Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 23 September 2018.
The bible has a number of visions of perfection. In Genesis there is the Garden of Eden and in Revelation, the New Jerusalem. King David is seen as the perfect king, reigning for 40 years.
When Moses came down Mount Sinai, he had the 10 commandments which were the foundation of the law, and the codes to follow were largely explanations and developments of the pattern already set.
So it is intriguing to find the poem on the Perfect Wife placed in the Book of Proverbs. She is described very much as a person and yet also as an ideal.
There are however no equivalent descriptions of the perfect husband* – maybe the idea is too preposterous even to consider however some of the ladies of our congregation may wish to amuse themselves by trying. And no, this is not a dare or a challenge – not even an invitation.
But then the poem goes on to describe her in terms of what she does and how she places herself. Her pride is in her household and its efficient management, and it extends to earning her own income without missing out on the ‘day job’. Her aim is to support rather than to supplant, and to make the best that she can of whatever is available.
I suspect that a modern critique of this could be quite challenging especially when compared with the values and customs of our times.
But then the readings move on into other aspects of wisdom.
For James, wisdom is one of the gifts of the spirit. As a gift from God it imparts special insights to show how a question may be brought into the province and presence of God who will also endow it with a clarity and perspective that would not come from the normal processes of debate. A gift which enables the church to think deeply and widely as it ponders and yet which reaches beyond normal rationality without becoming esoteric.
But more than that, wisdom from above is also pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. It is far more than the worldly wisdom which teaches us how to survive and gain the upper hand. That is the wisdom that may have the sound-bites but lacks the godliness of the Holy Spirit.
It may be good at making money and manipulating people but it may not edify or encourage or reconcile.
For James, this kind of wisdom all comes from God and it revolves around Him. It is the wisdom of the courts of heaven and not of the debating chamber or the bear pit.
And above all James says, ‘Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ It is not such a far thought from Paul in Romans 8: ‘All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes.’
This is the kind of wisdom that issues from a closeness to God – that seeks His will in our lives and activities, and His direction in our words and actions. It comes from being close to God in prayer and worship as well as in our pondering and reflection.
But then Jesus gives another perspective on wisdom. Having just undergone the Transfiguration on the mountain-top and then healed a boy at the bottom of the mountain where the reality of daily live came back into focus, He spoke of a new form of wisdom.
This is the wisdom of God under which Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and lived in Galilee. But it would also lead Him into direct contact and conflict with the religious authorities of His day. It would lead His to accusation, condemnation and death.
It would lead Him to the cross, a place of utter shame and degradation, where His life would be poured out.
There would be nothing cheap or easy in this wisdom in which Jesus Himself was going to place Himself utterly and totally in the hands of God, His Father.
This kind of wisdom would overrule all other forms of education or science, and all other forms of technique or professionalism.
There would be no simple answers and the nature of love itself would be wholly transformed into something entirely self-giving and out-pouring.
Even love would no longer be turned into itself with its own needs and agendas. Rather it would always seek the other and it would do so especially within the grace and mercy of God.
In his book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, CS Lewis described how the demand for blood would seek retribution for betrayal. This was the ‘deep magic from the dawn of time.’ It should be final – but it would be trumped by something even more astonishing – the ‘deeper magic from before the dawn of time.’
It was the right of one without fault to take the place of the condemned person – and to suffer execution and yet to be raised from the pit of death by one even greater than Himself.
This is the kind of wisdom not found in books or the achievements of art or science or politics or commerce. It is the kind of wisdom that abides in the person and counsels of God – and yet in the Holy Spirit is also offered to the Body of Christ. Much more glorious than any human contrivance.
*PS: I am grateful to a member of the congregation for reminding me that the perfect husband is, of course … Christ Himself!