justice, and kindness. We are invited both to encounter and to embody this wisdom, to participate in it even as we participate in Christ’s life and death and resurrection. We have that opportunity at this communion table, where we make the choice for reconciliation, for forgiveness, where we participate in the supper with all the saints, and where we find wisdom strengthened and renewed.

We find wisdom, and life, and liberty, at this table, even as we remember that we are the church, Christ’s body. We don’t have to become wiser than we are, we only need to listen.

Wisdom is shouting to us.
She is meeting us where we are –
on the road,
at the doorway,
from the heights and in the depths of life.

All of her words are righteous.
None of her speech is crooked – it is all straight talk.
Our job is to participate – to listen.
Sometimes it is easier to talk than to listen. Sometimes we think that silver and gold are valuable, that our possessions and our status and our egos are the most important. But the voice says otherwise.

Proverbs says, “Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold…”

She calls out to us!
Listen for her voice.

“…for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”


[1] David Atkinson, The Message of Proverbs, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 80.



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