24 September 2009

18th Sunday after Pentecost

For the last 21 years, the Wesley Fellowship at Duke has celebrated weekly Eucharist in the basement of Duke Chapel. This has been an important part of my life for the entirety of my time at the University. On September 16, I delivered the homily at that service, using some of the lectionary texts for Sunday, September 20: Proverbs 31:10-31 and James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a. I preached from an outline (which is increasingly becoming my custom) so I don't have a full text version of what I said, but wanted to pass along one portion of the exegesis here.

While Proverbs 31 is clearly about "a capable wife," and has been exploited for that reason, it still contains real truth that can be normative for all of our lives. The text exhorts us all to be in partnership with others, and to let our service be guided by wisdom and seasoned with humility, skill, and savvy. By this reading, an irony emerges: Proverbs 31, beloved text of evangelicals obsessed with gender roles, may be talking about the same thing as James, the patron saint of liberal Christians obsessed with justice and equality. For James says, "Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom." Both texts are describing the Good Life as that in which wisdom, not individual will, is the guiding force. Wisdom is often associated with the Holy Spirit; elsewhere, Paul called Jesus "the power and wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). In other words, to be Christian is to be transformed by our encounter with the triune God. James has already warned us that faith without works is dead; here, he is saying that works without faith -- that is, works not born of divine wisdom -- these works are also, in a sense, dead.

In short, our task is to figure out how to be both Matthew 25 AND Proverbs 31 women and men.

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