Jun 21st | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Proverbs 3:19-35
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The English author, philosopher, and lay theologian, G.K. Chesterton once said, “It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing. Alas, it is worse than that. When people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything.” Over the intervening years, it may well be that Chesterton has been proven right. Give up on God, walk away from God, ignore God, dismiss God as irrelevant and something else - usually something far lesser and even destructive will fill that empty void.
We began our summer series on Proverbs last week by offering a definition of the term “wisdom” that is used throughout the book and others in the Wisdom literature genre. Wisdom is a readily available understanding, insight, or perception about God, God’s ways, and what God wants for humankind. You might call it “a divine common sense.” It is available to any and all who will open themselves to the possibility that God is real and has established the world and its creatures to live in a particular way - a way ordained by God.
The unknown author/editor of Proverbs even went so far as to say that a devotion to, or a renewed appreciation for God and all that God has done, is doing, and promises to do is the beginning of an authentic experience of life. Living wisely - in the way of wisdom - in the way that life has been designed by God to be lived - brings the fullness of purpose of life into reality. To live wisely - to live in the way of wisdom - is to find a central core to life that keeps us from believing in anything. To live wisely - to live in the way of wisdom - is to be connected to God which keeps us from falling for anything.
This week, the lesson takes us to the next step. In its simplest expression, when we are living a life connected to God, there are blessings that follow. When we hear that word, “blessings,” we almost immediately think of tangible goods. Blessings are things like money, houses, vehicles, vacations, luxury, clothing - and all the rest. When we think of blessings, we think of stuff and things.
But, there are blessings that are intangible and sometimes invisible, if only because we fail to see them. “Keep sound wisdom and prudence - which can be translated as foresight - and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck.” Live in this way of wisdom and you will receive life, favor, grace, and meaning. Live in the way of wisdom and have confidence, trust, and fearlessness. Live in the way of wisdom and be blessed with resoluteness, tenacity, and fortitude no matter what comes your way.
This way of life is what we might call the life of faith. Living in connection with God, we have no reason to fear what may come, whether we are walking, sitting, at home, on a journey, or any of the life situations that might cause us anxiety, fear, or uncertainty. Living in connection with God very often means humbling oneself and trusting God to carry us through whatever we are facing.
When you visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you notice a very short door. Even those of diminutive stature have to bend down to get through. The reason for the short door, according to tradition, is that it denied entry to warriors on their horses from entering the church to disrupt services. The door is called “the humility gate.”
Living in connection with God very often calls on us to live humbly with God and with each other in order to walk in the way of wisdom. Allowing God to be God is the way of wisdom and when we are walking in that restored relationship with God, we experience the blessing of security, assurance, and peace.
Then the teacher of Proverbs starts with a lesson on how not to live. The list is not ethereal and high-minded. It is practical, down-to-earth wisdom. Don’t withhold a service that is owed. Don’t shirk your duty. Don’t put off fulfilling an obligation. Don’t make excuses. Don’t look for a fight. Don’t aggravate your neighbor. Don’t be envious of the wealthy and powerful and do not follow in their way. Nothing lofty about any of that.
There was an unusual high school football game played in Grapevine, Texas ten tears ago between Grapevine Faith Academy and the Gainesville State School. Faith Academy is a Christian school and Gainesville is located within a high-security youth correctional facility. The prison team had only 14 players and played every game on the road. With a record of 0-8, they only scored twice the whole year. Their players are teenagers who have been convicted of crimes ranging from drugs to assault to robbery. Most had families who had disowned them. They wore outdated, used, shoulder pads and helmets.
Faith Academy was 7-2 with 70 players, 11 coaches, and the latest equipment. Chris Hogan, the head coach at Faith Academy, knew the Gainesville team would have no fans and it would be no contest, so he thought, “What if half of our fans and half of our cheerleaders...cheered for the other team?” He sent out an email to the faithful fans asking them to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send,” Hogan wrote. “You’re just as valuable as any other person on the planet.”
Some thought he was confused and crazy. One player said, “Coach, why are we doing this?” Hogan said, “Imagine you don’t have a home life, no one to love you, no one pulling for you. Imagine that everyone pretty much had given up on you. Now, imagine what it would feel like and mean to you for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”
The idea took root. On the night of the game, imagine the surprise of those 14 players when they took the field and there was a banner the cheerleaders had made for them to crash through. The visitors’ stands were full. The cheerleaders were leading cheers for them. The fans were calling them by their names. Isaiah, the quarterback-middle linebacker said, “I never in my life thought I would hear parents cheering for me to tackle and hit their kid. Most of the time, when we come out, people are afraid of us. You can see it in their eyes, but these people are yelling for us. They knew our names.”
After the game the teams gathered at the 50-yard line to pray. That’s when Isaiah, the teenage convict, surprised everybody and asked if he could pray, “Lord, I don't know what just happened so I don’t know how or who to say thank you to, but I never knew there were so many people in the world who cared about us.”
There it is. When we are really living the life of wisdom - when we are really walking the way of God - the things so valued and prized by so many seem puny and insignificant. When we are walking in wisdom’s way, those on whom the world looks down become important to us. When we are living the life God created us to live, we are not content with some of God’s children being treated with disrespect and as devalued people. When we are living as children of Wisdom, the poor become important, the homeless are seen as our sisters and brothers, the incarcerated and forgotten have a newfound value, the well-being of the broken in body, mind, and spirit become a high priority, and the victims of untold injustice become a reason for ministry and action. When we are really living the life of wisdom, God’s presence becomes unmistakably real in the world and the world is blessed, even as we experience the blessings of God.
Walk in Wisdom’s way. Ramble through life on God’s path. Go with the grain of the universe - the way that God made things to work their best. And you and the world around you will be blessed.
For now and evermore. Amen.