Mama Wisdom is Knocking at the Door

Mama wisdom is knocking at the door
Proverbs 8
May 30, 2010
Steve Hammond

Who is that standing at the corner of College and Main streets shouting “come on you blockheads, pay attention to me!” Who is that lady?

Well Jesus might have been talking about her, or at least a lot of scholars think so, when he said this. “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to God who will provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take her in because it doesn’t have eyes to see her, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know her already because she has been staying with you, and will even be in you! I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom God will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. She will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace.”

They unwrapped that gift on the day of Pentecost. We weren’t here last week, but I think you must have talked about that. They call that book the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, but for those in the story it’s more like the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was right. They were not left alone. And they were being led into truth, though the Book of Acts, and the rest of the New Testament makes it clear they weren’t always easily led into truth. But Mama Wisdom was with them. They never knew when she would knock on the door and come blowing in. They learned that Jesus was right when he said the Spirit is just like the wind. You don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going, but if you lift your sail you will get quite a ride.

By most measures, the church should have never survived. The persecution was intense. They were a amazingly small minority of people scattered throughout a big empire in tiny churches, most smaller than this one. But, as their accusers say in the Book of Acts, they turned the world upside down.

And when they started they weren’t known for their great faith. Remember how they scattered when Jesus was arrested and wouldn’t come near his place of execution. When some of the women said that Jesus was alive, most of them thought it was nonsense. On the day of Pentecost, they were hiding out afraid they would be captured by the Romans.

But then Mama Wisdom came knocking on their door. The Spirit, like a mighty wind, rushed through that place and their lives. They went rushing into the streets of Jerusalem and didn’t stop proclaiming the life that is in Jesus Christ until they reached the ends of the earth.

They were filled with the Spirit, empowered. The word in Greek is dunamis, the word we use for dynamite. They were dynamited out of that room and out of their fear. And here we are today.

This, of course, is a big weekend in town. We are celebrating with people like Anna and Sarah the hard work of education. And, hopefully, we are celebrating some wisdom, too, though education and wisdom are different things.

Those first followers of Jesus were not, for the most part, highly educated people. The Apostle Paul was an exception. But when Mama Wisdom came knocking, they wised up real fast, and began learning the lessons of faith. Mama wisdom was leading them into that truth Jesus talked about. They learned that real wisdom comes from chasing after the things of the Spirit rather than chasing after money. That fearing God means hating evil. They learned that it’s not the arrogant and the proud who are wise.

Remember those stories about Jesus being baptized and Mama Wisdom, the Holy Spirit who leads us into truth, landing on his head? And what did he end up doing? Telling us the truth. The truth about God, the world, ourselves. It was radical truth. The kind of truth that brings life, though it can get you killed. Mama Wisdom was at work in him, and he promised she would be at work in them. He wasn’t about to leave them, or us, alone.

You read all the great stories in the Book of Acts and you have to wonder. Where’s the dynamite? What mess of porridge have we sold our birthright for? Why is nobody really afraid we are going to take Jesus seriously enough to turn the world upside down? How stupid have we become?

In his new book, The Future of Faith, Harvey Cox takes on these questions. If you don’t know who he is, Harvey Cox has taught at Harvard for the last 40 years or thereabouts, and was one of the prominent theologians of the 20th century. In this book, he’s showing us that Mama Wisdom is not done with him yet, and he is making his mark in the 21st century. He was ordained by this congregation.

When Harvey looks at the first couple of centuries of the Church he sees people who were caught up by faith, people who were propelled by the Holy Spirit in all kinds of ways. The dynamite was there and Mama Wisdom was leading them into truth that blew apart their assumptions about how you live in this world.

After awhile though, Harvey says, the church went from this age of faith to what he called the age of belief. We may use those words interchangeably, but Harvey Cox doesn’t. The age of faith was when people were looking for the moving of the Spirit, expecting things to be shaken up and blown apart. The Spirit was taking them to unexpected places and doing unexpected things, and in it all they saw the wisdom of God.

Some people weren’t quite so sure, though, what to do about this free-for-all of the Spirit. It’s hard to control the wind. And to be truthful, some of what was going on wasn’t really all that wise. So Harvey says people started thinking that even though Rome had been tough on them, you couldn’t deny that Rome knew how to keep things under control.

So the age of faith began to give way to the age of belief where conformity and control became key. Being a Christian was not a matter of faith but a matter of belief. Christianity became a set of beliefs rather than a way of life. So they started developing creeds. Harvey points out that creeds weren’t designed to show the differences between Christianity and other faiths, but the differences between Christians and other Christians. People wanted creeds so they knew who the heretics were.

Church hierarchy was developed. Hierarchy simply means the rule of the holy ones. The church was turned over to the bishops and elders and eventually the pope. It was the imperial structure. Harvey Cox points out that someone has suggested that the Catholic Church is the last vestige of the Roman empire.

It’s not just the Catholic Church, though, that has seen the appeal to doctrines, creeds, structures, ways of defining who is in and who is out. We all do it to some degree. Belief is much easier, much less risky than faith.

Today is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar. All over the internet preachers are lamenting the chore of trying to make sense of the trinity in one sermon. But when you look at the stories in the Book of Acts do you imagine the people really cared about the doctrine of the trinity? They just wanted to be caught up by the Spirit and discover some of Mama Wisdom’s wisdom. It was the wisdom Jesus knew about, the wisdom they knew could turn the world upside down.

Harvey Cox suggests the church is now in one of those back to the future moments. Are we indeed entering a new age of the Spirit that reminds us more of those early days of the church where we sense this thing is more about faith than our beliefs and formulations. We may have more education about Christianity, but are we any wiser than those first brothers and sisters who caught hold of the Spirit, or rather let the Spirit catch hold of them and build a church?

Mama Wisdom is right. Sometimes we are just a bunch of blockheads. But thankfully there is this thing we call grace. Then there are times we are wiser than we ever imagined possible. I guess that’s grace, too. It kind of makes you think about that old spiritual We’ve Come this Far by Faith. And it’s that faith in Mama Wisdom, the Holy Spirit who blesses our chaos by making something out of it, that will keep us on the road.

Leave a Reply