Monday, August 17, 2009

Fear of the Lord, only the beginning of Wisdom.

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 9:1-10
Bror Erickson

[9:1] Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.
[2] She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
[3] She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
[4] "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!"
To him who lacks sense she says,
[5] "Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
[6] Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight." Proverbs 9:1-6 (ESV)

[10] The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Tradition has it that it was Solomon who wrote Proverbs, the wisest of men, who in his youth asked God for wisdom, rather than a long life, and riches. God promised to give the young king this wisdom. It seems tragic though, the life of Solomon. As wise as he was, he was led astray in life, by the very women he warns the youth about in Proverbs. Tradition has it, he died repentant. But for all his wisdom, he was still a sinner. How often are we not the same? We know better, but we do it anyway. Or as the saying goes, “old enough to know better, still too young to care.” What bothers me is I find myself sinning, even when I care. I know better, I care, and yet I find myself doing it anyway. That is the nature of sin. Solomon had wisdom, he knew better, he probably even cared, and yet he sinned anyway. This is one of those Bible stories that grabbed a hold of me as a boy, that God gave Solomon wisdom. I think from the first I heard this story I coveted his wisdom. I would pray for it. At the same time I would try to avoid haircuts to see if I could be strong like Samson. I never attained the Wisdom of Solomon, or the strength of Samson, but I did learn a thing or two. I learned that God doesn’t answer everyone the same way, prayers are not magical incantations that manipulate God with the same results every time, unless of course, He promises in scripture to give us what we pray for, such as in the Lord’s Prayer. We can be assured that our sins are forgiven. But Solomon’s wisdom? I think I can honestly say, I am not the wisest of men. I don’t think I’m the dumbest either. There is wisdom in merely seeking the counsel, guidance and expertise of others though. And since Solomon’s wisdom is that which I have often coveted, Solomon’s books have always been among my favorite of the Bible, The Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Though, one who truly wants wisdom and insight will not ignore any portion of God’s word. For it is in God’s word, that we gain knowledge of the Holy One.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I have always found that phrase to be strange. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. So many people quote that. And there is obvious truth to it. You would have to be a very foolish man indeed, to not fear God, to ignore Him. But it is only the beginning. I tend to believe everyone has this fear to some extent. It is inborn in us, with the law of God written on our hearts.
[15] They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them Romans 2:15 (ESV)

I mean this is why even atheists tend to display a moral capacity, sometimes even with more rectitude than theists. But fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom. It is the law on our hearts that ways heavy under a life time of sin, a conscience that never seems to stop accusing and torturing the soul even unto death with questions of worthiness. “Have I been good enough?” And this is where the beginning of wisdom so often goes wrong, it tries to find a way of answering this question in the positive. In doing so, it starts to form an idol. We try fashion a God after our own image. A God who overlooks our sinful behavior, or even condones it! It stumbles in arrogance, pride, and the love of self. Fear of God alone gets you nowhere, it is only the beginning, and if you don’t get sidetracked by the women of folly, the virgins of wisdom will beckon you in to her house, hewn of seven pillars, a perfect house, built on the cornerstone the builders rejected, Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God who gives us insight.
Solomon describes Wisdom as a woman, the way Paul talks about the Church as the bride of Christ. He personifies wisdom, a woman, who builds her house, hews seven pillars. Seven being a number symbolizing perfection in the Old Testament, as God created the world in seven days, completing his work, in six, and taking the seventh to enjoy it. She sends out her young women to call the simple minded, and those who lack sense in, where she has prepared a feast for them, she says eat of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mixed.
I don’t know about you, but I just felt a tinge of arrogance touch at me. “Simple minded? Lack Sense?” Are these those who are to belong to the church? Do I have to count myself simple minded before I can drink of the wine wisdom has mixed? Why should I want to be counted there, among simple minded? Believe me, I take way too much pride in my intellect to easily think of myself as simple minded. And yet I recall Christ saying something about the kingdom of God belonging to such as these, as he gathered infants into his arms, and admonished his disciples to become like them. I don’t know about you, but I am often amazed at the simple yet strong faith displayed by little children. I knew a man once who let his son finally be baptized at ten. I asked why he waited so long, and he said because he believed in “Believers” baptism. He didn’t like it when I asked him, “Seriously, your boy has lived in your house for ten years, and never before showed any signs of faith?” I find that hard to believe of any Christian family. God loves the little ones, and gathers them to Him. They have faith, often stronger than that of their parents, who are often too proud to classify themselves as simple minded. I mean Children will accept without hesitation that the bread the church offers us to eat is the body of Christ which He talks about in our Gospel lesson, and that the wine wisdom mixes is the blood of Christ that gives us life. This sometimes makes me wonder why we don’t instruct them earlier, and allow them to come to the rail much younger than we do. It is no intellectual feat that discerns the Body, but simple minded faith believing that God is God, and He does what He wants. If Jesus says this is my body, this is my blood, why should we doubt? For there is the forgiveness of sins. And it is forgiveness that offers us true insight into the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ. That is what he is about, forgiveness and forgiveness alone. The fear of Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but knowledge of the Holy One is insight. We know the Holy One, we know Jesus Christ, alone in the forgiveness of sins, which seems like such folly to the world, but the foolishness of God is wiser than men. (1 Cor.1:25) It is the arrogant wisdom of men, that would question God, that would deny that infants can have faith, or that God would work forgiveness in something as simple as water combined with His word, or that the bread He breaks, and the cup He blesses is His body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. It is this wisdom, the false wisdom of men, that is true folly, that builds its house of straw, and stubble, and forsakes the house of seven hewn pillars, the perfect house of wisdom, built on His word and sacraments. True wisdom is found, not in mere fear of the Lord alone, but in knowledge of the Holy One who forgives our sins, and his house of worship, where wisdom gives us faith to eat her bread, and drink her wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for you for the forgiveness of sins that leads to true life, and salvation. For fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is insight. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it is essential to faith, but is not the some total. Knowledge of the Holy One is insight, because with forgiveness we learn to not only fear God, but Love and Trust, and that is faith, the highest of all wisdom, to fear Love and trust in God above all things, faith that saves on account of Christ, the death and resurrection of the Holy One. He who has faith in, and not only fear of the Lord, has wisdom, though he be simple minded.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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