Monday, July 20, 2015

Deep Thoughts

Proverbs 10:1-12
July 19, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

We’re continuing with our series on wisdom literature this week with our third and final selection from the book of Proverbs. It is believed that this particular section of the book was used for instruction in some sort of classroom or school. These sayings were directed toward the young, to teach them how to make wise choices. You’ll notice in this section that the proverbs are often statements of contrast – a wise person does this, but a foolish person does that. They contrast wisdom and foolishness, and righteousness and wickedness. It’s helpful to remember as you hear these that wisdom and righteousness always go together. You can’t be wise without being righteous. but you can do righteous things in foolish ways, or foolish things in righteous ways. In other words, we are to aim for the dual traits of righteousness and wisdom.

Let’s listen for God’s wisdom teaching in Proverbs 10: 1-12

1 The proverbs of Solomon. A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother's grief. 2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. 
3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 
4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. 
5 A child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame.
6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. 
8 The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. 
9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.
10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. 
12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

I had plans to finish this sermon before we left for my mother’s last Sunday. But you know how things go – other possible uses of my time took priority, so I didn’t have a word on paper before we left. Then, of course, you’re traveling, so you can’t work on stuff, and then you get there, and you’re seeing family, and you’re tired, and before you know it, it’s a Saturday night effort. Not the wisest approach for a sermon on wisdom and diligence! As much as I am not a Saturday night sermon kind of gal, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

But one of the gifts of this trip we just made was that we got to spend some time with various members of my huge family. So we saw my niece, and brought her eldest daughter with us to Dodge City, then visited with little ones at my nephew’s – their oldest is eleven and they have five more, ages 8, 7, 6, 3, and 18 months. And another on the way. (I know!) And we spent some time with my brothers and their families, and of course with my mom.

Lots of conversation happens, as you can imagine. And lots of family stories get shared, along with some tidbits of wisdom. I particularly paid attention to the wisdom parts. My parents loved quotations, pithy sayings and proverbs.

Mother’s were frequently aimed at us –
“Pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction.”
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child.”
“You can get used to anything. You can get used to hanging, if you hang long enough.”
“If someone is hungry, you buy them food – you don’t give them money for a new TV.”

My Dad had a great sense of humor, and he loved funny quotes and one-liners, as do Bob and I. One memorable evening he discovered our book of “Deep Thoughts” For those who didn’t watch it or don’t remember, “Deep Thoughts” was a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live. Dad had never seen it, but he got the idea immediately. He would leaf through the book and whenever he found one he really liked, he would stand up and read it out loud, in a sonorous voice.

On the television show, Deep Thoughts came on like a devotional. A picture of a brook running over stones would appear, and the words “Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handy” would scroll onto the screen. Music would play and it would seem as if the viewers were going to hear some useful proverb, a poetic truth, or a spiritual lesson. A thoughtful voice would then say the deep thought. And they were thoughts like this:

“Often, when I am reading a good book, I stop and thank my teacher.
That is, I used to, until she got an unlisted number.”

Or this: “I wish I had a dollar for every time I spent a dollar, because then, Yahoo!, I'd have all my money back.”

Or this: “It's easy to sit there and say you'd like to have more money. And I guess that's what I like about it. It's easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.”

My parents were of that generation in which memorization was highly valued. Mother went to classes as a child called recitation classes, where she learned poems and songs by memory, then recited them in front of an audience. Dad learned poems and songs and stories and recited them for talent shows, and for his children.

Dad particularly liked to memorize quotes and proverbs, the true deep thoughts that bring wisdom. He was intent on teaching his beloved grandchildren these important truths. One of my nieces told me that he insisted the kids memorize them! She rattled off a list of them:
  • Avoid entangling alliances.
  • Frugality pays a handsome income.
  • Willful waste makes for woeful want.
Like these proverbs in the tenth chapter, many of the proverbs dad taught the grandchildren had to do with prudence – in other words, good judgment and common sense – and many of them were about money. So why would the teachers of the time of the book of Proverbs, one right after another, strung together like beads on a necklace? And why write them all down together in this long center section?

We don’t know exactly how these proverbs were used in instruction, but we do know that then, as now, they were passed along to children. The reality is that we all hope that we can pass along wisdom to the next generation, that they will learn from our teachings, and perhaps learn from our mistakes. We hope to save them from the consequences of their imprudence by instructing them from our own experience. We pass along proverbs from people like Warren Buffet: “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.”[1]

We want our children to be successful. We want them to get on well in the world. We want them to be well-educated, and well-rounded, balanced; cautious but not fearful, creative but not outrageously so, ambitious but not overly competitive. We want them to learn hard work, self-discipline, diligence. But how often do we say we want our children to be righteous? Because you can’t be wise without being righteous. You can’t steal or lie wisely – you can’t commit deeds that are contrary to the cosmic order and still be a wise person. Similarly, such evils are not wise because they produce damage; righteousness fosters goodness; righteousness cultivates life.

One of the things I love about our church’s educational programs – Bible study, and children’s Sunday School, and, of course, vacation Bible school, is that they help us learn righteousness, and thereby, wisdom. As Vacation Bible School starts tonight, we’ll be learning a new verse of scripture each day, memorizing a few short words to stick with us for life. We hope that long after VBS is over and the clever crafts and videos are forgotten, these words of wisdom will be remembered. Such memorization is not only for children, however. Adults can do it as well, and benefit from it just as much. As the reading for today says, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.”

The wise words of proverbs are words to learn and repeat and remember. In one of my daily readings, I ran across a piece about the Sufi poet, Hafiz. That name, “Hafiz” is given to someone who has memorized the Qur’an. The poet Hafiz not only memorized his holy book, he also memorized poetry, particularly the poetry of Rumi. He learned it by heart – taking it into his heart. The writer commented:

“It seems there is greater power in words when we take them into our beings at the level of memory. From here they can move to the subconscious and even greater consciousness. Taking wisdom-words in through our ears or eyes, then letting them find a home in our hearts, is a wonderful way of practicing embodying love.”(Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation)

Words of wisdom are more than clever sayings, more than deep thoughts accompanied by violin music and the sound of babbling brooks. I encourage you in the coming weeks to read more of the book of Proverbs, and to find some wisdom-words that resonate with you.

Take them in through your ears and eyes, and let them find a home in your heart. These deep thoughts will be like a wellspring of wisdom in your soul, and their presence in you will help you to practice embodying love, the love embodied in Jesus Christ, and in us. 


[1] Warren Buffett

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