PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR (EXTRA) ORDINARY TIME
“Choose to Cherish”
June 28, 2020
For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and (God) examines all their paths.
Prayer for Illumination
Holy God, illuminate your Word today, that it may not return empty, but accomplish what you intend; through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
Today, I’ll be reading the scripture a bit later, in the midst of the sermon.
Do you remember the old phrase: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Peace in the world begins with peace at home.
Faithfulness to God and neighbor begins with cherishing the people
who are within our circle of influence.
Everyone’s schedules have been far different over the past three months.
Without evening meetings or social activities or soccer games,
my family has gotten into the habit, usually between 8 or 9pm,
of turning on the television and watching shows on Netflix.
We have watched a number of shows over the past few months.
Some of them have been engaging and informative, others were hilarious, a few were not so good.
One show that I have truly enjoyed is “Longmire”.
“Longmire” is filled with wonderfully complex characters.
Set in Absaroka County, Wyoming, the narrative follows the trials and tribulations and heroic acts
of the county sheriff, Walt Longmire.
Longmire is a cowboy sheriff who reads classic novels and recites poetry.
He is thoughtful and thorough and fully aware that no one is fully innocent.
When someone has been murdered in his county, he quickly identifies potential suspects,
and he carefully examines all their paths.
He retraces their every step; he examines their homes and their automobiles.
He digs into their personal lives. He talks to people who know them well and, ultimately,
all of their ways, good and evil, come under the watchful eyes of Sheriff Walt Longmire.
As in any classic murder mystery, there are usually several potential suspects to a murder.
The foibles of every suspect come to the light and, before the narrative ends,
which may take several episodes, the one who committed the crime is finally held accountable.
As our memory verse from Proverbs for today recalls,
For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and (God) examines all their paths. (5:21)
Proverbs 5, our text of Practical Wisdom for today,
is written in the voice of an older male to a younger male,
encouraging a young man to flee from infidelity, to avoid the sin of adultery,
to cherish the wife of his youth.
The warning is that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse will have major detrimental effects
to one’s life and future, resulting in public ruin, loss of place in society, even death.
As is common in Holy Scripture, there is more going on in this text than the surface meaning.
Certainly, faithfulness in marriage is at the heart of this admonition,
and is one of the focal points of the book of Proverbs.
And yet, the admonition to remain faithful to the spouse of one’s youth,
to keep one’s feet on the path of life, to seek satisfaction in one’s current relationships,
applies not only to marriage, but also to relationships with God and neighbor.
The self-centered mental attitude that can lead one to be unfaithful to one’s spouse
is similar to the attitude that can lead one to the breaking of other of the Ten Commandments,
like stealing, or bearing false witness, or coveting, or even murder.
As the Scripture makes clear, to break covenant with one’s spouse or one’s neighbor
is also to break covenant with God.
To be unfaithful to spouse or neighbor is to turn one’s back on Jesus Christ.
Before I read these ancient, and yet so contemporary words of wisdom,
note that I have changed the words “she” and “her” to “them” and “their”.
These words were written in a patriarchal society far different from the world where we abide.
As we are well aware in our time, both men and women have agency to stray within a relationship;
both men and women hold moral and civic responsibility to seek the faithful path.
Hear the word of God from Proverbs 5, verses 1-14, 21-23.
My child, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding,
so that you may hold on to prudence, and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a loose (person) drip honey, and (their) speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end (they are) bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
(Their) feet go down to death; (their) steps follow the path to Sheol.
(They do) not keep straight to the path of life; (their) ways wander, and (they do) not know it.
And now, my child, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from (them), and do not go near the door of (their homes);
or you will give your honor to others, and your years to the merciless,
and strangers will take their fill of your wealth, and your labors will go to the house of an alien;
and at the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, ‘Oh, how I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.
Now I am at the point of utter ruin in the public assembly.’
…For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord, and (God) examines all their paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare them, and they are caught in the toils of their sin.
They die for lack of discipline, and because of their great folly they are lost.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Ultimately, all unfaithfulness, all forms of sin, comes down to the breaking of a promise,
the breaking of our covenant with God and others.
When we wander astray, we choose a path that is harmful to another human being,
and harmful to our relationship with God.
When we able to keep our feet on the path that leads to life,
we are choosing a path that cherishes our spouse, our neighbor, our God.
Don’t get me wrong. As the Scripture claims, there is no one who is righteous, not even one.
All have sinned; all have fallen short of God’s good intentions.
All of us fail every day in complete faithfulness to God and others.
Most of us, I hope, are fully aware of our own limitations, our own fallibility, our own sinfulness.
Statistics will show that many have gone astray; many have broken their marriage vows even,
but, by God’s grace, I am aware that a good number of those who have done so
have been able to recover their relationship, both with spouse and with God.
Many people who become unfaithful are not so much malicious as foolish.
Many are not so much intentional as desperate.
Many are not acting so much with purposeful direction
as acting more from a place of being basically “lost” in life.
As the proverbs claim, “they are caught in the toils of their sin…
and because of their great folly they are lost.” (5:23)
Over the past three months, many have found themselves feeling somewhat “lost”.
Our daily patterns and ways of coping have been interrupted or totally changed.
Some have told me that their daily commute to work in the car was a “life saver” for them.
It was a daily time to prepare mentally for the workday,
an opportunity to decompress on the way home.
In these “shelter at home” days, what had been life-saving and helpful in the past
for one’s mental state and healthy marriage may no longer be present.
While there have been many silver linings to these past months for marriages and home life,
certainly we have become aware that some relationships have been sorely tested.
The comments we have heard have been similar to what we hear from recently retired couples.
In those early first years of retirement, many couples struggle with the new situation
of being home all day with one another, of determining new and healthy habits.
Like newly retired couples, families at home these days have years-long patterns that have been interrupted.
Everyone is at home for the entire day and some don’t have the same work responsibilities.
Add into this mix the stress of co-parenting, when spouses often have different ways of disciplining,
different thoughts about how to protect one’s family from the virus.
While for some, these past months have been a gift of unexpected and appreciated time together,
for others, the stress upon marriage and family has been palpable.
What the wisdom writer seeks to communicate in unequivocal terms
is that any temptation to wander is dangerous;
giving in to temptation can be disastrous for one’s self and one’s family.
We do not and cannot see the longer term impacts of short-sighted selfishness or desperation.
Of course, this temptation, this wandering, applies not just to physical adultery,
but the adultery of pornography or the adultery of interacting on social media.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’”
But Jesus said “that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”
Jesus broadened the definition of sin, of what constituted breaking relationship with God and neighbor.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he was quoted as saying,
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’;
and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;
and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council,
and if you say, You fool, you will be liable to the hell of fire.’”
Is our society in danger of losing these Christian ideals?
Are we in danger of losing the sacredness of the marriage bed?
Have today’s habits of insults and name-calling, even at the highest levels of leadership,
lessened us as a society?
Such habits are sinful, Jesus said, not according to what is good and right and true.
Such habits are not what our parents taught us, not wise and prudent.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”
But Jesus said to us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you?
What could this mean for today’s “cancel culture”, when people cut off those who have insulted them,
or cancel all communication with those who disagree with them?
What could it mean for our nation, in this divisive time, to love our “enemies”,
and to pray for “those who persecute us”, whomever those persons may be?
Could the people of the Church, the followers of Jesus Christ,
possibly lead our nation into a new season of proactive concern for the other,
rather than following others down the path of reactive disdain for the other?
Of course, this all begins at home, with how we treat and care for the ones closest to us.
If there is to be peace on earth, it must begin at home, first within our families,
then within our extended families, then within our neighborhoods and communities
and schools and churches.
What if we who believe in God choose to cherish the people around us?
What if we proactively seek their good, rather than reactively distance ourselves from them?
As the proverbs claim,
Human ways are under the eyes of the Lord and God examines all our paths. (Proverbs 5:21)
When God examines all our paths, may the Lord find us walking with Jesus,
choosing the cherish those closest to us, and choosing, by God’s grace, to love even our enemies.
Peace in the world begins with peace at home.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church