Proverbs Says . . .

A sermon based on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 6, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott

We just heard some proverbs from the Book of Proverbs. A proverb is wise saying. Before I address the Biblical proverbs I thought it would be fun to hear a top ten list of some proverbs I found on line.
The Number 10 proverb on Scott’s list of top ten modern proverbs: A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory

Number 9: If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments

Number 8: Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

Number 7: He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Number 6: A day without sunshine is like night.

Number 5: On the other hand, you have different fingers.

Number 4: The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese from the trap.

Number 3: Consider what happens if you get scared half to death . . . twice.

Number 2: When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.

And finally the Number 1 Scott’s top ten modern proverb: Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

Those humorous modern proverbs are of course not in the Bible’s Book of Proverbs, but there are actually some Biblical proverbs that are funny. Here’s one of my favorites because I find it true at least with respect to me: Proverbs 16:31: ‘Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (If only I could convince my Fundamentalist opponents to take that literally).

Proverbs 27: 14 (The Message) is another funny one in the Bible which applies to people around me before my morning coffee: “If you wake your friend in the early morning by shouting “Rise and shine!” It will sound to him more like a curse than a blessing.”///

The Book of Proverbs has criticism about men who mosey about and do-nothing, but those critiques can also be mined for excuses that have not been used in a few thousand years.

Like Proverbs 22:13 which reads “The lazy person claims, ‘There’s a lion out there! If I go outside, I might be killed!’” Consider using that next time the lawn needs mowing. (Let me know how it goes!)
I recently read this proverb in a restaurant and actually laughed out loud, Proverbs 11:22 provides “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout, is a beautiful face on an empty head.” (The Message).

Okay, two more real Proverbs from the Bible that we can smile at: Proverbs 10:10 tells us “Whoever winks the eye causes trouble” Sarah Palin might want to stop winking or Westboro Baptist Church may protest her events!

Today’s final funny Bible proverb is found at Proverbs 26: 15. It advises that “A shiftless sluggard puts his fork in the pie, but is too lazy to lift it to his mouth . . .”

I can honestly say that I have never been that lazy . . . but maybe it is because I love pie!

Although I just read some funny Bible proverbs, mostly the Book of Proverbs contains good sayings and advice. We heard some in the reading that I will get to in a few moments, but, I want to provide some background on the Book of Proverbs first, as well as list some other good sayings.

The Book of Proverbs is a “collection of collections” of what are called wisdom sayings. Some of the proverbs are thought to date as far back as the Exile in the 6th Century B.C. with newer ones being as young as the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century B.C. 1

These sayings come from very different places and times, and their context in many respects is not at all like ours. There are strange sayings and some we can understand with a little digging, like looking down on eye winking is probably a reference to secret winks to signal a trick or deceit, which is actually a way winks are still used.

And since elite men wrote and recorded Proverbs in very patriarchal cultures there are very sexist sayings and images which we can set aside or a need to make applicable to both genders.

As I indicated there are also good useful-in-life sayings. Proverbs universal in application which can have meaning today, and some can be heard as an early foundation for Jesus’ theology of love. Proverbs 17 states “A friend loves at all times . . .” and Proverbs 21 (21) notes that whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.” Proverbs 10 (7) which I often quote in funerals provides that “The memory of a good person is a blessing.”

There are also numerous Bible proverbs concerning specific types of behavior, many address adultery and a lot address deceit and honesty, and more than a few address laziness and foolishness.
And there are even admonishments to be nice, like Proverbs 11(12) which bluntly states “Whoever belittles another lacks sense . . . ”

So there are lots of threads in the wisdom literature of Proverbs and it is actually a pretty easy read which I recommend.

One thread of Proverbs that I have not yet discussed is the one highlighted in our Lectionary reading. It’s a thread about being kind and loving on a life altering and transformative scale. It’s about justice, Biblically a word that means each is to receive what is due. 2 In other words each is to get what is needed. We can hear justice issues of need dealt with in the Lectionary reading today which begins by noting that the rich and poor have in common the fact that God made them both. As the handiwork of God all people deserve the respect and reverence and care due to God’s very own creation.So we also hear in today’s lesson very clear commandments to“not rob the poor . . . or crush the afflicted at the gate” which other translations say means to “to not oppress the needy in the gate.” The gate was where both business and justice of the culture were transacted.

The reference to not oppress at the “gate” reminded me of something not so good experienced this summer. I don’t know how everyone felt but I got a very oppressive sense when I walked in the east gate at our county fair and immediately faced in the vendors’ alley dozens of Confederate flags flapping in the wind as symbols of our nation’s crushing oppression of our Black brothers and sisters. No one should have to see those awful flags fluttering as a jarring fanfare greeting of bigotry at the gate of a county run affair. Other fairs banned the vending of them.

And if those flags tainted this very White looking man’s experience imagine how unwelcoming, if not frightening, it would be for those the flag was designed to help oppress, and rally others to allow or participate in their oppression. It is especially potent since our fairgrounds were once owned by the Klu Klux Klan which resided in this county and served to terrorize citizens, and the KKK also waves that awful flag.

And I doubt it is a coincidence that the week after the fair Columbus Avenue, Mount Vernon’s primary gateway to Ariel Foundation Park, sprouted houses flying new fresh unfurled Confederate flags, waving at all who went to and from the park the oppressive banner of bigotry, a reminder of our nation’s crushing of the afflicted in our neighborhoods, our businesses and our economic, educational and civil and criminal justice systems.

Today churches around the country are lifting up the idea of ending racism. Today was recently declared “Ending Racism Sunday.” See there is a sense among many that it is time to stop denying, ignoring, tolerating and excusing its existence.

Black lives matter equally to God and they need to matter equally in our culture–and they don’t. The fact that banners with an undeniable heritage and message of hate toward Black men, women and children greeted us – and our Black neighbors and guests– to our county fair and have waved to many people going in and out of our world class park evidences oppression– it is oppression.

As I preached in July that terrible flag, the Battle flag of the Confederate Army of Virginia, “is woven with the fabric of racism, soaked in the blood of the oppressed and stained with the tears of millions of Americans long denied equal rights . . .” Whatever benign symbolism some attribute to it, it was designed for use by a military force killing and fighting our American Army in a bloody effort to immorally uphold and defend slavery and it’s ugly awful torture of Blacks. And it’s since been used to terrorize Blacks and as an ugly reminder and symbol of the oppression of Blacks, oppression which continues in a number of forms at many levels in our culture.

Today’s Proverb that commands we not oppress the oppressed, ends with the declaration that God will take up the case of the oppressed and despoil the life of the oppressors. It’s very serious stuff to oppress people. So serious we are told that God personally sides against oppression, pleads the oppressed case, and doles out punishment to oppressors.

And it is not just overt racism and oppression of minorities. We have to provide justice to the poor too, all the poor. Proverbs 17 (5) states “those who mock the poor insult their maker.” And God’s not just reserving punishment for those who intentionally hurt the poor. According to Proverbs 21 (13) there are Divine penalties for just not taking action. We are told that “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.”

Of course there’s also rewards for those who listen and act and help the poor. Proverbs 22 (9) points out that “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” Proverbs 19(17) actually asserts that “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”

All of this justice stuff to end oppression in Proverbs sure sounds a lot like what Jesus later tells us in Matthew 25, that what we do to outcasts, we do to the Lord–and that nations will be held accountable for how they treat the least among us. In fact – like Jesus– Proverbs claims government’s are judged by how they treat those in need. Proverbs 29(14) puts it like this: “If a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be established forever.” And Proverbs 28:3 states that “A ruler who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.”

And, again, it is not just tending to the poor, but stopping oppression, like racism that gets Divine reward, Proverbs 21 tells us that “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous [and] dismay to evil doers.” Justice is a four-for-one deal the oppressed get justice, the righteous get joy and evil doers are dismayed, plus it pleases God.

And so we’d all do well to follow the wisdom of the command in the closing chapter of the Book of Proverbs (31:8-9) which sums up our marching orders like this:

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

“Proverbially” speaking, we are to desire the well being of others, most especially the poor and afflicted – those who are oppressed. And Proverbs does not just mean the oppressed we personally know or like. Proverbs 25(21) tells us

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty give them water to drink . . .

And in case we think this just means we are to toss only bread and water at our hungry enemies, Jesus issued a command we rarely hear raised by Bible thumping religious elite and letters-to-the editor writers. Jesus makes it clear to all who will listen that we have the obligation to love our enemies. Which, of course, is a means to the end of having no enemies, whether we hate, dislike or look down on them because they are warring with us, of another faith, poor, or their skin is a different color. We are to love everyone.

In my all time favorite sermon every recorded, “The Sermon on the Plain” Jesus says in Luke 6 that

“[ ] I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Sounds to me like Jesus knew The Book of Proverbs and put the love and justice oriented Proverbs into action.

As we celebrate Jesus’ table, the Lord’s Supper this morning may we reflect on how we might do that as well. And on this “End Racism Sunday,” let us especially consider how might do just that to end racism, so that one day no one is treated unequally or ever greeted by unfurled flags or acts of oppression.

Amen.

ENDNOTES:
1.New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. V, p 20-21.
2. Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms at “Justice”

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