Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Household Wisdom"

Message preached August , 2003
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Proverbs 31:10-31 and James 3:13-4:3, 7

Order of Worship

            As lovable and adorable as infants new to this world can be, this precious bundle - whom God has entrusted into our care for a season - can throw a marriage into a whirlwind. Where once the titles of "woman," "man," "wife," or "husband" were of primary importance, now the roles of "mother" and "father" take center stage. Human babies, you see, are among the most helpless of creatures, and their care demands more of us than we often think possible. In the beginning, their world (and ours as parents) revolves around them, by necessity. Other needs take a back burner. To be honest, thatís the way it is.

            Parenting is not for wimps. It can be one of the most draining, as well as the most rewarding of callings. How well I still remember what Williamson road outside our previous home in Greencastle, Pennsylvania looked like at 3 a.m., as I stared out at it through the window with Caitlin in my arms. Can I really do this? I wondered - a question asked by every new parent. Can I make it through 18 or more years of this? Granted, the infant stage lasts only so long, but later stages demand even more. Though it sometimes seems impossible, you do it anyway.

            Impossible. Thatís a word some have used to describe this scripture found at the end of the book of Proverbs which portrays "a good wife." "She rises while it is still night (15a)," this poem says. She "does not eat the bread of idleness (27b)." "Her lamp does not go out at night (18b)." Does this woman not rest or sleep? She handles the business affairs of the household - buying fields (16a), planting vineyards (16b), selling merchandise (18a). She not only makes her own beautiful clothes (22), she also creates the fabric (13, 19), with plenty left over to sell in the market (24). And this is all before any mention is made of children, who "rise up and call her happy" (28a), no doubt paying special attention to all the wisdom and kindness which comes forth from her mouth (26), and thankful for all she does to feed and otherwise provide for them (27a).

            Right! I donít know how you women hear this poem, but it sounds a bit beyond reach to me. Then, again, so does all that being a parent requires. Sometimes it seems impossible to be a good father or good mother, let alone a good husband or a good wife. You know, Iíve not found a comparable poem in the Bible which begins "a good husband who can find?" That particular poem is out there, I know. Iíve overheard pieces of it in conversations between women, when they thought I wasnít listening. This other poem just didnít make it into the Bible.

            It might do us well to remember that these words in Proverbs 31, which seem so impossible, are not found in that portion of scripture called "Torah," "the law of Moses." This is no seemingly impossible ideal which we are commanded to fulfill. Instead, this is "wisdom." In the Bible, wisdom operates in a way different from the law or the prophets.

            Turning to the New Testament, we discover "wisdom" in the beatitudes of Jesus, which are not worded like a command. He did not say, "thou shalt be poor in spirit, or mournful, or meek, or hungry and thirsty for righteousness, or merciful, or pure in heart, or peacemakers, or persecuted..." No, with the grace of wisdom, Jesus connected all of these things - in a rather intuitive way - to real happiness (Matthew 5:3-12). "Blessed (or how happy) are the poor in Spirit," he began, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Thatís not a law which presents an impossible ideal of what we should be, something which only makes us feel guilty over how far short of the mark we are. No, itís the wisdom behind those words which nudges us to become more than we are, in ways that from this point in time we canít quite imagine, but deep down know is possible.

            Like being a parent. Sometimes it seems downright impossible. Can I really do this? Itís scary raising a child in this world. We dedicate infants and their parents because this is tremendously serious business, folks. If the world is to be a better place it has to start here, and that is a tremendous weight upon a parentís shoulders. Add to that the insecurity of the times in which we live, and the full gamut of attitudes bombarding the family from every direction. Is it possible to raise children of faith?

            Yes, it is. And wisdom points the way. Please recognize, however, that wisdom is not about "how to." It is not a step-by-step, self-help manual that gets us from point "A" to point "F." Wisdom is not so much about what you do, but about who you are. Wisdom is personal. In fact, in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. There are some, in fact, who say that this poem at the end of Proverbs is not so much about a "good wife," as it is about wisdom herself. Iím not sure I fully buy into that, but I do believe that this scripture is not a blueprint for what it means to be a good wife. If a woman doesnít fit this description, does that mean she isnít a capable wife? No way.

            One thing Iíd like to point out, if youíll allow me, is that this scripture is poem of praise. Based on the first verse of chapter 31, we may be tempted to see this poem as a bit of wisdom passed on to a certain "King Lemuel" by his mother, about choosing a good wife. However, not all the manuscripts of Proverbs put verses 1-9 of chapter 31 next to verses 10-31. The Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint (LXX), does not place them together. Pardon me for getting so technical, but the point is that this poem then loses itís future mother-in-law dimension, and stands out more as a "Hymn to a good wife," rather than a shopping list.

            It is a song of praise. Husbands, have you told the mother of your children that she is more precious to you than jewels? "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all (29)." I ask that question not as one who is very good at such things, but as one who struggles to put into words and actions my love for my wife. There is no real how-to manual for this, though many have been written. I know in my heart it is a song she longs to hear. Do you? By the way, this question runs both ways. Wives, have you revealed the same to the father of your children?

            One of the struggles of being a parent is that those other needs get put on a back burner. Itís tremendously important that those needs do not get taken off the stove. One of the best ways a father raises his children is by loving his wife. One of the best ways a mother raises her children is by loving her husband. This is a bit of household wisdom we dare not forget.

            Now, I know many of us are living with broken relationships, where a song of praise has been replaced by a different tune, or by the absence of a song. If itís hard to raise a child when there are two of you, imagine doing so as one. Those of you in that boat long to hear the praise, also, donít you? Maybe thatís where the body of Christ, the church, needs to make its voice heard, to sing out its encouragement: "You are doing a marvelous job as a single parent. Keep it up!" After all, we are a "household of faith," and such is important household wisdom.

            Thatís what Iím here to preach right now - household wisdom. The New Testament letter of James, from which we heard earlier, has sometimes been referred to as wisdom literature. While it is full of down-to-earth, practical theology, we dare not read it simply - like we dare not read Proverbs - as a "how to" book. If we do so, we run the danger of depending more upon our own abilities than upon God, upon our own step-by-step work than upon faith in Christ, which was the Protestant reformer, Martin Lutherís criticism of this book.

            James, like Proverbs, like the sermon on the mount of Jesus, is full of a wisdom which nudges us to become more than we are, in ways that from this point in time we canít quite imagine, but deep down we know is possible. Wisdom is not so much about what you do - though what you do is very important. As James elsewhere says, if you havenít got action to back up what you believe, if your faith doesnít work it way out into how you live, then maybe you havenít got much faith. However, wisdom is not so much about what you do, itís about who you are - the person that God is at work creating you to be.

            In the passage we heard earlier, James sang a song, if you will, about wisdom important to any household. Now, I suppose we could hear this list as a blueprint, as a step-by-step recipe for living. And weíd be right, but.... Well, wonít you read it again with me? The verse I have in mind is printed at the top of your bulletin: "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy" (James 3:17).

            These words, which each pack a wallop, point to good character - the person God is creating us to be. You donít set out to do these things, so much as God is nudging you to become them. I am not the same man, for instance, as the father who once stared out at Williamson road at 3 a.m. and wondered if he could do this parenting thing. While I have a long, long way to go, I am more willing to yield than that brash young man was. Godís wisdom is nudging me and you. How have you changed over the years? How has your spouse? Your child? Have you praised them lately?

            Let me end with an encouragement. Did you know that tomorrow is "Family Day?" Begun in September of 2001 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), Family Day is a call for families to simply eat dinner together, noting that studies have proved that the more often families eat together, the less likely their children will smoke, drink, use drugs, have sex at a young age or get into fights. We should add from a Christian perspective that eating together is also a natural way of passing on the faith. Just a bit of household wisdom.

online resources for these scripture texts

For commentaries consulted, see  Proverbs and James

©2003 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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