Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Proverbs 9:1-6 Wisdom’s Feast
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.’
Guess who’s invited to dinner? You are. You are, too. And, you. And, all y’all on-line. We are all invited to dinner and Wisdom is cooking up a storm. Imagine the kitchen before Thanksgiving. Now, add the kitchen before Christmas. Now, add Easter supper and special birthday dinners and just a sprinkle of a wedding reception. We are talking about a big celebration or maybe just a Sunday Supper that always seems like a party. And, Wisdom is running the show and the reason we are there.
In a commentary she wrote on the text, Dr. Wil Gafney notes Wisdom is a woman at work. Wisdom is God’s Wisdom, represented as what Dr. Gafney calls an “independent and autonomous entity.” Dr. Gafney notes that, after working with God in building creation in chapter 8, Wisdom sets about hosting a great banquet. But, as Dr. Gafney notes, she doesn’t simply order other people to prepare for the celebration, as many wealthy and powerful people would. No. Wisdom joins right in with the work herself.
Look at all she does in just six verses. She builds an entire house. Do you know how long it takes to build a house? Of course you do. You all are a handy bunch. That means you also know how many skills it takes to build a house: Carpentry, masonry, plumbing, painting, engineering, design. It takes so much work to build a house. It’s sounds like it’s not a very small house either. It’s more like a banquet hall. You see, Wisdom is throwing a big party and needs a big space to host them all. So, she builds a house, directing her staff and working alongside of them, in a flannel shirt and work pants, with steel-toed boots, no doubt. Wisdom will make sure she has room for everybody who walks in her door. In fact, she’ll build the chairs herself.
Her home is both practical and beautiful. She has created seven pillars. While scholars disagree on why the scripture is so specific about the number and presence of the pillars, it seems clear that these pillars aren’t just posts to hold up a wall. Dr. Sarah Koenig notes that this kind of architecture is intended to be awe-inspiring, honoring God and marking this home as a site of something holy and good. And into this good and holy place, Wisdom will invite her guest.
I imagine her holding court in her kitchen. No doubt, you have seen someone at work like Wisdom was at work in this scripture. Imagine her in your mind now. Maybe it’s even you, having inherited the task of builder, host, and chef from your mother or grandmother or aunt. Directions and invitations ring out through the house: “Here, go cut these onions. Wash that big skillet and put it on the stove. Oh, it's almost time to put on the potatoes. Can someone find the good table cloths?” Wisdom brings out the good wine and the fancy grape juice. Wisdom sets her table, pulling out every mismatched plate in the house because she knows that people will keep showing up, and having a place for each and every one of them is more important that having matching dinnerware.
Wisdom builds a house and builds a table and cooks dinner... all in two verses. In the third, she sends out the invitations. She sends the girls from her household out to bring the neighbors. She also goes out to the highest places in town and shouts out to anyone who can hear, “Come on over! The table is full! We’ve got plenty to share.” She invites people she’s never met before, called here “the simple” and “those without sense.” It’s kind of funny word play, right? Because, if you’ve met Wisdom before, you wouldn’t be without sense, would you? It matters to her that she shares what she has with those who don’t already have it. She wanted them to come so badly that she went out herself, hostess of the party, and rounded up the guests who needed to be there most!
The final verse in our reading shows Wisdom inviting people to “walk in the way of insight.” What does this scripture mean when it talks about “insight”? I have appreciated the ways that Dr. Gafney unpacks the ideas around biblical wisdom helpful. She says that wisdom is not simply intellect. It is also a skill... expertise honed by experience and practice. Dr. Gafney notes that in the Bible, 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 is the mom who makes sure you point the knife away from your thumb when you carve, not towards it, so you don’t slip and cut yourself. Dr. Gafney calls this “heart-and-head knowledge.” In scripture, Wisdom is teaching, practicing, listening, learning, and knowing all wrapped up together.
In her commentary on this text, Dr. Gafney made a list of some of the 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; the people of Israel who keep God’s commandments in Deuteronomy; 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. Dr. Gafney says that their examples show us that “[W]isdom is craft: statecraft, Torah-craft, craftwomanship, craftsmanship and craftiness.” Wisdom is using all your wit, all your training, all your intuition that you have honed through experience, to honor God and to save your people. Here in Proverbs, a book dedicated to convincing younger people to dedicate themselves to God, we are shown a metaphor of Wisdom setting out a feast for strangers who haven’t met her yet. God hopes that you will crave insight as much as you crave a really good piece of pie.
This is a compelling vision of God’s Wisdom, isn’t it? A woman, competent and welcoming, ready to empower you and make sure you have what you need to thrive. We’ve been spending so much time lately talking about the ways that God is best understood in metaphors of abundance: in Elisha feeding folks in a famine, in Jesus feeding the 5,000, in God offering quail and manna. And, here, we have God’s Wisdom, building a big house, setting a big table, and drawing in the people who need her most to eat and be full and be changed by eating together. Our God is not a God who forces people to fight for scraps. Our God builds bigger and bigger tables. Wisdom keeps inviting us over for dinner.
This part of Proverbs is one of my favorite parts of the Bible. I am heartened by the way that it reminds us that from the earliest days of the faith that we have grown to call our own, well before there was anything called Winthrop Congregational Church United Church of Christ, well before there was even anything called Christianity, there was God and there was Wisdom and there was an invitation. There was hospitality and practice and work together to make something beautiful and useful. Some of us have been eating at Wisdom’s table for years. Some of us just showed up today, having heard her call from the hills and high places, “Come! Eat of my bread and the wine I have mixed.” Hers is a table we can return to again and again.
And, not only do we return as guests to this table, but we also learn how to set the table alongside her. We can become the girls she sends out to invite others. Wisdom shows us how to build this table and cook this meal at her side, so we can go out into the street and invite others to the feast. We take what we have learned, add in the leaf, pull up more chairs, and making the table bigger. We cook bigger piles of food. This story reminds us that ours is a faith rooted in this vision of abundance, of a table full of food that is always there if you but step in the door looking 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. Guess who’s invited to dinner? All of us. And, the ones whom we don’t even know yet. We better get ready to scooch over and make some space.
Resources consulted while writing the sermon:
Wil Gafney: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1360
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.