Wisdom in Action –
Audio here as ever.. fuller than text below!
23rd September Wisdom in Action Prov 31 & James 3:13-4:3
Sometimes in life we can set ourselves targets that seem far too hard to make, we set goals and aspirations in our heads that we feel we will never meet, we knock ourselves down every time for failing to live up to our own self imposed standards
Sometimes these roles and goals are mirrored in society -we see other people striving for them, so we think they’re good .
Or maybe we feel that the world wants to fit us in a box, to make us into something we don’t feel comfortable with, we see opportunities we’d love to have had, but we’re too old, or too young, or the so called wrong gender !
Perhaps we’ve just gone for it –and felt the backlash in comment, or disapproval, for not fitting to ascribed roles or ways of living, for eschewing promotion, or a “ sensible career” or just plain being misunderstood.
We’ve all suffered this to an extent I’m sure. Perhaps it is as young people we feel it most keenly, trying to work out who we are and where we fit?
I wonder how the Old Testament reading made you feel this morning?
It’s a passage that brings out mixed feelings in both men & women. It reads like some sort of description of a superwoman that makes women feel inadequate and men wondering why they missed out on this paragon!
It’s a passage I struggled with as younger woman
–all a bit too perfect , the Ancient Jewish 1950s Stepford wives perhaps?
It’s probably time to turn the traditional Christian interpretation of this passage upside down a little! It’s had a lot of debate in recent years, and I acknowledge the work and writing of some wonderful writers in helping me to see it differently now!**
Proverbs 31 is often referred to as the passage about the virtuous wife, or the wife of noble character… a title that is really both inaccurate and very misleading – the woman in this passage is in Hebrew called Eshet chayil – a woman of valour –a much more inclusive title to start with!
The passage is actually a poem, one full of vivid imagery, hyperbole, exaggerated to make the point!
in Hebrew it’s an acrostic poem, where every line begins with a letter of the alphabet in succession, it’s a poem of praise to the every day, the honouring of the work of a woman, and in the Jewish tradition it is a passage that men learn and study in order to praise their wives –
However in the Christian tradition somehow what has happened is that this beautiful poem of praise has somehow become a task list for “proper women” something to which young women should aspire, and plan their lives by, a straightjacket more than a celebration.
It was never intended to be a command, rather a commendation, it certainly wasn’t written as an aspirational charge to young women, to see what they could “ achieve” or what they should be..
Instead this passage draws together and highlights the teaching that has run through much of the book of proverbs, teaching about wisdom.
Wisdom is often personified as female, it’s also associated as I know I’ve mentioned before with the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the work of the Spirit in our lives.
The description of the woman of valour, exemplifies the outworking of wisdom in life.
For this woman, it is not her accomplishments and her physical achievements that matter, but her virtues – her dedication & wisdom, her peaceful character, her love.
They are what bear fruit in her life, just as they do in ours.
Another woman in the bible who is described as Eshet chayil is Ruth. Ruth who was single, widowed, Ruth who was childless, who was poor and who was a refugee, an asylum seeker…
While she was all these things she is described as a woman of valour – she has honour and praise because of her virtues, and her wisdom not because of her accomplishments and her achievements.
Ruth and the Woman of Valour in Proverbs 31 show us what wisdom is like in action –
They show is it’s not what you do but how you do it.
Our roles should not define us as people. The woman in Proverbs 31 should not be identified by her business acumen or her domestic goddess status,
Or even by her motherhood, or marriage.
If we define ourselves by what we DO what happens when those roles change?
Our greatest calling is not to motherhood or fatherhood, to marriage or leadership, or any of these other fine & worthwhile things
Our greatest calling, men & women alike is to be disciples of Christ, and we can do that regardless of what we do,
We can do that single or married, childless or with a houseful, poor, rich, educated or without an O level or GCSE to our name,
James in our New Testament reading today puts this all in context for everybody. Wisdom is what undergirds our lives.
Wisdom from above, first pure then peaceable, gentle willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits…
His description sounds remarkably similar to Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit – linking once again the idea of Wisdom with the Spirit.
It is the Spirit at work in us that produces this good fruit, the actions and achievements
Wisdom in action comes when we follow our highest calling to be disciples of Christ, rather than putting our roles and identities first.
Just for a moment to return to the women…
I’m delighted that it looks more positive that the vote on women bishops in the Church of England might go through in November, thanks to a wise and careful bit of phrasing of the legislation,
But I hope & pray that what matters most about the first women to be consecrated bishops is that their wisdom and character are paramount. It will be too easy to check list off the academic and pastoral accomplishments of so many senior woman clergy , but what matters most is their character and their discipleship.
All of us have different vocations, our roles will change throughout our lives,
When we put our vocation to be disciples first, we free ourselves from the expectations of other roles, from the need to be “successful”, and from the need to conform to other roles & ideals. We allow ourselves whether male or female, young or old, to be rooted in wisdom and to be people of valour,
Following Christ and living out the fruit of that discipleship is what really matters.
** notably Rachel Held Evans without whom this sermon would never have happened, and I’d have stuck to the Gospel reading for this Sunday!!