Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin. The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 7, 2021 Black History Month The Poetry of Amanda Gorman Proverbs 1:20-23 Johan 1: 1-5
During this Epiphany Season, we have been asking “Where is Wisdom to be found?” Rev. Rick has been guiding us through what is called the Wisdom Literature in biblical studies. We have sought wisdom in the pages of Ecclesiastes, Job, Ester, and Ruth. The people of God in these stories actively search for wisdom and what it reveals about living in relationship with God and with one another. Each one of these stories makes an important theological statement: Wisdom is reflected in the lived experience of the people of God.
But what about wisdom itself? Is wisdom something ephemeral? Something esoteric? Is it the second definition of a noun “an idea, feeling or concept?” The Old Testament Scripture for this morning tells us wisdom is embodied in persons. Wisdom is a first-order noun that has both a name and a personhood – Woman Wisdom.
In the book of Proverbs, we meet Woman Wisdom, “She comes down from heaven into the city. She “cries out in the street;in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out: at the entrance of the city gates she speaks. She chastises the people of the city, she reproves their behavior, she “will pour out [her] thoughts to [us]; she “will make [her] words known to [us].” Woman Wisdom is the embodiment of God in the female form in the Hebrew Bible; she reveals the hopes of God for common life in a city of refuge, a city of justice, a city of care for one another, a city of peace. She has a lot to say.
In the early Church and even today in the orthodox traditions of eastern Christianity, the divine wisdom of God is expressed in female form. There are beautiful paintings, mosaics and icons of the divine woman in cathedrals and churches in Turkey, Russia and throughout Asia Minor.
You won’t find these images in western cathedrals and churches. In western religious art when women appear in paintings, stained glass, and sculpture, they are women who fall into two categories, the virgins, particularly the mother of Jesus – and the prostitutes. In part this is because the reformed Protestant tradition has little imagery as a whole, but it is also true that a deep suspicion of women’s knowledge and experience – of women’s wisdom in fact – permeates the history of western Christianity. And the images that do exist in our tradition center their focus on the Trinity which is historically understood as male – two men and a bird – as generations of seminarians have referred to it.
So – why has the divine Woman Wisdom of Proverbs been exiled from the New Testament? Why has she been silenced? In part, the answer to that is found in the prologue to John’s Gospel that Rick read a few minutes ago. The personification of divine wisdom is embodied in the person Jesus – the Word of God eternally existing and without whom not one thing would have come into being. The Word is gendered – he became flesh and dwells among us, the light of the world that darkness cannot overcome.
The women of Eliot participating in the Real Housewives of the Bible study know that I read all Scripture paying attention to where women and their experience have been silenced or left out of the story entirely. And to be truthful, I am uncomfortable with John’s conversion of wisdom from female to male embodiment. It privileges male experience and knowledge of God over female experience and knowledge of God. As a result, the Woman Wisdom has been excluded from the New Testament in western Christianity, and therefore, women’s experience of the divine has no theological place – at least none worth mentioning.
That wisdom is embodied in human beings is a great theological truth in both the Old and New Testaments. Having bodies, no matter if they are gendered male or female, or manifested in non-binary gender, is an important answer to the question of where wisdom is to be found. Wisdom is to be found in us, the people of God in community.
As Epiphany winds down – next Sunday is Transfiguration (be sure to pay attention to the bodies when we read that Scripture) and Ash Wednesday leads to Lent the following week – we shift our focus to Jesus of Nazareth, the divine human whose life, death and resurrection is the model for our own experience of God – no matter our gender or lack thereof. Especially during Lent, we study the person of Jesus in his teaching, his healing, and the Kingdom of God he invites us to help create. That Kingdom is the same city Woman Wisdom comes down from heaven to build and what that city could be is found in the words of wisdom we heard from the poet Amanda Gorman this morning,
“Today in the spine of this meeting ground, new city, new village, we've reached a summit, and are ready to loudly name another. This be hope, this be home, we are hope, we are home, we be vigilant, we be united, we be good, we do good, we are good, as we should in the place where a millennium stood for what we understood was right.”
Divine wisdom is found in us. And that wisdom gives us the courage to proclaim and to live “we be good, we do good.” Thanks be to God, who is both Wisdom and Word. Amen.