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Receive Wisdom’s Gifts
Summer Quarter: Many Faces of Wisdom
Unit 1: Wisdom in Proverbs
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 21, 2020
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Proverbs 8
Key Verse: Proverbs 8:10-11
To understand that God’s wisdom is more valuable than all the riches of this world
As we begin this week, let me invite you to engage in a thought experiment. Let me ask you to imagine the ideal community – the place where you would want to live. How would you describe the place where you would want to spend the rest of your days?
First, imagine the geography. Be specific. Is your ideal community on the coast? Is the beach a wide expanse of pristine white sand with gentle waves lapping at the shore, or is it strewn with stones smoothed by the relentless pounding of powerful waves? Perhaps you would rather live in the mountains overlooking great forests of towering trees watered by the tumbling waters of crystal creeks running amongst their roots. Piedmont or plains? Take a few moments and imagine the setting in your mind.
Next, imagine your home. Is it a McMansion or a snug bungalow? It could be brand new – built to your exact specifications, or it could be a classic, built years ago when homebuilders took great pride in their craftsmanship. Take a few moments to walk through the house – from the front door through the living room to the kitchen and back to the bedrooms. How many bedrooms? And the furniture? Anything on the walls?
Now let’s go back out in the front yard. Look up and down the street. Is this a neighborhood, an apartment complex, or perhaps instead of a front yard there is a busy street that runs in front of your high-rise condominium? Are you living in a rural community, the suburbs, or possibly you are one of those people who thrives in the midst of a busy metropolis? Think for a few moments about the way you would describe the city where you live: rural; small town; county seat; bustling center of industry, arts, and commerce.
If you have the physical location pretty well in mind, let’s take some time to consider some of the more intangible characteristics of this ideal community. Consider these questions: Do you feel safe in your home, walking down the street, when you are driving to work or running errands? Do you have confidence that you will be treated fairly on the job, at the market, or when you have to attend to business with government officials? Do you expect your neighbors, your acquaintances, and the strangers you meet in the course of your day to treat you with dignity, honor, and respect? Do you expect them to mean what they say and say what they mean? Do you imagine an ideal community as a place where the presence of hope, peace, and joy flourish – as do the people who live there?
Finally, to close this thought experiment, let me ask what you would be willing to pay to live there. How would you assess the value of living in such a place? What would you be willing to embrace, and what would you be willing to discard, in order to create such a community? Is it an asset you would want your children and their children to inherit?
At the opening of Proverbs 8 we find Woman Wisdom raising her voice again. As before, she stands in a place of prominence at the entrance to the city. She has no interest in being subtle; rather she calls out loudly and plainly, imploring people to pay attention to what she has to say:
Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you.
Everything I say is right,
for I speak the truth
and detest every kind of deception. 8:6-7
She seems to anticipate that there are some who will dismiss her instruction as only sweet-sounding words. Some may consider her naive. They may even question her motives. If not that, perhaps they will doubt the efficacy of what she has to say.
She persists; and assures them that the words she has for them carry great value.
Choose my instruction rather than silver,
and knowledge rather than pure gold.
For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies.
Nothing you desire can compare with it. 8:10-11
Indeed, the “good judgment,” the “knowledge and discernment,” the “common sense” and “insight” she has to offer leads to “success” and “strength.” Furthermore, the value of her instruction is made particularly evident when those in positions of authority “fear the Lord.”
Because of me, kings reign,
and rulers make just decrees.
Rulers lead with my help,
and nobles make righteous judgments. 8:15-16
Do you see it? Did you hear what she said? Justice and righteousness are established where those in charge seek God’s wisdom, but wisdom is not reserved for those in authority. This wisdom that leads one to walk blamelessly – to walk in a way that honors God’
s will and purpose – that leads one on the path to righteousness, justice, and equity – is available to all who open themselves to receive it.
I love all who love me.
Those who search will surely find me. 8:17
Here is the great promise: when the people who “fear the Lord” – who show the utmost regard for the ineffable wonder of God’
s presence, power, and glory – welcome the words Women Wisdom has to give them, living in alignment with this instruction creates a community that is priceless – a covenant community where people live in right relationship with one another and with God.
I have riches and honor,
as well as enduring wealth and justice.
My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold,
my wages better than sterling silver!
I walk in righteousness,
in paths of justice.
Those who love me inherit wealth.
I will fill their treasuries. 8:18-21
Creating this kind of community – inheriting this wealth – is also a choice against the alternative. We don’t like to talk about the ugly habits and predilections that corrupt our communities – that set us against one another. We would rather just pretend they are not there. Women Wisdom calls those who will listen to “confess” – to agree that there are destructive forces in the midst of the community, and to “repent” – to choose the better way – God’s way.
All who fear the Lord will hate evil.
Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance,
corruption and perverse speech. 8:13
“Hate.” It is a strong word. “An intense dislike.” “Despising something passionately.” As people who are committed to “walking blamelessly” there can be no compromise with evil, however it expresses itself, whether it is pride, arrogance, corruption, or perverse speech. Communities where these things are ignored, excused, or allowed to multiply are destined for conflict.
In Proverbs 2 we learned that the enduring value of wisdom is that it carries with it the understanding that my relationship with God and my neighbor are more important than any pleasures that might tempt me to do any less than love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love my neighbor as myself (cf. Luke 10:27). Here in Proverbs 8, we learn wisdom is also more important than any riches the world might hold.
Our World Today
As we began, I asked you to imagine your ideal community – where we would want to live and how you would want to feel. I would guess that most of you made your choices based on where you thought you would thrive. As my wife and I consider where we might live in retirement, that is what we are hoping to find.
Unfortunately, there are many who do not have the freedom to choose where they live. Regrettably, where they live – the community that surrounds them – is not a community that is shaped by God’s wisdom.
When they go out for a run, they have to think about the clothes they wear and the route they take. Even in their own home, if police come knocking on their door in the middle of the night, they worry they may not see the sun rise the next morning. What if they make a purchase with a bogus bill, will they be shown the kind of respect we would want to be shown if we made the same mistake?
God has designed us to live in community. For this community to thrive people must be honest and truthful in their dealings with one another. They must treat one another with respect, acknowledging every person’s right to fair treatment without bias toward them because of their race, age, or status. They must be conscientious to avoid playing favorites or to persist in claiming a position of privilege.
The kind of community God desires is not an impossible dream. It is within our grasp, if we will turn to God. Our goal must be to know God and God’s ways more fully and to commit ourselves to follow the path of righteousness, the way of wisdom – to “walk blamelessly.” People of faith must value community as a place where the presence of hope, peace, and joy flourish.
What are some of the policies, principles, and practices that keep your community from becoming the ideal community you imagine?
What would you be willing to give up in order to devote more of your attention to growing in wisdom?
How can people of faith practically express their hatred of the expression of evil in their community in tangible ways that move the community toward God’s vision?
Rev. Ashley Randall is the pastor of Garden City UMC. He is working with a group of faith leaders across Chatham County to help establish the Savannah Area Interfaith Justice Ministry as part of the DART network of congregation-based community organizations (thedartcenter.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.