22

September 2024

Sep

In Praise of Women Who Lead

Uncommon Wisdom

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Over the years, Christians have done a good job of heaping historical and cultural baggage onto Proverbs 31, which makes it hard to come to the text with a fresh perspective.

Wisdom, our loving friend, remains with us to the end. The Book of Proverbs concludes with an ode to her strength, but her abiding presence in these acknowledgments is what strikes me as most beautiful. We preachers must remind our hearers that this ode was never about finding the right wife. It’s not a celebration of a 1950s homemaker any more than it’s about a 2020s girlboss. This ode celebrates the faithfulness of that upstanding woman, Wisdom herself, who playfully prodded us along last week in chapter 1 and calls us to follow her our whole lives long. Read these verses and notice all the ways Wisdom is said to be at work while we’re busy scoffing or being simple. She works with willing hands (verse 13), rises while it is still night and provides food for us (verse 15), opens her hand to the poor (verse 20), opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26). Many uncommon character traits are laudable, but wisdom surpasses them all.

Like so much of our scripture, Proverbs 31 celebrates how God’s providence has mysteriously been at work in our lives all along. One of the phrases that comes to my mind when I think about this phenomenon- a modern-day proverb of sorts- is that “We’re all just playing checkers while wisdom is playing chess.” Have you and your hearers ever felt that way when you recognized the wisdom of God’s providence? The older our scriptures are, the more they invite us to do this. The further back into our story we look, the more opportunities we have to find God’s hand gently at work. No matter how much we tested her patience, Wisdom never gave up on us, and the same is true of God’s very being.

As we come to the end of our time in Proverbs, perhaps these final verses allow us to prepare for seasons of reorientation or reconciliation. I’ve invited us to think of Wisdom as an abiding companion, but what if we are estranged? What would it look like for us to confront the distance we feel between ourselves and our old friend? What if we have been ungrateful for Wisdom? She’s worked so hard for us, and it’s gone unappreciated. Maybe our hearers have neglected the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and have been estranged from Wisdom in this way, but what if there are also true friends or companions with whom we need to make things right? Perhaps they have been offering us crucial guidance that we’ve shrugged off, and now we understand they were just looking out for us. What are we to do to make things right? The final verses answer this question. We are to “give (wisdom) a share in the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the city gates” (31:31). Proverbs doesn’t often tell us straight up what to do, but it tells us here to give credit where credit is due. It doesn’t have to get much harder than that. As you think about practical invitations to offer as your sermon concludes, invitations to practices of gratitude and discernment are especially in order.


Rev. Tripp Gulledge is a provisional elder in the Alabama—West Florida conference and a pastoral resident at Highland Park UMC in Dallas, TX. He graduated from Perkins School of Theology with highest honor in May 2023.

In This Series...


Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes

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In This Series...


Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes