Practical Wisdom for (EXTRA)Ordinary Time
“Whose Voice?” – Proverbs 1:1-9,20-23, 32-33
June 7, 2020
We begin today a summer series on “Practical Wisdom” from the Old Testament book of Proverbs
and the New Testament letter of James.
In this series, we seek to share “Practical Wisdom for Extra-Ordinary Time.”
Today’s message hails from the first chapter of Proverbs and focuses upon “Whose Voice?”
Whose voice are you listening to most often?
Whose voice is leading you, guiding you, showing you the way?
It makes all the difference whose voice you are listening to.
As we turn to hear God’s voice in Holy Scripture, let us pray…
Almighty God of all peoples and places, illuminate your Word this day,
that you may speak to your people, and that your people may hear your voice above all others,
through Jesus Christ, your Incarnate Word, Amen.
Proverbs 1:1-9,20-23, 32-33
For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck…
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you…
For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.’
The local white clergy of Decatur composed a statement this week.
We wrote this letter in order to recognize the current unacceptable condition of our divided nation.
We wrote to confess and repent of our complicity in systems of racial inequity,
and to commit ourselves NOT to be silent in the face of injustice.
We have an important role to play as clergy of mostly white churches,
and while we may speak occasionally on the issues or hold special educational forums,
white clergy men and women do not seem to be helping our broader community
move toward God’s peaceable kingdom.
We feel called to help build God’s beloved community,
a community that welcomes and values individuals from every and race and nation and background.
Black lives matter. Black lives matter to God and they matter to me.
It will take a no small amount of sacrifice from all of us to dismantle centuries-old systems of racism.
It will take an extremely concerted effort to end generations-old racist attitudes that keep perpetuating,
It will take difficult change in our political processes to end decades-old banking and real estate
and educational policies that continue to hinder persons of color in countless ways.
Even so, we must get that train moving down the track.
What so many do not seem to realize is that no one will be at peace until everyone is at peace.
None of us can fully be at rest until liberty and justice is realized for every person of this nation.
How many times have we put our hands upon our hearts
and pledged allegiance not only to the flag and to the republic, for which it stands,
one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
To my more conservative friends, justice is not a bad word. It is an extremely biblical word.
mishpot, justice, appears hundreds of times in Holy Scripture.
The protests for justice that are related to the death of George Floyd and so many others
have spread through our cities for 10 straight days now.
Some of the demonstrations, like the one in Decatur on Wednesday, have been very peaceful.
I joined a thousand others in our community on Wednesday as we recited the names
of dozens upon dozens of black men and women who have died a violent and untimely death.
We walked through the streets of Decatur and knelt on the lawn of the courthouse.
We acknowledged the broad diversity of those present, and we prayed.
In other cities, protests have turned into violent, with fiery clashes between police and civilians,
with seemingly senseless destruction of property.
While beautiful images have arisen around the country, like cops kneeling with protesters,
or moms of deceased young black men telling their heart-breaking stories,
ugly scenes have unfolded as well, with some chants that are offensive to all the good police out there,
with journalists being arrested or assaulted, with businesses burning up in flames.
(CNN, Monday, June 1,2020)
One of our tasks, if you are a white person, is to be curious, to seek first to understand.
Martin Luther King once stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
The writer Jan Richardson wrote in her book about blessings for times of sorrow
that anger can be a blessing, because anger is so often an important “messenger.”
Anne Braden wrote “The fight against racism is (the white people’s) issue.
It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with.
(White people) need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it
because really in truth, they do.”
At some point during my seminary days, back in the early 90’s,
I realized that I was in a “bubble” of sorts.
I was reading liberation theology and hearing a limited range of voices in my classes and readings.
These voices were important voices to hear, but different than the voices that I had heard
during my corporate days working in a large firm.
I knew that I had entered a very different conversation and that I was beginning to lose touch
with the attitudes of many Georgians and some former colleagues.
So, I decided to start listening to Rush Limbaugh on my commute to the seminary.
I would listen about as long as I could stand it.
Back in the 1990’s, Rush Limbaugh was very helpful to me while driving out I-20
and then down Memorial Drive towards the seminary.
Limbaugh helped me, as a young seminary student,
identify exactly what I did NOT believe or stand for.
The point is – to whom do you listen?
Do you listen to a variety of voices and perspectives on the news and in your reading?
Are you listening to the voices long silenced?
And more importantly, are you listening daily for the voice of God?
The first voice I seek to hear every day is the voice of Holy Scripture.
After that first cup of coffee on my back porch in the morning,
I open my daily devotion app on my phone.
I read through and reflect upon the daily readings and prayers.
Some mornings, this habit is helpful and speaks directly to what is going on in my life.
On other mornings, it can feel rote and ineffectual.
But more often than not, the Scriptures and prayers speak to me in a meaningful and helpful way.
This morning’s prayer, for example, included thanks for the broad diversity of God’s children
and a special prayer for people different from ourselves and for victims of violence and warfare.
The Proverb claims that we are fools if we despise wisdom and instruction.
All of us could use a bit more wisdom from Holy Scripture these days.
Too many of us are relying upon our own insight.
Too many of us think that what we have always known to be true will always continue to be true.
American futurist Alvin Toffler wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century
will not be those who cannot read and write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
here are some attitudes and perspectives that many white people need to unlearn.
Wisdom not the same as intelligence. Wisdom is not the same as experience.
There are some very smart people in this world, with significant intelligence and broad experience,
who are foolish, and who act foolishly in relation to others.
Wisdom begins with humility.
Wisdom begins with knowing that you do not have all the answers.
Wisdom begins with the realization that there is always more to learn,
that there is always someone more knowledgeable about a subject than you.
Foolish persons despise such instruction.
My first response to the protests over the past week was not what I needed to say.
My first response was: what do I need to hear? What do I need to understand about this situation?
For most white people, we simply do not know what we do not know.
Racism is complicated and multi-layered.
A large percentage of black persons in America claim that they think everyday about being black.
They are aware – every day – that the color of their skin means that they will be treated differently
– in the store, in the school, in the business, in the neighborhood – than someone who is white.
Many of us have been attempting “Courageous Conversations” over the past several years
to listen and learn. We had held special dinners and forums and had race consultants visit our institutions.
To be honest, many of the conversations have been more clumsy than courageous,
but they are better than no conversations at all.
Someone claimed the other day that the opposite of racism is not to say: “I’m not a racist”.
When one of these terrible tragedies happen, many white people will claim:
but I’m not like that, I’m not a racist.
But what are we actually doing about racism?
Why is it that racism in America has not improved all that much since the 1980’s?
The opposite of racism is not to say, “but I am not a racist”;
the opposite of racism is to engage pro-actively in “anti-racism.”
And the first part of anti-racism is to be humble, then to be curious, then seek first to understand.
We all need to understand what people mean when they talk about “white supremacy”.
If we are not a person of color, we need to hear what it is like not to be white in America.
Our memory verse today is Proverbs 1:7,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
In chapter 2, the Proverbs continue:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from God’s mouth come knowledge and understanding.
And in chapter 3, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
Friends, my own insight is inherently limited on this subject,
so I invite you now to listen to my friend, Octavia Bowman,
who was baptized this past year into the membership of Decatur Presbyterian Church.
Octavia grew up here in Decatur, and she is now raising three extraordinary sons in our community.
As Paul Tillich once wrote: “The first duty of love is to listen.”
So let us listen to Octavia and receive what instruction she has to offer.
And, by God’s grace, may the Holy Spirit speak through the words of Scripture we have heard today
and through the words of one whose experience this past week
may have been very different from your own.
Grace and peace to you all. Amen.
Rev. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church