"Before Jesus, There Was A Plan"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 3, 2007
Proverbs 8:1-5, 22-31
The reason this aspect of the Scriptural fabric is not celebrated as much as other parts of the Bible comes in part from the much wider held belief by many of the early writers that humanity was incapable of doing anything good and decent as a species. This understanding, however, is not compatible with the words of Jesus that we considered last Sunday, “Greater things than these will you do because I am returning to God.”
The concept of Original Sin stands in sharp contrast to the Scripture that says, “God created human beings, making them to be like him. He created them male and female. God looked at everything he had made and said it was very good.” (Gen. 1: 27f) Wisdom literature proclaims that we humans are creators in our own right and are very capable of creating and producing because we are patterned after God. Many Christians today would label these Old Testament writers, “New Age.”
We may find it intriguing that Proverbs 8:22-31 sounds like a prototype of the Prologue to John’s Gospel which reads, “ In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God and the Word was God. Through him God made all things. The Word was the source of life and this light brought understanding to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:1-5) “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:14)
Listen now to the verses from Proverbs 8 as the writer describes God’s Wisdom, “God created me first of all, the first of his works. I was made before the world began. I was beside him like an architect, I was his daily source of joy, always happy in his presence, happy with the world and pleased with the human race.”
Wisdom literature lifts up our potential, not as fallen creatures, but as noble sons and daughters of God capable of doing what would have been impossible for Jesus to accomplish, e.g., building libraries, universities, hospitals, etc. These are activities that could only be done when people learned to live with a vision and create together.
God’s presence has made itself known since the beginning of time in every culture on the earth. The pattern of living in community in spite of rapid change has been part of God’s Wisdom from the earliest of times. How do we know this? We know this is true because of what has slowly happened in history.
Once there was a small island where people lived together in peace. Most of the men were fishermen while the women were stay-at-home moms nurturing their families. One day a team of fishermen developed a product that would provide countless opportunities for increased productivity. They created a fishing net capable of catching massive amounts of fish just by dragging it between two boats through various schools of fish.
In one day, the men could catch enough fish to feed most of the people on the island. The concept spread among other fisherman resulting in economic chaos. Prices fell because there were too many fish. Now, the fishermen were not earning enough money even to maintain their boats.
A town meeting was called and it attracted many very emotionally distraught citizens. The fisherman who had invented the net stood up and declared, “While fishing has been the way of life for most of us, we now have an opportunity for widespread change. Some of you can devote more time to building houses for others. Some of you could become teachers of our children. Some of you could become bakers and supply us with baked goods. Some of you could clear more land and grow vegetables to sell. Some of you could build larger boats so we can export what we catch, grow and make.
And so it was that the island became a hub of industrial activity because people developed new skills that were useful to everyone. Their creativity spread through other islands. Wars ended because most had learned to create products and sell commodities that were needed by those living on other islands. The fabric of a society had been knitted together embodying God’s Wisdom. What was that wisdom that was present since the beginning of time?
One of the episodes John recorded in his Gospel happened during the last supper. To their chagrin, the disciples painfully watched as Jesus washed their feet. Jesus said, “I, your teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do for others just what I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15) Serving each other with our talents and abilities is at the heart of all human productivity, growth and evolution.
This morning you listened to Bill Greaves talk about the St. Matthew’s School in Liberia. We have partnered with that school because of the needs of the children who attend there and also because we found that school intriguing because its name is identical to ours. We are like the fishermen who developed the nets.
We cannot go there and teach, but we can offer scholarships and supplies to those who want so badly to learn. We cannot construct their buildings but we may be able to send them a generator that will keep electricity flowing. The St. Matthew’s school could have been critically damaged during the rainy season had we not intervened with something we take for granted – a new roof.
As the Proverb says, “To those with insight, the truth is clear, to the well-informed, God’s Wisdom is plain.” We have the power to encourage other people around the world to come with us into the 21st century. We have the power to put the tools for learning into the hands of those who have nothing but a hunger to learn, understand and grow in wisdom. There is no network for academic learning in so many countries in spite of the fact that much of the world has moved into the 21st century. This is the challenge for all developed nations to face.
I went to Albright College in Reading, Pa. Reading is the only place in the United States where you can attend pre-school, kindergarten, grade school, middle school, senior high and graduate from college all on the same street. While that is extremely rare, you get the point of how fortunate and networked we are academically in the United States.
When our missionary from Nicaragua, Nan McCurdy, was with us, we learned that her husband started the first grade in his twenties. His hunger was so great to learn that he soon will graduate from Law School and sit for the bar examination to become an attorney.
The Wisdom of God was present before the world began. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was modeling God’s Wisdom. We can best serve others by helping others to discover opportunities that right now they cannot perceive.
The St. Matthew’s School is our partner. As Bill said, who knows what world leaders could emerge from that school because we took the time to encourage them, to show them the light at the end of the tunnel, to sow seeds of infinite possibilities that will sprout in every direction and to make God’s Wisdom visible. That experience, above most others, is what will produce and maintain hope. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful God, as our spirits seek greater growth, how easy it is to take the path of least resistance. We know the struggles when issues of pleasure confront those of character. We confess that we are no strangers to compromise. We know how powerful self-interest is when a wise decision will make us unpopular with our friends. Evoke in us, O God, the memory that we were created in your image. Inspire us to carry that awareness into every relationship and circumstance. Remind us that our lives reflect everything that we believe. Help us to display attitudes and values that will create friendship, healing and community. May your will be done on earth because we are alive in your service.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you, O God, for calling us to center our lives around matters of spirit. There are moments when life confuses us. We do not know why events occur as they do. We find ourselves searching and hungering for what appears to lie beyond our grasp. Many secrets to life still linger in front of us, begging us to discover them.
We are grateful that we do not need to understand life’s complexities before we trust. We do not have to possess the reasons for life-reversals before we experience peace. We do not need answers before happiness becomes a by-product of our lives. We thank you that you never tire of giving us new ways to define ourselves, skills to use during our struggles and a renewed resolve to strengthen our faith after a fragile moment has come and gone.