Joshua 24:14-16 (MSG); Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (NRSV)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
November 12, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Joshua 24:14-16 (MSG)
“So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship God.
“If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”
The people answered, “We’d never forsake God! Never! We’d never leave God to worship other gods.”
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 (NRSV)
Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
And she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
And one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
And she graciously appears to them in their paths,
And meets them in every thought.
Here ends the reading for today. Thanks be to God.
I’m quite excited to be preaching this sermon today because in all of my years of preaching, I don’t think I’ve ever preached on The Wisdom of Solomon before. Many of us have never even READ this part of the Bible because it’s located in what we call the APOCRYPHA … the part between the Old Testament (Hebrew scripture) and the New Testament (the story of Jesus and the church). And to set the scene, let me give you a quick understanding of how the Bible is set up.
We have, of course, the Old Testament which is really not QUITE the same thing as Hebrew Scripture. It contains all the same information, but Christians changed the order of the books around from what you will find in the TANAK, the Jewish Bible. All the books are the same … all the information is the same … but the order of the books is different. (That’s a topic for another day.)
If you look at when the Jewish texts were written, the latest of them – the most recent – was written about 400 years before Jesus was born. And then the New Testament picks up with the birth of Jesus. So there’s this span of about 400 years that’s a break between the Old Testament and the New.
But people didn’t stop writing then.
And God certainly didn’t stop SPEAKING then.
There are several books that WERE written during that time, but they weren’t included in the Bible – what we call the Canon of Scripture (which just means those books that were agreed upon as being part of the accepted writings).
Now WHY wouldn’t something be included? Lots of reasons … politics, sometimes … the people in power didn’t want certain messages to become too popular … sometimes it was questionable authorship. One scholar put it this way: “The canonical process took place with believers recognizing writings as being INSPIRED by God from known or accepted ORIGINS, subsequently being followed by OFFICIAL affirmation of what had become largely established through the study and debate of the writings.”[i]
Today, I think we look at writings with a different eye because we RECOGNIZE that there’s often value in things that might not have been “officially approved.”
Anyway … there’s a whole body of literature that fits that category. It’s sometimes called Intertestamental literature, and the Roman and Orthodox churches use the term Deuterocanonical Literature while we Protestants will call it Apocryphal Literature. (Apocryphal is a great Scrabble word … A P O C R Y P H A L!) 😊
“Apocrypha” means ‘hidden things,’ but it is not clear why the term was chosen to describe these books. It could mean that they were ‘hidden’ or withdrawn from common use because they were viewed as containing mysterious or esoteric teaching, too profound to be communicated to any except the initiated.”[ii] OR it could mean that they deserved to be ‘hidden’ because they were thought to be spurious or heretical. Either way, scholars today recognize their importance in understanding Judaism during those 400 years, and hence, its effect on the beginnings of Christianity.
Anyway, this intertestamental literature that was written during the gap of time between the Old and New Testaments is very beautiful, like this Wisdom of Solomon – sometimes just called the Book of Wisdom – that we read today.
You’ll notice that today’s reading talks about Wisdom (with a capital “W”). But it’s not the kind of wisdom that WE think of as some kind of smarts that come from experience.
In THESE writings, Wisdom is DIVINE … it’s part of GOD.
In fact, there is a whole COLLECTION of Biblical writings known as Wisdom Literature that includes some parts of the canonized Bible – the Bible that WE know – like Job, parts of the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Book of Wisdom (which is where today’s reading comes from – it’s often called the Wisdom of Solomon), the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon), and Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus).[iii] And to say that something belongs to this body of Wisdom literature is to recognize the it was written – it came out of the TRADITION – of this mystical understanding of Energy and the SPIRIT of God.
This book is titled The Wisdom of Solomon. And although TRADITION said it was written by King Solomon, we know it couldn’t have been because the timing was WAY off. Instead, “the author was an anonymous Hellenistic Jew writing sometime in the late first century BCE, or the early first century CE.”[iv]
This idea of Wisdom as part of God developed throughout the Mideast during that time and became known by its Greek name, SOPHIA (which MEANS “wisdom”). And sometimes in the early Biblical literature, she was known as Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom.
Wisdom literature suggests that we have an inner KNOWLEDGE, an inner wisdom, or an inner RECOGNITION of holy things. I think of it like how we talk about the Holy Spirit leading us to know what Scripture means to us at any given time. It’s a very MYSTICAL concept. In fact, in the “mystical theology of the Eastern ORTHODOX Church, Holy Wisdom is understood as the Divine Logos – the Divine Word [… the SAME Word (capital “W”) of God that we find in the opening of John’s gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.” Wisdom is that same WORD, logos] … who became incarnate as Jesus Christ.”[v]
We all HAVE this Word … this logos … inside of us.
We all have Sophia – this Holy WISDOM – inside of us.
She is an EXPRESSION of God. It’s a very EASTERN understanding of Spirit, actually. Some of us who read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book The Wisdom Jesus, have been exposed to the idea that REALLY, Jesus was a WISDOM teacher, following in the great traditions of the Eastern mystics. Which would make sense because legend has always had it that from when he was 12 until he was about 30 he had traveled and studied with different groups around the Mideast.
But anyway … the thing about the mystic WISDOM traditions is that they look at the WHOLE person. In fact, they are “concerned with the transformation of the whole human being. Transformation from what to WHAT? Well, for a starter, from our animal instincts and egocentricity into … love and compassion; from a judgmental and dualistic worldview into … a nondual [acceptance of things. As Bourgeault puts it:]. This was the message that Jesus, apparently out of NOWHERE, came preaching and teaching, a message that was radical in its own time and remains equally radical today.”[vi]
Looking at the teachings of Jesus through the eyes of Holy Wisdom – a specific ENERGY that connects all of creation – well, it explains some things about his disciples … not the LEAST of which is Why did they FOLLOW this man? I mean, really … his followers didn’t know HIM. They didn’t have any idea of the OUTCOME. THEY didn’t know that he’d be crucified and rise from the dead.
What WAS it about HIM that caused them to believe? … to risk EVERYTHING for him? … to walk away from who they were … from their families … their fishing nets … EVERYTHING in order to follow this stranger?
What is it about him that causes US to follow him today?
Well, going back to the reading we all just did from the Intertestamental writing, the Wisdom of Solomon (also known as the Book of Wisdom) … this Holy Wisdom – called Sophia – this ENERGY that is the living God – this Wisdom – this JESUS Holy Wisdom, Sophia – is radiant and unfading, Jesus Wisdom / Sophia is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. I mean … if that doesn’t describe JESUS, then what does?
According to the Scripture: To fix one’s thought on this Jesus Wisdom is perfect understanding, And one who is vigilant on Wisdom’s account will soon be free from care, because this Jesus Wisdom goes about seeking those worthy of her, And she graciously appears to them in their paths, And meets them in every thought.
Jesus is the FULFILLMENT of Holy Wisdom in human form.
And Sophia … this Holy Wisdom … is a FEMINIE divine presence to balance the male God.
But the question remains … whether we’re talking about a disciple in the first century, or one of us disciples today in the twenty-first century: “How do you KNOW? when you stand before this man for the very first time, how do you KNOW whether he’s trustworthy or not? Whether you will give your heart to him or keep your distance?
“He isn’t wearing a crown of gold (or a crown of thorns either). He looks like anybody else, except for the intense light in his eyes beckoning you forward. And as you step into that circle of light, what [comes up?] Your own knowingness. [Somehow we just KNOW. The fact that at some LEVEL, we KNOW he is the Christ. We KNOW he is something special.] … “Who do you say I am?” [he] asks repeatedly throughout the gospels. Which really means, “Who or what in you RECOGNIZES me?” [vii]
I’d never really, consciously thought about it before this week … but how does each one of us KNOW that Jesus is the one?
What is it in ME that RECOGNIZES him and knows that I am supposed to FOLLOW him?
This is a crucial question of our faith – and I think the answer lies in Wisdom. She is that part of the Divine within us that recognizes the Divine spark OTHERS.
It is a sort of RECOGNITION energy, I think.
We recognize other people with whom we share life experiences. If you’ve survived abuse, for instance … you can usually recognize others who are survivors, too. If you are a spiritual-type person … a BELIEVER … you can usually recognize that in OTHERS who are spiritual believers.
If you live, LOOKING for the KOG (the Kingdom of God) then you will recognize OTHERS who are looking to live in the KOG.
It’s a HEART connection, I think. This energy of recognition travels between hearts … between the Wisdom / God PRESENCES that are housed inside each one of us.
That’s how we recognize Jesus … and that’s how we recognize GOD.
And that’s what Jesus came here to teach us how to do. He DEMONSTRATED that. He LIVED that with his Disciples and he told us that WE should expect the same thing, too.
ALL of the Wisdom writings – Job, parts of the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, today’s Wisdom of Solomon, the Song of Solomon, and Sirach – they ALL presuppose this connectional energy of God … this Holy WISDOM … as the source of their message … the Source of Life.
Joshua tells us that we have to CHOOSE the God we will worship. But how do we know which one to choose?
Do we choose the god of the people who tell us to worship bigotry and hate?
Or do we choose the God who tells us to worship inclusivity and love?
Do we choose the god who leads us to separation and judgment? Or do we choose the God who unites and brings about JUSTICE?
Do we choose the god who is concerned with partisan politics? Or do we choose the God who brings everyone together in the Kingdom of GOD?
Well, we have to choose the one that resonates with our inner wisdom. We have to choose the God that we RECOGNIZE, heart-to-heart through the spark of Holy Wisdom that is within us. And that may not be popular with our friends and family. It may not be EASY … but it WILL mean that we are following JESUS, the WISDOM Jesus who lives inside each of us.
And that, my friends, is what we have all committed to doing by walking on the Path with him.
May God bless our choices and our every step on this journey. Amen.
[i] McDonald, Lee Martin (2009). Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings. Louisville, KY 40202-1396. pp. 11–33. ISBN 978-0664233570. Retrieved 24 November 2015 and downloaded from [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocrypha] on 11/11/2017
[ii] The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Augmented Third Edition). New York: Oxford University Press. ©2007, p. [3 Apocryypha].
[iv] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. [70 Apocrypha].
[vi] Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Kindle Locations 172-174). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
[vii] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 232-238).