Sunday, June 5, 2016
Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity - Prov 9:1-10
The first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs are a tale of two women. We first meet Lady Wisdom – wisdom personified as a woman. In chapter one we read, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”
Yet very soon we meet another woman. This woman is very different. She is a temptress, a seductive woman who seeks to lead men astray. She entices and says, “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.”
While the words in the first nine chapters certainly warn against fornication as they describe the seductive woman, we learn that they are actually doing far more. For immediately after our text we read, “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ And to him who lacks sense she says, ‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” These words of the woman Folly mirror those of the woman Wisdom at the beginning of chapter one and frame the first nine chapters that introduce the Book of Proverbs.
People often like the Book of Proverbs. It is, in many ways, an intensely practical book that is filled with good advice about how to live life. In fact, you don’t even have to be a Christian to appreciate what it is saying and to find it useful.
There is a very good reason for this. Proverbs is part of a genre that is known as Wisdom literature. Wisdom literature describes how to live based on the way God has ordered his creation. It operates on the assumption that there is an ordering to the way the world works, and that to live well a person must seek to live in ways that follow this ordering. Because this is the nature of reality, people throughout history have found the words of Proverbs to ring true. They have found that in many areas the guidance of Proverbs matches their own experience in life; it just makes sense as it expresses this wisdom in pithy and memorable phrases.
Of course at the same time, we live in an age that does not share in this assumption of the Book of Proverbs and of Scripture in general. It does not believe that there is any ordering. It does not believe that there is anything intrinsically right or wrong. Everything is just a social construct that needs to be overturned. And so we are told that boys should be permitted in the girls’ locker room, because the boy is really a girl – in spite of the fact that this contradicts the basic data of genetics and anatomy.
You believe in this ordering. You believe there is right and wrong. But that doesn’t mean you always put this wisdom into practice. In chapter six King Solomon writes, “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
How often do these words describe you? We are proud and look down on others. We lie to get our way. We devise wicked plans and draw near to evil in order to get what we want. We bear false witness and we engineer discord at home and at work.
There are many times when we listen to the seductive words of the woman Folly. We step inside her door and fall into sin – sin that hurts ourselves; sin that hurts others; sin that brings God’s judgment.
Certainly we need wisdom. But good advice alone isn’t enough. Good advice does not prevent us from stumbling in sin. Good advice can’t put us right before God, for we are sinners who sin and deserve only judgment.
In the previous chapter wisdom continues to speak. She says, “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. 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.”
And then, something begins to happen. Wisdom continues to speak, but the words go beyond good advice about right and wrong. We hear wisdom say, “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.”
Wisdom declares that she was with God before the creation of the world. She was “bebotten” before there was anything. And then she goes on to say that she was actually involved with God in the act of creation. She declares, “When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 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, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”
Personification is left behind and in light of what has been revealed in the New Testament we come to realize that it is a person who is speaking – the second person of the Trinity. Listen to these words from John: “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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
The wisdom being revealed in Proverbs is not simply guidance about how to live life. In the two verses just before our text wisdom says, “For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD.” What is being revealed here is the One who is life itself. Or as John goes on to say about the Word, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The Wisdom of God is the Son of God – the second person of the Trinity. As we sing in the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “O come, Thou Wisdom from on high.” The answer to our every failing has been provided by God’s Wisdom. For in the incarnation the Wisdom of God – the Son of God – became flesh in order to provide the answer to every sin. He did it through the foolishness of the cross as he offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for your sins. As Paul told the Corinthians: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
In Christ we have the forgiveness of sins. And today he continues to draw us to himself. In our text we hear: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’”
Our text describes a feast. And in the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus Christ gives us the feast of bread and wine which is his true body and blood. He gives us a foretaste of the feast to come. He bids us to leave our simple ways and walk in the way of insight by believing his words. He says that the Sacrament is his body and blood given and shed for you. Here you receive the forgiveness of sins. Here you receive God’s love and the assurance of salvation and resurrection on the Last Day.
And as through the Sacrament the Spirit feeds the new man in us, we are renewed in our ability to walk in wisdom. We are enabled to see more clearly God’s good ordering of this world. We are prompted to ignore the alluring words of the seductress Folly. We are strengthened so that can avoid all of the ways that our culture abuses God’s gift of sexuality, for the sex outside of marriage, and the cohabitation and the pornification of our world are summarized in these words from Proverbs: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.”
Instead we receive God’s gifts as the gifts they were meant to be. We recognize sexual intercourse as the means by which God has established us as a one flesh union with our spouse – a union that continues to renewed and declared each time we share in this gift together. And because this is so, we rejoice in God’s wisdom that says in Proverbs, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
What is more, because we have received Christ’s saving love, and because we are in this union with our spouse we seek to live in ways that build up, support and sacrifice for that person. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And then he added, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Forgiven in Christ and fed by his Sacrament, this is what God’s wisdom looks like as we live in this world.