I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite comics is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin, the overly-imaginative boy, goes on adventures with his stuffed tiger who comes to life in his mind. And the comic only has a small list of characters—people that interact with Calvin—but the best one, in my opinion, is his dad.
Calvin’s dad has his son’s complete adoration for his wisdom and expansive knowledge. He teaches Calvin such important life lessons as how shoveling the driveway builds character (sometimes too much character, according to Calvin), how the Southwest is all dried and burnt-looking because that’s where the sun goes down, and black-and-white photos are only that way because the world didn’t have any colors until about the 1960s. In so many ways, Calvin’s dad offers the kind of wisdom that’s the most realistic: the kind you make up as you go. He’s the kind of dad I think dads readily relate to.
But in the best light, fathers do have that kind of cultural role of passing wisdom on to their children, teaching important life lessons, and shaping them to become capable adults. That wisdom gets passed on as “life lessons” that help us see the world in a different way, notice pitfalls before they happen, help us think through difficult situations. We can all probably think of the ways our dads and father figures shaped our understanding of the world and helped us prepare for life’s ups and downs. And all that accumulated advice is what we consider “wisdom.”
The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. It shows up in stories that teach important lessons that help us grow in our faith. It shows up in songs of praise in the Psalms and the prophets. And wisdom shows up maybe the most obviously in the book of Proverbs, a whole list of wise sayings to help us navigate life. And we read from the book of Proverbs today about wisdom, and what she does to get us to listen.
Biblically, Wisdom is a woman who stands at the gate and the crossroads—two of the places with the heaviest traffic in the ancient world. Everyone would walk by those two locations. She stands at the busiest intersections calling out for people to come and listen and live. She offers her advice freely, and she has a purpose in offering that advice: to give us life. A life guided by wisdom is a life that is full and long and happy. All we have to do, she says, is come and listen to her instructions.
This kind of wisdom stands apart from how some cultures depict wisdom. So much of the time, wisdom seems to be a thing that’s only accessible to people who have time to contemplate, or who have access to secret knowledge, or have means to get the best teachers. But Woman Wisdom isn’t hard to find. She isn’t hard to access, and her lessons aren’t hidden from most people. Instead, she’s at the crossroads. She is where we are, ready to guide whoever wants to learn.
Biblical wisdom also isn’t some kind of esoteric, floating-above-it-all kind of knowledge either. It’s not some ancient philosophy that only wizened old dudes with long white beards get to know about. No, Biblical wisdom is like a dad’s wisdom: practical, immediate, down-to-earth. She gives bits of wisdom to us as deep as “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5) to as straightforwardly practical as “eat only enough honey for you, or else, having too much, you will vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16) Even when she speaks deep truths, Wisdom gives them in easily understood ways. And she gives this advice so that we can come and live, as she says.
And part of that living is delighting in the world. Wisdom tells us that she was present with God at the beginning of creation, absolutely joyful in what God was doing and the world God was making. Wisdom rejoiced in the world, delighting in humanity. It’s often so easy to think of wisdom as a stoic, serious thing that we forget there is wisdom in being joyful about the world and celebrating the amazing reality of God’s creation!
Wisdom helps us enter that joy because Wisdom wants us to have life—and our life is found in the life of the Trinity. This Sunday we celebrate the nature of God as three and one, perfect in community, and part of the nature of God is that each Person of the Trinity delights in the others. It’s a joy so complete that the love and delight each Person of the Trinity has for the others spilled over into a whole creation that could receive that joy, because it had to go somewhere. And the whole of salvation history, from the first covenant with Noah to the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, has been one long invitation to be part of that joyful delight of the Trinity. We’re invited into that joy, and we can get there by following Wisdom’s lead, who rescues us from ignorance and brings us into God’s own life. And Wisdom has such a big part in this because Wisdom is begotten by God.
In fact, for centuries the Church has connected the Old Testament’s Woman Wisdom with the New Testament’s Word of God—which you may recognize as Jesus. Wouldn’t it just make sense that Wisdom, in the way she invites us into the joy of the life of the Trinity by giving us God’s own wisdom, would be the same Person as Jesus, who rescues us into the joy of the life of the Trinity by giving us God’s own grace?
After all, Wisdom is described as having been there before the beginning of the earth—and Jesus tells us that he was loved by the Father before all worlds began. And Wisdom is described as being the master worker who worked with God in constructing the universe, just as it’s said about Jesus that “all things came into being through him.” Jesus is the light of the world, just as Wisdom is the light that guides us to God.
Jesus gives us wisdom. Jesus has spent the last several chapters of the gospel of John offering prayer and advice to his disciples before his departure. But he promises them that they won’t be alone, even after he is physically gone from their presence. He will send the Paraclete—the one who comes alongside and walks with us. The Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, will teach us and remind us of everything Jesus taught. And when Jesus says the Paraclete will be sent to us, he meant all of us—the whole Christian community. The Spirit of Truth will be found in everyone who trusts in God. Just like how Wisdom stands at the crossroads, the Spirit of Truth will be easy to find and ready to give us wisdom that leads to life.
So listen for the advice of the Spirit. Listening is always the first and most important part of gaining wisdom. Listen to the Spirit speak through our neighbors—our close neighbor, our far neighbor, our white neighbor, our black neighbor, our college-degree-bearing neighbor, our worked-from-fifteen-years-old neighbor, our straight neighbor, our gay neighbor, our rich neighbor, our poor neighbor, and every neighbor who bears the Spirit of Truth in the world. Hear Wisdom speak through them when she tells us what gives life, and when she reminds us to delight in creation, and when she lifts up the importance of wisdom over worldly riches.
God guides us to wisdom by the Spirit of Truth, and she stands at every crossroads, dwells in every gate, announces from every child of God who is her habitation; calling to us to come, sit, learn, delight—and live.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
I like to joke that my family is like the Hotel California—“you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” My parents, maybe by accident, ended up making our family system one that sucks people in like a black hole of love, adopting friends to become like family who become part of what we always did. It’s why, even after my sister’s first marriage has been over for going on six years, her stepkids are still very much my niece and nephew. My parents have always valued being family to whoever needs it; it’s one of those things I’m glad they taught me growing up.
And being a close knit family isn’t something that’s outside of the experience for us at Our Savior’s. It feels like every other week I discover some new family connection in the congregation; people I didn’t realize were related (well, I knew they were related, but I didn’t know how). So when Paul talks about the church being the family of God, and the members being children of God—well, we get a really good picture of that. We here are a literal family!
But there’s a different reason we’re family as a church. It’s not the fact that y’all are all each other’s relatives by blood or by marriage—no, what makes us family as the Church is the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is a spirit of adoption, as Paul writes, God’s free choice to make us part of the family. God brings us in together, and whether or not we have anyone we’re related to in the congregation, we are family because we are in the Spirit.
God first gathered this family of God with the rushing wind and the tongues of fire that appeared in the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost. This day is really important, as well, because Pentecost was and still is a Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. Moses came down the mountain with the covenant God made with the people, and in that covenant was the Law that showed them how to live. Well, just as the Jews received the covenant of God through the Law on Pentecost, the church received the covenant of grace on Pentecost, in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
See, the disciples were all gathered together, and suddenly they heard this rush of a violent wind—remember the wind of God on the surface of the waters of creation? And tongues, as of fire, broke into the house and landed on each one of them. Set on fire by the Holy Spirit, the disciples started prophesying, naming the deeds done by Jesus and the salvation he brought. But the catch was that these disciples weren’t speaking their own language; they were speaking the languages of every devout Jew in Jerusalem.
Now, if you’ve ever been in a situation where you are surrounded by people speaking in a way that you simply do not understand—whether because it’s a foreign language or it’s English using so much jargon that you don’t understand—it can be like a homing beacon piercing through the darkness when you hear something you understand. These Jews in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost heard their native languages, and like moths to a flame they had to find out where it was coming from.
What they found was a group of Galileans prophesying about how God had brought salvation in Jesus Christ. But the thing that was especially unusual is that these Jews point out how these prophets are all Galileans, speaking in their various languages. How did they know they were Galileans? One of my good friends and a colleague in South Dakota suggested that it may have been their accent that gave them away.
Yes, the Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak foreign languages, but didn’t take away their accent that gave away where they were from.
I love this detail because it tells us that God doesn’t take away who we are when we are called to share the gospel. Instead, God lifts up and celebrates the things that make us different. God lets the person we are shine through as we share God’s good news. God wants you to let who you are color the unique way you can share the good news of God’s salvation with others. All of our own life experiences, our cultural background, our way of seeing the world is all a part of how God calls us to share our experience of God so that others can come to know and love Jesus and work for the just and loving world he calls us to embody.
But it doesn’t stop at us. God doesn’t merely want the sharers of the gospel to bring their whole selves into the mission. God also wants the ones who receive the gospel to bring their whole selves too. Notice that God didn’t undo the variety of languages the Jews in Jerusalem were speaking. Instead, God came to them in the language and culture they already knew. God didn’t ask them to leave who they were behind in order to participate in the kingdom. Instead, God wants the whole variety of all people, everywhere.
Pentecost reminds us that God celebrates the diversity of humanity. It means we’re called to reflect that celebration, lifting up the beautifully different ways that people around the world name and honor God. And that’s not just the variety of people overseas; no, God calls us to celebrate the ways that Black Baptists down south worship God, and celebrate how small-town Lutherans worship God, and celebrate how undocumented migrant communities celebrate God, and celebrate how refugees from Syria worship God. And we celebrate all of these differences, the ways of people who might be nothing like us, because God has knit us into one family by the power of the Holy Spirit. God makes us one family, and doesn’t ask us to leave behind what makes us unique—whether as individuals or as groups.
God calls together the liberals and the conservatives into one family without asking them to leave that part of them behind. God calls together black people and white people together into the same family, without asking them to leave that part of their experience behind. God calls together men and women, young and old, city and country, citizen and immigrant to be part of the one family of God, because God has poured out the Spirit on us all.
Throughout history, the Church may be the most dysfunctional family there is, but it is a family. We are bound to one another in the Spirit, to care for one another, to love one another, to correct one another, and to celebrate one another. God has poured out the Spirit on us all, and that makes even the black sheep of the family have something important to say. It’s why God loves the variety of us all.
And as this one family of God, we are called to celebrate the variety of what this family looks like. We’re called to lift up and honor the many different traditions, different experiences, different languages we all speak knowing that God wants it all here, in its great big boisterous variety. The Church is called to unity in Christ, but nowhere is that unity meant to be uniformity. Instead, the story of God’s salvation is only made richer by just how different this family is.
And that is truly something we can celebrate.
Thanks be to God. Amen.