A Sermon on Proverbs 1.1-7, 3.1-8
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to your, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
What does it mean to live the good life?
As an individual, what do you think it means to live the good life? Does it mean luxurious vacations with umbrella drinks? A large and beautiful home? The latest and greatest gadgets? A six-figure income?
Do you know what a vision board is? If you don't, let me explain it to you. A vision board, as it's endorsed by many life coaches and gurus, is a physical board (poster board, cork board, or the like) where you display your hopes and dreams. Everything from pictures to fancy cars, to an ideal body, to what you want the interior of your home to look like. The idea behind this is, if you physically focus on these things, you'll work harder for them, and thus achieve them.
There are two problems with these vision boards, at least when you compare them to the scripture we just read;
1. They're usually just physically things. and
2. Once you reach the goal, get the car, or remodel your dream kitchen, then what? Is it to be understood that the person who has achieved all of the components of their vision board is then happy? Is a completed vision board what it means to live the good life?
It just cannot be that simple.
There seems to be this human instinct to strive for something better. Last year, across the globe, we spent eleven billion dollars on self-help books. In fact, it's the world's best selling genre of literature. We want to be good at being good people. So did the writers and the readers of the Old Testament. In fact, this is the purpose behind the Wisdom Literature, our theme for the next four weeks. This week, we discuss True Wisdom, as it's outlined in the early chapters in Proverbs. Next week, we'll look at Wisdom's Gifts towards the middle of the book of Proverbs. Then we'll move into Ecclesiastes, exploring Time and Meaning, after which we'll find ourselves in the Song of Solomon. These words were written down in order to instruct young people of the virtues needed to be a good person in the world.
Right off the bat, the author, traditionally understood to be King Solomon, begins talking about the importance of wisdom and knowledge. And what does he write, is the beginning of knowledge?
Turns out, it's not the pythagorean theorem, it's not memorizing the periodic table of elements, it's not even knowing how to fold a fitted sheet. The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of knowledge.
This phrase, and phrases close to it are repeated throughout the book of Proverbs. It was a cultural idiom, a phrase that was used often at the time. But what does it mean? How do we understand it? In searching for a graspable metaphor, some biblical scholars have related it to the ocean. Have you ever even tried to fathom how much water is in the ocean? Standing in front of it is an extremely humbling experience. At five foot tall, I'm used to feeling small, but words can't begin to describe how small the ocean makes you feel. And it's beautiful. The different shades of blues and greens, and the movement of it all, not to mention the entire universe of life that exists beneath its surface... But at the same time, while it is magnificent and majestic, it is also full of mystery. And with that mystery, there is fear and a sense of respect. This is the fear behind :the fear of the Lord." It's an appropriate respect.
In the C.S. Lewis novel; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is an exchange between the children and the Narnia resident, Mrs. Beaver.
"Aslan is a lion-- the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--- quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Braver' "if there;s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or just plain silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver... "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he sin't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
God is powerful, and God is strong, and God is mighty... and God is good.
So what does it mean to live the good life? Well, respect for the expansive identity of God is the beginning. The second part of the Proverbs reading tells us to remember and keep the commandments because they will being us a long and peaceful life. I find so much Gospel, so much good news, in this! We are the people of a God whose motives aren't fueled by power or greed. We are the people of a God who gives us rules because we are loved. These are rules that are handed to us because when we live by them, not only will our lives be better, but the lives of our neighbors will benefit as well. When we live by the commandments of God, we're better parents, and siblings, and spouses, and neighbors, and friends. We're even better strangers! When we wear love and faithfulness externally, in plain sight, we are physical representations of the love we're shown as children of God. What follows, however, is something a bit more difficult to understand, or at least, a bit more difficult to accomplish.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."
I find it very difficult to be in the car when my dad is driving in a new city. (Dad, if you're reading this, sorry you had to find out this way). You see, my dad has an amazing sense of direction, So much so, that when he gets lost he would rather ignore the GPS and figure it out for himself. We always get to where we're going, but as someone who adheres to my GPS in my own neighborhood, I find the experience rather frustrating.
Much like with my dad's sense of direction, we are often so sure of our own ability to control our own lives, that we don't bother to stop and listen when God is trying to guide us. So often, we find ourselves in times of uncertainty, and our first means of figuring it out, is grasping at straws, when what we should really be doing is wondering what God is up to in that moment. If we claim that God is our metaphorical GPS, then why do we keep it on silent in the moments when we are the most turned around? Again, this is not God on a power trip, looking to control our every move. This is God guiding us, because we are loved.
So what does it mean to live the good life? Well, thankfully it doesn't mean having it all figured out. It doesn't mean we're on our own. It means recognizing that God is God. God is good. And true wisdom is knowing that we are loved.