The Way Forward Requires Remembering the Wisdom of the Past

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +

The way forward requires remembering the wisdom of the past…the way forward requires remembering the wisdom of the past.

This summer, I was gifted a journaling companion entitled “The Next Right Thing,” by author Emily P. Freeman. It is a fantastic guide for people struggling with making the “right” decisions. I was asking difficult questions—wondering what decisions to make, and her in infinite wisdom, my friend thought this book would be helpful. Thank God she did.

When I say the statement, “the pandemic has changed me,” I know I’m not alone. In retrospect, I can now say I’ve changed for the better, but earlier this year I was left with the question “so now what?” This pandemic has been terrible, and I’ve gone through so much, but I’ve done the best I can and survived (thank God), and now I’m different. Things are different. What am I to do with this newfound sense of growth? What am I to do with this new sense of perseverance and strength, paired with the healing personal scars that I experienced these past 16 months of hardship and sacrifice? What am I to do with this awareness that I have changed, yet become more of who God has made me to be? “What am I to do?” Sound familiar? With all these questions, I began reflecting with “The Next Right Thing?” Along with the book came my friend’s advice, “especially in times of transition and change, times in which will be milestones when looking back on the course of our lives, this book proposes that in order to move forward—in order to know what decisions we are to make—we are should first reflect on our past.”

She was right, and in the opening pages the author says this, “One common mistake we make when we have the desire to make good decisions is that we try to peer into the future to discover what it might hold, what the outcomes we want to achieve are, and what roadblocks we wish to avoid. This is a natural tendency and is often what we’re encouraged to do. The only problem is the future hasn’t happened yet, so how can it possibly teach us? …the best indicator of life-giving decisions for the future is paying attention to choices we’ve made in the past.”

I know I’m not the only one who has been reflecting, and I know I’m not the only who has already made decisions toward the next right thing—to have made some changes. Many of in this community have quit their old jobs and started new jobs—many have started new relationships while some of us have ended relationships—some have quit drinking alcohol—some moved—some have changed schools—others have changed their routines entirely—and almost all of us have different priorities now then we had before the pandemic. These big decisions, I hope, weren’t made from fear, but rather, were made from looking back and seeking wisdom from past lessons learned and, with God’s help and guidance, moving forward the best way we know how.

Over the course of the summer, we have heard the epic saga of the Israelite people, and the rise of the monarchy. Beginning with Saul, then David, and just recently, hearing about the Solomon, our Old Testament passages this summer have come from either the narrative books of Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and Kings, but now today, out of nowhere, we hear a passage from Proverbs. Proverbs!? At first glance, Proverbs doesn’t fit…it is not narrative—it is considered Wisdom Literature. So why are we hearing it this morning? Based on our lectionary, we hear Proverbs directly after hearing about Solomon’s wisdom that was given to him by God—a wisdom he asked for. Much of the wisdom literature in Scripture is attributed to Solomon, giving Proverbs authority because it maintains not only Solomon’s wisdom, but God’s wisdom. While some of these texts were written down, most were passed down over the centuries orally until they found their final written form in 175 B.C., hundreds of years after Solomon’s death.

You might be asking, “why is he telling us all this?” Fair question. Proverbs were teachings that Israelites would have heard their whole life. They are words of wisdom representing ancient knowledge that helped this people through the hardest of times and helped them make the right decisions. Ancient Israel is no different than us today…when faced with adversity, when in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, people tend to let fear take over and they don’t make the best decisions. For Israel, their time of persecution and exile led many to seek after other gods, looking for answers elsewhere that they already had wisdom for. Whether they realized it or not, their own lived experience was wisdom enough on how they should move forward. Their God brought them out of bondage from Egypt, their God gave food enough to eat and drink in the wilderness, and their God—our God—taught them over and over to seek God in times of trouble and to treat others as they needed to be treated. It was this God who encouraged the welcoming of the stranger and foreigner, caring for the poor and persecuted, and tending to the sick.

Proverbs are not just pithy sayings from scripture. We all have own proverbs that we learned over time. “The early bird gets the worm,” “slow and steady wins the race.” In my life, the proverb my parents always toward us was “Seek God’s peace, and the way forward will become clear,” –my parents’ version of the “next right thing.” I invite you to ask the questions I have been asking myself these past months, “where have I felt God’s peace in the past? When have I felt most of who God created me to be? When was I positive of God’s presence and love present in my life? When was I assured of fulfilling God’s will?”

These answers will be different for all of you, but I bet most of them took place during difficult times in your life—times in which you needed support to know and have the confidence to do the next right thing. For me, most of those involved a loving community to remind me I was not alone, and just knowing I was part of bigger—something that mattered…that a difference—being with faithful people helped bring God’s peace and clarity of mind to me to choose the next right thing.

Like the Israelites and each of us in our own lives, communities have their own proverbs. We have the sayings and wisdom that have helped us in the past and will doubt help us move into the future. Remember when you heard that God’s love “is a river, not a pie?” That God’s love is not a finite or fixed amount—something that needs to be held onto and not shared, each of us having our own individual rations—but instead that God’s love is like a river…it is infinite and so should the way our love is shared in the world. What amount “risk, risk, and risk again?” Remember that wisdom from the past? That no matter what God is calling us to do, it will require us to be bold and courageous, and certainly require being vulnerable enough to take a risk. The blessing Courtney has been using over the summer comes to mind, “may God give you the grace to never sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.”

The future and way forward is certainly uncertain, but we have all the wisdom we need to do the next right thing. In this time of transition, slowly coming out of a pandemic and beginning a period with Suzanne, our new rector—it is important to know and name that we have changed, things are different—we are different—but we are still creatures made in God’s image with the ability to be God’s agents of good and change in world—it is through reflection, prayer, and remembering how God has moved through us in the past that will help us know what the next right thing for us and this community is. I don’t know what will happen next, but with God’s track record in this community (Greenlining, dismantling racism, being inclusive of all, and feeding hungry people for 25 years that even a global pandemic can’t stop us from doing), I know it will be amazing. Amen.