The Never-Ending Struggle For Wisdom

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 15, 2021
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture readings: 1st Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 & Proverbs 9: 1-12

As I worked on the sermon for today, I kept getting an uncomfortable picture in mind of everyone I know and what their reaction might be if they could hear me say the following sentence:  “Today, I am going to preach on the subject of wisdom.”

I’ll let that statement just sit there for a minute.  Among those folks in my mind’s eye struggling to keep a straight face, I include my two sisters, my wife and BOTH children, and my mother.  So don’t feel bad if you now find yourself smiling (or trying not to) as you also picture me beginning this message.  I will forgive you!  In your place, I would have the same struggle with self-control.

But the Scriptures today are all about wisdom!  So, there is really no avoiding it!  The cover on the order of worship also adds some structure for better understanding the struggle for wisdom. 

So here are the Top Seven Things this foolish wise man has learned from today’s Scriptures and today’s 7 pillars of wisdom:

7.  Proverbs 9, verse 10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  This type of fear is NOT translated as “being scared to death.”  That was how most people in the Bible encountered the Lord.  Remember how often in various readings someone would have some type of encounter with the Lord and would fall on his or her face, trembling in terror.  “Fear of the Lord” does NOT mean that…think more of “respect” and “awe” like you would have for someone incredibly important that you also love.  That is the meaning.

In that same verse, the proverb also says, “Knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.  Note the pillar knowledge is listed here.  Note also that it does not refer to the knowledge of the human being, but rather the knowledge of the Holy One.  The Lord knows everything; we can only know a certain amount.  The quicker we understand and accept this, the wiser we have a chance of becoming. 

6.  Sometimes there just have to be some funerals.  This is a pretty radical statement.  It is even more surprising when you consider that the first time I ever heard it, it was said by my sweet, Christian, Presbyterian grandmother!  Now before you think that my grandmother was a radical, let me explain.

She pointed out to me that sometimes ideas only die when the person pushing them dies.  There are some who will push and push and push their own selfish agenda.  They will not stop.  They will never stop.  So, the only way for things to truly change is for some funerals to take place.  If you don’t believe her, consider some of the various “movements” that have ripped at the very fabric of our beloved country in the last few years.  In those movements – and their counter-movements – we find that no one seems to be able to compromise any more.  Our political leaders can’t do it without seeming weak, our local governments can’t do it because they are too strongly influenced by our national leaders, and even some of our children are being taught that to be right is the highest level we can achieve.

We seem to have forgotten completely about humility.  In our various chest-thumping speeches and emotional postings on social media, perhaps – just perhaps – we might be wrong.  Or we might not be seeing all sides.  Or we might not know something.  Or we might be forgetting something.  If and when we are confronted with this type of evidence – contrary to all we believe and hold dear – that can be a humbling experience.  If we were to instead enter into those discussions and experiences with even a slight sense of humility, wisdom might be something we could acquire in larger doses.  

5.  I think we sometimes like to gloss over parts of the Bible and get to the parts we like.  A perfect example is King Solomon that we heard about today.  We all know King Solomon was the wisest King in human history.  The Lord said, “…in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”  We also nod our heads cleverly when we hear Solomon use that God-given wisdom to solve the problem of which woman was actually the mother of the baby; Solomon proposed to cut the baby in half and give equal parts to each woman.  The real mother was horrified and cried for the King to give the unharmed baby to the other woman – thus proving she was the true mother.  We all know these stories about Solomon; what we tend to gloss over is when Solomon and his kingdom went completely off the rails.  All that wisdom, all those brains, all that power, and Solomon blew it all.  He began to fall away from the Lord, he began to follow various worship practices that he learned from his 1000 wives.  Solomon had all he could want, and yet he lost it all – he could not and would not demonstrate any integrity in his life.  If he had only paid more attention to the last part of the Lord’s words to him when he was granted all that knowledge and wisdom: “…if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as your father David did…”  That’s where Solomon’s integrity fell apart, and his great wisdom was proven to be hollow and meaningless.

4. Christians are as good as anyone.  Christians are also as bad as anyone.  Mahatma Gandhi used to say that he would love to follow Christianity…if it weren’t for all those Christians.  I often wonder about the words of the song, “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”  Do people truly know we are Christians?  Or are they surprised when we say it?  Or admit it?

Just because we go to church and sit in this beautiful room and say the prayers and do the things that we do, doesn’t make any of us a Christian.   Saying that we are Christian because we go to church makes as much sense as saying we are a car because we stand in the garage.  It is what is in our hearts that truly matters.  True Christians can love anyone, everyone, even those and especially those who are difficult to love.  True Christians can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone, to everyone without making a non-believer feel small or persecuted or judged.  To do otherwise is to make it difficult to see Christians as being in any way true followers of the one Christians are named for:  Jesus, the Christ.  This is the honesty that I believe all churches need.

3.  Even the bad stuff works for God.  Have you ever wondered if God was picking on you?  So many bad things happen that reading the Book of Job actually gives you a lift?  You become used to it and begin to say things such as, “I think God hates me.”  This is a very common thing.  It is also common to see it in others and not have a clue what to say, what to do, to help that person in his or her misery.

But even bad stuff works for God.  There is something to be said for struggling through a bad period of your life, making tough decisions and sacrifices, facing tough consequences that makes the individual a little tougher – but also a little more compassionate when they hear of someone going through the same thing.  This can lead to discipline.  Most alcoholics and drug addicts are wonderful people when they have left their addictions behind.  They are accepting.  They stand with others and try to help them solve their own problems – not do it for them.  They hold each other accountable. They love unconditionally.  They become disciplined in their daily approach to their addictions, and they can help others learn that disciplines too.  All those things, all those things…you know, the ones Jesus told us to do!  “Bear one another’s burdens and share each other’s joys.”  Discipline is an integral part of that.

2.  Do you think Christians should strive to do the right thing in all situations?  Do you?  I think this is a struggle that most of us attempt but we cannot always do.  Yet, the right thing to do is often something unknown until we are in the middle of a situation.  Most end-of-life medical decisions can fit into this struggle.  Even when we have a great knowledge of ethics, knowing what to do in certain situations is often gut-wrenching.  Decisions can tear a family apart and cause life-long hard feelings.  Even when we are confronted with those who understand those decisions – such as doctors, lawyers, judges – we tend to argue loudly and emotionally that they “just don’t understand.”  

Those of you who can make those decisions for yourself – and better yet, put those decisions in writing – can save your loved ones the pain of being forced to make ethical decisions they may not be able to make.  In many branches of my own family, various family members have already done this; their own careful ethics can guide their survivors to make those decisions calmly and rationally – instead of emotionally and agonizingly.

1.  And the number one thing this particular wise fool has learned is when the preacher numbers the points in the sermon, you know when he’s today’s instruction is finished.