Proverbs 31:10-31; Mark 9:30-37
Last Friday, Mike and I went to see a movie. We both enjoy baseball, so we saw Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve. The movie is about Gus, a 60-something scout for the Atlanta Braves. He’s beginning to experience some vision problems, but he doesn’t rely just on his eyes to determine who is a winner.
Longing to take his place is Phil, who rarely sees a game, live or on TV. He depends on computer lists of statistics to determine the best of the new talent available. It all comes to a climax a few days before the draft. The guy being scouted is Bo Gentry.
Phil says, loudly and repeatedly that the figures don’t lie; they should not bother watching him play, they should just plan on drafting him. Meanwhile, Gus and his daughter Mickey sit in the stands to watch Bo in action. He is a powerful slugger, hitting anything that comes his way out of the ballpark. He is also an obnoxious, arrogant jerk.
I won’t spoil the movie for you, but the plot is about wisdom. Is it wise to depend on an old guy with health issues seeing a player in action, or is it better to look at the statistics, which don’t lie?
Our texts for today are about wisdom: the capable wife in Proverbs, the wise person in the Psalm, the pure wisdom from above in James, and the wisdom of knowing your place in the Gospel.
The wise woman in Proverbs is often lifted up as the perfect symbol of a submissive wife. She does everything for her family: cooking, cleaning, shopping, planting and harvesting. She looks wonderful, doesn’t she?
Except, she does nothing for herself, unless you count her perfect hair and clothing. Most modern women would say they want more than that. But, when we look closer at the text, we notice there’s a lot more to her. This woman managed to scrape together enough cash to purchase land, plant a vineyard, and harvest it. Where, I wonder, did she get the money? And how was she able to purchase land, in a time when women are not permitted to own land?
She is a merchant, growing flax, making the thread, weaving the cloth, dying it, and selling it for profit. The family is wealthy – only wealthy families could afford to wear red and purple. I also note that she does not work alone. She has serving girls to help her. She is aware of the community around her, sharing her wealth with those in need. She opens her hands to those in need, the text says.
This woman manages a very large household and she demonstrates wisdom in the way she manages it in keeping with God’s purposes.
For Jesus, wisdom is in knowing one’s place in God’s family. The disciples are excited about being with the Messiah. They argue about who is the best, who is the most important, who is the leader among them. In response, Jesus finds a child in the crowd and puts her front and center. “Listen to me,” he says. “This child is more important than any of you! When you welcome her, you welcome me in God’s name. So, stop your posturing for first place and think about serving others instead of yourselves.”
The more we seek to be first, the more God wants us to be last. The more we put ourselves last, serving others, the more God raises us up to be first. Of course, we can’t tell ourselves we will start out last so that God can make us number one; God sees through our intentions. God wants us to have a heart for serving others.
Former Army Sergeant Adam Burke knows the wisdom of serving. He served his country in Iraq, but when he came home, he knew he needed to do more. One day, he was eating in a restaurant, but he was not very hungry. A person next to him spoke. “Are you going to eat your meal? If you’re not going to eat it, can I have it?” Sergeant Burke looked at the man, then looked at the floor near him. He noticed the patches on his duffel bag; the man was a veteran, living on the street, homeless.
Sergeant Burke had the wisdom to realize he was called to continue serving. He established Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Florida, to give injured and disabled veterans a place to rehab, to relearn social skills, to help them get jobs, to help them learn to manage their PTSD. Veterans Farm partners with a larger organization called “The Mission Continues.” Vets are carefully screened and work for six months learning all aspects of the farming business on a 5 acre organic farm. They, too, have the opportunity to gain wisdom.
God’s wisdom is available to all of us, if we pay attention. It comes to us through the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us in quiet whispers, in loud shouts, in challenges to do more, in open doors, and through closed doors which lead us down new pathways.
This week, I invite you to be on the lookout for wisdom. Who speaks words of wisdom to you? When do you offer wisdom to someone else? Is it perceived as wisdom or as simply words? Who do you notice has a good idea, demonstrating practical wisdom?
In this era of lots of words and images related to political leadership, please have the wisdom to check the facts before deciding for whom you will vote. Which candidate, which new regulation, offers the most wisdom? Which candidate will be more focused on serving instead of seeking to be first?
Please pray with me. Jesus, you are our Servant and our Savior. Help us to discover – over and over again– the wisdom to be found in serving you through serving others. Amen