October 5, 2014 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
†††††††† A deadbolt is good
security. One summer between college terms I worked as a handyman. One of our
jobs was to retrofit deadbolts on each apartment door. With burglaries increasing
near Los Angeles, it gave the residents peace of mind to be able turn that
additional lock behind them as they left for work or settled in for the night.
†††††††† Years later I was
invited to be a special speaker for a weekend at our Covenant church in Oakland, Nebraska. Coming from southern California, and having lived near Chicago, I was
amazed to find residents of that tiny community mostly left their doors
unlocked. One family told us they werenít sure if they could find the keys if
they ever wanted to lock their house. They felt totally secure. I doubt the
local hardware store sold many deadbolts.
†††††††† Good security takes
different forms. If you are wise, you will seek security for yourself and those
you love. Thatís part of the message of chapter 24 of Proverbs, our text today.
At the beginning and end we learn itís not only wise to secure a house, a
household, a home, but that it is in wisdom itself that security is to be
found. Wisdom and righteousness will make you safe, while foolishness and evil
will put you and your home at risk.
†††††††† So the chapter begins
with a message we heard last week in chapter 23 as well. Donít be envious of
those who seem to prosper and do well through wickedness. Donít even desire
their company, because their wealth and security just cover up the danger they
†††††††† Then verse 3 gives us
the theme of the chapter, ďBy wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it
is established.Ē That theme is echoed at the end of the chapter in another,
smaller collection of additional proverbs beginning in verse 23, as we read
about careful preparation and maintenance of oneís land in an agricultural
culture. It is all to say that we establish a place for ourselves and make it
secure by becoming wise rather than by using wicked and selfish means to become
rich or powerful.
†††††††† Verse 4 pictures†
wisdom as wealth, ďBy knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and
pleasant riches.Ē Verse 5 tells us ďWise warriors are mightier than strong
ones, and those who have knowledge than those who have strength.Ē In other
words, this biblical conception of security turns our modern ideas about the
value of education on its head.
†††††††† As I mentioned as we
began our study of Proverbs, we are often inclined to think of education in
terms of how much it enhances our income. A good education is one which will
get you a good job, by which we mean a well-paying job. Skills and facts which
donít directly relate to earning potential move to the back burner and we give
the money and emphasis to subjects which will pay off.
†††††††† Whether itís Beth
reading freshman writing essays or I reading pastorsí ordination papers, the
two of us often bemoan a general lack of formal writing skills among younger
generations. Yet my brother-in-law thinks it doesnít matter, tossing off a line
heís used since high school, ďHow much does a sentence-diagrammer earn?Ē But
according to Proverbs, thatís a foolish question. Wisdom and knowledge is about
much more than income and job security. It takes wisdom and guidance to win a
victory, as verse 6 tells us, whether itís in war or in the struggles of life.
†††††††† Thatís why in verse 7
fools ďin the gate do not open their mouths.Ē The gate of a city was where
public discussion and justice took place. Itís the town hall meeting. Without
any wisdom or knowledge of good self-expression, people have nothing worthwhile
to say, and they fail to speak up when something needs to be said. If your
company starts laying people off unfairly, but your own job is secure, you may
not have anything to say if you arenít already in the habit of speaking the
truth wisely and clearly.
†††††††† Verses 8 and 9 warn us
against planning and doing evil and foolishness directly. It might be wrong to
sit around a table and plan to sack full-time employees who are doing
good work so you can turn around and hire part-time people at less expense. But
verses 10 to 12 tell us that itís just as wrong, and just as insecure, to stand
by saying and doing nothing while the firing is being done.
†††††††† We all like to think we
would jump in to save someone who is drowning or to defend a person being
attacked, but itís terribly easy to let considerations of our own security take
over and keep us from helping.
†††††††† My friend Mark Alfano
points out that psychological studies show that even the pressure of being late
for an appointment makes us less likely to help someone in need. He cites a
study at Princeton Seminary in 1973. Students were assigned to give a talk on
the parable of the Good Samaritan at a place across campus. Then some of them
were told they were late for their talk. On the way they saw someone slumped on
the ground in distress. Almost invariably the ones who were ďlateĒ failed to
stop and help. The irony is obvious.
†††††††† Which all means that
it is good to bear in mind that last part of verse 12. God sees and knows all
our excuses. It does no good to claim ignorance, ďLook, we did not know thisÖ,Ē
because God is looking into our hearts and watching how we respond to people
around us. We may think we are secure, but our relationship with God is in
†††††††† The next verse seems a
little odd, the advice to eat honey long before anyone had notions about
processed versus natural sugars. And that advice gets balanced out in the very
next chapter, verses 16 and 27, which warn against eating too much honey. But the point is to compare the sweetness and delight of honey with
wisdom in verse 14. And itís in wisdom that real security is to be found, ďif
you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.Ē
†††††††† Verse 15 sounds like a
no-brainer for people like you and me. None of us is planning an ambush or home
invasion. Itís a moral warning we donít really need. But verse 16 turns it into
a blessing and promise for us when we seek the Lord and try to live righteously
ourselves. The righteous may ďfall seven times,Ē but ďthey will rise again.Ē
†††††††† The parable Jesus told
in our Gospel lesson reveals His own expectation that He would be killed by His
own people. As Godís Son coming to the Lordís vineyard of Israel, He would be ambushed and murdered by people thinking they were taking control of
their own future. But as we know, the real story ends with Jesus being raised
from the dead by His Father and offering forgiveness even to the people who
killed Him. And He gives us the hope of being raised again, no matter how often
we fall in this life.
†††††††† That hope is meant to
change our perspective on our enemies. First, in verses 17 and 18, weíre not to
rejoice when itís our enemies who fall. If we accept Godís grace to raise us up
when we fall down into doing what is wrong, then we need to be ready to extend
that same grace to others who fall. Gloating is not for Christians, whether
itís about military victories over ISIS or about seeing a dishonest co-worker
†††††††† In fact, verses 19 and
20 tells us to just quit fretting about evildoers. Thatís hard. Thursday
evening I was just starting to turn left out of our cul de sac when a
woman driving a big SUV came roaring up the hill from the right, going at least
45 or 50 in a 25 mile per hour zone. I slammed on my brakes and watched her go
by, honking my horn at her disregard for the safety of our neighborhood. Then I
fretted about her all the way to the store, wishing I had got her license plate
number, wishing the police would set up a speed trap on our hill, wishing for a
little justice to be done.
†††††††† But God invites you
and me not to fret like that. If someone persists in doing whatís wrong, then ultimately
have no future, like those evil vineyard tenants in Jesusí parable.† The Lord
will deal with them, their lamp will go out, as verse 20 says. In the meantime,
we ought to consider our own security, our own relationship with the Lord and
with what is right and good.
†††††††† So verses 21 and 22
ask us to worry about, maybe even fret about, our obedience to the Lord and to
the authorities he allows to govern us. Instead of letting myself get worked up
about someone elseís driving, let me be a little more careful of my own
attention behind the wheel. Instead of bemoaning the hatred and cruelty of
radical Muslims, let me work on the feelings I have toward the annoying person
who lives across the street.
†††††††† The last section of
this chapter is another, separate small section of proverbs, added in here by
whoever finally put the book together. But as I said at the beginning, it also
speaks to the issue of security. Verses 23 to 26 go back to that earlier call
to speak up and do what is right when there is wrong being done. We shouldnít
fret about evildoers, but we should also tell the truth about them when it
matters. If an athlete commits domestic violence or rape or even just cheats on
an exam, those around him should not tell him he is innocent and ignore whatís
been done just because he scores touchdowns.
†††††††† There is security in
speaking the truth. As verse 26 pictures, an honest answer is like giving
someone a kiss. Itís grace and kindness, even if itís hard and difficult truth,
because it offers others the opportunity to acknowledge the truth and repent
and do what is right. We want to be people who speak that kind of gracious
truth to each other. Some of you have done that for me at times, and I am
grateful for it.
†††††††† On the other hand,
verses 28 and 29 warn us not to speak against each other without cause, to
accuse another person dishonestly. We hear a negative echo of Jesus telling us
to do to others as we want them to do to us. ďI will do to others as they have
done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done.Ē ďIf someone lies
about me, Iíll lie about them.Ē No, thatís not who we are as the people of God.
†††††††† We want to be a
community of people who are secure together in the way we talk to each other
and care for each other and come to each otherís help when needed. Thatís why I
want to end talking mostly about that odd little verse 27, ďPrepare your work
outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your
†††††††† I had to read
commentaries to understand that verse is picturing how to make oneself
financially secure in an agricultural world. Donít just find a spot and build a
house. Prepare your fields around it first. Plow and plant your vines and
crops. Gather your livestock. Then you will have an income to support you when
you build your house and settle down to live in a place. Itís slow, thoughtful
preparation for a secure life of farming.
†††††††† Church here at Valley
Covenant is about slow, thoughtful work together to be a community of help and
peace and security in a scary world. Iíve started to read a book entitled Slow Church, which says just that. Weíre not here to come up with flashy programs that
quickly build up crowds. Iím not sure I could do that if I wanted to. But weíre
here to plow the ground of hearts, plant the good seed of Godís Word, and then
build a community together in which you and I and people around us can find
security and hope.
†††††††† So you wonít find here
a wicked cool worship band that records its own songs and packs in bunches of
people ready to rock. You will find a place where anyone who has a musical gift
to offer is loved and cherished and given an opportunity to share it.
†††††††† And you wonít find at
Valley Covenant a carefully planned discipleship course that will take you
through six specific classes and make you a mature Christian in 3 years. But
you will find people who will take time to get to know you and your family and
will do their best to share Godís Word and help you grow in Christ.
†††††††† Nor will you find here
a special service for single people or a fellowship group for divorced people
or a program to recover from addiction. You will find people that will love you
and come alongside of you if you are lonely or struggling in your marriage or
fighting temptation. They will visit you in the hospital and bring you food
when youíre sick. They will give you a hug when your father dies and remind you
of the hope we have in Jesus. They will celebrate with you when you graduate or
have a baby or get a new job. And whenever you ask for it, they will hold you
up in prayer and bring your needs to the Lord.
†††††††† Thatís the kind of
security weíre building here, the slow, patient security of life together in
Jesus Christ. Donít get me wrong. Weíre not always good at it. Thatís why we
need to take a glance at the last few verses of Proverbs 24 and remember not to fall asleep at the job. Thatís why Iím reminding us this
morning why weíre here.
†††††††† Yet we live together
in the blessed security of Lordís grace, the grace that says if we fall down
seven times, He will raise us up. He will. He will keep raising each of you and
He will keep raising up this church which is His beloved house on earth. Iíve
seen Him do it time and again. Rest in that and rest secure.
†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj