Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Be Wise and Choose Life”
Proverbs 8:1-5, & 32-36, May 22nd
Our lesson this morning is asking a simple question: Wisdom is calling – are you listening? As we reflect on this challenging question let us consider several things. There are two ways to talk about wisdom. The first, is the one we ‘jump to’ when we hear wisdom spoken; we begin thinking that we are talking primarily about becoming wise, like a prophet or a wise old man. In this line there are an array, a vast selection actually of wisdom sayings. It would be wise for us Christians and as average everyday folk, along this journey of life, to pay heed to a few of them.
Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, who once said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” /Lao Tzu/ Last week nine members of our faith community took a step into being more fully responsible for their relationship with God through Christ Jesus, the very central personality of our Christian doctrines and our personal faith. And yes this Chinese philosopher is correct, this is but one step in a very long journey; but without it there may not be a continuing journey at all. The point of wisdom is to be reminded that one must focus on taking that first step – rather than focus on the enormous task of a thousand miles.
Juliana Claassen, a Professor of Old Testament, is quoted as saying: “…true wisdom is to realize that one cannot always control events, not to speak of the many others with whom we travel together on this earth.” Ah yes, so true… so true. How often have we fallen into this trap! This is especially true if we have some true skills and a sense of leadership. With our background and experience, surely we can control the outcome of this simply planned event. Now if only we can get a handle on how others will respond. Surely, they will see how important this event is which we have planned and prepared for! No, this is not how it works. The Old Testament professor is correct: we cannot always control events, especially when it involves others!
John Wooden was an American coach who through experience learned a few wise things. One such thing he is remembered for saying is this: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” At first blush this wise remark seems absurd, ridiculous even, and quite illogical. If we subtract human personalities and human ego from this then sure – the remark is meaningless. But when we factor in human nature… we will need to reconsider how important this piece of wisdom is! You and me, we make mistakes and sometimes even poor choices and decisions. But, if we are surrounded by people that will dare to disagree with our wrong minded decisions or choices… there is a higher chance for success in whatever endeavor we are working on. Consider the professional golfer who hires a caddie to carry their clubs. (Caddies are also considered valuable assets to these pros, especially when they are making club choices and choosing what type of a shoot to make.) So when the caddie offers up an opinion different than the one the pro was considering… it would be prudent to take into account their suggestion, and surely wise to listen and consider all the possibilities, rather than rushing forward with a hastily made choice!
John C. Maxwell a recognized leadership expert includes in his seminars this wise tip: “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” Ouch! This one is a hard one to accept. It is really hard to admit when we are wrong. I am sure of this, as I am often wrong and frequently need to face up to it! The depth of the wisdom is when we begin to see how, having made the mistake, how it can be used to avoid making the same one again; and furthermore, the now historical mistake can be used as an example to guide and help others so they will not make that same one.
The second way to speak of Wisdom, is when the word becomes a name and thereby a reference to one of the representations of our God. This is the Wisdom we are focusing on in our lesson today. In our scripture lesson it is as if Wisdom has taken on a personality, much like one of the personalities of our triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It seems plausible and likely even that the writer of this passage wants us to make that connection in order to elevate the importance of the words being put forth from the mouth of this Wisdom personality. And yes, we most certainly are being encouraged to ‘toss in’ a little bit of ‘experience’, some ‘good judgement’ and hopefully ‘mix it’ with some ‘actual’ knowledge, in the hopes of gaining some qualities of being ‘wise’ – in our relationship with God; no matter which representations or characterizations of the personalities of the Trinity we are interacting with. In the case of Wisdom, she is often seen as the inspiration that often comes from the influence of the Holy Spirit; though most scholars would argue that Wisdom is not of the Trinity, but rather simply a personification of a characteristic of let us say the ‘living word’ of the Son of God, or the ‘inspirational push’ of the Holy Spirit.
That’s right Guys, hold onto your seats, and Ladies, you are going to love this passage from Proverbs chapter one verses twenty though thirty three: 20 Wisdom is like a woman shouting in the street; she raises her voice in the city squares. 21 She cries out in the noisy street and shouts at the city gates: 22 “You fools, how long will you be foolish? How long will you make fun of wisdom and hate knowledge? 23 If only you had listened when I corrected you, I would have told you what’s in my heart; I would have told you what I am thinking. 24 I called, but you refused to listen; I held out my hand, but you paid no attention. 25 You did not follow my advice and did not listen when I corrected you. 26 So I will laugh when you are in trouble. I will make fun when disaster strikes you, 27 when disaster comes over you like a storm, when trouble strikes you like a whirlwind, when pain and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then you will call to me, but I will not answer. You will look for me, but you will not find me. 29 It is because you rejected knowledge and did not choose to respect the Lord. 30 You did not accept my advice, and you rejected my correction. 31 So you will get what you deserve; you will get what you planned for others. 32 Fools will die because they refuse to listen; they will be destroyed because they do not care. 33 But those who listen to me will live in safety and be at peace, without fear of injury.”
Confucius, that Chinese philosopher and teacher tells us that “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” The problem with this bit of wisdom advice is it takes time and effort to implement. Take reflection; who among us takes time, on a regular, perhaps even on a daily basis, to reflect on our day, reviewing the interactions we have had with others, and then let us consider what worked and what didn’t; thereby reflecting on the cost of our decisions, both to ourselves as well as others around us. Secondly, we are being asked to consider imitation. OK, if I have a bad golf swing, maybe I can learn to imitate a golfer who has a good one. This has possibilities. Better than staying with the swing you know doesn’t work. The bitterest of course is learning by experience. About the tenth time we try to fit a square peg into a round hole we begin to get the message… it won’t fit! So, yes it is wise to reflect on things, to imitate how others successful do it and by our own experience, thereby making adjustments as we continue to try something over and over again.
Thankfully, we find that in our reading for this morning that Wisdom offers second chances. Hear again the opening in verse 8: “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” Now let us all heed the voice of Wisdom from verse 32: “And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.” /Proverbs 8: 8 & 32/ If Wisdom is in a sort imitating the personality of God, in one personification or another, perhaps it would be wise to consider taking this passage to heart. First, it seems to offer us a second opportunity to listen, perhaps even infinite opportunities. So let’s open up our hearts to some new possibilities, thereby preparing ourselves to listen and see if we might actually change some aspect of our lives.
Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps acquired this statement after being the First Lady during one of her husband, President Franklin D Roosevelt’s four terms in office: “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Just reading or hearing a piece of wisdom literature is not enough. Even, forming an attitude and considering a new viewpoint on how to live differently is not enough. No, if we are to truly take wisdom seriously then we must look to the real, day to day, choices we make in the real world of people, places and things we live within.
And Wisdom herself is pointing to listening more closely to the very Word of God, and being influenced by it. Verse 35 speaks for Wisdom “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from (our) the (Nobel Director, our) Lord, (Jesus our Savior).” It would therefore be wise of us, as we head down that long, long trail, it would be prudent if we were to strive to actually follow in the teachings of Jesus, whom we do know is one of the personalities of our Triune God. Take for instance one of the many writings attributed to the Apostle Paul. Colossians, is one of the letters written by Paul while he was in prison. In chapter three, verse twelve, we hear his remarks. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Surely, it would be wise to take a moment to ponder this teaching as we continue to trudge down the road; as well as considering a multitude of teachings in the gospels from Jesus himself!
Life is filled with choices. Being a Christian is a choice. Choosing to live a life worthy of the path you have chosen is up to you, and no other. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” /Proverbs 8:4/ It seems self-evident that these passages in Proverbs were inspired so as to pass Wisdom’s insights, understandings and knowledge on to the people that were struggling to know and follow the path of an alluring yet mysterious God. Let us consider Wisdom’s invitation and listen. “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” /Proverbs 8:33/
Let us be wise and fully live!
“Hear now our morning’s lesson, it is taken from the eight chapter of Proverbs, from the Old Testament, verses one through five and verses thirty two through thirty six.”
Proverbs 8:1-5, & 32-36
8 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 5 O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
32 “And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. 33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. 34 Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; 36 but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.”
Allow Wisdom to open your hearts as-well-as your minds so that you shall find the willingness to listen to God in all areas of your life.”