Page last updated



"Go For It"
a homily based on Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
by Rev. Thomas Hall

"Jumping into an argument that's none of your business
is like grabbing a dog by the ears."
"Be slow in chusing a friend, slower in changing."
"A fault-finder complains even that the bride is too pretty."

Welcome to the world of proverbs. This book is a must read for those who welcome advice or like to dish it out. Proverbs is one of those rare books in the Bible that champions wisdom--pithy, witty sayings on how to manage our lives. Do yourself a favor-sit down this afternoon and read through a few chapters of Proverbs. You’ll meet a great company of wise and feckless characters--sluggards, quarreling spouses, smooth talkers, wise tongues, and crooked minds. Proverbs is Scripture’s Poor Richard’s Almanack of common sense.

What are some of the homespun proverbs that you have grown to value over the years? Though most preachers view Proverbs as "a deserted stretch of highway between Psalms and Ecclesiastes," the fact is, we all live by proverbs and succinct phrases of wisdom. The lectionary’s underrepresentation of proverbial passages and silence from the pulpit keeps the myth going that proverbs are just a "tiresome collection of self-evident moralisms." But just do a two-minute search on and you see how much America still lives by proverbs.


• Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (And It’s All Small Stuff)

• If Experience is Such a Good Teacher Why Do I Keep Repeating the Course?

Today’s proverbs come to us airbrushed, glazed, printed, animated, ensconced, and framed in our home. And they come in many forms-Murphy’s Laws, tee shirts, billboards, cartoons, David Letterman’s top ten lists, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs. We live in a Proverbs kind of world; we all live by them. And since we live by proverbs, the real question is, what kind of proverbs will we choose to live by?

In the opening lines of Proverbs 8, the writer describes what is at the very core of proverbs-life. What might surprise us is that in this section of Proverbs there isn’t a single proverb to read! Instead, we are introduced to a wise woman whom we might refer to as Lady Wisdom:

Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?

Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?

She’s taken her stand at First and Main,

At the busiest intersection.

Right in the city square

Where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,

"You-I’m talking to all of you,

everyone out here on the streets! . . .

Don’t miss a word of this-I’m telling you how to live well,

I’m telling you how to live at your best.


Wisdom in Scripture has a wide range of meaning. Sometimes wisdom refers to a person's literary skill or to someone's acute sense of justice or to an exceptional grasp of knowledge, or to someone who is clever and playful.

John Naisbitt, best-selling author of Megatrends says that everyday between 6,000 and 7,000 scientific articles are written and that because of the sheer number of scientists and advanced retrieval systems, knowledge now doubles every twenty months. But Naisbitt describes our decade and society as one in which we are drowning in information, but starved for wisdom. We're drowning in information, but starved for wisdom.

What we need is more wisdom, not data, on how to manage our lives in a very complex world. And that's where our lesson brings us--to the wisdom that shows us how to live. A wise person may be quite clever and cunning, have knowledge, and may be able to write or lead well, but real wisdom must also include honesty, diligence, trustworthiness, the ability to control our passion, and to adopt an equitable view of poverty and wealth.

So wisdom emphasizes a way of thinking and living that draws on experience, reasoning, and morality. Wisdom is our passport through life. When I taught in Latvia we could never be sure when the police would pull our car over to check our passports. Passports were our insurance, the ticket to our destination. Perhaps that's why one of the favorite proverbs in Latvia is: Human beings consist of a body, a soul, and a passport. Wisdom is the passport that leads us in the direction of God, and thus in the direction of right living.

Wisdom assumes that we go through life only once. We need all the help we can get. Remember the season of making and raising babies? We struggled, trying to do the right things with our children; read the latest books on how to rear children; laughed and cried in the same breath at their struggles-their good shortsighted choices.

And then, after we had finished with child-rearing, we wondered what we could have said, lived, or done differently that would have helped our kids do even better. That’s the wisdom that belongs to grandparents! We now have wisdom to pass it on to the next generation-provided anyone’s listening!

Remember the first time you bought something to surprise your spouse; you'd been spliced together for all of two months and so you are confident you can find just the perfect dress, ring, tie, or suit that will fit your lover. After numerous exchanges and ill fits over the years, Madam Wisdom gently instructs us that nourishment of soul comes from heart-felt kindness shared more than anything we could buy at Macy’s.

Remember when you first discovered the destructive power of words? The first time you responded to an angry word by throwing your own angry words right back into their face? Over time, you met the wise Madam and made the profound discovery that "a soft answer turns away wrath," and learned that the power of death-and life-are as close as an open mouth.

As a requirement for ordination, I once spent six hours of psychological testing. The psychologist described a specific kind of question that we ask ourselves during the first half of our career, the achievement questions-what must I do to succeed at the office? Will I be a good parent? How can I earn a higher salary? Will my relationships grow? But in the second half of our career, we increasingly ask a different kind of question, the meaning questions-What is the meaning of my life? Has my life counted for something? Is this world a better place because I’ve lived?

Interesting - before 40 we're impatient, anxious to get on with life; driven to finally become our own person, land a successful job, make good money, begin a family. We’re lost in the energy of chasing our dreams, getting adjusted to routine, going to the office, going to the kitchen, going to school, going home, going to the family reunion; we want to get there, to get to our destination. No time to stop and smell the flowers or watch the sunset; they only keep us from achieving our goals.

But after 40 -- the stark reality hits us that at our age, we'll never reach some of the goals that we once placed on our short list. I'll never make the Boston Red Sox-not even their farm team; too late, my knees creak. I'll never make it into a symphony, never be a rock star, and never make my first million before the age of 30. Madame Wisdom lets us peer down that long corridor and for just a moment to see our end. She gently reminds us that we'll pass on and pass away without ever accomplishing all of our goals. That’s wisdom.

So our focus changes from the destination to the journey; we now look for meaning in life rather than using life as a means to gain our objectives. This shift is evident among the top executives when they were asked how would they do things differently if they could begin all over again. Virtually all of them responded that they would spend more time with their kids and spouses. Lady Wisdom comes to us with great clarity and we discover that it’s not all about money or possessions after all.

So we come to Lady Wisdom this morning:

Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?

She’s taken her stand at First and Main,

At the busiest intersection.

Right in the city square . . .


Notice where she parks her van? Where she seeks to be noticed? Not off in some corner bar or in some think tank in DC or in some frat house for the cool crowd. Wisdom stands at the intersection of all the First and Main streets of the world. She stands atop mountains, walks along congested sidewalks, sits in high school cafeterias, leans against signs saying, "Entering city of _______." Wherever people live and die, there, Lady Wisdom tries to attract our attention.

The final part of our lesson in Proverbs reminds us that the Madame has been around for a long time. She is not a young woman who sends playful glances our way; wisdom is an old woman with timeworn creases. Like an old lady rocking on her porch, she calls out to each generation that passes her house. She has lots and lots of memories, valued words and advice to give us.

Old Lady Wisdom is almost timeless. She precedes our history, our experience, our sense of life; no matter if we had lived many thousands of years ago or if we are yet to be born, Wisdom both precedes and follows us. But what if we could ride some time reversal machine and rewind all the way back to Wisdom’s origin? We would find ourselves standing in a primeval moment before time was even measured, a time when matter was not yet in its final form; a pre-history world of chaos and void.

Before Earth got its start,

Before the Ocean, Springs, Rivers, and Lakes,

Before Mountains were sculpted or Hills,

Before God stretched out Earth’s horizons,

Before the Sky was set in place,

Before the wild Ocean had borders,

No matter our age and experience-Madame goes further back and further forward than any human being's history. The woman is godly but not a goddess. In her wisdom she acknowledges her finiteness, her own creation at the hands of God.

As great as Madam Wisdom is, as marvelous as the proverbs are, even she bends the knee to a Mystery greater than her wisdom. Trinity Sunday joins with Madam Wisdom and worships the mysterious Three-in-one God.

Like an ancient sage, we cup our ear to hear what special words this strange, ancient woman will tell us; we've climbed up the mountain and finally reached the summit where wisdom sits like a fat Buddha with a Mona Lisa smile. There, running throughout Proverbs, is her foundational wisdom:

The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

True wisdom begins with a humble acknowledgement of the God who creates us. In the Christian Scriptures, we learn that God stands behind Wisdom as its architect that leads us through a very dark world back to the God who is light. Proverbs begins with advice, but like a passport, finally leads us to a Person. In him is true wisdom and honor and glory. Forever and ever, world without end. Amen.