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The Rev. Dr. David von Schlichten The Rev. Dr. David von Schlichten
The Rev. Dr. David von Schlichten has been pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Youngstown, PA since 1997.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA


The Woman Less Listened To

Proverbs 9:1-6

Proper 15 - Year B

August 16, 2009

Imagine that you are standing in a forest, a yellow wood. Two women call to you, each from a different direction.

One is Woman Wisdom; we just heard about her in Proverbs nine. She is the wisdom of God. She stood alongside God at creation, worked with God in helping to hammer and saw the universe into shape. Wisdom assisted with hanging the cosmic dry-wall. She is the heart beat of God's creative genius.

Woman Wisdom teaches us mortals about God, instructs us on our place in the universe, which is a place of honor mixed with humility beneath the Almighty. Woman Wisdom opens our minds to the highest instruction, to Adonai's Torah, so that we grow in fragrant and nourishing righteousness.

Woman Wisdom constructs her house on seven pillars. Seven is God's number of completed creation, so we know that Wisdom builds her house according to the Lord's blueprints.

Then she puts on her apron and starts preparing the feast. She cooks. She mixes and pours the wine. She lays out the fine china and sparkling silverware. She lights candles and places flowers in vases. She sends out the servant girls. This is the feast of wisdom for our God. The lamb has been slaughtered. Take and eat the Wisdom Feast, given for you. This food is always delicious, never fattening, always nutritious. Wisdom's feast will never give you indigestion or heartburn, will not raise your cholesterol, will never make you feel too full. This feast will fill you with God's wisdom.

Imagine: You are standing in the forest, in the yellow wood, and you hear Woman Wisdom calling. She announces, "All you who are looking for wisdom; all you who are tired of the world's foolish frenzy, that racing around for nothing, that chasing after wind. Come in here. I offer you a feast. I serve you direction, purpose, clarity. I offer you holiness. I am Wisdom. Dinner is served. Taste and see that the LORD is good!"

That is Woman Wisdom, but she is not the only woman we hear about in Proverbs 9. If you read the whole chapter, you will also hear about Woman Foolishness. Picture her. In a dress two sizes too small Woman Foolishness calls to you, just as Woman Wisdom does. You step closer.

Woman Foolishness winks at you and says, "Hey, Baby! All you who are looking for wisdom, all you who are tired of the world's endless rules: Come in here, Baby. I have stolen water, which is sweeter. You can try my forbidden fruit. The illegal, forbidden stuff is yummier, more exciting. I'll show you a real good time. Hey, Baby. Why don't you come up and see me sometime!" 

She's hard to resist. Even if her flirtiness does not appeal to you, her offering of a sumptuous feast does. You enter the house of Woman Foolishness. You sit at her table. The feast does look scrumptious. The aroma makes your mouth water. You fill your plate, take a bite. This is good! It tastes great; but, as you chew, your mind grows fuzzy, groggy, like you've been drugged.

"What is this stuff?" you ask.

Woman Foolishness says, "Oh, that's one of my favorites, Baby. That dish is called Closed-Mindedness Casserole. Isn't it decadent?"

You pick up your goblet and drink what looks like water. It is bubbly and very sweet.

Woman Foolishness says, "That drink is called Scoff-at-the-Spirit Spritzer. Isn't it sinful?"

You're sick to your stomach. You have some serious heartburn. "I don't feel well," you say.

Woman Foolishness caresses your face with one hand. She stinks of perfume.

She says, "Don't worry, Baby. You'll get used to it. Just keep eating and drinking. Here, take and eat some cake. I call it Better-than-God Cake. It's devil's food, and, Baby, it is to die for."

You hear a voice. "You're in danger," the voice says. You excuse yourself to use the bathroom, where you splash cold water on your face. Water. Yes. Your mind wakes up. You remember who and whose you are.

And, now, Woman Foolishness reminds you of Sweeney Todd, the main character from the musical of the same name. Sweeney is a barber who lures people into his shop. "Come on in for a shave," he says. And once the person is settled in the chair, Sweeny slashes his throat. Then Sweeney sends the body to Mrs. Lovett, who grinds the victim up and makes him into meat pies to sell to unsuspecting customers. Shish.

In any case, as you splash more cold water on your face, you realize that Woman Foolishness is like Sweeney Todd. She lures you in so that she can kill you.

That voice that warned you now says, "Get out of there!" You recognize the voice. It's that of Woman Wisdom. You dash for the door.

Woman Foolishness calls after you, "Where you going, Baby?" When you ignore her, she yells, "Come back here, you idiot!" but you are out the door.

And you sprint through the yellow wood heading back toward the house less entered, the house of Woman Wisdom. And while you are still far off, Woman Wisdom sees you and is filled with compassion. She runs and puts her arms around you and kisses you.

She says, "Oh, I was worried sick about you. Come on in. Foolishness is never gonna harm you, not while I'm around. I'll give you a real meal. I am the meal." She adds, "Take and eat the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever."

She grabs you by the hand and pulls you inside. Her hand has a hole in it. The other hand does, too. Wisdom is wounded.

"For you," she says.

Woman Wisdom--she is here--right now. Whenever we hear someone read Scripture, Wisdom is feeding us. We may not always like the flavor of the passage, but we are always being fed wisdom when we hear Scripture. Whenever we hear someone preach the Good News, Wisdom is feeding us, even if the preacher isn't very talented. Some preachers are better than others, but all who proclaim the Good News are servant girls of the Wisdom-Feast.

Whenever we gather for worship, Wisdom stands before us, feeding us. We know that where two or three are gathered in Christ's name, he is there, comforting us, challenging us, making us wiser.

Whenever we are sinking down, sinking down from sin, and our hearts crawl to God, pleading for mercy, God grants us forgiveness. God liberates us. That is Wisdom.

Whenever we pray, whether in lament, anger, joy, or intimacy, whether with King Jamesian formality or Petersonian earthiness, whether for hours or seconds, God hears our prayers, and responds with Wisdom. Woman Wisdom listens and replies! You don't get sent to voice mail. You get a reply.  Woman Wisdom.

Whenever we participate in a baptism, she instructs us, renews us, reminding us of our own baptism. God's Wisdom washes us clean in a way we can never do ourselves, no matter how hard we scrub, no matter how long we soak in the tub. Woman Wisdom.

Whenever we hold out our hands to eat and drink Holy Communion, she feeds us in a special way, a way that cleanses us, strengthens us, reminds us of Christ's sacrifice for our salvation. Chew on the Wisdom. Swallow the Wisdom, feel her warm your chest. Taste and see that the LORD is good!

And whenever, whenever, we hear and speak the Good News that we have eternal life because of the wisdom that looks like foolishness, the Cross, we are feasting upon Wisdom. Woman Wisdom holds us, gives us more, makes us stronger and bolder. Christ is risen. Alleluia!

And as we sit at and devour this feast, we do so with fear. That's right. After all, Proverbs tells us over and over that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Of course, we are not eating and drinking with the same kind of fear that Sweeney Todd and Woman Foolishness stir up in us, the kind of fear that makes your heart sweat. No, this fear of God is respect, awe, reverence. It is the kind of fear that reminds us of our place in the universe. We are not God. We are mortals, lower than God. God rules. God commands. And we are to have awe. Fear.

This is the fear that guides the feasting fork to our mouths. This is the fear that casts out the fear of death. This is the agapic-fear that leads us to love, snatching us from Woman Foolishness so that she cannot slit our throats.

With this fear, then, we eat and drink, Woman Wisdom supplying the meal; and after the meal, we go out and feed others. Feed the hungry bodies and the hungry hearts. Woman Wisdom kisses you on the forehead and says, "Now get out there and feed others as I have fed you, and be sure to come back for more feasting, over and over. I never, ever, run out of food."

The short-story writer Raymond Carver has a piece that reminds me of Woman Wisdom feeding us and of our call to feed others. The story is entitled "A Small, Good Thing" and tells of a husband and wife who have a little boy with a birthday coming up. The couple calls the baker and orders a cake. Shortly afterward, the boy is hit by a car and killed. The couple is lost in a forest of grief. They have the viewing, the funeral. Inconsolable.

Meanwhile, the baker starts calling them, urging them to pick up their cake. He calls up and leaves these strange messages and then rudely hangs up before they have a chance to respond. It's outrageous and bizarre.  The couple is furious. They stomp down to the bakery and tell the baker what has happened--that their son has been killed. And the baker apologizes. He sits the man and woman down. He feeds them hot cinnamon rolls and fresh bread. And they talk. The pain of the child's death is still sharp, but there is healing in the eating and talking, the sharing.

Woman Wisdom feeds us, and then we feed each other. In the yellow wood, she calls to us. We follow the woman less listened to, and that makes all the difference.

Let us pray.

Wisdom-God, you have filled us with your Spirit and led us to what the world calls foolishness, the Cross, to give us life eternal. We praise you for feeding us your teaching, filling us with your instructive love. Lead us away from Foolishness. Direct us toward eating the Bread of Life and helping to feed the world. In the name of the Crucified One we pray. Amen.

 


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