Proverbs 31; Psalm 1 (Proper 20B)
Baptism of Silas Kazimir Reynolds
There is something really wonderful about the connection and dialogue between the reading from Proverbs 31 this morning and Psalm 1. Proverbs 31 sings the praises of the woman of true wisdom, here the “capable wife.” She is a renaissance woman, as we see, gifted not only in the performance of the traditional domestic arts, but also and more expansively in the management of the family’s real estate and investment portfolio and in the supervision of both the household staff and those who work for the family’s farms, orchards, and vineyards. She keeps the books, pays the bills, organizes payroll, manages HR and I suppose IT. She is CEO, COO, CFO. And strong--not just physically, but also in terms of personality and moral character. She is rich in her relationship and care for husband and children, of course, but anyone who thinks that the Bible promotes a submissive and retiring view of women with the mentality that “Father knows best” clearly hasn’t met the “good wife” of Proverbs 31. Not simply adored and loved by her husband and children but also respected and depended upon. And above all of course her strength of mind and character and her endowment of all good gifts is rooted in the deepest soil of all: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
We set this alongside the great opening anthem of the Book of Psalms, Psalm I, Beatus Vir: “Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he will exercise himself day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth his fruit in due season. His leaf also shall not wither. And look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.”
Our current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori back at the beginning of her term of office and frequently in following years would preach and speak about the theme of “God’s Shalom.” Shalom. A word that can literally be translated “peace,” and of course is used often in both ancient and modern Hebrew to be both a greeting and a farewell. It’s a peace that is much more than simply the absence of conflict. All about contentment, prosperity, security, and well-being, with edges that are both rooted in the individual but also connected inextricably with the community. “Shalom.” Like “aloha,” I think, in Hawaiian. The most affectionate sign of welcome and a sincere blessing at farewell. (What the Vulcans mean by “Live long and prosper.”) We hear that in the gospels so often, as Jesus would begin, “Peace be with you.” “Shalom.” And it is God’s Shalom that is at the heart of Proverbs 31 and Psalm 1. The complementary templates of our human identity. A glimpse perhaps in the moment of where Adam and Eve might have gone, what life in the Garden might have been like, if it weren’t for the fall. Aligning us body, mind, and spirit, with our true selves. The sense of connection and concurrence and symmetry between our human thoughts and actions and the daily tasks of our domestic and cultural and economic lives and the foundational template of God’s wisdom and intention. Hitting on all eight cylinders.
I’m in a Bible Study with a group of colleagues on Tuesday mornings and since re-started this month after a bit of time off for the summer we have begun to study together the Book of James, which is also a sequence right now in the Sunday lectionary, and just this past week we spent quite a bit of time talking about that wonderful and familiar and always challenging exhortation in the first chapter—“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” What our two subjects this morning are lifted up to exemplify so beautifully, graciously, gracefully. The Good Wife, the Blessed Man. They both hear the word, are deeply grounded in it, but they are not “hearers only.” All that they say and all that they do grows out of what they have heard and read and learned in a perfect and organic way. God’s word is not simply what they read and know and understand, though it is that. It is even more who they are, and what they do, how they live. They are both hearers and doers.
It is all one thing. If you want an apple tree, plant an apple seed. If you want tomatoes, plant tomatoes. And if you want wisdom, if you want blessing, if you want a life of God’s shalom, if you want to grow into the fullness of God’s love, then plant God’s word in the soil of your life, in your mind, and heart, and imagination. And grow from that seed, so that the word we meet in scripture and the word we meet in sacrament is who we are and who we are becoming day by day.
I mention sometimes a word that comes from German Biblical studies, “heilsgeschicte.” Literally “the holy story.” But in use what this means is that point when we stand back from reading and studying and analyzing the Bible in bits and pieces—though there is a time and a place for that. But when we step back and see the whole sweep, from Creation to Consummation, Genesis I to the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation to St. John. All one story, and not just a story out there.
And our story. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, Prophets and Kings, the friends who walked with Jesus through the Galilee and to Jerusalem. The women at the tomb on Sunday morning. The disciples in the Upper Room on Whitsunday. As I have told the story maybe too many times of the time at St. Mark’s in Berkeley back in the early 1970’s when I noticed a little magazine on the table in the reading area of the library, with the title, “Acts 29.” How later when I was at home I remembered that and, curious, opened my Bible to see what Acts 29 was about. Only to discover that the Book of Acts in the Bible has 28 chapters. Not like the walls were shaking or anything, but a little lightbulb went on for me. Acts 29. What happens next. Our story.
And how when that story becomes not old stories of people and places long ago and far away, of remote literary and historical interest, but our story, then that story begins to take hold of us in our minds and hearts and souls and imaginations in a new way. Fresh and new and even urgent. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
(And how appropriate to say that this morning, as we gather at the font as a congregation and with family and friends to celebrate the baptism of Silas Kazimir Reynolds. Thinking about the loving and eager promises of his parents and godparents, Chuck and Julia, Graham and Lindsay—and all of us as we respond to that great question, “will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Silas in his life in Christ?” In programmatic ways of course we seek to keep this promise in our congregation with things like our Godly Play program, with the prayers and readings and songs of Children’s Chapel, with opportunities for study and service as children grow, with the exploration of faith and God’s word through music and art. And Chuck and Julia will find their own curriculum in that as well. To think of that petition in the Pastoral Prayer of the Marriage Office: “Bestow on them, if it is your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you.” To plant the seed of God’s word, so that the whole sacred story can come alive, so that a life may know the gift and grace to grow in the fullness of God’s shalom, God’s wisdom, God’s peace—a life shaped by a love of that word and of caring and faithful obedience, and all joy in the hope of resurrection and life eternal in God’s care.)