PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR (EXTRA) ORDINARY TIME
“Whose Insight?” – Proverbs 3:1-18
June 14, 2020
Today, we continue our summer series on Practical Wisdom, Practical Wisdom for Extra-Ordinary Time.
Before our scripture reading for today, I have invited the Rev. Dr. Phil Noble and his daughter,
Dr. Betty Scott Noble, to offer insight into the historical context we face today,
and to share a personal connection with today’s scripture reading from Proverbs 3.
Many of you know Phil and Betty, who sit nearly every Sunday on the second pew of the sanctuary.
What you may not know is that Phil was once at the very top of the hit list
for the KKK of Anniston, Alabama.
60 years ago, after the Freedom Riders bus was burned in Anniston,
Phil and others became more deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights.
Phil Noble chaired a biracial Human Relations Council that was pushing for desegregation
and seeking to dismantle Jim Crow laws and customs.
Throughout his ministry in Alabama and later in Charleston, at First Scots Presbyterian Church,
Phil was a leading voice in his community for unity and understanding.
Oh, and an early Happy Birthday to Phil! His 99th birthday is coming up in August.
My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;
for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.
Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them round your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.
Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and the Lord will make straight your paths.”
Our own insight is a function of what we absorb day to day,
what we hear and see on television and the radio, what we read and absorb on social media.
More and more we are discovering how limited and narrow some of those inputs can be.
In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC), introduced the fairness doctrine.
The fairness doctrine was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses
to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was
“honest, equitable, and balanced.”
The fairness doctrine required broadcasters to air contrasting views
regarding controversial matters of public interest.
The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views,
but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented.
Did you know that this policy of the FCC was eliminated in 1987?
Today, 24 hour news channels, of varying stripes, which came of age in the 1990’s,
do not hesitate to present overtly biased views, at all hours of the day,
based, I would argue, not on public interest,
but in large part on who is paying for the advertising on those channels,
and what will feed the bottom line of those news corporations.
After the next major national news event, take a few moments to switch back and forth
between the various news channels,
and you will most often find a very different presentation of what has just occurred.
The demise of the FCC fairness doctrine, in the view of many, has been a major contributing factor
in the increasing polarization of the United States over the past 30 years.
At least for the near term future, these news channels will continue to play a critical role;
their influence will help determine whether or not we, as a nation,
will sustain a healthy, well-informed democracy. (FCC Fairness Doctrine, Wikipedia.com)
When we add to these polarized news sources the rise in the use of social media platforms
to share – not just personal opinions – but statements from government leaders at the highest level,
we are living in unprecedented times.
Our national laws, regulations, and policies have not caught up with the major shift
in how North Americans share and receive news information about controversial issues.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and the Lord will make straight your paths.
The Book of Proverbs encourages us to think about what it means to live as those who trust in God.
Christine Yoder, one of our esteemed professors at Columbia Theological Seminary,
lives not far from here on Kirk Road.
She parks in our church parking lot early in the morning to go to work out at her fitness place.
Christine, through her studies and commentaries, has become an internationally renowned scholar
on the Book of Proverbs.
She has spent countless days studying these scripture passages and asking the question:
Who are we and what does it mean to live this human life well and faithfully?
As Christine Yoder wrote, as we read the Proverbs of Holy Scripture, we are encouraged
“to examine our convictions about the human place in the world,
the power and presence of God, the frame and fibers of moral character,
the nature of knowledge, the contours of good and evil,
our assumptions about gender and those we consider “strangers”. (Yoder, Proverbs, p. xxx)
Christine writes that these proverbs are meant to be written on the tablets of our hearts.
They are shared in order to become a clear and permanent reminder,
an indelible mark upon our being.
The hope of the teacher of Proverbs is that they may they reach the innermost part of ourselves.
She reminds us that:
“Wisdom is outside the self and must be pursued tenaciously every day of one’s life;
it is inside the mind and heart as a gift from God.” (Yoder, p. xxxii)
As the proverbs claim: “All that you may desire cannot compare with (wisdom.)” (Proverbs 8:11)
“Wisdom is woven into the fabric of creation,” she writes, “giving it shape, meaningful order,
and a coherence that God continues to uphold…
to find wisdom is to align oneself with divine handiwork, and as a result, to prosper…
The wise live well and long. They enjoy ease and abundance, health and happiness, riches and honor.
In contrast, the foolish and wicked are ‘out of place’ in this world…
The wise prosper and the wicked perish because that is how God created and sustains the world.
The world is not neutral. So if the wicked prosper from time to time,
it is an exception—not the rule.” (p. 49)
Jose Miguez Bonino was raised a Methodist in Argentina.
He pursued his masters degree at Emory’s Candler School of Theology.
During the late 20th century, Bonino became one of the world’s leading voices of liberation theology.
After reflecting upon the horrors of Pinochet’s Chile
and other serious abuses of power in the countries of Latin and South America,
Bonino committed himself to a political ethic focused on the poor and the defense of human rights.
In 1980, he wrote words that sound very contemporary for what we are facing in June 2020:
“I have become more and more convinced that neither despair nor mere moral indignation
is the right response to this situation.
What is happening before our eyes is a revelation, the “unmasking” of “the logic of death”
in the economic-socio-political order in which we live…
(Human) Life has been made finally only a function of the economic process…
the human subject vanishes and only the (economic laws) remain in control.
Repression, torture, disappearances, (genocide),
the withdrawal of social, educational and health services…
these are not the result of the whim or the cruelty of bloodthirsty tyrants:
they (have become) ‘the necessary social cost’ of ‘freedom.’
It is the sacrifice that the highest god, ‘the economic laws’, demands.”
“I am aware,” he writes, “that the logic of this…argument will not be self-evident
to many readers from the affluent world….May I suggest, however,
that a meditation on “the unavoidability of unemployment,”…
the escalation of the programs of defense…
the “need” to cut down on social and assistance programs
could be a healthy exercise also for (the Church)?…
Many things are complex, but a basic thing seems clear:
we are faced with a total system of death, a threat to all life…
It is our Christian privilege and duty to witness concretely and unhesitantly,
with all the resources we have, to God’s creative and redemptive concern for life and against death!…
Bonino continues: “In the struggle for life and against death, theology must take sides….”
In our reading of Holy Scripture, we realize time and again that “God has chosen sides –
(God) has chosen to liberate the poor by delivering them from their misery and marginality,
and to liberate the rich by bringing them down from their thrones.
Christians and churches (throughout the world, perhaps as never before)
are invited to take the side of the poor, to claim solidarity with them in their struggle.” (https://www.religion-online.org/article/for-life-and-against-death-a-theology-that-takes-sides/)
In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, the Proverbs encourage.
Not only on Sundays, but on your Mondays and Saturdays, acknowledge the Lord.
Not only in your spiritual life, but in your social life, acknowledge the Lord.
Not only in your charitable giving, but in every financial transaction, acknowledge the Lord.
Not only in your prayer life, but in your work life, acknowledge the Lord.
Not only in your church life, but in your home life, acknowledge the Lord.
And the promise holds: the Lord will make straight your paths.
Many of us have been wondering about the way forward,
how our nation might discern a pathway ahead in this polarized and divisive time.
We face critical and persistent issues of racism and violence.
We face not only issues of police brutality, but a shocking murder rate in places like Chicago.
These issues are deeply intertwined with devastating and degrading poverty.
We live in one of the wealthiest nations on earth and many have benefitted tremendously
from our impressive economic system. But over the past 40 years,
as the wealth of many families has skyrocketed, the poor have become more poor.
The poor have become more hopeless, and the middle class,
with the rising cost of housing and healthcare, is slipping into desperation.
Do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
In our nation, we have emphasized individual rights and responsibilities,
but the proverbs of old “underline human interconnectedness…
The proverbs define moral units as communal.”
The generations to come after us will either benefit from the righteous paths we follow as a nation
or suffer divine curse from the foolish or wicked paths we trod. (Yoder, p.50)
As Phil Noble, and Christine Yoder and Jose Miguez Bonino,
and so many other biblical scholars make clear, the God of Holy Scripture is not neutral.
We read in Proverbs and elsewhere that God will safeguard the poor and defenseless. (14:31,17:5,22:2)
God will set up boundaries for widows to thrive. (23:10-11,15:25)
God will pay the debts of the poor and redeem the orphan. (23:10-11,19:17, 28:8)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
Acknowledge the Lord in all our ways.
Continuously seek fresh insight from Holy Scripture.
It will be a healing for our flesh and a refreshment for the body of our nation.
And as we listen to Holy Scripture, ultimately, God will make straight our paths.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church