Knowledge is Power; Wisdom is Life

Sermon Preached at
Church of the Transfiguration on
Sunday, August 21, 2006 (Proper 15B)

"When I say knowledge is power, I mean it. Use it to your advantage." Donald Trump wrote these words last year in an article touting the benefits of continuous education and self-study.[i] Trump was not the first to assert that “knowledge is power” nor is he the only one who understands the value our culture places on knowledge. Consider your own desire for your children and grandchildren to do well in school, to go on to college. The expression “Knowledge is power” was first used by Francis Bacon who found his inspiration in the Book of Proverbs which says, “Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones, and those who have knowledge [are mightier] than those who have strength.”[ii]

Our first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, talks about Wisdom. We heard, “Wisdom has built her house. . . She calls from the highest places in the town, ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’” This is not a text about knowledge; it is a text about Wisdom. To be sure, knowledge may be a part of Wisdom, but Wisdom herself is much greater than mere knowledge. One can have knowledge and still be unwise. We all know people like this. And, more importantly, we all probably demonstrate this at one time or another in our own lives.

Just this week I was listening to an interview with Vigen Guroian on the Mars Hill Audio Journal that gave me new insight into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Guroian is an Orthodox theologian who teaches Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore. He is also an avid gardener. Here is what he said about his experience with gardening over the years:

“I was [initially] gardening because of practical necessity and the opportunity to be able to enjoy some things that might cost more than I could afford when [my wife and I] were first married. . . . [Gardening] was an instrumental good and I suppose I could have gone on that way. On the other hand, if you garden enough, it seems to me the garden teaches you. . . . The garden taught me how to view it differently. I dare say that anyone who has been gardening for a while. . . will begin to discover beauty in the garden and God in the garden, even if they don’t name God and that’s what happened to me. So, at this point, while I enjoy consuming what’s in the vegetable garden, for example, I probably take more pleasure, daily, in being in it than I do in consuming what grows in it; which is odd given the culture that we live in. . . . ”[iii]

Anyone with knowledge about gardening can grow a garden. Plant seeds at the right time of the year, ensure that they receive the right amounts of water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil, harvest at the right time of the year. Knowledge is such that we can now grow gardens in deserts or on rooftops, we can even grow them without soil. The possibilities seem endless with knowledge. Knowledge gives us the power to control the environment in such a way that it will grow a garden. In the interview with Guroian, it is what the interviewer refers to as “mastery by way of systematic manipulation.”[iv] Knowledge.

But, to do more than grow a garden, to actually be a gardener, you need more than knowledge – you must seek Wisdom. And that Wisdom comes not from yourself, but, in this case, from the garden itself – from creation. Once you begin seeing Wisdom in the garden, you appreciate the garden for its beauty, for its revelation of God. Knowledge allows us to do the things that make a garden grow. Wisdom allows us to simply be in the garden. The knowledge doesn’t go away – Guroian continues to harvest the vegetables that grow in his garden; but the knowledge is subsumed by Wisdom – Guroian’s realization that just “being” in his garden gives him pleasure.

Let’s go back to our text from Proverbs again. Here we have an image of Wisdom personified. She has prepared a feast and goes out to “the highest places in the town” to extend her invitation. The invitation goes out “to those without sense.” I love that expression because, in English, it has a double meaning. On the one hand, it can be sense as in “common sense” or perhaps even “knowledge.” But, on the other hand, it can mean sense as in the five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. An invitation is extended to all of us who have become unaware of our five senses - unaware of our environment, unaware of the beautiful tastes and smells that surround us. An invitation to “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.”

When I was a little girl, my mother used to bake. And when I came home from school, I knew as soon as I walked in the door when she had been making bread because the house smelled delicious. To this day, the smell of warm yeast and fresh-baked bread is the smell of home. To be sure, more often than not, I go to the store and buy bread because it is faster and much less messy. I know this. But there are times when I’m not seeking knowledge, times when I just need a bit of home and that is when I pull out the wooden bread board and the big mixing bowl and get to work, as my mother taught me. The smell of the warm yeast, the feel of the pliable dough in my hands as I knead it, the sense of wonder as I watch the dough rise in the pans, and the taste of fresh baked bread with just a little bit of butter and jam – there is nothing that compares to that experience. That experience of just being with this marvelous creation is, for me, an experience of Wisdom.

And so it is with Lady Wisdom’s invitation to come and eat of her bread and drink of her wine. This is not an invitation to gain more knowledge, my friends, it is an invitation to taste life and to walk in the way of insight. When do you taste life and feed your senses? We spend much of our time juggling too many appointments, too many activities, too many carpools, too many obligations and we become more and more disconnected from those places, times and experiences that promise us new life. If you are like me, you can’t imagine where you will find the time to take-in the life-giving Wisdom that surrounds us. A few weeks ago, I added an appointment to my calendar each day. It is a 30 minute time slot and it is reserved for prayer and meditation. Some days that takes the form of writing in my journal. Other times it involves reading Scripture. Most of the time though it takes the form of just sitting still, listening to my breathing, becoming aware of thoughts that go through my mind, listening for the voice of Wisdom as she calls to me.

I invite each of you to try this: in whatever place you record appointments, meetings, sports events, whatever, schedule (in ink) 30 minutes to just be. If every day sounds like more than you can manage, then try it just once a week. It will be hard at first, but don’t be discouraged. We have been in training to be doers for most of our lives. So it is not a surprise that just being will take some training as well. But, if you stick with it, you will begin to experience something new. See if it doesn’t make a difference in your life. Just 30 minutes – Wisdom invites us all to “live and walk in the way of insight.”

[i] Donald Trump, “Use Knowledge to Your Advantage,” Inside Trump Tower, Issue 4: June 21, 2005 accessed online at Trump University on August 17, 2006.
[ii] “Knowledge is Power,” Wikipedia accessed online at on August 17, 2006; Proverbs 24:5.
[iii] Vigin Guroian, Interview by Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Journal, Vol. 80(4), May/June 2006.
[iv] Ibid.