Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.’
Wisdom’s Invitation: Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom is a woman at work. Look at all she does in just six verses. She has built an entire house. Do you know how long it takes to build a house? Do you know how many skills it takes to build a house? Carpentry, masonry, plumbing, painting, engineering, design. Maybe you throw in a little tile work for a nice backsplash in the kitchen. It is so much work to build a house. It’s sounds like it’s not a very small house either. She invited many people. She’d need a big space to host them all. So, she built a house, directing her staff and working alongside of them. Wisdom is a woman at work, making sure she has room for everybody who walks in her door.
Her home is both practical and beautiful. She has created seven pillars. These aren’t just posts to hold up a wall. They are monuments, hewn from trees or carved from stone, honoring God and marking this home as a site of something holy and good. This is skilled work, work done with years of training and practice. These pillars were not hastily thrown together. They were crafted, beauty drawn out of raw material to give glory to God and show hospitality to her guests. She created seven pillars, but she didn’t stop there. She cooked, too.
I imagine her holding court in her kitchen. You have seen someone at work like Wisdom was at work in this scripture. This is Julia Child prepping a turkey with efficiency and good humor. This is Mary Berry from the Great British Bake Off making sure the bottoms of her pie aren’t soggy. This is my mother-in-law Sherry Dunn making the best sausage balls in the state of Georgia. They are perfectly round and perfectly cooked through every time with the right cheese to sausage ratio. Wisdom ask for help if she needs it (she usually doesn’t). She’ll show you how to cook if you ask. Here, go cut these onions. Wash that big skillet. It's almost time to put on the potatoes. Wisdom brought out the good wine and probably some sparkling grape juice because she knows that some people in recovery are going to show up and they deserve delicious drink, too. The table was set. Maybe it is fine linen and china. Maybe she had to pull out every mismatched plate in the house because she knew people will keep showing up, and, by God, she’s gonna feed them all, even if the dinnerware isn’t all the same. Wisdom had been cooking. You could smell the feast a mile away.
All she needed was the company. She sent the girls from her household out to bring the neighbors. But, the girls aren’t the only ones with invitations. Wisdom, who sawed and cooked and served right alongside the workers, Wisdom went out with the girls, and started inviting people. She was not just inviting the wealthy or the powerful or even people she knew particularly well. She invited strangers, people she’d never met before. Remember, this is a party at Wisdom’s house. Some people behave like they’ve never encountered Wisdom before in their lives. Many people choose not to invite them over because it. Wisdom is different. It’s those people... this translation calls them “the simple” or “those without sense”... who got invited to this dinner. She said that’s the people who needed to be there. She wanted them to come so badly that she went out and found them herself, shouting out into the streets, the hills, and the high places: “A great feast has been set for you. Come, eat, and drink. If you do, you will learn something good.” Wisdom is a woman working, and cooking, and welcoming strangers into her home.
Wisdom is also our neighbor Margy who invites you to her home, feeds you until you feel like you might burst, and then sends you home with three plates of leftovers, including one whole plate that is just dessert. You never walk away from Wisdom’s place empty-handed. Insight and understanding are Wisdom’s signature dish. Wisdom makes the best understanding. It is almost as good as my great grandmother’s biscuits. The great thing about Wisdom is that she always has enough to share. Like the couple of cookies handed to you when you get home from school, or the piece of hard candy fished out of a purse to sooth a wiggly child, Wisdom makes sure there’s enough insight ready so that anybody can have some if they ask.
What does this scripture mean when it talks about “insight or understanding”? In my research, I found Dr. Wil Gafney’s explanation biblical wisdom helpful. She says that wisdom is not simply intellect. It is also skill, expertise honed by experience and practice. A person who is wise does not come to wisdom immediately. Wisdom is cultivated in the same way that an apprentice learns a skill from a master. Wisdom is your grandmother showing you how to add enough flour to dough to keep it from sticking as you roll it out. Wisdom makes sure you point the knife away from your thumb when you whittle, not towards, so you don’t slip and cut yourself. Dr. Gafney calls this heart-and-head knowledge. Wisdom is teaching, practicing, listening, and knowing all wrapped up together.
Dr. Gafney made a list of some people who are called wise in the Hebrew Bible: the people who build a tabernacle, that is a resting place and home base, for God in the book of Exodus; in Deuteronomy, the people of Israel who keep the Torah, that is, God’s commandments, are called wise; the shrewd woman who leads her people and saves them from death in 2 Samuel 20:22; and King Solomon, in 1 Kings 4, who was able to build a country because he uses his wisdom to build up his people. Their lives are models of wisdom. Dr. Gafney puts it this way, “[W]isdom is craft: statecraft, Torah-craft, craftwomanship, craftsmanship and craftiness.” It is using all your wit, all your training, all your intuition honed by experience, to honor God and to save your people. Therefore, to be a person of faith it to crave understanding the same way you crave that big piece of pie that has sat, tempting you, on the corner of the table all afternoon. This portion of Proverbs that we read today is about teaching people to crave insight and understanding the same way they crave a good meal in a lovely home crafted by a strong and smart woman. Proverbs tells us that Wisdom is a woman who is inviting you over. You would do well to accept that invitation.
This is a compelling vision of Wisdom, isn’t it? A woman, competent and welcoming, ready to empower you and make sure you have what you need to thrive. It is a vision that is not only in this one portion of Proverbs. Personified Wisdom moves all over scripture. In earlier parts of Proverbs 8, Wisdom is shown both as a part of God and as a craftswoman working alongside God to create the cosmos. The voice of Wisdom says, “I was beside God, like a master worker, and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing in God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” Sometimes this Wisdom is layered onto God’s word in the law, Torah. The Psalms say Wisdom-Word-Torah is a banquet and sweet like honey.
New Testament writers were even inspired by this image of personified Wisdom, and rooted their understanding of Jesus’ ministry and identity in it. Have you heard these words from the beginning of the book of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was the beginning with God. All things came to being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The author of John was talking about Jesus. But, doesn’t Jesus sound like Woman Wisdom working with God hewing and carving the cosmos out of chaos? And, don’t we read about Jesus moving through the Gospels, like Woman Wisdom, inviting all kinds of people, but most especially the people with the greatest needs, to eat and be full and be changed by eating together?
From the earliest days of our faith, well before there was anything called Winthrop Congregational Church United Church of Christ, well before there was even anything called Christianity, there was Wisdom and there was an invitation and there was hospitality and practice and work together to make something beautiful and useful. Not only do we return, again and again, to Wisdom’s table when we hear her call, but we also learn how to craft this table and cook this meal at her side, at Jesus’ side, so we can go out like the girls into the street and invite others to the feast, so we can make a bigger table, more pillars, bigger piles of food. Our is a faith rooted in this vision of abundance, of a table full of food that is always there if you but ask for it. We can even learn to prepare this kind of meal, to build this hospitable home, by the side of the One who makes it best. But, Wisdom doesn’t want us just to hoard this gift. Wisdom’s invitation, God’s invitation, is to pass it along, sharing it with others who need some space at the table and a little food to eat. Wisdom is going to the high places to invite everyone to come and eat. Are we ready to come to this feast and are we ready to help cook next time?
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following sources while writing her sermon:
I am particularly indebted to Dr. Wil Gafney who crafted such a powerful commentary on Woman Wisdom: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1360
Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, "Proper 15 ," Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice, eds Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Ronald J. Allen, And Dale P. Andrews (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)
James Limburgh: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3747
Sara Koenig: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=370
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.