Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 11 - Proverbs 9:1-10

Sermon – Pentecost 11
August 16th, 2009
Proverbs 9:1-10

"Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
mreprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and qthe knowledge of the Holy One is insight." (vv. 7-10)

God's wisdom, is, of course, unlike the wisdom of this world. God's wisdom is higher and deeper. It is pure and undefiled. The Old Testament book of Proverbs focuses intently on godly wisdom, as the pursuit of every man of God. It depicts two characters, Wisdom and Folly, both women, and it describes their works and words.

In the first 6 verses of our reading, Wisdom builds a house and throws a feast. It is an invitation for all to hear and learn the wisdom of God. And especially in the context of our readings from John 6 over the last several weeks, we think of the bread Wisdom provides... and ponder the Bread of Life himself, Jesus Christ. What can be wiser than knowing and believing in him? What could be better than being fed by him – in His word and sacraments? True wisdom, the key to understanding the proverbs, is found in Jesus Christ.

But our reading also shows, especially in verses 7-10, that sometimes the wisdom of God is a word of correction or reproof. In other words, true wisdom takes seriously the law of God, in all its severity. And a truly wise Christian will heed the law. That doesn't mean we will follow and do what it says, oh no. For we are sinners all, rotten to the core. But the law shows us our sin and drives us to a despair. A recognition that we are lost and dead and blind and needy. The law slashes our paper walls of self-righteousness, burns down our flimsy house of excuses, exposes us as frauds, and drives us to our knees.

It is then that the Gospel does its work. Only when we are still stinging from the Law does the balm of the Gospel sooth and heal. Only when we've tasted the bitterness of our own sins, does is the Gospel's sweetness savored.

The by the death and resurrection of God's own Son, we are snatched from the jaws of the devil, rescued from the fires of Hell, and carried in the wings of his mercy to the clouds of heaven forever. What could be better than to learn this good news, this message of salvation in Christ?

The Gospel, too is the wisdom of God, and it begins with faith in Christ, or as Proverbs puts it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight”. True wisdom is to fear the Lord, true wisdom is to know the Holy One. This is faith talk, and it's talking about Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus had spoken some hard words to a crowd of increasingly skeptical followers. So hard, in fact, that they deserted him and went back home. (Which by the way, is a great comfort to faithful pastors and church leaders – knowing that even Jesus couldn't convince or convert everyone. Today as well, people can choose to reject His wisdom).

Jesus asks if his own disciples wish to leave him too, and Peter confesses his faith, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (words we still sing today when we hear the Gospel). And Peter goes on to say, “we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”. The Holy One of God is the same title mentioned in Proverbs, it is the designation that Jesus is the ONE set apart by God to do the work of our salvation.

And wisdom starts with him, and in him. You want to be truly wise, wise unto salvation? Then fear, love and trust in the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ. He whose own wisdom flew in the face of common sense, and still does: Love your neighbor? Turn the other cheek? Forgive my brother when he sins against me? Even 70 times? Wash my neighbor's feet? Take and eat and drink what? Take up my own cross and follow.... wait a minute Jesus, let's not talk foolish.

Ah but that's what Peter did when Jesus started talking about the cross. He rebuked Jesus and tried to talk him out of all that suffering and dying. But Jesus rebuked Peter, even called him Satan. For the wisdom of this world that says avoid suffering at all costs – that is the talk of Hell. Jesus and his followers bear crosses. He finished all the work at his, and won for us all of heaven's blessings... but we still bear our own cross – as I said last week, “who ever said being a Christian was easy?”

And part of what's so hard about it, is hearing those wise words of correction, without ourselves becoming a scoffer. Hearing the reproof of God's Word, without hating the message or the messenger. But this is true wisdom. To accept the discipline of God's word, applied to our lives, and humbly confess and try to do better. This is wisdom, to know the Holy One who took our punishment and guilt and shame, and now gives us the new life of a child of God.

Such wisdom and instruction can only be found in God's Word. We will, of course, be tempted to look elsewhere for wisdom. We'll make all sorts of appeals to all sorts of other things. We will rationalize and excuse, we will equivocate and shrink from its certainty. We'll listen to the advice of learned men, or give ear to the tune the world around us is singing.

One of the most dangerous words to say after God's clear word is, “but”.
As someone has said, “The gray areas are the Devil's playground”. We'll tell ourselves, “I know God's word says thus and so... but....” And so the Devil's lies gain a foothold, climbs in and sows his seeds of doubt and destruction.

God warns us for good reason. It's all too easy to take the easy way. Hearing the reproof and correction of God's Word and knowing true wisdom is hard. It's all too tempting to do what we want, what our sinful flesh wants, and not what God's word requires and commands. It's no fun to turn from your sins, put off your old self, believe in Jesus for your forgiveness, and live a life worthy of our calling. But God's Spirit calls us and empowers us to do so. And there is great blessing in it.

The blessings of a clear conscience – knowing our forgiveness is secure in Christ. The blessing of God's smiling face, showing you approval not for your own sake, but because Jesus says, “This one's with me”. The blessing of knowing God's promises that while life is short and full of misery, we have a mansion waiting in heaven, with our name on it. The blessings of serving our neighbor and so expressing our faith with kindness. The blessings of receiving his gifts for assurance and peace.

And the greatest blessing of knowing the wisdom, the true wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, who gives us the words of eternal life.
Remain in him and with him always. Amen.

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