Sermon: Oh, To Be Wise

Photo of a mosaic showing the crowned woman from head to shoulders. The mosaic uses just black and white colors.

June 16, 2019
Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

by Eric Anderson

When the preacher begins a sermon with a list of the things that the sermon might have been about but isn’t, it’s a sign of at least one thing and possibly two things.

It’s certainly a sign that the topics before the preacher are bigger than a sermon, bigger probably than the preacher, and most likely bigger than human understanding. Talking about what the sermon is not about is a way to make a topic just a little smaller, to produce at least the illusion of manageability.

And if the preacher begins a sermon with a list of the things that the sermon might have been about but isn’t, it might also be a sign that it’s time for the preacher to take a couple of weeks away from the pulpit.

So let me tell you what this sermon isn’t about.

It’s Trinity Sunday, and despite the fact that the first question asked of my by the Board of Deacons of Union Congregational Church in Rockville, Connecticut, as they considered recommending me for ordination was, “Please explain the Trinity,” the simple truth of the matter is that it took eight to twelve generations of theologians two hundred to three hundred years to come up with anything resembling a consensus on that mysterious doctrine, and I’m not going to contribute much in a single sermon.

I will note that the lectionary editors included this passage on Wisdom because, in the first centuries of Christianity, it supported the notion of a Trinity before the beginning of history itself. Justin Martyr quoted this passage around 160, and so did Athanasius of Alexandria in 330, and so did John Wesley in the 1700s. The first to refer to it, however, may well have been the gospel writer John, who began his gospel with these words:

“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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

If that sounds a lot like the figure of Wisdom here in Proverbs, I think it’s because John meant it to be so.

But this sermon isn’t about that.

It also isn’t about trying to explain the concept of Wisdom, because that is likewise far too great for a single sermon or a single lifetime. I could mention the attributes of Wisdom, found in the sections our lectionary editors left out: Prudence, intelligence, nobility, truth, righteousness, understanding, knowledge, discretion, the hatred of evil, fear of the Lord. It is not pride or arrogance or the way of evil or falsehood.

The Biblical writers who raised up the idea of Wisdom saw it as a life’s pursuit, a life’s dedication, a life’s devotion. That’s comfortably more than a single sermon.

So this sermon isn’t about that.

It also isn’t about the question I usually raise about Wisdom, which is why, oh why, we choose so often to live without it. Why we flock to Folly and ignorance. Later in the book, she calls, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Theft, hoarding, and falsehood are the attributes of Folly, even though she sits in the high places of honor in the town.

If I knew why we chose Folly over Wisdom, I’d have done something about it long ago.

I wish I were that wise.

And that’s where I’m going today: to the quest for Wisdom, the rejection of Folly, and the pursuit of righteousness. Proverbs says that Wisdom calls to us from the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates, and at the very door: Wisdom does not linger in some sacred place far away, but comes to us, to the very entrances to our homes.

Wisdom plays a vital role in the very nature of Creation, so that Wisdom is to be found in the created order. This was one of the motivators of European scientific inquiry: those who scanned the heavens or carefully examined the intricacies of a feather sought there the handiwork of God. Galileo considered the priesthood as a young man, and although his quest brought him into conflict with authorities of the Church he carried it out as a sacred endeavor and calling. Gregor Mendel, best known for creating the system by which we came to understand genetics, was an Augustinian monk. One of the winners of the Templeton Prize, Charles Townes, described his invention of the maser (that’s a laser using microwaves) as a “revelation.”

Deep within Creation, says Proverbs, we find its essence in joy. Wisdom says here, “I was beside him, like a master worker (or a little child; there’s a Hebrew play on words there); and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

Juliana Claassens writes, “The image of a giggling, joyful, little girl who laughs when God shows her God’s new creations — the hilarious giraffe and hippopotamus, the monkeys and busy little ants — is marvelous in order to imagine the joy and the awe that is present in God’s creation.”

That’s truly my message for today: to assure you that the quest for wisdom is not and should not be a dull or oppressive one. It is a joyful quest, marked with the repeated discovery of wonder, wherever you look.

You may look to the world, where the honu that struggles across the land glides gracefully through the water. You may look to the works of human beings, and find on silent pages a sudden melody of words. You may look to the voices of children, who unerringly find their way to the heart of love. You may look to your own heart, which seems so empty at one moment and then overflows with joy in the next.

Think about the most foolish people of the world, the ones you’ve known and the ones you’re aware of. Think about the headlines and think about the ‘ohana. When these people are at their most foolish, are they joyful? Or are they caught up with pride, or need, or greed, or power, or defending an indefensible lie?

When I think of the foolish, I know that sometimes they’re happy. But rarely do I see them marked with joy. Smugness, yes. Self-satisfaction, yes. But almost never joy.

If you find joy, you are on the road to wisdom. If you find joy, you are on the way to knowledge. If you find joy, you are on the path to righteousness. If you find joy, you follow Wisdom as she leads you to God.

Oh, to be wise.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Oh, To Be Wise

Is it wise to stick to your manuscript as written? If so, there’s room to grow in wisdom yet…

An image of wisdom as found on the seal of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. Photo by Manuel Matos –, GFDL,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on June 16, 2019

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