Pastor Kristin Schultz, August 28, 2016: The 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 17 – Proverbs 25

The first lesson this morning is from the book of Proverbs
It’s not a book we read very often in church, and today’s brief and obscure lesson
            doesn’t exactly encourage us to come running for more.
It is chosen to go with the gospel lesson, as Jesus could easily be referring to this proverb when he gives his advice about where to sit at a dinner party.
But, like Jesus’ lesson for the Pharisees,
            the wisdom offered in Proverbs goes much deeper.
Proverbs is a book of wisdom for day to day living.  
It is basically a guide book for living a good life.
And the very first lesson, the foundation for the whole framework of Proverbs,
            is this:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
In every aspect of life – from finances to family, from work to housekeeping to education and citizenship, the starting place is a deep reverence for God.
It is hard to see that reverence in today’s brief lesson,
which is part of a larger section of advice for young men who will be serving at court
It’s basically an admonition to remember your place,
            to avoid being humiliated by placing yourself above your station.
Such warnings do not advocate false humility –
            putting ourselves down to seek praise from others.
But perhaps they do warn against pride.
A number of other places in Proverbs warn against pride,
such as the well-known adage from proverbs, ch 16:
            “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
There is so much in the Christian tradition about the sin of pride.
But that doesn’t mean it is wrong to feel good about ourselves,
            or recognize what we do well.
Admonitions against pride do not ask us to despise ourselves or live in shame.
They do not encourage us to let other people take advantage of us or abuse us.
But texts such as these do invite us to examine what makes us proud.
To look at the things – the objects, good jobs, important dinner guests,
            our resume of good works or daily workouts at the gym –
            that make us feel okay about our selves and our lives.
To recognize that when we are most arrogant, most forceful in protecting our status,
            is when we are most insecure.
And then they invite us to let go of all those external things,
to locate our sense of self in the appropriate place –
            that is, in relationship to God, from whom life itself is a gift.
Pride which is sinful is pride which separates us from God and other people.
It is pride which places our own selves at the center of life,
            which sees other people as a means to an end, or what they can do for us,
            which discounts the suffering of others.
Proverbs reminds us that our pride is in God, and our relationship with God.
God is the source of our goodness and worth.
And Jesus reminds us to see and honor the dignity of all people –
            not for what they are to us, but for who they are as God’s beloved.
When Richard Rohr talks about mature spirituality, or the second half of life,
            he talks about this quality of giving up the identity we have based on doing       and achieving, on being recognized and valued for our accomplishments.
Then was also give up the need to judge other people,
            to compare them to ourselves and one another,
            and move towards greater kindness and openness in all our relationships.
When our relationship with God is primary, we lose the need to please others, to pretend to be something we are not, to meet unrealistic expectations or demands of others.
We are freed to love ourselves and to authentically love and serve others.
In an online discussion about these texts, Seminary President David Lose said,
“It is a theme in scripture that humans are inherently insecure,
            constantly seeking our value and worth in the wrong places
            and comparing ourselves to others.
The invitation of Scripture is to imagine God conveying worth and dignity as a gift.
The challenge is that when we seek our worth in other places,
            we close our hearts to the gift God offers.
We may or may not be aware of seeking other things to fill that place in us
            that can only be filled by God’s love for us,
but it is my guess that many of us here share that sense of insecurity.
That sense of wondering if we are good enough.
That many of us fall in to the trap of comparing ourselves constantly to others,
            rather than relying on our relationship with God to form our sense of self.
How do we place our identity in God?
How do we make “fear of the Lord,”
            or reverence for God and God’s gift of life, the foundation of our sense of self?
How do we counteract all the cultural messages that say you have to have certain things to be happy, or do certain things to be productive and valuable, or know certain things to be important?
There is no easy answer to that. But a partial answer is to continue to come to worship – to be part of a community that affirms God’s love for all people and tries to live that out in our life together.
Another way is in Bible study and prayer. Find those parts of the Bible that talk about God’s love for us, and read them often. Ask God to open your heart.
One thing that has been helpful for me recently is guided meditation, and I’d like to invite you into a simple practice now.
Sit comfortably, close your eyes if that is comfortable, or focus on one thing – the resurrection window, a candle, a flower, the floor.
Take a few deep breaths.
I will say a sentence, and you repeat it to yourself.
I am a beloved child of God.
God created me in God’s own image.
No matter what I do or do not do, God loves me.
No matter what I have or do not have, God loves me.
I am a beloved child of God.
May you go from this place with a deep sense of God’s great love for you.

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