"Knowing Means Everything!"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 14, 2003

Psalm 19; Proverbs 1-20-33

     This morning we are going to be considering a lesson that is extremely judgmental toward all of us.  One of the qualities of the Proverbs is that they place their values right in front of every reader.  We either honor God with our lives or we do not.   

     Their judgment has nothing to do with how much we are loved by God.  Their judgment has nothing to do with our looks, our vocation, our age, our experience or our wealth.  Their judgment is extremely fair, honest and objective.  Their judgment does not care who they may offend or to whom they appear to show extreme partiality.  From the perspective of the Proverb we listened to today, all humanity is standing on a level playing field when it comes to the consequences of what we do.  We are being challenged by our life experiences to make a choice.   

     Listen to these opening verses: 

Listen!  Wisdom is calling out in the streets and marketplaces, calling loudly at the city gates and wherever people come together. Foolish people!  How long do you want to be foolish?  How long will you enjoy making fun of knowledge?  Will you never learn? 

     Immediately a number of us may think,  "Well, this does not apply to me.  Most of the time I know what I'm doing.  My choices work for me.  Besides, I don't want or need anyone shoving unsolicited advice my way."  The moment we forget that we are humble students here, that is a sure sign that we will have some rough sailing ahead of us. 

     Currently there is a considerable amount of advertisement in the media regarding teenage-parent communication.  We are reminded to talk to our teenagers about smoking, drugs, drinking and sex. We need to talk to them about being responsible for how they spend their money as well as being attentive to their attitudes while they are driving a car.  

     Occasionally when we are trying to communicate with our teen, we may hear words like these, "Mom!  Come on!  Get off it! Being 14 has nothing to do with this.  When are you going to loosen up so that I can prove to you that I can be responsible?  Jamie, Heather and Susan's parents let their daughters stay out until midnight. You know, you can't go on sheltering and controlling me for the rest of my life!"  

     This teenager has not yet found the wisdom of learning the basics of obedience and respect.  She has not yet grasped that she has the rest of her life to experience independence and the joys of her autonomy. Wisdom does create the level playing field.  The simple truth is that at every age, the consequences of our wisdom or lack of wisdom will rain down either blessings or tragedies.  Knowing means everything, particularly when we are growing up.  Parents have been there, and if kids would pay attention to the wisdom of Mom and Dad, think of the heartache they could avoid. 

     Another very popular version of our resistance to wisdom surfaces in the following conversation. Husband, "Look, if we can't sit down like two human beings and talk this thing through, we don't deserve to be married."  Wife, "We have tried so many times and have failed.  You never understand my point of view.  All that I am asking of you is that we both go to a counselor."  Husband, "Honey, I don't want someone poking their nose into our personal business.  What can some stranger tell us that we can't figure out for ourselves?" 

     How odd it is that when we need a hip replacement, we have no problem searching for a physician who routinely performs this procedure three or four times a week.  We want a surgeon who has operated on hundreds of patients, who has encountered every conceivable complication and who has a success rate of better than 98%.  We want someone who has extensive knowledge.  But when it comes to the emotional and spiritual health of our relationships, this husband is insisting that the two of them need to heal themselves.        

     When we resist obedience and respect for our parents and we resist communicating our vulnerabilities to "a stranger," we are the ones who cannot recognize wisdom's voice when she calls to us.  Verse 25 says, "You have ignored all my advice and have not been willing to let me correct you." Who would not want a course correction if we are heading toward a brick wall?  Unfortunately, plenty of us.  

     Can you remember the last time someone corrected you?  Did you grow defensive or were you most appreciative? Think about your answer!  When we remember we are students here, we will always remain open to listening to anyone who may offer us valuable feedback.  It is not a matter of having wisdom in our minds as many of us do.  It is a matter of making what we know visible. 

     One of the reasons why Tiger Woods is among an elite group of golfers is that he constantly wants to improve his skills.  As soon as Tiger experiences a failure, he immediately begins to work on what happened.  He wants to find out what he was doing incorrectly.  While we all assume that we are working on our neediness and our irritating habits, how many of us really are? 

     As inconceivable as this might appear, during his high school years Michael Jordan was refused a position on the varsity basketball team. Any number of people could have said to themselves, "Oh well, I guess I was not cut out to be a basketball player."  Michael had to learn more about himself.  He had to work at chipping away at his lack of motivation, his lack of  self-discipline and his attitude toward his coaches who knew far more about the game than he.  

     Knowledge blesses those who have it and continues to blind and confuse those who do not. Wisdom is impartial. It does not chose who gets it and who does not. It is free to everyone if they are interested in learning. Those of us who have grown wise will not only be a blessing to others, but we will also be happier and more fulfilled people ourselves.           

     Most of us are familiar with the various attitudes of being -- The Beatitudes -- that are the preface to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  Depending on your translation, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who, or Happy are those who . . . " as he discusses several behaviors.  In essence, Jesus was saying "when you have it, you are blessed.  You are happy."  On another occasion Jesus put spiritual wisdom fairly succinctly while talking to his disciples,  

        The knowledge about the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you.  For the person who has something will be given more, so that he will have more than enough, but the person who has nothing will have taken away from him even the little he has. (Matthew 13:11f).

     Ricky Greene loved motorcycles.  He could disassemble any part of the motorcycle, repair it and put it together again in working order.  He raced motorcycles and knew how to lay one down without hurting himself.  One evening Ricky had his girlfriend on the back of his bike when he and several of his friends went riding together.  Perhaps it was his need to show off his skills to his girlfriend, or he became lost in a moment when he needed to prove to his friends that he held a competitive edge -- no one knows what caused Ricky to do what he did. 

     He began to raise the front wheel of his motorcycle off the road as he drove between two cars on the Baltimore Washington Parkway about 18 months ago.  The other bikers followed in hot pursuit, performing the same dangerous maneuvers Ricky was demonstrating.  While Ricky was a master of riding motorcycles, he did not anticipate what happened next. 

     A person driving a car decided to change lanes just as Ricky was passing at a very high rate of speed.  The two vehicles collided and a horrible accident resulted.  The driver of the car never saw the cyclist coming because Ricky's headlight was aiming at the sky.  Ricky's girlfriend was killed instantly.  After a lengthy period of hospitalization, Ricky had his right leg amputated.  Of course, everyone was very sorry, but being sorry does not undue the damage caused by someone's act of foolishness.  The Book of Proverbs tells us that such a choice is before us every day.   

     A harsh consequence was handed to the youthful cyclist.  He had mastered a piece of machinery but he had not mastered himself.  The teaching of Jesus, unfortunately, became very clear. ". . . but the person who has nothing will have taken away from him even the little he has."  This is terribly sad but Jesus was correct.  It happens. 

     Everyone makes mistakes in judgment, but when we continue to make the same ones over and over again, we are being ruled by some appetite that may be our undoing when our behavior comes into the light.  Where do we place honoring God with how we live? 

     Wisdom directs us to live so that every word we speak, every deed we do and every thought we think could be broadcast to our colleagues, friends and family members.  Few of us would want our lives placed under such a microscope. This is why wisdom directs us to keep changing, growing and evolving even in the midst of frustrating mistakes and our need for constant course corrections. 

     Before his death, Charles Schultz had a marvelous way of putting many of life's lessons into his Peanuts comic strip.  Charlie Brown is at bat and there was a called third strike.  Dejected by yet another failure, Charlie slumps down on the player's bench.  He says, "Rats!  I'll never be a big-league player. I just don't have it!  All my life I've dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but I know I'll never make it." 

     Lucy says, "Charlie Brown, you're thinking too far ahead.  What you need to do is set for yourself more immediate goals."  Charlie Brown asks, "Immediate goals?"  Lucy says, "Yes!  Start with this next inning when you go out to pitch.  See if you can walk to the mound without falling down."  Wasn't Charles Shultz a gem? 

     We need to remember that we can never skip the basics on our way to the big leagues of living. We may fall down repeatedly but eventually we will see results.  We crawled as babies before we learned to run in our marathons.  It is the same with developing spiritual wisdom.  Being wise takes time and patience.   

     We need to remember that after being sold into slavery, Joseph waited many years in jail and in exile before being reunited with his family. Moses found himself arguing with God for quite some time before he became the liberator of his people. Jesus had to attend to chores and family responsibilities for some thirty years before he waded into the River Jordan to be baptized by John.  

     Just because we have invited Christ to take up residence in our minds and hearts does not grant us instant wisdom for our journey.  Many of us have to spend time disengaging ourselves from long held methods of coping that are childish.  Some of us may need to begin using less judgmental language when we communicate.  We may need to develop better listening skills.  We may need to learn how to respond more creatively when we honestly believe we are not receiving enough love at home.  This kind of wisdom helps us to navigate in life when all around us the shallows threaten to bring our growth to a halt.   

     It takes courage and persistence to grow wise as Jesus did, and each person has an equal opportunity to do so.  Knowing means everything.  It gives us perspective for our experiences.  It helps us re-frame most circumstances so that we benefit from them.  It prevents us from over reacting.  And it motivates us to want to learn even more.  Wisdom makes it easier to love those who are least like ourselves.  Wisdom draws us closer to understanding God.   

     Are you making decisions that reflect God's presence in your life. If not, why not?  What else is there in life that you want more than that? This week, think about your answer.   


    During these reflective moments, O God, we often sense your call in what we experience.  Yet we feel the tug to hold on to what appears safe and secure.  We know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Yet our senses feed us a diet of what has form and substance.  How compelling our world appears.  We are eager to find our identity in relationships, our jobs, our responsibilities and our wealth.  How easy it is to forget our true worth.  Compassion, hope, enthusiasm and joy are created from a place that no one can see or touch.  Inspire us, O God, to remember that there is more treasure within us than we could possibly imagine.  May we learn that the more we share our abilities, the more we will have to give.  Amen.


    Loving God, we thank you for these moments together.  We thank you for the wisdom that tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things we cannot see.  Yet, how many times we react and respond because of what we do see. Our thoughts are kind, until the words of others hurt us. We remain faithful disciples until a major disappointment appears to over shadow everything else.  We love without counting the cost until that cost becomes more than we can bear and our faith begins to bend. 

    It is humbling to realize, O God, that we may not be as wise in our faith development as we had thought.  Help us understand that failures, set-backs and life-reversals are part of what it means to be fully human.  We are your sons and daughters and that thought alone should control our minds and hearts far more dramatically than it does. 

    We pray this morning that more of your sons and daughters may come to the awareness of their inheritance.  Our world's people suffer because so many perceive without love.  Their values have been clouded by fear and hatred.  So many innocent people die because of those who lack the wisdom to behave otherwise.   Send healing, O God, in many forms so that more of us will understand the purpose of why we are here.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .