Wisdom, Youth, and the Good Life

I’ve had several conversations lately that have turned to the subject of miracles. Specifically the miracle that any of us survive to the age of 20. A few of these conversations have centered around toddlers and the many predicaments they get themselves into, but more of them have been about young men. My friend Kristine, whose cabin Grace and I visited in Minnesota last week, raised three boys. Three extraordinarily adventurous boys. Her sons have done the more ordinary kinds of daredevil things, like skateboarding. But they have also bicycled across the US eating only what they found for free along the way; they have walked the Dalmatian Coastline from Italy to Albania; they have hopped freight trains across the country and made a movie about it; they have spent a month high in the Cascade mountains carrying nothing but a roll of duct tape and a fishing line. Twice. Her boys are now solidly into their 20s and 30s, and though their adventures continue, I think they approach them with a little more clarity and, dare I say, sense. But young people, and I will not restrict my comments to young men, young people have a blessed and blissful ignorance about the world that allows them to step out and take huge risks. Some of those risks are beautiful. My friends sons have become poets and created art out of their adventures. But some of those risks are less lyrical. Things I did in those years are not fit for publication, and it is honestly amazing to me on a daily basis that I survived at all, much less more or less mentally and physically intact.

This is the age group that Lady Wisdom is addressing in today’s reading. Because of the culture in which these verses were first written, she is specifically addressing young men. She is standing in the most public places she can find – at the market, in the gates of the city, at the crossroads – and she is speaking directly to the young men who pass. The young men who are still unformed, still finding their way into who they are, still likely to make some not-so-bright decisions; the young men who are in need of a miracle to make it to adulthood. And she talks to them right where they live – she speaks directly to their desires. She knows that young men (and young women) are driven by their desires – physical desires, yes, but not just those – desires for wealth, for fame, for a better life; desire for what is to come, for what might be; desire to make a difference in the world. When you’re young and impetuous and living more or less in your limbic system, in your emotions and potentials, it’s easy to give in to the calling of the world. So Lady Wisdom stands right in the midst of that world, right in the midst of all that the world has to offer. She stands at the gates of the city, where the powerful and influential gather to make decisions and debate matters of politics. She stands in the marketplace, where riches and economics rule, and the temptations of wealth hold sway. She stands at the crossroads, where anything is possible, where travel and adventure await, where the future stands wide open. And she calls,
10Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”

Wisdom calls them, not to abandon desire altogether, but to channel their desire. Channel it toward her, toward prudence, intelligence, truth, and straight talk. Toward God’s ways. Toward the Good Life we talked about last week. Toward wisdom.

But of course, we know that 19 year old boys are not the only ones likely to need this kind of encouragement. These kinds of temptations, these kinds of desires, silver, gold, jewels, power, worldly success, we are tempted by them because they offer us something. They offer us a sense of control, a sense of security, as sense that we are going to be the ones to change the world, that we are going to be the ones to escape the troubles and the hardships and the pains that the world throws at us. If we have enough, enough money, enough power, enough influence, enough whatever, then we can hide ourselves away from everything that is wrong with the world.

And there is a lot wrong with the world. A lot that would drive us to hide away, to cut ourselves off, to put up walls and seek control. People gather for prayer, and welcome a stranger, and die for their hospitality. A nation opens its borders and welcomes the world, and one they’ve welcomed turns a gun on those who seek to serve their welcoming nation. A young woman takes a road trip for a job interview and winds up hanging in a jail cell. Phones ring with bad news: diagnoses, deaths, tragedy. And we might get the idea that if we could only get a little more control, we might be able to fix it all. If we had power, we could free the enslaved; if we had wealth, we could buy the right medicines to hold off disease; if we had influence, we could convince the haters to stop hating. Or we could build a wall that would keep all of that out. We could shut our borders, lock the church doors, stay home or keep others out. We could make a safe haven for our own kind, those who agree with me. Those like us.

But Lady Wisdom is not interested in walls. Lady Wisdom in not calling us to put up barriers and cut ourselves off. Lady Wisdom is not hearing our stories of control and if only and self-salvation through self-protection. Lady Wisdom will not let us think that we are going to be the ones to save ourselves. Because she was there. She was there at the beginning, the firstborn of creation. She was there with God when God created everything, and she has seen what it is to be in charge. She was at God’s side as the earth was formed, as the mountains were built, as the seas were poured out, and she knows. She knows that wisdom is not to be found in wealth or power or fame. She knows that we are not going to save ourselves with our grasping and our hoarding and our holing up in factions. Our schisms and our disunity are not going to be our salvation.

There have been those over the years who have suggested that Lady Wisdom ChristSophialargeis another name for the Christ, before the Christ became incarnate in the human form of Jesus. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. Certainly, Wisdom speaks in similar language to Jesus, especially when she says, “whoever finds me finds life.” But whether she was the One through whom all things were made, or whether Wisdom was watching as the Triune God brought forth creation, God’s Wisdom points us toward this truth, that God is God, and we are not. There is only One who created us, and there is only One who can save us. And we are not that One. All of our walls and barriers and factions and schisms are not going to save us. The only One who will save us is God’s own self, the One who delights in us, the One who has come into the world to be among us and to lift us up and to serve us, as an example of how we are to be together. Not alone, but together. Reaching out across boundaries, continuing to make ourselves vulnerable and powerless, even as Jesus was vulnerable and powerless on the cross, pouring himself out to the last breath for the sake of all of humanity. For the sake of reconciliation. For the sake of love.

This week, 30,000 Lutheran youth gathered in Detroit. Our congregation doesn’t have any young people of an age to attend this year, but these 30,000 were still there as our representatives. They prayed and they served and they crossed boundaries for the sake of the gospel. They responded to Lady Wisdom’s call at the crossroads, and they turned in to her house, and they reached out to their neighbors in love. The stories that were shared were remarkable. Stopping in to a store on their water walk, a pharmacist asked what they were doing. They told him they were working to raise $500,000 for ELCA water projects around the world. He replied, “This Muslim pharmacist wants to help.” And he gave them $10. In another part of town, groups of young people were working hard in the heat and the humidity, and one day in the rain, to clean up the abandoned lots that are such a huge problem in Detroit. They were picking up garbage and cutting down weeds, and the neighbors saw what they were doing, and came out to join them. Inside Ford Field, the kids heard sermons from some of the best preachers in the country, and learned how the gospel is at work in the world for them and through them. These 30,000 teenagers made a difference in the life of a city this weekend, and that city made a difference in the life of 30,000 teenagers. Because they refused to shut themselves off. They refused to allow division and difference to rule the day. Because a light shone in the darkness. Because Lady Wisdom stood at the crossroads, and at the gates of the city, and in the marketplace, and called them to something different.

This is our calling. This is our baptismal name. This is the Word that fills our mouths and nourishes our bodies, as we receive the bread and the wine, the Body and the Blood, each and every week. It is a word of unity, a word of reconciliation, a word of forgiveness that frees us. We have a savior; we do not have to save ourselves. We are free! We can reach out across the barriers, we can tear down the walls, we can welcome each one as God’s own child, and let God’s light shine in the darkness. Let God’s Wisdom lead the way. This is God’s life, the Good Life, lived in each of us, new each day.

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