Sermons : 2015 : August 16, Knowledge is Life - Proverbs 9:1-10

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a great king. Now, this king had a great abundance of everything. He was rich beyond measure, his kingdom was larger than nearly any who ruled before or after him, he had a great army, the attention of many women and he had the favor of His God. Now this king was also beloved by the people because he governed very wisely. And so, You probably think that he was the happiest and most contented man who ever lived, because he seemingly had everything. But this king, at least toward the end of his life, wound up pondering something unexpected given his life experience. As much as he had and as much as he prospered, this King still struggled with the meaninglessness of life. Now, his words about this subject have actually become rather famous. In fact, I’m sure you’ve even read his book – the opening line of which, he identifies himself as “The Teacher.” But so many centuries later, we more commonly know him as David’s Son, King Solomon.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, as well as Proverbs, Solomon is teaching more than philosophies of life or principles to live by. He’s teaching wisdom. The question that is guiding Solomon’s writings is one that has been asked by people of every generation. That is, “What is the life that is worth living?” In our Postmodern world, there seems to be no right answer for everyone. Because there’s too many religions out there, too many philosophies and ideologies people say – as if that has never been the case before. At our Lord’s trial, Pontius Pilate, of all people, probably summed up the world’s skepticism better than anyone, when he pondered allowed the enduring cynic’s question used as a reason to dismiss all religious claims, “What is truth?”

The book of Proverbs might appropriately be called a book of little truths as a proverb itself is a short saying that is commonly applied to everyone regardless of culture or generation. The book of Proverbs is sort of a break from the rest of the Old Testament. It doesn’t talk about covenants or Sabbaths, sacrifices, the Temple or the Promised Land, but we can still say that Proverbs gives us a picture of what the life of faith is intended to be.

In our Old Testament reading today, wisdom is personified as a woman who is preparing to receive a guest. She has built a house, she has prepared the food and she has extended the invitation. Now, if you read the story closely, you see that the woman is not just offering the man in the story hospitality, but something far more lasting. “Leave your simple ways and you will live,” she says. You see, the point of wisdom when it comes from the scriptures is not necessarily knowledge, but life.

Later, Paul would say the same thing as he pointed out to the philosophy loving Greeks in Corinth, “Christ is the wisdom of God.” Why? Because He was a great teacher or a great philosopher? No – because He was the wisdom who enlightened people with the words of eternal life. So that to those who heard Christ and later His Apostles received the knowledge that revealed to them the way to escape death.

Now, in this same chapter of Proverbs, there’s another invitation extended by another woman that was not in our reading today. These verses say, “The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way . "Let all who are simple come in here!" she says to those who lack judgment. "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!" But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.

Two invitations extended by two women competing for the same man’s interest. Both have a house, both offer food and both call to the man to invite him in. The first woman offers food that is nourishing – bread, meat and wine. The second woman offers similar food, but she adds the descriptive and tantalizing qualities of “sweet,” “delicious,” “secret,” and “stolen.” The first woman’s food sounds good, but hey now, the second woman’s food seems more appealing. It sounds more interesting, more enticing to the natural man’s heart.

Now the difference between the two women in today’s proverb is the same as between a wife and a harlot. The first woman offers the man things that are lasting and of substance. Her love for him endures as she shows him in the words, “You will live.” But the second woman offers rewards that seem much more immediate and more appealing to the man’s senses. She lures the man in with bait that appeals to the eyes but is deadly to the soul. As the author comments in the last verse, “Her guests are in the grave.” You see, notice how the first woman is open and honest about what she offers, she tells the man plainly with her own mouth, “you will live.” But the second woman deceives him because she hides from the man the demise that she is really giving him.

The book of Revelation would later pick up this same comparison between two women competing for the souls of men. In the Bible’s last book, St. John also tells the story of two women. One of them is the Church; she is God’s Israel, His beloved bride. But the second woman is the harlot. She is the false church. She is the imposter who tries to masquerade as the one who is really loved by God. The book of Revelation describes her as one dressed in purple and scarlet and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls, the kind of appearance you would imagine of one beloved by God. You expect the fancy stuff and the glitter and the splendor. But the book of Revelation goes on to reveal that the golden cup in this woman’s hand is filled with the filth of her adulteries. And when St. John sees her, he is astonished. After the angel explains the mystery of this vision, John says as if he is quoting from the book of Proverbs itself, “This calls for a mind of wisdom.”

In our pastor’s class, I always like to ask people the question, who’s the Antichrist? What’s he going to look like and who’s he going to be? And people always say, “Hitler,” or one last time, it was “Osama bin Laden.” You see, we always pick those who are the total and complete opposite of Jesus. Who fits our stereotypes of Satan? Yeah, that’ll be the guy who’s the Antichrist. But you know, the man who first turned Jesus over to be crucified wasn’t Pontius Pilate or those Pharisees or the mob. It wasn’t someone outside the church. No. It was Judas. It was one of the 12, one who was sent out to preach the gospel, one who sat at our Lord’s table, who slept by his side and walked within paces of him. Judas came from inside the church. He looked like one of the good guys, he looked like one who loved Christ.

But Judas thought maybe he could get ahead. Like when Eve was tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Judas thought that he was getting a better deal here. You see, both of them were deceived because evil parades itself not as the opposite of wisdom, but as a better kind of wisdom. It’s a secret wisdom that claims to only be known by those who are truly enlightened, those who are of the real in-crowd.

But this wisdom is a false light. In fact, the name Lucifer doesn’t mean darkness or wicked, evil one or hater of God, but it means “light bearer.” Satan pretends to be a light who also offers wisdom, who also has a kingdom, who also invites people to eat so-called bread and wine. And Personified as the woman, he pretends to offer love to all men. You see, Satan tries to unseat God not by being His opposite, but by being His counterfeit.

The false churches and religious groups that are out there look like the real ones. They have a similar appearance and they speak some of the same theological language, but you have been trained to know better. Through God’s word, you have been taught to see that they offer false teachings that either don’t identify the true God or don’t identify the true way of salvation. And it absolutely all boils down to those two things: either they don’t identify the true God or they don’t identify the true way of salvation. And this leads to a false wisdom, what the Bible calls folly.

But the cross of Jesus Christ is God’s wisdom. The cross is the path of salvation marked by an invitation that is extended to all because the Gospel is no a secret. It’s not like oh, come to church first and then we’ll tell you how to really get in to heaven. Only evil and darkness have to hide their true intents. But the true light of the world is available for all to see. The promises of our Lord are obvious – no fine print or restrictive clauses to trip you up later. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “If anyone eats my bread, he will live forever…. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” These are the gifts offered by the woman in the book of Proverbs and they are the gifts offered by our Lord to a dying and hurting world. And when we celebrate the sacrament of our Lord, these are the gifts that are offered to you.

The real life worth living is the one that proceeds from and leads to the cross. Because Jesus died for all, He is the Savior for all and the truth for all. God leaves nobody out. Like the woman who climbs to the highest point in the city so that everyone will hear her invitation, Jesus was lifted up on the cross so that all the world might know that they have life in Him.

Pontius Pilate actually asked the wrong question. It’s not what is truth, but who is truth. You see, you need to identify the right teacher before you can identify the right teaching. And the right teaching will always make you wise unto salvation because only it can reveal to you the true words of eternal life.

The Gospel is like a proverb in that it too is a simple truth that can be applied to all. Solomon realized that apart from this life of faith, men would only hear the voice of folly beckoning them with the sweet words that were as hollow as the empty graves that awaited them . But the wisdom of Christ leads us to His death instead of our own. Folly leads to a grave that is to be filled, but wisdom leads to a tomb that was emptied.

Once upon a time, Solomon was a great King whose inheritance was nearly unimaginable. He was a man certainly experienced in earthly riches and delights. But having his fill of all those treasures and knowing the heights of a kingdom’s splendor, Solomon realized that the life worth living was not due to the gifts that made life better, but the gift that made life eternal. Amen.

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