Audio Sermons, Proverbs, Sermon, Sermons

“Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

(A sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost B–August 19, 2012–Proverbs 9:1-6click here for audio)

They’re partners. They spend a lot of time together. Tim is idealistic and emotional. Frank is cerebral and cynical. Their temperaments clash, and in the day to day of life, they’ve been known to bicker.

Tim feels frustrated because he thinks Frank fails to observe the humane niceties that mark polite interaction, and at the end of what is, well, a bit of a rant, he says, “You never say please! You never say thank you!”

And Frank responds, “Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

Frank and Tim

Maybe some of you will now recognize Frank and Tim, fictional Baltimore Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss, from the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street. It’s a funny little exchange that characterizes their relationship, but it’s also a representation of Frank’s philosophy. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And they are out in the world trying to solve the worst sorts of crimes, so why should it matter whether or not he is polite to Tim? Isn’t the subject of the argument idiotic?

Human beings *can* excel at being idiotic.

Friday morning I was over at George and Carol Black’s house, and as I was leaving, I turned my head left to admire one of their adorable granddaughters at the same time I was turning the rest of me right toward the door and…

And I missed the step I should have known was there, and I came crashing down on the floor.

It’s a pretty basic concept: “Watch where you’re going.”

“Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

Turning into the church driveway Friday morning, I thought of the text. “You that are simple, turn in here.”

I felt pretty simple, which is to say, unwise. It’s not that hard to watch where you’re going. But a propensity for accident is part of the human condition. We’re distracted and out-of-balance and overwhelmed by the demands of life, and the shiny things that loom in front of us, and the “need” to hurry, and even the coo of a baby in a Pack-and-Play.

Maybe we can take some comfort in knowing that people have been this way forever: idiotic, misdirected, out-of-sync, uncoordinated and in need of guidance.

“Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

It’s been suggested to me this week that I’m too hard on myself, but I certainly felt idiotic and embarrassed as I assessed the situation and picked myself up as quickly as possible, getting away before anyone else could see the damage.

I came back to church and looked for the First Aid Kit in the kitchen, only to discover that we really need a new one. Then Lyn sent an email to the Trustees asking if they would replace it, and since George is a Trustee, the Blacks quickly figured that I was the patient in need.


And since I know they know, well, here we all are no longer wondering why I’m wearing a specially purchased Band-Aid that fits on a knee.

“You that are simple, turn in here.”

Turn into Wisdom’s House. The book of Proverbs personifies Wisdom as a feminine figure of power who partnered with God in Creation.* The Hebrew and Greek words for Wisdom and the Spirit of God were feminine; this is an ancient understanding lost when the Greek became Latin and the Spirit of God became masculine instead.

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.

She has built the place herself, carving the entrance from wood or stone. She is wise and accomplished in matters both discerning and practical.

She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.

Wisdom prepares the table for those who need what she will serve; she oversees every detail of the meal and its presentation.

She has sent out her servant girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, “You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom invites the simple, those without sense, to come and gain maturity and insight. And it fascinates me that it’s not a lecture hall in which the answers will be given, or the Temple or some other place of worship. It’s a house where a banquet will be served, where bread and wine will be shared.

Wisdom comes through the senses, for those without the sense to watch where they are going.

“Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

“You that are simple, turn in here.”

Frank is tough on Tim. He’s tough on everybody. He’s an educated Catholic, the product of Jesuit schools. He is well-read and widely knowledgeable. He is scarred by the world and defends his heart with his intellect. His retorts are smart, and he knows a lot, but he could use a dose of insight about the value of the living people around him, the people, like Tim, who care about him.

We all know people who are smart but have no sense, don’t we?

Yes, I recognize me. I haven’t always been wise. I’ve looked away from where I was headed toward the person I thought others wanted me to be, without enough thought for what God really had in mind or who God made me to be.

Or which step I was about to miss.

“Please don’t be an idiot. Thank you.”

Frank is a homicide detective, and it is his job to look at terrible things and to solve horrible crimes. He is not just disappointed in people. Having seen the depraved way people harm each other, he is disappointed in the God who created them. We can blame God for letting us be free-wheeling … idiots. That seems to be part of the set-up, doesn’t it? We are here walking off steps while looking the other way, as if we didn’t have the sense God gave a goose.

We do worse things, too. Frank wants God to do a better job keeping order, and I sometimes agree with him. We see the terrible things people do to each other, the rough handling and rude dismissals and thoughtless neglect and outright violence.

But here’s what Frank, with all his learning, misses.

“You that are simple, turn in here.”

He misses the invitation. And it’s for all of us. Because believe me, no matter how good our grades were once upon a time, no matter how we excel in our work, no matter how well we have developed our gifts and talents, we are all simple. And knowing how we are, God has not left us alone in the world. God came to us in Jesus. God remains with us in the Holy Spirit, at the table of Wisdom.

God calls to us, all the time:
“You that are simple, turn in here.”

We probably wouldn’t want to paint that on the church sign, nor would we buy an ad in the paper saying, “Those without sense, come eat our bread!” And churches are not always the ultimate in wise institutions. We don’t know everything, and we don’t get everything right, with each other or with the world. But the good news is that when we are misdirected, out-of-sync, uncoordinated and in need of guidance – even when we’re downright idiotic – and even when we’ve done wrong – we are welcome to turn in here. The doors are open. The coffee is hot. We’re all in the same situation, and some of us are even willing to admit it.

Maybe we’ll even help each other get up again after a fall.

So, please, don’t be an idiot. Thank you. Turn in here. Amen.

*Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney for her insight and scholarship on this passage at Working Preacher.

Common English Bible, Learned From My Mother, Proverbs

The Wardrobe

I started snooping so young, I needed to stand on a chair.

My mom died before my dad, and he was adamant that other than her clothes, nothing of hers was leaving the house while he was still in it. But because I was the kind of daughter who liked to look through her mother’s drawers—I must confess it—I knew which drawer had the good jewelry, and which had the pretty costume pieces and where the out-of-style pins from the 1960s and 70s had landed in the guest room.

And I knew that in the drawer with the precious jewelry was a clipping, an old Ann Landers column encouraging children not to fight over their parents’ things, whether money or material objects. My brother wasn’t inclined to snoop in drawers, but he knew how our mother felt about it, too, because she talked about it when she was dying, too young.

Don’t fight over things. That was her sermon, delivered gently, subtly, never to both of us at the same time.

My father heard it, too, and somehow we knew, my brother and I, how to proceed. We took turns choosing, first in this room, then in that. We sat down at the dining room table, the one that’s in my house, and went through the things in the safety deposit box, where we discovered our dad had moved a *few* things of our mother’s. We considered our daughters and divided the good jewelry.

A huge moving van pulled up outside our parents’ house in Virginia, and the movers packed it in two sections, one for Pennsylvania and one for Maine. This was a long time ago, fourteen years, and the things that came to my house are worn down now by dogs and children, showing their age.

So it was strange to visit my brother recently for the first time in many years and see how the other half of the material objects had fared. There are three children in his family, too, and dogs have lived in his home, but somehow everything at his house looks just the same as it did when we packed it on the truck in 1998. The things I hadn’t seen in such a long time looked so shiny and pretty; I stood in front of a mirrored wardrobe and caressed the gleaming wood.

I had a moment, just a little moment, of remembering how we divided things up, of the place where the system failed, when I realized his wife had written a list and helped him develop a strategy, so that even though we had promised to do this just the two of us, she was there.

My brother might tell the story differently. I assumed he wouldn’t care about the old-fashioned music box if he could have the Grandfather clock, but later he told me that he couldn’t have chosen the music box because I had been so vocal about wanting it.

We all have our stories.

In Proverbs 3 we read:
Happy are those who find wisdom
and those who gain understanding.
(Wisdom’s) profit is better than silver,
and her gain better than gold.
Her value exceeds pearls;
all you desire can’t compare with her.
In her right hand is a long life;
in her left are wealth and honor.
Her ways are pleasant;
all her paths are peaceful.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who hold her tight are happy.
The LORD laid the foundations of the earth with wisdom,
establishing the heavens with understanding. (Proverbs 3:13-19, CEB)

My mother with #1 Son, January 1993, in the house where everything is shiny in my memory.

Our memories are like that wardrobe, drawers and shelves of treasures, hangers holding banners of the past. When I think of the things my parents collected, the ones in my brother’s house and the ones in mine, what matters about them is not their value or even how well-polished they are. What matters is the joy my dad took in buying a print he loved or the image I can conjure of my mother getting dressed for a party then taking off one piece of jewelry. What matters is sitting around the table we shared and laughing with the next generation the way we told stories with the last. What matters is the hope they had for their children, that we would love the memories of them stored in our wardrobes and have the wisdom to let the rest go.