Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20
A sermon by Meighan Pritchard
Prospect United Church of Christ
Seattle, WA November 12, 2017
Wisdom: think of a guru sitting on a mountaintop. Some dogged follower climbs to the top to seek his advice. Then there’s always a punchline, e.g., “Oh, no one told you about the tram on the back side of the mountain.”
Someone very wise, think of as looking old, beard, nodding sagely. Like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Around Christmastime we talk about the Wise Men coming to visit the baby Jesus.
Qualities of wisdom:
Learning from experience
Open to learning, listening
Humble: “The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction”—Knowing what you don’t know
Sometimes wisdom comes in not acting on one’s first instinct. Take a deep breath. Before you send that letter—or that tweet—sleep on it. Before you post those photos on Facebook of yourself naked or wearing that lampshade, just consider the possible consequences.
Before we send troops in looking for weapons of mass destruction;
before we scrap that treaty;
before we build that oil pipeline right next to the nuclear power plant
or in the midst of pristine lakes where the wild rice is harvested as a staple crop
or pretty much anywhere,
think about the ripple effects,
and what could possibly go wrong.
Before we accept that job offer
Take out that loan
Buy that new house
Move in with the beloved
Create time and space to seek wisdom.
Amadou Sis, grad student walking home one night, held up by a young man named Demetrius Warren. “Give me your backpack and your water bottle.” Amadou apparently didn’t move fast enough, so Demetrius shot him at point blank range, killed him. Even in the next moment, Demetrius had to have been asking himself, “Was that wise? Was it worth it to kill this guy for a backpack and a water bottle?” Or people get into fights over a parking space, or a pair of shoes, or cutting someone off in traffic, or one guy talking to someone else’s girlfriend, and the next thing you know a gun has been fired, someone is dead, and someone else is about to spend the rest of their life in prison. Could have used a deep breath, a chance for a little wisdom to pipe up.
Wisdom is the voice of conscience and reason: “Don’t eat that second slice of pumpkin pie after a big Thanksgiving dinner.” We don’t always listen.
Wisdom is also the voice of love and justice. Earlier in this chapter in the Wisdom of Solomon, the narrator is telling kings to seek wisdom and judge wisely, because they will be held accountable.
To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed,
so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress.
10 For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness,
and those who have been taught them will find a defense.
11 Therefore set your desire on my words;
long for them, and you will be instructed.
Seek wisdom. Observe holiness so that you, too, may be holy. Judge with justice.
Wisdom is personified as a woman who wants us to seek her out, and who will not hide from us.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
Her location at the gate is no accident; the gate is the courtroom, the place where justice is decided. So in wisdom there is justice, there is love for what is holy, including God and all of God’s people. Wisdom and justice are entwined.
That sounds good. And sometimes we are wise. We take time to think and consult and pray and realize “This job offer is not the right one for me.” Or this relationship is really toxic and I need to leave. We count to ten and manage to not hit the child who is driving us crazy. We bite our tongues before the hateful words can come out of our mouths. We don’t drink before driving, or we set up a designated driver or call a cab to get home. Sometimes we are wise.
And sometimes our rulers are wise, compassionate, and even defiant in the face of evil. When Hitler’s army occupied Denmark in World War II, Danish King Christian X continued to look out for his people, and for the Danish Jews in particular. His attitude of nonviolent resistance to Hitler set the tone for Danes to participate in resistance efforts. When these efforts grew, in 1943, Hitler demanded that the Danish government declare a state of emergency. The government resigned instead. Non-Jewish Danes helped their Jewish countrymen and –women go into hiding while what remained of the Danish government secretly arranged for Sweden to accept the Danish Jews. When the Danes got word that the Nazis were going to start rounding up the Jews and sending them to concentration camps, thousands of non-Jewish police, physicians, and ordinary people helped spirit several thousand Jews to Sweden on just about any boat that could make the journey. [https://www.snopes.com/history/govern/yellowstars.asp]
But sometimes our rulers and our society in general are not wise or just. On Monday evening I got to attend a Moral Revival led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. And they lifted up some of the same issues that Amos does in today’s reading. They said when our nation comes for the Muslims, the Jews, the undocumented immigrant, the women, the poor, we must stand together and resist. We must say, “I too am a Muslim. I too am a Jew. So if you want to come for the Muslims, you have to come for me.” Rev. Barber said the blue on our flag stands for justice. You can stand with your hand over your heart to salute the flag and still desecrate the flag with your actions. You can put one hand on the Bible and with the other hand violate everything that the Bible stands for. You can sing hymns in church on Sunday and practice injustice Monday through Saturday.
Amos calls out this kind of moral blindness. Speaking on behalf of God, Amos writes,
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
Amos says that God hates our show of piety if it is not backed up by letting “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Today we are looking at many issues of injustice. One third of our nation lives in poverty, yet in all the hours of presidential debates a year ago, not one hour was devoted to poverty, racism, ecological devastation, and our war economy. The latest tax plan is working its way through the House and Senate. Some say it would help the middle class; others say it would hurt the middle class. No one mentions what it would do to the poor. But let’s look at what those tax cuts mean. Because tax cuts do not mean we’re trimming back our budget for the Pentagon and all the wars we’ve been involved in. It means we’re looking at cuts to Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, education—all the social service programs that promote a just and compassionate social structure. Our government apparently thinks we don’t need those—they just encourage people to become lazy and not work hard for a better life. You can’t lift yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots.
So Rev. Barber proposes that instead of passing a military budget, we pass a people’s budget. Because the practice of stripping away all services to people in need is an act of violence on our own people. Our government is at war against the poor. It is at war against the undocumented immigrants who come across our borders and work incredibly hard jobs for very little pay and have no legal recourse if their employers cheat them and abuse them. It is at war against those seeking education in the public schools and in the universities. Young people graduate from college these days with a crippling amount of debt—debt that prevents them from affording a decent home and starting out their lives on solid footing.
Rev Barber says, “We will no longer be chaplains to the Empire, but prophets to the nation.” The injustices being practiced on our people and our planet are all interconnected. Look at how women are stepping forward these days to name their abusers. Look as well at how we treat our planet and how our government wants to exploit our natural resources now even in our national parks. It is about greed and domination, great profits for the few while the many suffer.
So what can we do? We can’t fix all these injustices by ourselves. But instead of becoming paralyzed and doing nothing, we can figure out what we can do to practice wisdom and justice.
How do we do this? I have three ideas.
The first is that we show up. Show up to God first. This is scary, world-changing, soul-transforming work. We need to be centered in and listening to God. Practice meditation, prayer, or whatever it is that fills your spirit and centers you in the holy. Show up to God and instead of presenting a laundry list of what you want God to fix in your life or in the world, try listening patiently, and see what comes. You may not have answers instantaneously, but God will respond.
And then, as we feel called, we can show up to the needs of the people around us in our community. We may not be able to do everything, but we can do something. And what we can do, we should do. We may not know what that something is until we show up and listen.
So step one is that we show up. Show up to God and to each other. And we listen.
The second thing we can do is to take small steps. Don’t try to fix everything all at once. We will just burn out. But we can ask, every day, “What can I do today to make justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?” And when we keep that question before us, the answers begin to come. When we seek Wisdom, she responds. When we listen for God, things change.
Show up to God and each other. Take small steps.
The third thing I propose is that we link with others who are doing this good work. When our government is attacking on so many fronts, it can be easy for different justice issues to become siloed and even turn on each other. People of color versus immigrant rights versus the environment versus health care, and so on. What we have to recognize is that all these justice issues are connected. We have to present a united front, a nonviolent front, an indivisible front, with wisdom and justice and liberty for all.
Rev. Barber is planning a new Poor People’s Campaign, starting on Mother’s Day next May and going for 40 days. The goal for this campaign is that 1,000 people in every state will rise up in nonviolent resistance to the injustices being laid onto our people across this country.
Show up to God and each other. Take small steps. Join together and rise up. And we will find that we are changing the world. Can I hear an “Amen”? Amen.