17th Sunday after Pentecost 16th September

WISDOM IS CALLING

 

We are joyful today

            Through God’s strength to direct us,

            God’s might to uphold us,pastor

            God’s wisdom to guide us,

            God’s eye to watch us,

            God’s ear to hear us,

            God’s Word to speak to us,

            God’s hand to guard us,

            God’s way to lie before us,

            God’s shield to protect us,

            God’s angels to keep us from the snares of the devil.

            Lord Jesus, save us

            From temptation of vices,

            From everyone who shall wish us ill,

            Afar and near,

            Alone and in a multitude.  (Attributed to St Patrick. Mediacom, April 2000)

 

Introduction

 

            One of the saddest chapters in the Bible is Genesis 19. Here God sent an angel to warn Lot and his family to flee from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angel told them, ‘Flee for your lives. Don’t look back’ (Gen 19:17). However, Lot’s wife ‘looked back and she became a pillar of salt’ (Gen 19:26). How foolish was that?

            Our text, Proverbs 1:20-33, features no angel, but rather wisdom, personified as a woman. That is, a woman is featured as wisdom itself and calling out for people to flee wickedness and follow the Lord and so be wise. May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to hear the call of wisdom and so be wise.

 

I  THE FOOLISH DO NOT LISTEN

 

            Sadly many people do not listen to wisdom. They follow folly instead.

The book of Proverbs gives examples of how people follow their fleshly appetites. But it warns that although sin seems pleasurable at first, it has a deadly sting in its tail. It kills.

            For instance, Proverbs lists the abuse of alcohol as a foolish pursuit. Alcohol is a good gift of God when used in moderation. But when abused it has terrible results. I don’t need to go into detail here about the dangers of drinking too much. Alcohol addiction leads to stupid actions, deadly fights, memory loss and other physical problems. Moreover, in Australia 52% of road deaths are caused by alcohol.

I will never forget visiting a man in hospital who was addicted to drink. He told me that he was about to go home by ambulance and he would instruct the driver to stop at the first hotel so he could have a drink. How foolish. Indeed, a few months later he was dead. Alcoholism shortens one’s life by an average of 12 years.

            Sin is very sneaky. It seems attractive. It appeals to our human nature. For a time it is exciting. Maybe that’s why a company put out a perfume called ‘My Sin’. The promotion blurb said that it’s a fragrance ‘so alluring, so charming, so exciting that we could only call it “My Sin”’. Sin may seem exciting but as Proverbs says, ‘So then (you sinners), you will get what you deserve, and your own actions will make you sick.  Foolish people die because they reject wisdom. Stupid people are destroyed’. Proverbs also says that foolish people are even more stupid than birds which walk into a trap they watch being set. True, foolish people get caught in the trap they themselves have set! (1:17f)

            Foolishness abounds in our society. We think of people, even pensioners, who allow one arm bandits to rob them of nearly all their money. Or I think of a woman who divorced her abusive husband, but then ended up marrying another man who also abused her. Yes, foolishness is all around us!

            Wisdom calls out to foolish people. But they don’t listen. Their ears are blocked. So calamity rushes upon them like a storm. They cry out for help, but it is too late. 

            What about us? It is easy for us to point our fingers at others. But it is true we have often acted the fool too. That’s because we are sinners. ‘Sin makes us stupid’. You know how foolishness has touched you, and I know how foolishness has touched me.  Whether it is a careless word, angry response to some remark, even a scaled down version of road rage, annoyance at the checkout counter when someone lines up at the 12 or less items with 20 – yes we counted them one by one, or occasionally drinking too much, we have often let the Lord down and ourselves as well. As Proverbs tells us, sin ‘bites like a snake and stings like an adder’ (Prov 23:32).

            Most foolish of all is when people reject our Lord and Master, Jesus the Christ. It is sad that most Jews have rejected Jesus as Messiah. Many have given up all hope of any Messiah. Others are still waiting for the Messiah to come. When Helen and I were in Israel some years ago we were taken around the country in a small bus. As we were going along we noticed light poles that had arrows on them. The arrows finally pointed to a large house. We noticed that all the lights were on. We asked our driver what this meant. He said that many Jews believed that the New York Rabbi (Rebbe) Schneerson was the Messiah. After he died he would come back alive again as Messiah to Israel. The arrows on the poles were to guide him to his house. And the house had its lights on day and night so he would know which house was his! Some Messiah who needed help to find his house!

They are quite wrong of course. Since then Rabbi Schneerson has died and he certainly hasn’t come back to live in that house as the Messiah.

            Jesus is the Messiah. The only Messiah. Those who do not welcome him are fools. In the end they will miss out on life with Jesus in his eternal and glorious kingdom.

 

II  THE WISE LISTEN

 

            Wisdom. How does one become wise? Through education? Not necessarily. Some of the stupidest people around are very well educated. Think of Stephen Foster. He wrote such popular songs as ‘Sewanee River’, ‘Oh, Susanna’, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, and 200 more. He became wealthy. But he ended up as a penniless drunkard, got into a brawl and died after someone slashed open his throat.

            There are also some very well educated people in jail. You see, education does not guarantee wisdom. Schools are deluding themselves if they think sex education, or drug education alone will ensure young people make the right choices. 

Nor does experience guarantee wisdom. Sure, many old people are wise and experienced. But it’s also true that there is no fool like an old fool!

True wisdom comes through being attached to Jesus Christ. As St Paul says, God ‘gave you your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and ransom from sin’ (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus alone makes us wise unto salvation. Jesus alone died and rose for us and forgives our sins. Jesus alone is the way to heaven. Jesus alone took the poison from the cobra of death for us so that we shall not die but live. Jesus alone was slain and raised from the dead for us, so that God the Father does not condemn us but pardons us, stands by us, strengthens us, protects and preserves us and will one day take us to joy and glory in heaven that no mind can fathom or tongue can tell. There is no other, Jesus Christ is our true Wisdom.

We could go on: Christ dealt with our old self which makes us stupid. He took our foolishness to his cross. He forgave us the many times we refused to listen to wisdom. He gave us a new nature, one filled with the Spirit and therefore wise.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus asks his disciples, ‘“Who do you say I am?” The place where Jesus asked this question was Caesarea Philippi. It was here that the universal Greek god of ‘All’ was venerated next to a temple of Emperor Augustus who had claimed to be divine. This place was also near the source of the River Jordan, the river in which Jesus was baptised. So the place where Jesus asked his disciples whom they thought he was, was steeped in paganism.  Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered for them all, ‘“You are the Messiah”’ (Mark 8: 29). 

            Christ also asks us, ‘Whom do you say I am?’ What will our answer be? We who live in the midst of paganism and false religions? May God’s Spirit move our hearts to respond, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah, the only wise Savior of all’.

            Christ our wisdom calls us to act wisely, morally and sensibly. Through Christ our actions are based on the fear of the Lord. For it is also true that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 1:7). Our whole life is thus controlled by the Lord. This touches every aspect of our life: the way we use alcohol, prescription drugs, speech, money, relationships,  sex, everything.

            A medical student was asked whether he ever went on binge drinking. What do you think of his answer? He said, ‘No, I hope to be a neurosurgeon. Alcohol kills brain cells. I need all the brain cells I can to get to get where I hope to be one day’. So was that a wise answer? It was, but an even better answer would be, ‘I don’t go on binge drinking because I am a follower of Christ. I need all the brain cells I can get to be a faithful disciple’.

I am also reminded of a High School student who was out with classmates. They tried to entice him into joining their binge drinking. Each time they tried, he answered with a word of Scripture. At last one of them said to the others, ‘Leave him be. He’s so full of the Bible we can’t do a thing with him! It’s great when young people do the wise thing for Christ’s sake.

In Christ we are wiser than the smartest intellectual without Christ. But thank God many Christian intellectuals are wise. Some of the wisest people were both great Christians and scientists. Isaac Newton – mathematician, the discoverer of calculus and the founder of classical physics – dedicated his life to Christ. Michael Faraday – the discoverer of benzene, electromagnetic induction and the generator – was a firm believer in Christ. William Perkin – the great organic chemist who discovered the first synthetic dye, known as Perkin’s mauve – was a great Christian. On his deathbed he said, ‘The children are in Sunday School. Give them my love and tell them always to trust Jesus. Louis Pasteur, who gave us pasteurized milk and other good things, was a Christian. Samuel Morse, who gave us Morse code and the telegraph, was a Christian, Charles Babbage, who was the forerunner of computers and the speedometer, was a Christian. I could mention many other famous scientists who believed in Christ. You don’t have to sacrifice your intellect to be a Christian. As Wisdom says, I ‘give you good advice and share my knowledge with you’.

 

Conclusion

 

            Alexander Grigolia emigrated from the former Soviet Union Georgia to the USA. He became a successful professor at a University. As a non-believer in Christ he had a longing in his heart he couldn’t pinpoint. One day while getting a shoe shine he noticed that the lad had a joyful heart. Dr Grigolia finally could stand it no longer. He asked, ‘What makes you so happy?’

            The shoe shine looked up and said, ‘Jesus. He loves me. He died for me so God could forgive my badness. He makes me happy’.

            Dr Grigolia could not escape those words. They were words that wisdom was calling out to him. The Holy Spirit later brought him to Christ and true wisdom. Later Dr Grigolia taught at a Christian College. One of his students was a young man called Billy Graham.

            True wisdom is to follow Christ, to live in Christ, to obey Christ. Those who listen to wisdom ‘will have security.  They will be safe, with no reason to be afraid’. Listen, wisdom is calling!

Pastor Peter Kriewaldt

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