Bible Basics: Wisdom

Worship on the Lord’s Day
Pentecost 15     10:00 am       10 September 2023
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia     Elder: Heather Tansem

We gather to worship God

Music prelude

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.

Lighting of the Christ candle
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship

Call to Worship
L: Sing to the Lord a new song.
P: We will worship God, our Maker!
L: Let us praise God with song and dance,
P: For God is gracious and loving!
L: Let us bring God glory and honour,
P: For God deserves our praise.

Opening praise: Here I am to worship

Prayers of approach and confession

God of grace and glory, Your creative power is beyond imagining.

Your love is wider than the whole universe; your mercy reached beyond the highest heavens; your wisdom lies deeper than the fathoms of the sea.

Maker of all things, you became one of us in Jesus Christ, walking the roads we take each day.

Through your Spirit, you are present with us in every time and place, to comfort and challenge us.

We worship you, Creator, Christ, and Spirit, and will live to bring you glory, now and always, Amen.

God of majesty and mercy, although Christ offers us peace, we confess we are a people divided.

We harbour fears and jealousy which set neighbour against neighbour, nation against nation.

We pursue profit and pleasures which harm creation and the wellbeing of less privileged peoples.

Have mercy upon us, O God. Set us free from our old ways  to serve you  as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.

Response: We come to ask your forgiveness, O Lord

Assurance of God’s love

The Apostle Paul challenges us to lay aside actions and deeds that distance us from God and one another and to put on the armour of light.

Know that you are forgiven by God’s grace. So walk in God’s mercy. Be at peace with God, with yourself and with each other.

We listen for the voice of God

Children’s time

Response: Open our eyes, Lord (445)

Story: Once there was a little boy who, ever since he could remember, wanted to be a firefighter. The thrill of the siren, the deep rumble of the racing fire truck filled his dreams every night. Deep in his heart, he had longing. To someday save people. From the grasp of a fire. It wasn’t a whim of a fantasy. Just during his childhood, but throughout his life. Growing up, he never changed his mind. He longed for the day when he would. No longer be the spectator, watching the firefighters drive by the house.

Finally, the big day came when he could take the first real step in his lifelong journey. He was accepted into one of the best firefighting schools in the country. His teachers were world renowned. And for three years he immersed himself in his schooling. He spent hours honing his skills on practice fires. He studied firefighting theory long into the nights. Still, after all these years he had never fought a real fire.

As graduation approached, he realized that the long-awaited moment was within reach. Suddenly, he began to have doubts. For the first time in his life, he was unsure and afraid, and worse yet, questioning whether he ought to be a firefighter at all. It was then that one of the professors suggested he travel to Europe and study at one of the greatest firefighting theory schools of all time. It would last for two more years. The not so little boy decided to travel to Europe, and for two years he exhausted himself in dedication to the study of firefighting theory.

But all he had done? Was put out practice fires. Hello, good morning. Once again, graduation loomed before him and once again he was haunted by indecision. He knew all about fires and could tell anyone how to fight one. And in fact he knew so much more about fighting fires now he felt like he was above the ordinary firefighter. He became increasingly concerned he might have to fight a fire with someone who didn’t really know what they were doing.

It was then that he was offered a position to teach at the most respected firefighting school in the country. He accepted the position and taught for 24 years. He taught with honor, receiving worldwide recognition. When he died some years later, someone found the memoir that he had written when he first became sick.

It was a strange message. “I lie here today reviewing my life. I still remember my dream, my passion to become a firefighter. More than anything else, I wanted to put out fires. But I realized something this morning that I have never put out a single real fire in my life. Never.”

In Philippians 314, it says. “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me – heavenward in Jesus Christ.” Too often in life we allow our doubts and our worries to get in the way of our true objective. God, however, believes in us and that we should be moving forward forever towards our goal. And yes, that means if you want to be a Firefighter, then don’t give up. But it also means to continue working on your life. Working towards the prize at the end. Working heavenward. And being more and more like Jesus. Every day.

Prayer: O God, we thank for our schools and our families, for everyone around us that loves us, that we get to love back. We ask that you help us push on towards the goal that is both a point in knowing you and a direction in life and what we must do.

The Lord’s Prayer (535)

Transition music

Song: Come, let us sing to he Lord our song (412)

Today’s Message

Scripture readings: Job 19:25-26; Psalm 51; Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 1:2; Song of Solomon 8:6

Response: Glory to the Father

Message: Bible Basics: Wisdom

Today in “What’s this book all about” we’re getting into a unique genre of literature that’s unfamiliar to most of us but was extremely common in the ancient Near East, and Mesopotamia. We’re looking specifically at Psalms (a book of poems), Song of Songs (a book of love – or perhaps “erotica”, Proverbs (a book of generally true sayings) and then Job and Ecclesiastes which are two books living by the Proverbs wisdom when it doesn’t work out in real life like it does in the saying. Job has to do with why we suffer. And it does not answer. Ecclesiastes says, don’t even try! Or does it? Anyway, first a little background.

Psalms: Psalms is the most popular book in the world. It’s a book of poetry and music made up of 5 smaller books. Each one reflects one of the first books of Moses. In total, there are 150 songs. Some are joyful, some are sad, Some are fearful, and others are thankful. The Psalms are intensely personal verses about the author’s relationship with God over time. It is brutally honest at points. Some favorites include the widely loved Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd). It is loved even by people with no faith tradition. In Psalm 8 someone says, “Lord oh Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” and does so as the author looks up into the night stars and feels incredibly small and yet dearly cherished. You made all this, and me!?! In Psalm 4 it says, “The Lord is a refuge and an ever-present help in times of trouble.”

But there’s also Psalm 13 where a person’s family is breaking apart asking “How long Lord will you forget me?” Please – God – Do Something!!! In Psalm 22 where the author is dying of an illness, he cries “My heart is like wax, melting within my very chest.” This is the Psalm Jesus quotes on the cross. Psalm 139 is a gut-wrenching cry from a war-torn country where the author is asking God for horrible, violent awful vengeance against the perpetrators of the war and their children. And it is awful. But it’s honest. The Psalms are where we go when we don’t have the words to say, sing, pray, praise or yell to God what we feel. It’s human and raw. And it’s our permission to lay our feelings on the table whenever we must.

Song of Solomon: It’s fair to say that most people don’t spend a lot of time reading the Song of Songs. And that’s because it’s a little uncomfortable. When I was here in my earlier days, the Rev. George Johnston used to make me read this book from the pulpit as part of my education on public speaking or “oratory skills not taught since the inclusion of the microphone” as he said. It is a little hard to read in public because it’s a love poem and I’m a prude. But this thing is the 1000BC version of 50 Shades of Grey in some ways. And while this old honey dripper drops lines on his gal, like “My Lover, your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each tooth has its twin and not one of them is missing.” (6:6) “Oh baby, You got all your teeth!” he says. Some of the compliments are unique to the time.

There is a well-known drawing of this beautiful woman trying to use all the images the Lover says to his Beloved. And it’s not great.

Here she is. The woman is introduced as being a “very dark-skinned beauty”. The shepherd boy tells his beloved that she has eyes like doves, hair like a flock of goats, teeth like sheep, a neck like a tall tower, her belly is a heap of wheat, and he compliments her chest many many times saying her breasts are like jumping gazelle and deer (7:3). For me this verse says a lot about the book. He says to her, “Your stature is like a tall palm tree, and I said to myself about her, I shall climb this tree and grab at its fruit” (7:7). He says, “the space between my lover’s breast smells to me of sweet perfume” (1:13) She likes this. She says to him, “I am a wall, and my breasts are like tall towers. Because of this, I make him happy” (8:10)

She is described as a locked garden in terms of chastity and yet she calls out “blow on my garden that’s its fragrance may waft. Let my lover come into the garden and taste its choice fruit.” (4:16). Although pretty GROSS for most of us to hear, she tells him that she is lying in the bed she was conceived in and asks him to enter the garden and lay beside her at the tree He was conceived under. And she says, “And then my beloved put his hand by the hole of the door and my bowels were moved for him.” For me, it feels a little like reading the text messages of an engaged couple living far apart.

It’s worth noting that many have thought of this as an analogy between God and Israel and later Jesus and the Church, but nothing is hinting at that at all. It’s more like erotica or the exalting of love and sex. It’s a “wisdom book” but Wisdom is not mentioned or examined at any point, there is no interest in or talk of The God of Israel or the Law at any point. It’s just a narrator, a shepherd, and a woman during their engagement.

In the book, the fiancé has a series of dreams about her “man” coming to rendezvous with her in secret. Repeatedly they search for each other but lose each other. They talk in euphemisms about chastity and about mandrakes (which were thought to prevent pregnancy at the time), and pomegranate (which they viewed as an aphrodisiac). The ending is a pronouncement that they must keep their meeting secret and about how she wishes she could be more open about their love. “Place me like a seal over your heart like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Water cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away” (8:6-7). All of these are described during what we might call “dream sequences”. She is still betrothed and not married and what we’ve witnessed is her yearning to be with him.

But also think about this. The Bible opens with a story about a man and wife joined together. They live in the garden of east of Eden. The story takes place by a tall tree. In the Genesis story the people are kicked out of the garden off paradise. The rest of the Bible is about how we get back in. And in this story. We see a glimpse of that. This loving relationship in Song of Songs, this love poem about a woman and a man getting married in a garden and lying under a tall tree may well have a larger point. The closest thing on earth to heaven is this loving relationship between two people.

Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes: These books all play off of each other.

Proverbs is a collection of wise and usually true sayings the people have learned over the last few generations. The time of the Judges is over, and people no longer do whatever they wish. Proverbs says: seek Wisdom, avoid bad company, help the poor, watch your language, get out and work, get your rest. Proverbs the book has many authors, but Five leaders are given a voice. It begins with Solomon’s proverbs, unattributed proverbs of the wise, Hezekiah’s Proverbs, Agur’s proverbs and Lemuel’s proverbs. And it’s a manual for good behaviour. This is especially true for young boys. In fact, generally, Hebrew males could not engage with this book until the age of 13.

In Proverbs, two women call out to the young boys of the city. One, Lady Wisdom gives good advice. The other, Lady Folly, tells them to steal what they need and appears to be a woman of the night. Lady folly is what happens when you ignore the wise. And Lady Wisdom is the culmination of human wisdom and reliance on God personified as female. This is a strange book, and the reason is simple. This is not Divine/Godly wisdom coming down from the Mountain. This is human wisdom. These are human words and human ideas about wisdom. But they are included in “god’s word”. And I find this fascinating. It’s amazing to me that the collective wisdom of human beings is then handed back to them with God’s stamp of approval and in an incredibly unique way. And yet this says something overall about what the Bible is to some degree.

The proverbs are not always true. A proverb is a generally true statement with a lesson. The opening of Proverbs says, “This is for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour, for doing what is just and fair and right. (1:3) It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (3:5-6) “Pride cometh before the fall” (16:18) “As iron sharpens iron, so a good friend sharpens a good friend.” (27:17) One of my favourites is Proverb 15:17 which states, “It’s better to eat veggies in a house filled with love than to eat steak served by someone who hates your guts.” And “You’re better off living on the corner of an attic than inside the house with an upset wife you can never please.” (21:9)

But just because proverbs are generally true that doesn’t make them always true. What about “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (22:6) Really, I mean much of the time perhaps, but the verse certainly doesn’t claim this to always be the case. Yes, it’s good advice (train your kids well) but not every child continues following the ways of their parents. And it doesn’t always work out the way we want or think or is even the way best for them (at least from a parental or hindsight perspective). And that’s sort of the point.

Proverbs gives great advice, but life is complicated and it’s just not as simple as the Karma sort of view that this seems to be suggesting. The debate between human-turned-divine wisdom and life experiences when it doesn’t work out. That’s what the next two books are about. They listened to Lady Wisdom and life still didn’t work out the way they wanted. Job and Ecclesiastes ask, what happens when? And why?

In Job, “Ha Satan” (The Satan – OR – the accuser) and God speak together behind the scenes. “Ha Satan,” says that Job is good only because he’s rich and married and happy. And the “accuser” is next allowed to test Job. God knows that Job is faithful – though FUN NOTE: Job is not even a follower of the Hebrew God – he’s just a good person. He’s from Ur. Not Israel. Another hint – God is bigger than what we think!

Of course, Job deserves none of this. He is good. Yet he loses everything. And he still praises God though he openly and honestly rants against the very day he was born at his lowest point. Job’s friends all give him ideas about why his life is a mess. They say he is a sinner. He must have done something wrong. And yet he hasn’t. Job is “upright” as the text admits. Yeah, he’s human. He has emotions. He loves God, doubts God, gets mad, demands God come and defend him or defend God’s self against him at least – That doesn’t go very well. Yes, Job is allowed to complain… but… God is allowed to respond!

God’s response is this – “Just where were you Job, when I hung the stars in their place or pushed the oceans to their borders”. Don’t Get Cocky, the answer comes. Job is humble and never knows why he suffered but he also he is redeemed. It’s not a completely comforting book but in the end, Job is alright with God when things go bad, or things go well. It doesn’t matter if things worked out.

Job is a meditation on the problem of suffering. Job is a good guy who does what’s right. But most of the book consists of a lengthy series of arguments between two opposing viewpoints and at the end God appears but does not answer the question of suffering. In the book, Job suffers for seemingly no reason. Things kind of end up well for him but what about the people who died? How did it go for them?

One of Job’s friends tells him, it must be Job’s fault as a sinner. The other friend tells him another theory. Everyone has “wisdom” (LADY WISDOM) to share with him. But they aren’t correct. They assume Job has caused his pain. So, what happens when following Lady Wisdom doesn’t work as thought? Sadly, or intriguingly, in the end, no answers come, but we do see the weak nature of simple theories about everything just being cause and effect. God is involved, you just may not get to know how or why.

And that’s the point of Job. Sometimes, life is just a mess. But don’t give up. That’s the only true way to fail God and the only true way to fail Yourself. In the end, it just doesn’t have to be perfect since it just must be lived and dealt with. And then next we come to Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless, Meaningless, Everything Is Meaningless!” This is the opening line from the book of Ecclesiastes. Yikes!

Ecclesiastes is an odd book. It is cynical and dark. It speaks of hard lives and pointless living. It purports that all life is boring meaningless and futile. And yet, the book may be a demonstration of “How not to think”???? Qoheleth or Teacher is our author. It’s like a nickname of sorts for “People Smarter Than You” or is supposed to be. It’s about the “learned view”. And it may fairly be seen as satire or mocking the very position it expresses.

In Ecclesiastes, the whole world is backward. What Wisdom said doesn’t always work. The teacher is one person, and the author is another. The author gets to evaluate the older critic. He is Male and Educated and yet, his cynical nature is ultimately rejected in favour of the general wisdom of Lady Wisdom from proverbs. “All life is meaningless and, in the end, the “race doesn’t always go to the quick, wealth to the wise and so on.” You can’t trust life. 41 times in this book the author says that life is from “Hah-Vell” or heh-bel in transliteration traditionally and it means “vain” or “empty” or “pointless”.

But the real question is what does the “Teacher” appear to say exactly (with our most modern understanding of the document? Well, most modern translations repeat the word suggested in the KJV being “vanity” which is symbolic but upon closer look another word may be more suitable: that word being “vapor” or even “breath”. Likely the suggestion is a morning fog that lifts a momentary breath that leave behind it a trail in the winter. But the significance of this more recent understanding is large. Life is not “meaningless” according to the “teacher” so much as it is amorphous, changing, cloudlike, unpredictable, fickle; a fog that’s sometimes orderly enough/sometimes not, and that is this ever-evolving “mist” of reality and perception categorically ultimately leads to death for absolutely everyone no matter how good, bad, faithful, well intentioned, learned, righteous, clean… WHATEVER!!!

The “teacher sort of agrees with Lady wisdom” but also says that the only things you can truly trust are simple things that are temporary at best. The “teacher” is dark, but the author or narrator wants you to know that God is at work behind things. And that’s it. But at the end the Narrator and Teacher both appear to say, that all the negative statements about life are about what life is about when someone has no Lord worth depending on. And that begs a question – What do you believe and perhaps more importantly, how then shall you live?

He is wise – he has wisdom – but his conclusions are not ideals we are meant to follow. Again, I say this a lot but many many people with no clue whatsoever say things like, Oh this verse in Ecclesiastes contradicts this verse in (fill in the blank) and it is almost always the true sign of an uncritical thinker. In this case, we are meant to reject much of what the “teacher” says.

Ecclesiastes says the world is like a foggy morning and Yes God is just, but the world is not fair. It’s a mess. So now what?

He is the perspective counter and complimentary to Lady Wisdom but he’s an old male teacher. And he has wisdom to impart but he’s also a pure drag. He poo-poo’s everything. You want to work – good – you die early, and they replace you with a person who doesn’t know or care about you or what you did. You want to get married and think that’s the end-all-be-all, Well, that’s not the answer – that’s the test you must take every single day of your life after that commitment. And, yeah, mean, evil, nasty, hurtful people die. But so do good people like Job. It’s not like Job is still hanging around, having a good time. He died eventually. And after people die – then what? Everything dies, our “teacher” says. So What? Our “Teacher” says in response to “Lady Wisdom”, that ‘maybe everyone is living by rules that don’t matter’?

This is such an honest book. It’s like a manual for the disenchanted. It asks, are we different from all these animals? He says humans, animals, plants, good, bad, mean, nice, faithful, pagan, whatever – everything dies and goes to the same place – the ground. We have hope, we believe in more, but proof is impossible. We’re in limbo. And if that’s true, then, nothing matters, or everything is at best – a fog or vapour or some disappearing mist of existence. And that’s the “teachers” point of view. It’s all a waste of time.

Or is it?

Here is the crux of things. It may be – It likely is – That we are to see and read some wisdom into the mouth of the teacher of Ecclesiastes. But the “teacher” in this book also refers to himself as a “pointed staff”. See, the old white guy is not meant to be right. He’s meant to make you think. See, the teacher isn’t always wrong, but he isn’t always right. He is playing a role. He is the “pointed staff” in the debate. He’s the “devil’s advocate”. Which means, you aren’t supposed to believe everything he says. And that means we have an entire book in our Bible where the author is knowingly giving bad advice. When the book ends, it ends with the teacher turning to the only thing he can say for sure that a person must do. Follow Lady Wisdom wherever you can. Understand that suffering is sometimes a mystery and don’t beat yourself up about it. It may not be your fault at all. And above all do your best to “Respect and obey God”. And with that the books of Wisdom close.

Find love, it’s like being back in the Garden of Eden. It’s like a return to how we were meant to live. Do your best to live by the Wisdom of God. Watch out for Lady Folly and seek out Lady Wisdom. Don’t assume that pain is the end. Don’t think things will always work out. And yet, on the other side of life – Believe that they will. Amen.

Song: Lord, whose love (722: vss.1, 3, 4, 5)

We respond to serve God

Reflection on giving: Dayspring is empowered to carry out our mission of worship, service, and care by generously given volunteer time, talent, and treasure. Many thanks to all who give so generously!

Prayer of gratitude and for others and ourselves

Gracious God, receive these gifts, offered in a spirit of generosity and humility. Bless and use them for the work that you long to do in the world you love for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

God of love, Creator of heaven and earth, we are filled with gratitude for the blessings of this life.

For making us in your image to love and care for one another, we give you thanks.

For the gift of Christ, who redeems and guides us, and who gives us a pattern for everyday living, we praise you.

For the work of the Spirit, who works in us, through us and beyond us, We praise you.

Hear us now as we pray for situations where your love and grace are sorely needed:.

We pray for the church in this place and around the world, facing so many new challenges to respond to so many enduring needs…


We pray for this beautiful planet, the fragile home we share with all living things…


For children and youth who worry about the future of the planet and their place in that future…


For those who govern in this city/town/area and the nations of the world, that they may find the wisdom and courage to do justice for all in the decisions they make…


For the homeless and the hungry, for the unemployed and the uncertain, and for all who struggle with daily decisions for their families and their future…


For those who mourn, for those who face illness or isolation, and for all whose situations we carry on our hearts this day …

         A longer time of silence

Lord today specifically we pray for Renita’s father, for her siblings and boys. We pray for healing and for peace within.

We pray as well for Marcus and his family. We thank you for answered pray and will continue to ask. Grant wisdom to the physicians involved, guide hands and minds. Bring recovery and swiftly to demonstrate your will.

We pray for those who may not wish their names shared and we do so trusting that you know who they are. Be present, speak, bring calm and Shalom to life once again.

God be with us and active in our world. Remind us of our work for your kingdom and goad us on when we lose hope or energy so we may do what is just and right and fair. Amen.

Song: I, the Lord of sea and sky (592)

Sending out with God’s blessing

The Apostle Paul teaches that we owe no one anything but to love one another. This is wise and true.

Go with God’s love in your hearts to share with everyone at any point on any whim and in any way. May God bless you for every good seed you planted. May you seek the ways of wisdom from the world around you, from Lady Wisdom herself, from the Spirit’s calling. And may you be eternally blessed by the Way Truth and Life to which where all this leads – in Christ our Lord: Liberator, Example and Center. Amen.

Response: Amen, we praise your name, O God

————-Music postlude————-

Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).

The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.

Posted in Recent Sermons.