Sermon for August 19th, 2018
There is a great quote that I love from Dr. Maya Angelou where she says: “If someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
What she meant, I think, was that people (intentionally or unintentionally) people reveal themselves to you. People show you their character; sometimes people own up to their own personality flaws, but in different ways, people show you who they are. You should believe them. You should believe them the first time they show you.
How many times have we gotten a glimpse of someone’s character and said to ourselves: “Oh, No! This person can’t really be that way. I must have just caught them on a bad day. She can’t really be that negative; He can’t really be abusive?” How many times do we try to justify someone else’s behavior, just so that we don’t have to believe what they have just shown us? We try to convince ourselves that this little character flaw was just an anomaly. How many times have people told us something about themselves and we just dismissed it, thinking that we know them better than they do?
Dr. Angelou’s advice is: don’t do that. You don’t have to figure everything out the hard way. Some things are revealed to you from the beginning. You don’t have to suffer or struggle for the information, it’s right there. You just have to decide to believe it, or not. You just have to decide what you are going to do with that piece of knowledge. It doesn’t mean that you are unforgiving to people, or that you head for the door the first time you see something in someone’s character that you don’t like. What it means is that you keep your eyes open. It means that you do not ignore or forget the information that has been revealed to you.
That, I think, is wisdom. I’m willing to bet that it was wisdom she learned the hard way, but it’s wisdom nonetheless. I am grateful to her for sharing that bit of wisdom with the world, because for those who have the power to receive it, and to believe it, that little piece of wisdom could spare them a lot of grief and heartache. That’s what wisdom does: wisdom wants to help us; to save us from suffering and pain and from making the same mistakes over and over again. Wisdom wants to bless our lives by giving us directions and insights. They can be simple, mundane things, or they can be incredibly profound. Wisdom is all around us, but how often do we ignore it?
How many times do we say to ourselves: that can’t be right…I think I know better? Why is it that we insist on going through life learning things the hard way?
Our Old Testament passage today comes from the Book of Proverbs. We don’t get readings from Proverbs all that often in our Sunday Lectionary and it’s a shame really, because Proverbs is full of wisdom. In fact, in our passage today, wisdom is personified very creatively as a woman. What kind of woman is she, you may ask? Well she is the kind of woman that after doing all the work herself: building her house, slaughtering her animals, making her wine and cooking her meal, she is the kind of woman that after doing all of that says to the simple people outside: “come.” She says: “Come in here and rest. Sit here and eat and drink, because I’ve already done all the work for you.” She doesn’t say: “No! This is mine. I worked for this and you can’t have it!” She says: “Don’t toil and struggle to do it all yourself: look! My table is already set, you just have to stop trying to do it your own way, and you can dine with me.” That is what kind of woman wisdom is. She wants others to benefit from the work that she has done.
And yet, people still reject her offer. People don’t like believing or trusting in things that are revealed to them. For some reason, it’s like we want to learn things the hard way or not at all. We seem to think that the only truths that are really true are the ones that we have discovered, or fought for, or suffered to find out ourselves. But here right in the middle of our Bible is this image of God, divine wisdom saying: “this doesn’t have to be as hard as you are making it. Let me tell you some things about life, and now that you’re listening, let me tell you some things about myself.”
It occurs to me that just as we are inclined to ignore the bad things that people reveal to us, we are also inclined to ignore the good things that God reveals to us. We don’t believe people when they show us who they are, that is why Maya Angelou’s advice is so important: because we should. But I also think that many times we don’t believe God, when he has shown us who he is. We think the only things worth believing are the things we found out ourselves, but that’s not wisdom.
Do you remember the Greek myth about Prometheus? He was the great hero of humanity that had to sneak up to Mount Olympus to steal fire from the Gods, and was punished severely for taking this divine light and bringing it down to mankind. He suffered but was celebrated as the great hero, because he had done it, he had found the precious fire of the Gods and brought it down to Man. That was the Greek myth.
Now look at what our scriptures are saying: our God, the true God, he’s not coveting, our hiding his fire; he’s not keeping his divine light away from humanity; he’s giving it to us…freely. We don’t have to climb up the mountain, he has already come down to us, and what he brought us, it wasn’t just light, or fire, or insight or wisdom…he brought us his own life and offers it to us. That’s a very different story.
We Christians are people who believe in revelation. Our God reveals himself to us; we don’t have to find him. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel in every generation. We don’t have to discover God on our own, because he has been revealing himself since the beginning of time. He reveals himself in the wonders of nature, and in miracles that defy nature; he reveals himself in the prophets and sages that were inspired to write and compile our scriptures; he reveals himself in tradition; he reveals himself most supremely and fully in the life of Jesus Christ; a life that was first revealed to a little Jewish girl saying her prayers; a life that we all partake in when he again reveals himself in the breaking of bread, and in our prayers.
We do not have to find God. He has already found us. His wisdom is inviting us into her house. Are we prepared to take Dr. Angelou’s advice to the next level?
When God shows us who he is, will we believe him?