The Real Deal

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August 19, 2018. Pastor Stephanie’s message is about the real deal, represented by Wisdom Woman in Proverbs 9, versus the lack of substance of Woman Folly. She illustrates the difference through the telling of a story from the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis.


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Neon signs beckon us. Advertisements beg for our attention. Campaigns warn us of impending doom if we don’t follow the way that they propose. Talk show people try to persuade us that their latest discoveries will revolutionize our lives. So many messages, so many invitations to come and eat at the tables of goodness, riches, a better life than ever. Just come, they beckon. Buy or use or try what we have to offer, and you will have the good life. It seems we have many invitations to sort through. Which ones are good and meaningful? Which ones actually deliver on their promises? How does one know where to turn?


The way of wisdom, or learning to walk in wisdom, is a scriptural concept that was meant to help people to recognize that there are directions in our lives that we can take, based on the invitations, and which ones we should accept. And the whole chapter of Proverbs 9 gives us a clear look at the difference between accepting an invitation to the table of Wisdom Woman, or Woman Folly.


Let me give you an example of the type of woman that is Folly, and you would find that by continuing on and reading the rest of Proverbs 9. She calls to us and invites us to eat at her table, just as the previous woman whom we read about does. But what Woman Folly has to offer only looks good on the surface. Everything she invites one to taste crumbles and turns sour, eventually. What she offers cannot satisfy, because it contains no true substance. Her promises are built on lies and fabrications, as she offers cheap imitations of the things which are truly good, pure, just, and kind.


If you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, you may remember a depiction of one of the Pevensie children falling prey to the flattering words and flimsy promises of the White Queen. She is of the same ilk as Woman Folly in Proverbs 9. Now, the four children in this story — two sisters and two brothers who are on this adventure — have already met Aslan, who is the Christ figure. He is leading them on a path of wisdom and goodness. But human nature being what it is, the boy Edmund finds the temptation of following another way too much to resist. As this part of the story unfolds, he sneaks off with the White Queen because he can’t resist the treat she offers, a delicious confection known as Turkish Delight. The queen offers him something to drink and then says, “It is dull to drink while not eating. What would you like best to eat?” She knows fully well where she can tempt him. “Turkish Delight please, your majesty,” said Edmund. The queen let another drop fall from her bottle onto the snow and instantly there appeared a round box tied with green silk which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center, and Edmund had never tasted anything so delicious. He was quite warm now, and really comfortable.


While he was eating, the queen kept asking him questions. At first, Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full. But soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much as possible. The more he ate, the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the queen should be so inquisitive. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it. “You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked, “Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?” “Yes,” said Edmund, “Two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve,” while he stuffed his mouth more full of Turkish Delight and kept saying, “I told you that before,” and forgetting to call her your majesty, but she didn’t seem to mind now. At last the Turkish delight was all finished, and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more.


Probably the queen knew quite well what he was thinking, for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was the enchanted Turkish Delight, and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it until they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more. Instead, she said to him, “Son of Adam, I should so like to see your brother and your two sisters. Will you bring them to me?” “I’ll try,” said Edmund, still looking at the box. “Because, if you did come, bringing them with you of course, I’d be able to give you more Turkish Delight. I can’t do it now. The magic will only work once. In my own house, it would be quite another matter.” “Why can’t we go to your house now?” said Edmund.


When he had first got on her sleigh, he had been afraid that she might drive away with him to some unknown place, from which he would not be able to get back. But he’d forgotten that fear now. “It’s a lovely place, my house,” said the queen. “I’m sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what’s more I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a prince. And he would eventually be king of Narnia when I am gone. While this boy would be prince, he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delights all day long. And you are the cleverest and handsomest young man I’ve ever met. I think you’d make a fine prince, someday when you bring the others to me.” “Why not now?” said Edmund. His face had become very red and his mouth and fingers were sticky. He did not look either clever or handsome, whatever the queen might say.


As the story proceeds, Edmund would discover soon enough that he had left the path of wisdom to follow after a path filled with empty promises, whose intention was only to lead him to the destruction of his siblings and himself. He had fallen prey to the seductive power of folly or foolishness.


Fortunately for Edmund, and for us, there is another invitation also calling to us. It comes from the Woman Wisdom. She is a strong and elegant lady, who invites us to walk in her way and to live in her home. It is a well-built home, stocked with everything needed for a fulfilling life, built on a firm foundation, and girded with seven pillars. Since pillars are only used in a house of substantial size and quality, this is a house to be reckoned with. The number seven is often used, as you may know, in scripture to tell us of something that is complete in and of itself.


What Woman Wisdom has to offer is the real deal.


Woman Wisdom was present when God was laying the foundations of all creation, according to Proverbs 8:22 were it says the Lord created wisdom at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts so long ago. Wisdom herself, wisdom personified, calls out and says to the one who lacks sense, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight.” So it starts with a call to repentance. It’s recognizing that on our own, we lack sense. We lack insight. We lack the wisdom we need for our walk throughout this life. True wisdom requires a healthy dose of humility being open to correction. As other Proverbs say, give instruction to the wise and they become wiser still. Teach the righteous, and they will gain understanding. And yet another: get wisdom, though it costs all you have, and gain understanding.


Now following after wisdom begins with Proverbs 9 verse 10, right after our reading today. That’s a familiar one. It shows up a couple of times in scripture. It says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is in sight. But what is this business of fearing God? Isn’t that kind of hard to reconcile with all the other Bible verses that talk about God as being merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast mercy? We can understand and want to follow one who is merciful and kind, but who wants to follow someone we fear?


Apparently, we have to dig in a bit to see what fearing God really meant when it was written, since words written in ancient times don’t always have the same meaning as our current usage of a word or phrase. To get into this a bit better, I decided to have some fun by looking up meanings of other words that formerly meant something else than the way we currently use them. Here are a few examples:


Did you know that the word “artificial” originally meant something artfully or skillfully constructed? Quite the opposite of what we mean by the word when we use it today. The word “awful,” you can kind of imagine what that meant. It meant inspiring awe, or full of awe, and now it’s defined as something very unpleasant. The word “egregious” caught me most by surprise. It now means shockingly bad, but the archaic meaning in the dictionary is remarkably good. I will now be more careful when describing someone as “pretty” when hanging out with Shakespeare fans, because in that genre, the word meant a person who was tricky and not to be trusted. So be careful who you call pretty. Just one more. “Silly” used to mean worthy of happiness. And now it describes someone or something being frivolous or even foolish.


So does that mean that fearing the Lord could mean something other than cowering and dread before God? Yes, yes it certainly does. The original text of Proverbs was of course in Hebrew, and the word there meant respect, reverence, and awe of God. The fear of the Lord begins with that basic recognition of who God is, but it is more than that. The fear of the Lord means that we take God seriously. The fear of the Lord means that we do not casually dismiss or ignore what the Lord says and does, but we continue to learn from God’s word, spend time listening to the Holy Spirit breathing truth into us, and worshipping and conversing with others who are seeking after wisdom.


Walking in wisdom means to follow after truth, justice, kindness, mercy, service, honor of God and others, honesty, humility, peace and love above all else. Unfortunately, we see quite the opposite being valued in the crass elements of our society. It takes solid character and strong commitment to walk in the way of wisdom, when so many messages come at us daily that clearly have their origin in the way of folly or foolishness, leading to destruction.


Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, says the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians. Both a reading in Proverbs and the gospel today show us the way to live as the wise. It does involve responding to an invitation to a table, the table where we are fed with that which brings us life. A table of true substance that nourishes us for the journey of life, and to a full and abundant life.


Woman Wisdom says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.” And Jesus says in John 6, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”


Unlike the shallow, empty promises of the White Queen, or of Woman Folly, or of any other imposter, Jesus as the living bread demonstrated that his promises are true and that they endure forever. He went to the cross to show the depth of God’s love for us. He died and was raised back to life. His invitation, to experience life with him at his table that he’s prepared for us, has the most credibility that we can imagine. He has conquered death and now wants us to live fully and freely with him eternally. “Come, follow me,” he says. Now that is an invitation to accept.


Thanks be to God.


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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Proverbs 9, The Chronicles of Narnia