"Wisdom Always Offers Guidance"

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – June 19, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 8; Proverbs 3:1-18


     Among my favorite books of the Bible are those that deal with the Wisdom literature.  It is within this scriptural grouping that the Book of Proverbs belongs.  The reason I enjoy the wisdom found in the Scriptures is because its words paint a much different picture of humankind from the countless themes that bombard us with descriptions suggesting that we are wretched, fallen and sinful creatures. 

     The Church’s message has continued with this more dominant theme since the beginning of its existence.  We know all too well that we stumble, we miss the mark and we do not always make the best decisions, but there are scores of noble qualities that we have which are seldom celebrated.  Wisdom literature captures those qualities. 

     Sometimes we may think that God missed the mark when the creation of the physical world included humanity.  I can assure you that such is not the case.  God knew exactly what he was doing and he knows precisely who each one of us is.  What is both frightening and reassuring is that God knows the inner workings of our minds but still continues to love us.   

     From the mind of God we have these words that were channeled through the writer of Genesis, “God created human beings, making them like himself.  He created them male and female.  God said, ‘Have many children and bring the earth under your control.  I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.  I have provided all kinds of food for you to eat.  I have looked at everything that I have made and I am very pleased.’” (Genesis 1:27f)

     Wisdom scriptures imply that we have the ability to learn new and better ways to order our lives.  Like God, we are also creators.  We have taught ourselves how to improve crop yields, how to fly, how to extend human life with better nutrition, medications and surgical procedures, how to build communities to make these advancements possible and how to communicate within a short period of time to the world’s vast populations in their native languages.  We have learned to build on what others have given us because some of us have paid attention to them.

     This thirst for knowledge and understanding comes from Mom and Dad when we are children.  If we do not learn people skills, develop a love for education, discover the desire to be of service and have enough self-love to care for ourselves, when our lives begin in earnest – we begin our independent living already handicapped. I shared some thoughts about motherhood on Mother’s Day and today, I want to spend some time distilling some of the teaching qualities of our Dads.    

     Years ago, I was driving my VW bug when my engine began to sputter. When I noticed that the red engine light was on, I pulled off the highway.  I lifted the hood and found that my fan belt had broken.  I remembered that my car had a spare fan belt under the hood so I retrieved it and tried to install it.  No matter what I did, I could not torque the belt over the engine pulley.

     While I was looking at the engine, I sensed a car pulling up behind me.  To my utter chagrin, a woman approached me, dressed in business suit, and asked if she could help.  She told me that she used to have a VW beetle and how her father taught her to work on them.  In fact, her dad taught her how to install a new engine.

     I did the work but she gave me step by step instructions on how to install the fan belt. Once I learned that the pulley on the engine splits in half, changing the belt was no problem.  I thanked her profusely as I realized that the knowledge base of women was changing.

     When Lois and I were on Capitol Hill in Washington, I was working on my car and I needed a tool.  There was another mechanic across the street that appeared to have automotive tools.  I walked over and asked if I could borrow his 9/16th wrench.  At the time, I only had a metric set of wrenches.  When the mechanic came out from under the hood, I saw her pony tail and knew I was dealing with another woman.  She had just changed her spark plugs, spark plug wires and was using a timing light to fine tune her engine.

     She told me that her Dad was an auto mechanic and decided that he would teach his daughters how to work on their own cars.  She said, “The three of us were his captive audience. From him we also learned how to throw a baseball and a football just like the boys. He wanted us to know how to take care of ourselves.”

     During most of our lifetimes many of us have witnessed the shift in the roles that men and women play.  As more women were entering the work force, a shift had to take place.  Many men have stepped up and have learned how to do the laundry, how to use cookbooks, how to iron their shirts and how to drive their kids to soccer practice.  For several generations, these skills are being witnessed and learned by children as the changes in the more traditional roles of Mom and Dad continue to accelerate.

    Today, what needs to be added to the chemistry of many families are these words from our Proverb:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.  Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the Lord and refuse to do wrong. If you listen and obey what I am teaching you, your responses to life will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pain.

     The lack of hearing these words in many of our families today could easily be the reason why so many lives implode once children become adults and are on their own.  It is one thing to learn how to work on cars and throw a football and quite another to leave the home armed with a deeply grounded faith in our Creator’s love of us and in God’s ability to offer faithful guidance.

     Jesus gave form to our Proverb when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s love and God will provide you with everything else that you need.” (Matt. 6:33)  Jesus also taught his listeners the same lesson by using a visual image, “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Those who choose to remain faithful in extending their loving spirit will bear much fruit.  Those who choose to create in any other fashion will produce very little.”  (John 15:5f)

     During Annual Conference this year, our Bishop used his daughter, Rebecca, in a message to illustrate what is happening in households everywhere. The Bishop is keenly aware that we are losing this generation as active participants in the life of the church.  As a father, the Bishop urged that people find new ways to reach out to others, particularly our children, many who consider themselves nominally religious people.

     He and his daughter engaged in a fascinating conversation that really covered a rich landscape of issues -- http://www.bwcumc.org/ministries/connecting/rebecca.  Both of them concluded that even the Bishop would be ill-advised to coerce his daughter to attend church now that she is a college graduate.  What our bishop and his wife did while their children were growing was to provide them with a valuable foundation to come back to when their spiritual needs caused them to hunger for a deeper meaning and purpose to their lives.

     In his book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran provided guidance for parents who may be concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children.  He wrote: 

     Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you; and though they are with you, they do not belong to you.  You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls.  Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.  You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.  Send those living arrows forth with gladness, joy and love while keeping a steady, confident and reassuring hand on the bow.

     One of the most reassuring aspects of the created order is that we cannot change anything about it because of what we feel, think or believe.  The created order has no personality; it marches on giving rise to the cliché, “The passing of time waits on no one.”  The vast energy pattern of the universe does not care whether we understand the big picture or not.

     The universe remains what it is, a perfect classroom for teaching us how to create as God creates.  It also guarantees that all of us will one day graduate even if it takes some of us thousands and thousands of years before we do so.  It may take that long for some of us to awaken to the reality that spiritual evolution is our purpose for being here. 

     Our greatest temptation as human beings is to fall in love with the aspects of our classroom by acquiring and enjoying our material possessions, tools for living in this world that will serve no purpose when we transition to the world of spiritual energy.  

     Even as countless high profile men have recently fallen from grace because of their poor judgment, such a stumble may be the best thing that has ever happened to them.  They quickly learn how temporary and meaningless their power, wealth and notoriety really are because it defined them one moment and was gone the next.  The world’s people blinked once and began immediately to look adoringly at a new cast of characters that is not that far behind. 

     The universe God created uses our detours, our stumbles, our loneliness, our lack of purpose and our self-serving values to teach us how to find more creative horizons toward which to travel.  Nothing is evil that offers guidance toward helping us develop a more creative imagination and more timeless values. 

     Again, verse 7 says, “Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the Lord and refuse to do wrong.”  If we were never taught this simple rule in our homes and we never attended a church to be reminded of its wisdom, a valuable roadmap to wholesome living was never in our possession when we set forth on our life’s journey.

     For example, suppose you lived in the United States and wanted to visit Bermuda.  Your imagination may have soared with images of walking on pink sandy beaches as you watched and listened to the Atlantic’s breakers as they slammed against the walls of coral along the shoreline.

     You may have fantasized about sitting at an outdoor restaurant with friends overlooking a panoramic view of the ocean as the magnificent cloud formations slowly co-mingled with each other.    

     Regardless of your beliefs, your faith, your dreams, your thoughts, and your alleged knowledge about Bermuda, you cannot get there by flying west to California.  You cannot get there by flying to the southwest islands in the Pacific. There are specific, unchangeable laws that govern where Bermuda is located geographically.  Likewise there are fixed laws that govern how a person can get there without taking countless lengthy detours out of ignorance.  These laws do not care if we are aware of them or not.  

     This is the way we experience life.  Think of it.  This Proverb was in existence during the reign of King Solomon, close to a thousand years before Jesus was born.  Many of us make our lives very complicated because we are governed more by our perceived needs and wants than we are about issues concerned with our spiritual evolution.

     As flawed as we earthly fathers are, we must pass on this wisdom to our children.  With patience greater than the Father of the Prodigal Son, God waits for each of us to come out of the rain forest and into the light in order to enter the next phase of our journey.          

     All the clues we need to chart a course toward our own spiritual evolution have been present for thousands of years.  All any of us have had to do is develop a passion to follow them.  Our Creator-parent knew that each of us would eventually find our way when we are ready.  We either learn now or we will learn later.  Having free will does not mean that we can write the curriculum for what we came here to do.  A wonderful truth this morning is that God’s patience and love can never become exhausted by our persistence in clinging to our ignorance.