Season of Creation, 16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 12, 2021
PROVERBS 1:20-33; WISDOM OF SOLOMON 7:26-8:1; JAMES 3:1-12; MARK 8:27-38
Today we have readings from two books that are not often heard at Sunday worship: Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon. The book of Proverbs is an accepted book in the the First Testament, the scriptures of the Jewish people. The book of Wisdom belongs to what are called the apocrypha or deutero-canonical books. You may have seen copies of the Bible which state on the cover that they include these books. Some Christian churches “officially” accept many of these books as part of the Bible, the inspired word of God. The RC Church and, to some degree, the Anglican and Lutheran Churches are among these. Almost all of them are accepted by the Orthodox Churches. Most Protestant Churches do not recognize them as “canonical” or officially Scripture inspired by God. Many see them as “inspirational’ or “devotional” writings.
The main reason for this confusion and disagreement about “Are they or aren’t they actually part of the Bible?” are the facts that most are written in Greek rather than Hebrew, and that they are not officially recognized as Scripture by the Jews themselves. Martin Luther was the first to compile a Bible leaving these books out altogether. Remember that before Luther’s time and the invention of the printing press hardly any “Bibles” existed as one book, bound together. They were most often hand copied and bound individually because the size of a whole hand-written Bible made it very cumbersome. It was the printing press that changed all that. It made it easier to print a complete book instead of separate individual books of Scripture.
With the invention of the printing press, the Bible began to become more accessible to many people. As printing improved, more and more people began to learn how to read. So, there was more questioning about what belongs in the Bible and what does not; what is truly inspired by God and what is not. Most people began to think that what was between the covers of their own Bible was what truly belonged there – because it was what they knew. There is a woman I have heard interviewed – the only person I know of who is an ordained Pentecostal Minister (unusual in itself), a Lesbian, and a Theologian. She stated in words similar to these: “one of the worst things Christians ever did was to put a back cover on the Bible”. She then explained what she meant by that. “Too often,” she said, “we put so much emphasis on the inspired Word inside the book that we forget that God continues to be among us inspiring and guiding us through the Holy Spirit in our very lives.” Yes, we believe that Scripture contains all that is necessary for Salvation. It is that. Think of the Scriptures in this way though. The Scriptures are the Meat, potatoes, vegetables and dessert of the meal God provides; certainly all we need for food and more. That doesn’t mean gravy on the mashed potatoes, pickles with the meat, butter on the vegetables and icing on the cake don’t make the dinner better, taste better or provide different flavours and nutritional value! This may be a way of looking at these books that are both in and out of the Bible, instead of arguing about them. Whether or not they are officially recognized as inspired by God, they can give us different insights and and a broader perspective to the living out of our faith.
Today we hear readings from the book of Proverbs and from the Wisdom of Solomon which we use as the canticle in place of a psalm. In both, the Wisdom of God is a woman. Wisdom is shown to us as a feminine attribute of the divine. Most of us are used to seeing God represented as a man, the Father, protector. Here God, Wisdom, is a woman, mother, keeper, and giver of the divine knowledge. Her beauty is not physical beauty, but the beauty of fullness of wisdom and knowledge which we find only in God.
In Proverbs today Wisdom is also God as a prophet: Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:. In the Wisdom of Solomon the writer sings to her a song of praise. Like in the Psalms, the language is the poetic language of song lyrics: She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.
In Jesus we also find the Wisdom of God. Although he is a man, within his humanity he holds the fullness of God. This Wisdom which is prophetic and beautiful and feminine is also shown to us in him.
In Mark’s Gospel, especially, Jesus is constantly telling his disciples to shut up about him. They are not to say anything to others. This seems the opposite of what he should be saying, right? Instead, shouldn’t he be telling them to shout it out? My theory of God’s Wisdom in Jesus here goes like this: almost always, when he says to his followers to not tell anyone about what he has just done or said, it has to do with understanding and teaching. He needs to teach them the full meaning of his message and his deeds before they go out and blab the wrong things. When they eventually do go out to tell the world about him – and they will, he wants them to have a full understanding of what they will proclaim. He is ensuring that they do not go out until they have received wisdom, the fullness of the knowledge they need to truly proclaim him. He doesn’t want them to be like the people that wisdom is shouting to in the street, to whom she says something like “listen, learn, or you will rue the day”.
What Jesus teaches is often not easy. Today’s teachings are not a walk in the park. They are a difficult hike we have to be willing to walk with him. The witness we have to be willing to proclaim is often not what people want to hear. Essentially he says “When you learn from me you will be pitting yourselves against conventional wisdom and learning my wisdom instead, the wisdom of God. It will often mean that others will not want to hear what you say and will sometimes despise you, and even make you suffer. Some of you will die for my wisdom as I will probably have to.”
It is easy for Peter to say that Jesus is the Messiah. It is easy for us to say “Jesus has saved me.” Unless, however, we understand the wisdom and are willing to live by the consequences of saying this, we may not not have the salvation we think we do. Poor Peter, he probably takes the flack for everybody. Many of the other disciples are likely thinking the same thing as him, but he is the one who opens his mouth. Peter, though, like the others, eventually learns the wisdom of Jesus, the wisdom of God. They and many generations since have passed it down to us.
So what about us? When God’s wisdom stands on the street corner speaking out to us, do we learn? Do we learn to trust the wisdom of the science that God provides or do we refuse medicines that God’s creation helps us to make? Do we learn to trust the wisdom of science that God provides or do we ignore the signs that our human activity is hurting God’s creation – including ourselves? Do we understand that we are called to be God’s wisdom speaking at the intersections of the roads in our small communities and at the highways entering our cities? Do we understand that we are to be the mirrors showing God’s Wisdom to the world? Do we have the strength to be God’s prophetic Wisdom, shaking the complacency of all as Jesus often did?
Whichever of the readings: Proverbs, the letter of James or the Gospel of Mark, touches us most deeply this morning – in all three there are challenges put to us. The challenges of learning God’s Wisdom and living it. How well we do when we accept these challenges will be the test of whether we really understand when we proclaim Jesus to the world and say: He is the Messiah.