So Many Voices

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

January 10, 2010

Proverbs 1:1-16, 20-23
“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young—
Let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.  My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent.  If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit.  We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty.  Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”— my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood.

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.”

The text Justin just read for us is from our Year of the Bible reading from Proverbs.
But, before we leave the lectionary again, I want to make note of what today is on the liturgical calendar. Today is the baptism of the Lord Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist.
Last year, we heard Mark’s account of the baptism. Today, let’s listen to Luke’s account, from chapter 3, beginning in verse 21:

Luke 3:21-22, 4:1-13

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,
for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Proverbs is a book of wisdom. This is a genre of literature that is elsewhere in the Bible—Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, etc—but it is also a genre of literature found outside of scripture, in other neighboring cultures. Egypt, particularly, produced a lot of wisdom literature, back in the day.

Proverbs claims to be written by Solomon, and perhaps that is so. Earlier in our Year of the Bible readings, we learned that he was credited with writing over 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32). Perhaps these are among that very large number. If so, that makes him the Stephen King of Proverbs.

In any case, the goal of the proverbs is to both instruct people in the ways of Wisdom and to instill people with a Fear of the Lord.

And it is written in “family” language—a father instructing his son to listen to his parents!
Perhaps, parents, you could consider parts of Proverbs to be a “greatest hits” of the things we tell our kids—
Put on your coat!
Wear clean underwear!
If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?
Make Good Choices!

I am kidding, sort of.
But there is something about families that fill us with advice. We want the ones we love to do well. We want them to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, as it were. We don’t want them to go through the heartbreak we’ve experienced.

We want the ones we love to listen to Wisdom as she stands on the corner crying out. We don’t want them to hang out with those ne’er do well thugs.

Note that in the book of Proverbs, we aren’t the wise parents. Or Wisdom herself. We are the unnamed youth who is being instructed to listen to the right voices. We can listen to wisdom. We can listen to our parents. Or we can listen to the thugs who hang out on the street corners with their pants sagging.

While the book of Proverbs talks about fools and teaching shrewdness to the simple, there is also instruction to those who are already wise. “Let the wise also hear and gain in learning”.  However much (or little) common sense we already seem to possess, the author of Proverbs wants to remind us that we can always learn. That as long as we are on this journey called life, we are called to continue learning. We are called to keep trying to choose wisdom over foolishness.

Jesus has a similar situation. Conflicting voices are competing for his attention as well. He can listen to the voice of his father—‘you are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased”. Or he can listen to the voice of John the Baptizer, which we heard last month during Advent, calling people to live a life worthy of the kingdom of God.

But Jesus’ baptism is different than ours. I hope. Because as soon as his baptism is over, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he fasted and is tempted by Satan for 40 days.
Or maybe it was just like your baptism. I don’t know.

But Jesus is dealing with conflicting voices, just as the unnamed youth in Proverbs. Just as we do.

Does he listen to the tempting voice of Satan, the tempter, who offers him fame, fortune, and, power? Or does he remember the voice of his parent, “you are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”?

We probably think—he’s Jesus—of course he was going to make the right decision!
But comparing these texts this week, I thought about God’s role as parent in this story. God has just told Jesus, “you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased” and then that Spirit takes Jesus out in to the wilderness. “We know nothing good ever happens in the wilderness! What is he thinking, going out there?!!!”
But God the parent just sits back, thinks, “I’ve instructed him in wisdom, he knows how much he is loved, and I’m sure it will be fine.” deep breath.

And then, like all parents who can’t quite fall asleep until their teenager safely parks the car in the driveway, God waits those 40 days while Jesus is out, hearing all of those other voices.

Jesus does manage to listen to the correct voice. The devil’s offer of fame, power, and wealth doesn’t over power the voice of God, “you are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”

Jesus heard the right voice, but we often live our lives as if God’s voice is a distant memory. Or as if we think God were talking to someone else.

One of our understandings of baptism is this—when we are baptized, we are joined with Christ in his baptism. Which means that our lives are bound with his and his with ours. His resurrection will become our resurrection. Our sufferings are his sufferings.

And I’ve said this before, and you’ll hear me say it again. But when God tells Jesus, “you’re my beloved child and with you I am well pleased”, God is telling us the same thing.

Our baptism in this water, or in whatever font where you were baptized, is a baptism into the family of God. We are not God’s beloved children because we’ve earned the right to be. We are not God’s beloved children at the exclusion of some of the other children on this planet. We are God’s beloved children because of the mysterious and unmerited grace of God.

And sometimes that voice from the heavens, reminding us of the love and pleasure God takes in us, sometimes that voice is overshadowed by the voices in the wilderness. Like the unnamed youth in Proverbs, like Jesus in the wilderness, we are called, each day, to listen, again and again, for the right voice. We are called, each day, to follow the right voice.

Last year the children helped me pass out little beads of water so that you could take them home and remember your own baptism whenever you saw your water bead. The font is full, again, with beads of water for you. If you didn’t get one last year, or if you just want another, I invite you to come up to the font and get one during our next hymn.

And above all, in whatever wilderness you may find yourself, listen for the voice of Wisdom, the voice of God, and remember that you are God’s beloved child. In you God is well pleased. Alleluia. Amen.

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