Monday, September 25, 2006

Hi all--sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Here is yesterday's sermon, based on Proverbs 3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight."

There is something wonderful about having a little baby who is just beginning to smile and laugh. One of the things that Gracie enjoys is when her daddy turns her upside down. Daddy lays on his back and holds Gracie on his tummy, standing up, facing his feet. And then Daddy takes her around the tummy and turns her upside down so she is face to face with him, upside down. And often, it makes little Gracie smile a big, upside down smile.

As a kid, I was never very flexible. Actually, that’s true as a grown-up too. Let’s just say stretching was never my strong suit. I didn’t like it. And the less I made myself stretch, the less flexible I got. It’s a vicious cycle. But that being said, I always envied the kids who could stand on their heads. How cool would it be to stand there on your head–to look up and see the grass, to look down and see the sky? But there I stood, and for me, for little un-flexible, balance-challenged me, the grass was always down, and the sky was always up.

Well, most of you here are older than me, so odds are most of you are past your head-standing days, too. For most of us now the sky is always up and the grass is always down. And most of us have come to grips with it. But for those of us who never experienced it, it would be neat just once to look down and see the sky; and for those of you that have experienced it, I bet you’d like to look up and see the grass just one more time. After all, who said the grass has to be down and the sky has to be up?

This text today is written by Solomon. We have been looking at Solomon the last few weeks, seeing his wisdom. The first week, we saw how he asked God for wisdom; last week, we saw how he practiced that wisdom. And this week, we see how he taught that wisdom to other people. Here, we see how a very wise man thought about his wisdom.

And here is what he said: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not rely on your own insight.”

Hmm. This kinda sounds sketchy to me, this bit about not relying on our own insight. I mean, I pretty much trust my insight into situations. I pretty much know who to trust and who not to let in. I pretty much know when something is true, and when something isn’t. I pretty much know when someone is being honest and when someone is being less than honest. I pretty much know all this stuff.

After all, if you can’t trust your own insight, what can you trust? I use my insight all the time. I think I use my insight every day, in fact! If I have a 1:00 appointment in King of Prussia, it’s my insight that lets me plan ahead and say, “You need to leave by 12:30, you need to start wrapping up whatever you’re doing by 12:15, so you can get there on time.” That’s my insight. If I’m visiting a new town and I have to find a building on 5th street, and I’ve gone past 8th St., 7th St., and then 6th St., it is my insight that tells me that 5th St. is probably coming up and I should get ready to turn. That’s insight. We use our insight all the time for all kinds of questions–for where to buy gas; for who to vote for for president; for whether to buy the generic brand of parmesan cheese or spring for the good stuff. It’s all insight. And it seems a bit, well, weird to say we can’t rely on that stuff. It’s part of what it is to be a person.

But I want you to take note of what verb is used here. It does not say, “Don’t use your own insight;” it says that we cannot “rely on our own insight.” This is one of the verses that will always be in my head in the old King James Version of the Bible. It is inscribed in the front of this King James Bible that was given to me for my tenth birthday by my grandmother: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” Maybe that version helps to flesh out our understanding. We can use our insight, we can use our common sense; but we cannot rely on it–we cannot lean on it. It will steer us right much of the time, but we cannot be certain of it.

We have an antique chair in our home; it comes from my great-grandmother, and for a gift for us, my grandmother re-finished it and had it re-caned. It’s beautiful, but it looks like it’s from an era when people were a little smaller than me. Okay, a lot smaller than me. And I don’t use that chair. Why? Well, I don’t trust it to hold me. I know that probably most of the time I could sit on it and be just fine. But I just know that someday if I rest my weight on it, that chair is going to fail me. Our insight is the same way; even while we use it, we’ve gotta recognize that it is not going to work every time. Sometimes, our insight will not steer us right, but will steer us wrong.

For some of us, this is threatening. We like it when things work as they should, when things are ordered rightly. We like it when we know what will come next, when the world works as it ought to. We like it when we know we can trust our insight, when we know that the logical thing will happen, when our insight and common sense are reliable. We like it when things follow the rules. And, to be honest, there is a certain elegance to the way all the rules fit together to work in the world. I’m married to a mathematician, so I have an appreciation for the way all the rules fit together in this amazingly complex, amazingly large pattern.

But there is also something beautiful in saying that the rules don’t always apply. I’ve learned in marriage that mathematicians and theologians need each other. Mathematicians appreciate the elegance of the rules, and theologians are awed by a God big enough to break the rules. Though the universe is huge and complex and beautiful, the Creator is still bigger than his creation. And there are many times when the Creator of the rules has reached and bent the rules in a way that we cannot. And when the Creator does this, when he reaches beyond the rules he has made, amazing things happen. Diseases are cured; conflicts are healed. The dead come back to life. And in this kind of world, a world where God makes exceptions, the most stunning things happen. Instruments of torture like the cross become symbols of new life. Those who are persecuted become the most joyous. The poor are understood to be truly rich and the rich truly poor; the outcasts are given a new chance to relate to God and the pious, religious folks are left on the outside looking in.

We look at this, and we say, “What’s this? This is a world all gone to hell.” But in reality, it’s a world gone to heaven. This is the picture of the Kingdom of God, and it’s all upside-down from the way the rest of the world works. In the Kingdom, we fight by turning the other cheek; in the Kingdom, we conquer by spreading good news of God’s love with our words and with our hands; in the Kingdom, we believe where others doubt; we are joyous where others are cynical; in the Kingdom, even when we grieve, we have hope. The Kingdom is a world upside-down, a world that stands on its head, a world where down is up and up is down.

Do you see now why we must not rely only on our insight? Because our insight says this is foolishness; you fight by shooting at each other, you conquer with bombs and you are always smooth, cool and cynical–this is what insight says. And if you trust in your insight, you will miss it, you will miss the Kingdom; you will miss the elegant way God created the rules of the world, and you will miss the way he goes beyond the rules to bring goodness into the world. If you rely only on your grey, workaday insight, you will miss the Kingdom, a world shot through with color and music, a world where God’s song is sung, a world where God’s art is celebrated, a world where God is all and all else melts away. And if you rely on your insight, you will never see it.

If you rely only on your insight, if you rely only on what makes sense, you will never see a world that makes no sense at all, a world where we are told that the surest way to lose your life is to try to save it, and the surest way to get new life is to give life away; a world where the truly great people are the slaves to all; a world where the executioner’s hard wood and hard nails do not bring death, but bring eternal life.

The world needs people who will not rely on their insight. The world needs people who will live upside-down lives, lives that give away what others hoard to themselves; the world needs you to be a person who lives the Kingdom, someone different in a world where everyone’s the same and most of us are miserable. Come, stand on your head with me; come to a world where you look down and see the sky and look up and see the grass; come to a world where down is up and up is down. Come to the Kingdom of God.