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Series: Epiphany

Category: 2019 Sermons

Passage: Proverbs 8:22-31

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

I so enjoy the sermon writing process most weeks. Getting lost in books and essays and the many interpretations of scriptures is a privileged gift.  And then every once in a while, in my reading, I come across a sentence, that makes me wish I had taken a job as a plumber instead of a pastor.

That happened this week while reading about the Proverbs passage you heard, And the sentence was referencing just one word, which it turns out, can be interpreted in two very different ways. Centuries of disagreements around how to interpret this one word, (and this is the sentence that made me want to hang up my robe) leaves this text one of the most ambiguous texts in the entire Hebrew Bible. So that’s always fun.

One word. Which comes in verse 30. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The very beginning in fact, before there was anything. Before creation. There was wisdom. She was there. And She speaks to us;

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
….. before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths….
Before the mountains…
before the hills….

 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command…..

That last line about assigning the sea it’s limit should sound familiar to you. You heard it in the book of Job, when God speaks to Job asking rhetorically…

who shut in the sea with doors
….and prescribed bounds for it,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stopped’? 

And so it seems that both God and Wisdom are referencing the limitations and boundaries of the Sea….A sea that when we are out in the middle of it seems boundless…An ocean that even when we sit on it’s shores and look out seems to the human eye to disappear endlessly off into the horizon.….A sea that can make us feel small and insignificant one moment and majestic and conquering the next….A sea that’s been given it’s limits and bounds by God….and Wisdom knows these limitations first hand because she was there to witness it’s creation. 

She was there. Wisdom is personified as a woman, which was not unusual by the way. Long before Proverbs was written, gods and there were a lot of them running around….often had a female counterpart, goddesses, and they were powerful in their own right.

But on our bible, the relationship between Wisdom and God is more complicated. They’re more than companions, and that’s where this word, this one word that’s so hotly disputed comes in. 

In verse 30, Wisdom describes herself as beside God at creation, either, depending on the translation, “like a master builder” or “like a little child.” At first glance they’re quite different. 

But those of you who have been around St Luke long enough, know that we’re not real keen on either/or scenarios. We prefer both/and. Both a master builder and like a little child. I like to think the poet who wrote proverbs may have written the description of wisdom ambiguously on purpose, leaving us with a rich imagination of all the ways that God and Wisdom are relating to one another. And not only their relationship but also, by extension, all the ways we enter into relationship with both of them. 

verse 30 again-

then I was beside him, like a master worker; or (like a little child…)
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. 

Delighting in God, and delighting in us. Wisdom and God. Wisdom and God and us. Inextricably bound from the beginning.

In our culture, we tend to think of wisdom as something separate from us, something we can attain if we think the right way, buy the right book, or meditate long enough. But biblical Wisdom is not something we can go out and get. And scripture is teaching us here in the ambiguity around one word that we can’t define wisdom with a few words, like master builder or little child.. but rather, that we come to know Wisdom by being in relationship with her….And how do we do that? By living life. With all of it’s curve balls, it’s ups and downs, its elations and deep sorrows and grief, Wisdom lives in all of these experiences. 

Or as John O Donohue so eloquently writes; 

Wisdom is the art of living in rhythm with your soul, your life and the divine.


A master builder OR a little child….

Anyone who as watched a child with legos knows they are both child and architect. 

As master builder, Wisdom takes an active role in creation and like God who comes to Job out of the whirlwind, Wisdom knows the chaos of waters…So do all of you, much better than I do because I don’t get out on boats much, but I’m happy to change that should any of you want to take me along….Chaos, whether on water or in life, can present our deepest fears, those days we find ourselves in circumstances so beyond our control, the day the diagnosis we didn’t want hits us, the days we lose someone we love, or even those mornings we open the news to find that the world has seemed to have lost all moral sense of order. Those days we would give anything to regain control …we find ourselves searching for an anchor… to steady us, to ground us and keep us from flailing

Proverbs tells us Wisdom is our anchor, not because she can fix what’s broken or take it away the pain, but because she know the limits of those waters, she witnessed and took part in the creation of how this life all works. She knows what will remain unknown to us. It’s our surrender to trust that ultimately anchors us. Not with answers but with the unknowns as our companions in living. 

Wisdom is the way you decipher the unknown, and the unknown is our closest companion…..[1] 


There’s a wonderful prayer (I think it’s wonderful, and I also have to admit that my mother write it, so I especially think it’s wonderful) It’s titled; Hide and Seek. And it illustrates this dance between the known and the unknown better than anything I could write…

Hide and Seek- 

Of this I am sure:
God plays hide and seek.
First we see Him,
then we don’t.
Out of the blue, He comes;
into the darkness
he goes 
Just when our hearts fill with love
and our joy knows no bounds,
just when we think we’ve
caught Him into our arms
just when we’re sure of who He is,
just when we’re certain
we feel His love,
suddenly we’re abandoned
(or so it seems)
and darkness

Where is He hiding,
this God who plays such cruel games? 

He’s hiding nowhere and
no place and some place.
He is like water
that trickles between our fingers,
like air
that can’t be grasped.

So how can we find Him?
We can’t. 

How can we touch Him?
We can’t. 

How can we hold Him?
We can’t.

We are as helpless as a baby
crying for her mother. 

But even babies learn to laugh
at peek-a-boo,
and children know
that everyone playing
is finally found. 


As so it seems Wisdom is also Like a little child…With complete vulnerability we enter into the world of play and delight….with the unknowns of the world surrounding us, causing us to go searching for an anchor.

Verse 30 again 

…then I was beside him (like a little child…)
and I was daily his delight
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. 

God with Wisdom as a child…and by extension all of us…delighting in one another…Delighting in our differences. Before race, religion, gender, sexuality, politics, nationality  and news began clouding our identities and making us unrecognizable to one another…. Wisdom was there, calling on all of us to look beyond the surface and anchor us in our shared humanity. Wisdom calls, in “art of balancing the known with the unknown, the suffering with the joy; (She) is the way of linking the whole of life together in a new and deeper unity.”[2] 



[1] John O Donahue, Anam Cara

[2] John O Donahue, Anam Cara