The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 6/7/98
Text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

School is out. "No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks..." Somewhere I read of the last day of classes being marked by yelling and cheering, bells, whistles, cartwheels in the halls...and that was the TEACHERS!

Of course, this is the time for Baccalaureate services and Commencement exercises. It was a delight to watch my own son march with his high school graduating class on Friday night. Just as every other proud pappa, with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, I was snapping pictures at the moment he received his diploma. Peter Gomes, the chaplain at Harvard, in a commencement speech at Stanford said, "I remember when I got my diploma several years ago--it was an exciting day, with all the processionals, the ceremony, the talks by the speakers who told us about our responsibility to save the world. I remember after I got my diploma in my hand, as the crowd began to disperse, I looked around me past the stadium to the city beyond and then began to think of the size of the world that lay even beyond the city. I looked down at my diploma again, then back at the city and the world, and as I turned again to the diploma, from out of nowhere, those famous words by Tallulah Bankhead suddenly came into my mind, "Truly, there is less here than meets the eye."(1) As one who, in the course of years, has received several of those expensive wall-hangings, I add my Amen.

I am not here expressly to address graduates this morning nor even to reflect on the end of another school year, but if I were, I could not choose a subject for my remarks better than the one chosen by the church's lectionary reading for this day - wisdom:

	Does not wisdom call,
		and does not understanding raise her voice?
	On the heights, beside the way,
		at the crossroads she takes her stand;
	Beside the gates in front of the town, 
		at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
	"To you, O people, I call, 
		and my cry is to ALL that live.

By way of background, this day is known on the Liturgical calendar as Trinity Sunday, the one Sunday in the entire year set aside to focus on, not an important event, but an important doctrine. A confusing doctrine? A bit, perhaps. The late Cardinal Cushing said that, when he was a parish priest, he was summoned to a store to give last rites to a man who had collapsed. Following the custom of his church, he knelt by the man and asked, "Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?" Then, the Cardinal said, the man roused a little, opened one eye, and said, "Here I am dying and you ask me a riddle?"(2) For some, indeed the concept may seem to be a riddle, but it is the way the church has learned to express how we have come to know Almighty God.

How did the church arrive at this formula? It is not spelled out anywhere. Nowhere in scripture do we even find the word TRINITY. But as we read and study those sacred pages, we meet God in three persons...Father, Son, Spirit...each distinct, yet each uniquely divine. The church could have decided that this means we deal with three different Gods, but further reflection said NO to that - just ONE God whom we know in three different ways. It was a WISE conclusion. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the church chose its Old Testament reading from Proverbs on this Trinity Sunday, part of the so-called WISDOM literature. This took WISDOM.

Listen again to the text. Wisdom is personified, takes voice and speaks in soaring poetry:

	The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
		the first of his acts of long ago.
	Ages ago I was set up,
		at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
	When there were no depths I was brought forth, 
		when there were no springs abounding with water.
	Before the mountains had been shaped, 
		before the hills, I was brought forth.
	When he had not yet made earth and fields, 
		or the world's first bits of soil.  
	When he established the heavens, I was there, 
		when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 
	When he made firm the skies above, 
		when he established the fountains of the deep, 
	When he assigned to the sea its limit, 
		so that the waters might not transgress his command,
	When he marked out the foundations of the earth, 
		then I was beside him, like a master worker; 
	And I was daily his delight, 
		rejoicing before him always, 
			rejoicing in his inhabited world 
				and delighting in the human race.

According to this, Wisdom is not about to take a back seat to anyone or anything in its importance in this world. And that pre-eminence extends back to creation. Tying this back to our opening thoughts about the end of the school year, that is not a bad theme for a baccalaureate or commencement address. If a graduate or ANYone would choose a worthy goal, Wisdom would be a wonderful choice.

If that is indeed your goal, the book of Proverbs has a good deal to say about it, beside the fact that it is so crucially important. For example, what is the source of wisdom? Proverbs 2:6 - "For the LORD gives wisdom..." In other words, wisdom is not something for which we study or go to school. Knowledge, yes; wisdom, no. Wisdom, according to scripture, is one more good gift of a gracious God.

Wisdom is like grits. Yes, grits. A Pennsylvania fellow traveling in our part of the country stopped by a mom & pop restaurant for breakfast. He ordered eggs, bacon and toast only to be surprised by an amorphous white mass on his plate when the food was served. "What's this?" he asked.

"Grits," replied the waitress.

"I didn't order grits," said the traveler.

"No matter," said the waitress, "they just come."

Wisdom is like grits. It just comes.

I wish I could say that it will eventually be ours, like it or not, if we just wait long enough, but we all be wiser. Even the ancient Greeks said, "Not by years but by disposition is wisdom acquired."(3) Everyone of us probably knows someone who has been on the job for ten years, but instead of ten year's experience, he has ONE year's experience ten times. Just as with those grits, they might "just come," but they mean nothing at all to you if you leave them on the plate.

What can wisdom do for you? Well, there are health and welfare benefits: Proverbs 3:16 - "Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor."

Long life? OK. Knowledge of good health practices - diet, exercise, no smoking, and so on - are all well and good, but it takes some wisdom to actually put that knowledge into practice. On the golf course last week, one of my good friends told me that he was quitting cigarettes as of six o'clock that night. In fact, so as not to be thought of as a wastrel, as we played he smoked one after another after another after another just so he would have no more by the time the deadline arrived. It worked. He ran out. I wish I could say that his plan was as much a winner as his golf game, but no. He is still struggling; he bought some more. He KNOWS smoking is bad for him. He has the knowledge. We will now pray for the wisdom it takes for him to succeed.

Riches and honor? A young man applied for a job as a farmhand. When asked for his qualifications, he said, "I can sleep when the wind blows." This puzzled the farmer, but he took a liking to the young man and hired him. A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure. They found that the shutters of the farmhouse had been securely fastened. A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace. The farm implements had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements. The tractor had been moved into the garage. The barn had been properly locked. All was well. Even the animals were calm. It was then that the farmer grasped the meaning of the young man's words, "I can sleep when the wind blows." Because the farmhand had the wisdom to do his work well when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm when it broke. Consequently, when the wind blew, he had no fear. He was able to sleep in peace.(4) And, no doubt, he was appropriately compensated for his efforts. "Riches and honor."

What else might we expect from wisdom? Proverbs 7:4 & 5 - "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call insight your intimate friend, that they may keep you from the loose woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words." We could limit these words, note their reference to sexuality, say AMEN and move on, but that would limit them too much. I think we could legitimately expand them and say that wisdom helps us avoid wrong choices of ALL kinds.

A young man of 32 was appointed President of the bank. He had never dreamed he would be president, much less at such a young age. So he approached the venerable Chairman of the Board and said, "You know, I have just been appointed President. I was wondering if you could give me some advice."

The old man came back with just two words: "Right decisions!"

The young man had hoped for a bit more than this, so he said, "That's really helpful, and I appreciate it, but can you be more specific? How do I make right decisions?"

The wise old man simply responded, "Experience."

The young man said, "Well, that's just the point of my being here. I don't have the kind of experience I need. How do I get it?"

Came the terse reply, "Wrong decisions!"(5)

Years ago, in my job-hunting days, I remember being offended at all the employment being offered to EXPERIENCED people. How could someone WITHOUT experience GET ANY experience if the jobs only went to those who already HAD experience? I knew I could handle these jobs. Why not hire me? As the years went by, I learned what those employers were looking for. Not someone who could just do a job RIGHT. They wanted someone who knew what to do on the job when everything went WRONG. What is the value to a congregation in all my years of experience in the ministry? Somebody fresh out of seminary could come in here and do what I do...the preaching, the teaching, the weddings, the funerals, the hospitals, the administration. The difference is, after all these years, I know all the things that can go wrong and hopefully can offer a bit of wisdom to guide in helping us to avoid the pitfalls. "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call insight your intimate friend..."

One more thing about wisdom this morning (although there is so much more that could be said). Proverbs 8:12 - "I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion." Wisdom is honest enough to admit that it does not have all the answers, that there is still much, much more to learn. Wisdom still looks to "attain." I became a "fan" of Thomas Alva Edison during my years in Ft. Myers, Florida, where Edison made his winter home. Edison was a man of true genius whose inventions utterly changed the world. A brilliant scientist, yet he once admitted, "We don't know the millionth part of one percent about anything in our world." And this from the man who invented the light bulb, the movie projector, the phonograph and hundreds of other useful items, enough so that fully twenty percent of America on products that originated with him and his company! Edison was a truly wise man. In the spiritual realm, the truly wise also admit that there is MUCH we do not know.

Yes, school is out for awhile. "No more pencils, no more books." The baccalaureate and commencement speakers are out in force. One said his role was not too different from the body of the deceased at a wake: necessary to the proceedings, but not expected to say anything much.

Well, at least let them say THIS much: a few years ago a thought-provoking article entitled, "If You Are 35, You Have 500 Days to Live" suggested that when you subtract the time spent sleeping, working, tending to personal matters, hygiene, odd chores, medical matters, eating, traveling, and miscellaneous time-stealers, in the next thirty-six years you will have roughly the equivalent of only five hundred days left to spend as you wish.(6) That being the case, then take the advice of scripture and pray,

"[Lord], teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to WISDOM."(7) For Jesus' sake. Amen!

1. From a baccalaureate address given by the Rev. Peter Gomes at the Stanford Chapel in 1977 quoted by James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 296

2. Linda Kraft, "The Holy Trinity," via Ecunet, "Sermonshop Sermons," #653, 6/5/98

3. Plautus. 254 (?)-184 B.C., Trinummus. Act ii. Sc. 2, 88

4. Bible Illustrator for Windows, diskette, (Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology, 1994)

5. Bible Illustrator for Windows

6. Tim Hansel, When I Relax, I Feel Guilty, quoted in Bible Illustrator for Windows

7. Psalm 90:12

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