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Hard Earned Wisdom

Sunday, June 16, 2019. Rev. Dr. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5

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This weekend on the Session retreat, one of the things that your Session spent some time talking about was what kinds of persons we hope to form here at Lewinsville through our children’s ministry, our youth and young adult ministry, and our overall ministry.  How do we hope people will be shaped and formed as a result of their participation in the life of this congregation?  One of the primary words that came out of that discussion was that we hope to form people who are grounded.  People who can handle the curveballs that life throws at them, people who have a certain humble confidence in their approach to life, and people who are deeply rooted and grounded in their faith.  This morning, as we are reflecting together on the Trinity and on our two texts from Proverbs and Romans that Linda read for us, I want to suggest that what we mean by being grounded is that persons will be secure; they will be wise; and they will be resilient.  Secure, wise, and resilient – those are qualities that characterize people who are formed in the church.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God’s love is being eternally poured out between, and out of, the persons of the Trinity – not being stored up, not being hoarded in case of a disaster.  The persons of the Trinity – traditionally named as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – share a perfect flow of love that is the foundational reality of the universe.  The doctrine of the Trinity makes the claim that at the deepest levels of reality, the universe is characterized, not by random chance, not by triumphant violence, and not by arrogant power, but by self-giving love.  If that is true, if you and I live in a universe that is formed and characterized at its deepest levels by self-giving love, then that means that you and I live in a fundamentally safe universe.  This is exactly what the Bible is pointing to when it says things like, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord,” and “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and “do not be afraid.”  All of these kinds of texts point us in the direction of a universe in which we are beloved, in which we are fundamentally secure because we are surrounded by the eternal flow of love that is the nature of God.  (1) People who believe in this Trinitarian God will have a deep and unshakable sense of security in the midst of all of life’s brokenness and chaos.

Our OT text from Proverbs bears witness to the claim that, not only is Love at the heart of the universe, but also Wisdom.  Proverbs 8 is a beautiful poem set in the voice of Lady Wisdom – about whom Christine Yoder gave her spectacular Lenten lectures earlier this year – who stands in the city center, summoning everyone who lives to follow her way of life.  Lady Wisdom does not just call out to Presbyterians or Baptists or Orthodox Jews.  She calls out to everyone, and she says, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work … when there were no depths, I was brought forth. … When he established the heavens.  I was there. …I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.”  According to this poem, the Lord and Wisdom together have made everything.  Which is to say that wisdom is woven into the fabric of creation.  Creation is not random or accidental; it is purposeful and coherent and reliable. That means that when you and I live our lives with wisdom, we are living with the grain of the universe, which means that our lives will be more productive and joyful and meaningful.  The entire book of Proverbs sets up a deliberate contrast between living a life of wisdom and living a life of foolishness.  That which is wise, which is with the grain of the universe, will endure and last and have roots; we should carefully avoid that which is foolish, the book tells us, that which cuts against the grain of creation, because foolishness will eventually perish and vanish and evaporate, even if there are seasons in which foolishness seems to prevail.  The book of Proverbs goes on to spell out, in some detail, what a life of wisdom looks like.  Proverbs talks about things like having an appreciation for good work (12:11, 13:4), by an attentiveness and generosity towards the poor (11:24-25; 22:9), there is much about the importance of speech and the dangers of careless and dishonest speech (10:11, 10:18, 10:31-32, 11:9, 11:12, 12:19), there is material about the risks of taking on too much debt (22:7, 13:11, 22:26-27), there are warnings about being careful about the kinds of people that you hang out with (13:20, 14:7).  The instruction in the rest of the book of Proverbs is very practical guidance, not religious in a sectarian way at all.  And according to our text from Proverbs 8, that kind of practical wisdom has been personally woven into the very fabric of creation by God.  So (2) people who are deeply formed in the church will manifest this kind of wisdom in their lives.

Grounded Trinitarian people of faith will be characterized by a sense of security in the universe and a wisdom about life.  But it’s the third piece from the Romans text that is really interesting.  The Romans text draws our attention to the way that a Trinitarian faith places all of our human lives, and especially the human hardships we undergo, in a larger frame.  When you are suffering, it can feel like you cannot think of anything else; your hurt can easily become your sole object of attention.  All you want is for the hurt to go away.  The broken relationship, or the insult someone gave you at work, or the low grade you got on the exam, or the tightening financial situation, or the medical diagnosis that you didn’t really want.  When these kinds of things happen, it can be as though they set up camp in the center of your field of vision and insist that you only pay attention to them.

Trinitarian faith, according to Romans 5, does not magically make these difficulties go away, but it situates them in a larger frame.  In fact, it situates them in the largest frame possible.  According to Romans 5, our lives – including all of our suffering – are situated as part of the life of God, in which the love that is shared between the Father and the Son and the Spirit is also poured into our own hearts.  The love that is at the foundation of the universe – that is woven into the very fabric of creation – is being poured into your own heart in the midst of whatever you are living through.  This knowledge does not take your suffering away, but it can transform your suffering. It transforms suffering into endurance, which can then become character, which can then become hope.

And this is not some light hope, or wishful thinking, or shallow optimism.  This is a hard-earned hope, a hard-earned wisdom that bears the scars of all the trials you’ve been through.  Hard-earned hope generates a resilience that understands that troubles are going come, but with God’s help, those troubles will not be able to undo you.

Trinitarian faith, the kind of faith we are trying to practice and teach and embody here at Lewinsville, yields people who are secure, who are wise, and who are resilient – in a word, people who are grounded in the midst of life’s turbulence and challenges. That’s where we’re going.

Now, one final coda.  If you’re anything like me, on any given day, instead of being secure, wise, and resilient, you may find that your life is characterized by feeling fragile, and being foolish and anxious. You may feel quite far from being secure, wise, and resilient.  If that is the case, do not be discouraged.  That means that you are still a work in process.  God is still working on you, still forming you, still sanctifying and healing you.  So keep at it.  The journey of faith continues, and God’s love will continue to be poured out into your heart.  To God be all the glory. Amen.