Bigger Than Mom and Dad Together
Proverbs 1:1–19 | A Time Be Wise Sermon Series | Seventh Sunday After Pentecost | July 12, 2015
Minnesota loves to tout itself as the land of 10,000 Lakes and of course there are a lot of lakes in this state. But coming from Michigan, I kind of like to partly scoff at this since we are surrounded by four big lakes. The Great Lakes have always fascinated me because of their size. They are not like most lakes we know where we can usually see the other side. The Great Lakes are basically freshwater seas. Like other seas, ships from around the world traverse the five lakes loaded with materials. Cities like Detroit or Chicago or Duluth are inland ports where ships come in and out during the year. Here in Minnesota, we do butt up against one of the Great Lakes; Lake Superior. Superior is the biggest lake of them all, in fact, it is the second largest lake in the world. Whenever I drive up Highway 61 north of Two Harbors, I love to look out at it and just take in the vastness of it all. I know folks like Jan and John can tell stories about sailing on the lake and I have to think for me it would be both thrilling and scary because the lake is so big…and dangerous.
The idea of a lake makes us think that the Great Lakes are nice placid places, but history tells us that they are not peaceful. This November is the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a ship carrying iron ore from Duluth to Detroit. Immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot, the ship hit a wicked storm, something that is common on Superior in November which caused the ship to sink. The Edmund Fitzgerald is just one of many shipwrecks on the lake. Superior is awesome. It is beautiful. It is also not safe.
We are starting a sermon series on wisdom and some of the series will spend time in Proverbs. Following Psalms, it’s easy to think the two books are similar, but they aren’t. Psalms is more like a hymnbook; but Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings. You can imagine someone who is not young, but old enough to have gained some idea on how life really works and this person wants to impart that to a younger person. So Proverbs 1 starts off telling people what they will expect. The first five or six verses talk about the importance of learning wisdom and you can get the image of wisdom as something you learn from a teacher. In fact, it’s easy to confuse wisdom with education, the acquisition of knowledge. But wisdom here is not about learning more facts; it’s about getting to know God and your place in the universe.
Verse seven says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Now, when I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what the word fear meant here. It was used a lot in the Bible and it confused me. Why were we supposed to be scared of God? I thought we were supposed to love God.
The writer of Proverbs is not saying that we should be fearful of God in the way of God coming down to smite us for the smallest infraction.
What does it mean to fear God? Some scholars have said that fearing God means having reverence for God instead of fright. But as I’ve grown older I think there is a case to be made that fearing God does mean reverence and it also means fright.
When I look at Lake Superior, I get caught up in its vastness. I can look out from the shore and I can’t see the other side at all. If I look to the left, I see nothing but water. If I look to the right, I see nothing but water. I can appreciate the sheer expanse of this body of water.
But I am also scared to death of it. It’s big. It’s cold. It’s deep. People have died traversing its waters. It’s not a safe lake.
God is to be revered. God is vast and you can’t easily define God. But read enough of the Old Testament, you can see that God is also a bit dangerous. God isn’t safe.
I’ve shared this story before, but in the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, two of the children, Susan and Lucy have a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the King, Aslan the Lion:
“Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”4
God is awesome, but God isn’t safe. When we encounter something that is dangerous we learn to respect it. Boaters know how to respect the water, because what can give joy can also kill. We are taught or should be taught to respect fire.
Fearing God means respecting God’s power. God isn’t safe. This is the God that brought the Israelites out of Egypt and brought down Pharaoh and his army. This is the God that used Gideon and just a handful of people without weapons and took down the Midianite army. It’s the God that in Jesus preached the good news, and was also crucified by those that didn’t want to understand him. God is good, but not safe.
To fear God is to understand that we are not God. Just like the boater can’t get to confident out on the lake, we understand that we are who we are, not God. God seeks to be in relationship with us, but that only makes sense when we see that we are not God. When we realize we are not in charge, then we can learn from God, then we can learn wisdom.
In the second season of the Simpsons, Bart is trying to study for a history test that he has to pass. When also seems hopeless, he prays to God for some way to delay the test. Lo and behold his prayers are answered: it starts snowing. The next day, school is cancelled and Bart is ready to go out and play in the snow, when his sister Lisa stands in front of him in the hallway. She tells Bart she heard him praying the night before. She says she doesn’t know everything about God, but she understands God’s power. “He’s a force bigger than Mom and Dad together,” she says “and you owe him big.”
Wisdom starts when we can fear God, when we realize God is bigger than Mom and Dad together. It starts when we realize we aren’t the center of the universe.
The lake is big. Let’s put on our safety vests and get out and experience the profound love of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.