The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      15th October 2017
Find Wisdom
Jeremy Fletcher

Proverbs 3. 1-18

Human beings are very good at accumulating truths or rules. Every culture has them. I like the Easter Island Proverb which says “We are born. We eat sweet potatoes. Then we die.” Or Jerry Seinfeld’s “Men don’t care what’s on TV. They only care what else is on TV”.  Or the Moroccan proverb “Every beetle is a gazelle to its mother”. This kind of wisdom is a gift in creation, something given to humanity by God, and we do well to store it, reflect on it and then apply it in our changing times. 

At its most basic level the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Scriptures is an accumulation of such wisdom. There is aphorism after aphorism, many drawn from other ancient cultures, and offered to God as a thanksgiving for human wisdom and divine common sense. But there is much more. Proverbs has poetry and prayer and meditation as well as the equivalent of ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’. Some of the book is purported to be the wisdom of Solomon himself, who had not only learned from his mistakes (the best kind of wisdom), but was also given wisdom as a gift, so that he could do the right thing even if he’d not been there before. 

This gift of reason and reflection is one which the church needs in great abundance, so we can apply the ancient teaching of the Scriptures to contemporary situations the Biblical writers could not even imagine. That’s the kind of thing Proverbs means by wisdom. It is much more than an accumulation of knowledge or facts. Miles Kington said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to include it in a fruit salad.  The wisdom we need is one which allows us to walk in the way which leads to life, and which draws others to share the kind of life God wills for us. It is for that reason that Proverbs starts by reminding us that the beginning of wisdom is a right understanding of ourselves in relation to God: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1: 7). 

The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament includes the Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes as well as Proverbs. They gather together the great wisdom given to humanity by God and ask us to use it well. What then emerged was the identification of these attributes with a specific figure, the Wisdom of God, some one, rather than some thing, who would lead humanity into truth. Wisdom then became a title for God, an active figure who brought the world into being and continues to order the world for good. In later Old Testament times this figure became part of the longing for the Messiah, the one who would deliver Israel and set the world free. At Advent we begin the antiphons best known in the hymn O come O come Emmanuel by singing “O sapientia”, “O wisdom”, and asking to be led in wise ways.

Christians see the figure longed for in the Old Testament, the Wisdom who would save humanity, as Jesus Christ. In that sense those who find wisdom beyond shared experience, beyond the hive mind of the internet and the breadth of human community, those who find wisdom in the person of Christ are truly happy. In this season of dedication the search for true wisdom, right relationship, sanctified action and transcendent motive are all summed up in a desire for the gift of wisdom. The verbs in this section of Proverbs are active: bind, write, trust, acknowledge, turn away, find, get. Go looking and you will find. Jesus said that. 

We are invited each year to use this dedication season to review how we use our money and do our giving wisely. The writer of Proverbs knew that the use of money was a good indicator of the wisdom of the user. In tonight’s passage the observation which has proved to be true is that those who honour God with material things, and ensure that their first profits are given to God are those whose lives are in balance. It is those who hold on through greed or mistrust who find their money takes them over. They are hard lessons to learn, but applying wisdom to finance will have an effect on way more than this church’s bottom line. Wise people put money its place. 

Those of us who find the accumulation of knowledge hard can be thankful that this wisdom is beyond skill and intellect. Thanks be to God that, in friendship with Christ true wisdom is to be found, to whom be all praise, unto ages of ages. Amen. 

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