October 2, 2016, Dr. Buz Wilcoxon
Yesterday, was a big day at our house. Our son, Wilson, turned four years old. And boy, was it one heck of a party! Now, by the measure of the world that’s not a big deal. Hundreds of thousands of children are born every day. So, every day somebody, hundreds of thousands of somebodies, turn four years old. But for me, this one is special. And honestly, I think it was made a little more special because I had been reading through this scripture passage from the book of Proverbs over the week in preparation for today—this passage that is all about a parent passing on wisdom to a child.
Most of what is contained in the book of Proverbs are little saying, the nuggets of wisdom that everyone in the community already knows by heart. We have our own proverbs today: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Making us wise, that’s what proverbs are all about. They are the real life, every day wisdom that holds a society together and carries forward the insight of previous generations.
But before we get to that collection of wise sayings, the book of Proverbs opens with a talk. A talk between a parent and a child. Well, it’s actually not much of a conversation. For 8 chapters in a row, all we hear is the voice of the parent. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Have you ever been on the receiving end of this kind of talk from a parent? This isn’t a talkin’ with. This is a talkin’ to.
It reminds me of the story of a father and his oldest child going off to college. This dad decided that after he moved his daughter into her dorm room he needed to have one last talk with her. One last chance to pass on all of life’s wisdom that he hadn’t had the chance to share. For weeks and weeks beforehand he silently rehearsed what he was going to say. He built it up in his mind into something so monumental and important that surely one day people would write books about that talk that he gave to his daughter.
Well, finally the day came. They moved all her belongings into the room on the third floor of the dorm. He kept trying to start his big talk, but there never really was an opening for him. Then, as he saw her talking with other students and meeting her roommate he started to get emotional. He thought of how short a time it had been since she was his little girl, and how proud he was of the woman she’d become. The hours were passing and he just couldn’t bring himself to start his big talk. Finally, all the unpacking was over and it was time for the new students to head off for their first event and for all the parents to leave campus. They walked outside the dorm, and it came time to say goodbye. This was it! It was his last chance. It was now or never. He had to pass on all of his life’s wisdom, right there in the parkinglot. He gave his daughter a big hug, looked her in the eye and said, “Remember to look both ways before you cross the street.” And that was it. That was all he could muster.
The talk that the parent in Proverbs gives is a lot more wordy, but it carries that same mix of love and learning woven together. The parent wants to inspire in their child a deep desire to search for God’s wisdom throughout life. The parent speaks of making “your ear attentive to wisdom” and “search[ing] for it like hidden treasure.” That’s good. I need to remember that. If I told my kids that something was like a treasure hunt, that would get their attention. The wise parent knows, though that the search for wisdom is a two way street. We must seek for truth, but in the end it is the action of God, not the seeker, that imparts wisdom. The parent says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from God’s mouth come knowledge and understanding.” As another wise person once said, “We pursue wisdom, [but ultimately it is] wisdom who find us.”[i]
The wisdom that the parent is trying to teach—biblical wisdom—is the real-life insight and truth that comes from experiencing the joys and pains of the life of faith. It is an orientation of the heart and mind that grows from seeing what God is up to in the world. It is a path, a well worn path, travelled by many who have gone before us, with markers along the way, pointing us in directions that we should follow. Wisdom—biblical wisdom—is a deep awareness of God’s presence and activity in all of life, even and especially when we cannot immediately perceive it.
As many of you heard last week, over the course of this year we are being guided by a church-wide theme for our programs: Woven Together. We will explore the many ways that God is at work in our lives, weaving us into whole, integrated people. We will celebrate the ways that this Church’s ministry is woven together, as worship, mission, stewardship, fellowship, and education all overlap and intersect, forming us into disciples. We will examine how we are called to be woven together with our families, our communities, our neighbors local and around the globe.
That image of being woven together by God, is also a wonderful way of expressing the kind of wisdom that this parent is trying to pass on in the book of Proverbs. Think of a tapestry, a large beautiful piece of art, intricately woven to create patterns and images. When you look at a tapestry the typical way, looking at it head on, you see one thing. You see the picture. A little bit of red here. A line of blue there. That’s how many of us look at our lives. We glimpse the colors where we expect them to be and just assume that everything is in its place where it belongs. But the wise person, the seeker of truth, the kind of person that the parent of Proverbs is and wants their child to become—the wise person—sees the tapestry of life very differently.
By truly examining it, digging deep into the pattern, eventually the one who searches for wisdom, ends up looking at the tapestry of life from the other side—from the back side. And there, at first it looks like a royal mess. Things are going every which way. Thread is tied in one place and frayed in others. Long-unattractive lines are visible so that the same color that appears briefly at one point can reappear again further down. The wise person is the one that can look at the tapestry of life and perceive not just the quick and easy superficial image on the front, but can also understand what’s really going on in the back. Making meaning out of the mess. Finding purpose in the mystery and misery. Seeing God’s long stretched presence when at first all we felt was absence. Not falling for the trap of what is immediately obvious, but patiently perceiving God’s purpose and love amid all of life’s seeming disorder. That is what the wise person does.
It reminds me another teachable moment—one shared not with a parent and a child but with a teacher and his students. This teacher was known for his great wisdom. Large crowds gathered whenever he spoke. Some of his students began to follow him around so that they could learn more and more from him about how to live. Then one night, that teacher sat down at a table with is students. From one side of the tapestry, this looked like a pretty typical meal, in the upper room of a house. The teacher was playing the role of the host, 12 others were the guests. They sat and talked and listened to his teaching. While he was at the table with them he took the break and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. No big deal. This is how meals happen all the time. Then he poured some wine in a cup and they shared that too. From one side of the tapestry, the pattern looks familiar. It is one that we share all the time.
But to the wise person, the one willing to look on the backside of the story, something more is going on at this meal, much more than is immediately obvious. This simple supper of bread and wine is actually the first course of events that will change the world. This table with disciples gathered around it is actually a glimpse into the heavenly banquet table, where all people will come from east and west and north and south, colorfully different and beautifully diverse strands woven together into the kingdom of God. To the wise one with eyes to see and ears to hear, what is going on at this table, is much much deeper than words can express—a mystery of God’s love and grace being worked out before our very eyes. What was supposed to be the final meal, the last supper, instead is the first feast of the new creation, the Lord’s Supper that nourishes throughout our journey of faith.
And so today as we prepare to come together, to be woven together in this feast, let us listen to the invitation of the wise parent ringing in our ears and in our hearts. As we celebrate here this day, what God alone has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we leave this table today hungry for more—hungry for what Proverbs describes “righteousness and justice and equity.” Not willing to settle for the superficial images of the world as it is, but to strive together for who God is calling us to become. Let us go from this table into the world, nourished by God’s word, God’s wisdom, and ready to live it out in our daily lives. Whether we’re 4 or 94 may we search in each and every day for opportunities for wisdom, real life acts of justice, moments for truth, as we are formed together more and more into the people that God created us to be, the people that Christ teaches us to be, the people that the Holy Spirit empowers us to be. A people woven together by wisdom and truth.
To God alone be the glory!
[i] Christine Roy Yoder, Proverbs, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, page 34.