May 23, 2016

Lady Wisdom

Frank Sinatra had a hit record with the song “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” Originally written for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, “Luck Be a Lady”—which is sung from the perspective of a desperate gambler—personifies luck as a fickle date who can’t be trusted to dance with the one who brought her—and Sinatra delivers the lines with an honesty that few can match.
Luck let a gentleman see how nice a dame you can be.

I know the way you’ve treated other guys you’ve been with.

Luck be a lady with me.

Of course, neither Sinatra nor Broadway created the character called Lady Luck. She’s been a player in our culture since the time of the ancients. The Romans even worshipped her as a goddess—Fortuna, the goddess of good and bad luck.

Since the time of the ancients, however, people of faith have also taken issue with Lady Luck. Specifically, our spiritual ancestors resisted any notion of fatalism—the idea that life “just happens” to us and that human beings are simply pawns in some cosmic scheme.

Resistance to fatalism led our faithful ancestors to offer an alternative worldview, a worldview that emphasized human freedom, and potential, and the belief that we are active players in this life.

So while the faithful have always conceded that some things in life are certainly beyond their control, they recognized that two of the greatest gifts given to us by God are the freedom to make decisions and the wisdom to choice well.

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” the author of Psalm 8 prayed.

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.

The psalmist vision isn’t one in which people are given carte blance to do whatever they want—to exploit whatever and whomever they want in the name of exercising their God-given dominance.

That’s not it at all!

The psalms tell us, instead, that God has given humanity the ability and the responsibility to be the principle stewards of creation.

Throughout the Scripture, God calls us not to fatalism, but to actively and purposefully live out our faith and to discern a faithful path to follow.

That’s why you won’t find a single song dedicated to Lady Luck in your Bible, but you will find a whole library of ancient texts singing the praises of Lady Wisdom, and the 8th chapter of Proverbs is one of the best.

Proverbs chapter 8 begins with Wisdom preaching at the very heart of her city—“on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand”—and that’s a very significant location.

It’s significant because it tells us that Wisdom’s message applies to all areas of life—not simply to a corner of the heart reserved for religious things.

Wisdom goes to the business centers and marketplaces to speak with people at work, to people tending to the needs of their families, to people like you and me—and she tells them that at all times they should set their eyes on the highest things.

Live simply, learn prudence, acquire intelligence.

Pursue righteousness, avoid life’s crooked paths, love justice, hate evil and stay clear of pride and arrogance for Wisdom holds its own treasure.

“My fruit is better than gold,” promises Wisdom.

When we’re honest with ourselves, you and I know this to be true, don’t we?

Every night we can flip through our channels or visit our favorite websites and see the latest exploits of someone who has so much wealth, but so little wisdom. We can point to countless examples of people who make more money in one year than most of us will make in a lifetime, yet who still make decisions that leave us wondering “what were they thinking?”

The Bible tells us that Wisdom is more valuable than silver and gold, but our experience tells us that it’s also more difficult to find.

But the hope of the faithful isn’t that we would become experts in pointing out the foolishness of others. Our hope is that we would be able to recognize our own foolish missteps and find the wisdom to chart a better course in the future.

That’s what our lesson from Proverbs is all about—it’s an invitation to hold this inspired ancient wisdom up to our own lives and learn the truth.

Have we become obsessed with material things?

Proverbs calls us to set our hearts on more noble things.

Have we made peace with injustice?

Proverbs tells us that faith cannot be separated from solidarity with and concern for the poor, the outcast, and the weak.

Have we given in to cynicism and despair?

Proverbs shows us that there is a more excellent way.

We pick up our chapter, then, in the 32nd verse.

“And now, my children, listen to me:

happy are those who keep my ways.

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates,

waiting beside my doors.

For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD;

but those who miss me injure themselves;

all who hate me love death.”

The implication is obvious. Wisdom—true wisdom—the wisdom that moves with the grain of the universe—lights the way to the deepest and most honorable desires of the human heart—happiness, justice, and living at peace with Creation and our Creator.

Our challenge, then, and God’s will for us, is that we become wise people, a challenge that presents us with one essential question.

But how?

How can we position ourselves to meet wisdom at the gate?

How can the wisdom that guided our ancestors guide us, too?

How can we find the promised peace and treasury of grace that wisdom brings?

The Good News that inspires Christian worship is the conviction that God has not answered our “how-to” questions with an exhaustive list on do’s and don’ts, but in the person of Jesus Christ—God’s word made flesh, God’s wisdom at work.

As John’s famous prologue announces,

In the beginning was the Word [the logos, the divine reason, wisdom] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Today the Word made Flesh, that is Jesus, invites all people who want to rise up to meet their calling—who want to leave foolishness behind in order to live more wisely—to follow him.

To follow him into a life of worship, praise, and gratitude.

To follow him into loving relationships, guided by the Spirit, capable of making friends out of enemies.

To follow him—the one who proclaimed release to the captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.

This morning, the Good News calls us to follow wisdom to the heights, to the byways, to the crossroads, and at the gates and to set our eyes upon Jesus.

Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.

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