8-11-13 Prepared for the Unexpected
Proverbs 31: 10-31
Here's a question for the womens. Do you ever feel like other people expect you to be "that woman?" Have you ever found yourself wanting to be like "that woman." Think for a minute about a role model you’ve found truly worthy of imitation. What are some of the qualities of that role model?
When I was in my early twenties, I learned to spin (wool, silk, flax). I wasn't consciously trying to imitate the proverbial worthy woman, but who knows what my subconscious was up to?
Last week in worship Rosemary Word (a role model for many United Methodist Women) shared some of the things Sarai Rice spoke about at the first Mid Maine Resource Day last spring. One of the things that has stuck with me is Sarai's emphasis on the difference between technical and adaptive approaches to problem solving.
Proverbial living can be imitating techinical skills (like learning to spin). But frankly, as much as I enjoyed spinning then, its not the most useful skill in my toolbox these days. Instead, learning to focus on an unfolding process has become a resource in adaptive challenges. A technical challenge is one we can solve with available knowledge and skills. An adaptive challenge requires us to step away from our expertise and recreate.
How is God calling me to live faithfully and fruitfully as this woman did then? Do I want to be remembered for having learned how to spin or for learning how to balance generously taking care of my own family and sisters and brothers in Christ as well as those in need in my community?
We have plenty of problems to solve. Cna you thik of a few:
In our world?
In our church?
In our own lives?
We live in an environment that encourages us to prepare for the worst.
But we read scripture and believe a God who leads us to prepare for the best.
What do we really, in our hearts, expect?
Because that is what we are prepared for.
Sarah Rice: Every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets. You only need to change if you want other results.
The clamor for change Is exhausting, we hear it everywhere. IN fact, I'm thinking of striking the word "change" from my vocabulary as a spritual discipline for the next year.
What and where are some of the chnages you notice most?
If only someone would come and fix it! We need heoric rescue!
We see this in political struggles,
We see it in the religious trap of charismatic leaders who fall under the weigh of expectations they themselves build up and cannot sustain.
How did Jesus, the most charismatic human being who ever lived, spirit filled, avoid this trap? The Apostle Paul wrote to early Christians struggling with issues incredibly similar to ours,
"The church is Christ's body in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” -Ephesians 1:23 (The Message)
The wise woman of Proverb 31 is an image of God; hers is a life of creativity, resourcefulness, compassion, strength.
Raymond van Leeuwen describes her work, “to transform a Judean highland plot (as large as 10 acres) into a vineyard is a difficult, massive undertaking. It is done on rocky, hilly ground, not good for much else.” (p. 261 NIB vol. )
Reminds me of Elijah’s “dry bones” vision. Can these bones live? Can they dance?
Her capacity and her will are formed in the image of the God to whom she is oriented. To meet her is to encounter a centered person. She is prepared for whatever comes, expected, or more importantly, unexpected as God does a new thing.
To be honest, most of us want the change that we can expect and control.
Nothing is more frightening than being out of control. This week Jeff and I tried out some of the rides at the Topsham fair. (Not the ones that you go upsaide down on). I like my thrill rides at the Topsham fair, but only with strict safety features in place.
I was thinking about this morning when I received a message from Kayla McClurg about what Jesus tells us in this mornings’ gospel lesson.
“Do not be afraid, little flock….” Simply sell all that you own. Relinquish everything, and give. Fear attaches to things we cannot release, a ruinous mold spreading in the dark isolation of our grasping and clutching. Fear infiltrates all the systems of our life, alters our breathing and shows up masked as various anxieties and dis-eases. Fear erodes the realm God wants to give us. In his teachings, Jesus shines a healing light upon our minds and hearts to clear the mold of fear away.
Now, fear is a great motivator. There’s nothing like a good panic to get the energy flowing. But after a while it’s exhausting. Remember that old proverb about the carrot or the stick? Both are external motivators. God wants to get IN us. To create and sustain great Christians
Sarai Rice reminded us in May that the purpose of the congregation is
To create and sustain great Christians
How do we do that here and now. How do we BECOME that great church?
Part of what's disorienting about the change all Western culture churches are experiencing is that:
•Things we know how to do don’t seem as important anymore and
•We don’t know how to do the things that do seem to be important
So we seek techinical fixes that we can handle:
•Problems for which people have the know-how and procedures to solve them
•Where the solution involves applying current knowledge
•and the problem-solvers are the “authorities”
We resist Adaptive Change:
•Problems that can’t be solved with authoritative expertise and SOP
•that require experimenting, new discoveries, adjustments, changed attitudes, values, and behavior
•and where we cannot see at the beginning that the new situation will be better,
only that there is a potential for loss
•Every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets. You only need to change if you want other results
Sarai Rice continues:
•Adaptation occurs through experimentation and relies on the presence of diversity
•The most common cause of failure is when we treat adaptive challenges as if they need technical fixes
•Adaptive change is not primarily about managing change; it is about managing loss
In the Body of Christ, we are meant to support each other as we cultivate Christlike qualities. This is our purpose. Great churches create great Christians.
We are not called to sit and wait for rescue. That's just spinning our wheels. It is not a matter of figuring out who will do for us but how will be this healthy Body together, with God’s help.
Jesus never separates hearing from doing. You don't feed a family by reading cook books. You actually have to enter a kitchen, pick up some utensils, and start cooking. A disciple puts into daily practice what is heard and read. - Leonard Sweet
Topic: The Bible assumes that we are responsible for our choices, both what we choose to do and what we choose to think. Our choices matter.
Intro: When our son was in High School, he had a two-part proverb in bumper sticker form posted on the door to his room.
Part One: The early bird gets the worm.
What assumptions do you recognize in that old saying?
(If you want to win the stuff you’ve got to get out ahead of everyone else)
Part Two: But! The second mouse gets the cheese.
Assuming that if……..then………..
(If you keep your eyes open you can benefit from the mistakes of those who go before you)
Assumptions are tricky. We walk into each other’s assumptions all the time, so we know they’re there. They’re just hard to see, like invisible walls or walkways, (depending)! If I offend you then chances are I’ve banged up against one of your assumptions.
But it can be even harder to see our own. That requires getting out of our own heads, which is impossible to do on our own, an oxymoron. One of the things that an honest relationship with the bible is really good at is helping us see things from another perspective.
The proverbs are a record of assumptions acquired by Yahweh followers thousands of years ago, snippets of lessons learned sometimes at grandparent’s knees and sometimes the hard way. The Proverbs of Solomon are a set attributed to King Solomon’s court.
Here’s one: Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy to their employers, makes sense when you think about the vast building projects Solomon accomplished: Palaces for his hundreds of politically connected wives, walls to guard the city, the temple that located God safely in the center of the city.
Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, says one proverb, but those who gather little by little will increase it. (13:11). In the French version, feather by feather the goose is plucked.
Not too long ago, the American economic system, in a period of sustained economic stability, assumed it was clear sailing toward a horizon of progressive prosperity. So investors, financial firms, and regulators assumed it was safe to take risks. In fact, it became necessary to take increasingly larger risks to satisfy demands for greater and a greater profit fueling the prosperity that we assumed, and perhaps still assume, is our right. 
Assumption: If something goes wrong, then the robust economy and safeguards will provide damage control. But what happens when too many take too big of risks and the safety net develops holes?
Proverb 14: 20 makes an observation, the poor are disliked (disdained) even by their neighbors, the rich have many friends.
But, says the partner proverb following close on its heels: those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor (14: 21).
If someone has a lot then we are naturally going to be attracted to him or her.
But we ignore our less affluent neighbors at our own peril and find happiness in being kind to them.
Reading these wisdom sayings is not just looking over the shoulders of our ancestors to sneak a peek at their lives. Its also listening for where and how God speaks to each of us.
What is it that makes me uncomfortable (causes me to disdain) that ragged person I passed with a sign reading “help me” in the Portland intersection last week?
How can I be kind to the poor who, in our way of life, is rarely my next-door neighbor anymore?
The community that recorded these proverbs lived side by side in various economic situations. What they had in common was a way of life, a heritage, a faith. They lived on land they inherited or moved into as a community
The community that reads it now lives divided into economic neighborhoods for the most part. We live where we can afford. Figuring out what we have in common is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.
Change of proverbial topics…..I love the proverbs that startle me. This one always stops me in my tracks:
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense. (11: 22)
Seems kind of harsh don’t you think? Yet it sure gets your attention, doesn’t it?
I read it this week right after this eye-catching headline: “She Can Play That Game Too” an article by Kate Taylor, in the New York Times, Sunday Styles. Researchers are documenting a trend among college women who have grown averse to developing relationships. They can’t spare the time and energy that must go toward goals they assume must be accomplished in their college career.
Speaking of the young man she is sleeping with but emphatically not dating, one junior said, We don’t really like each other in person, sober.
When the interviewer asked why she hasn’t had a relationship while at college, the undergraduate talked about “cost-benefit analysis and the “low risk and low investment costs” of hooking up.  This is the generation that has grown up in the recession, that is now much more risk averse than their parents and grandparents.
For the young women interviewed at one highly competitive university, college is a race for top grades, leadership positions, sports accomplishments, highly visible internships, and community service projects. The only down time is at bars or frat parties. “If I’m sober, I’m working.” The same woman said that, “she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.” “I don’t want to go through …changes with you, I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me we can have a stable life and be very happy…I’m a strong woman, I know what I want.” Yet she doesn’t want her name in print or the number of one night stands because of the assumption that it would damage her reputation with her family or future employers.
Assumptions -where do we start?
With hers? A perfect life is happy and stable, on my terms and when I choose.
(I am in control) If I do everything right in this phase of my life then the rest will be smooth sailing. But….
Ours? What wisdom do we have to share? And what assumptions might get in the way of sharing it?
Do we assume that life is about getting ahead, proving our plan, or even achieving our personal dream of happiness?
How do we pay attention to where our dreams intersect with others’ dreams?
If I talk to the young people in my life, they’re not going to want to hear my opinion….but study after study shows that the greatest influence on most young people right up into their late twenties or early thirties is their parents and other adults they respect.
It’s hard work paying attention to our assumptions.
In fact, I wonder whether we don’t work even harder to protect them.
It’s easier to smile at a proverb that rings a sympathetic bell than to ponder over one that disturbs.
The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
Sometimes we’re lucky to have split seconds in which to make a choice:
There’s a Northern European saying: If you wrestle a bear, never grab for his tail.
In Maine we might say, if you see a moose in front of your car, aim away from the knees.
That’s when good habits come in handy, right? I’m reading a new book, “The Power of Habit,” in which Charles Duhigg describes how changing everything begins with changing one habit. So simple, so powerful. When we become intentional about the choices we make each day, they form the ways we react without much time to think.
The Songhai say, a log may lie in the water for 10 years but it will never become a crocodile.
A submerged plan that is never acted on will never come alive.
People who I never get to know will never become more than I assume them to be,
at least not in any way I can recognize or respond to. If I want to get to know people, I have to invest more in human relationships than watching reality show or scanning magazine covers in the check out line.
If I want to get to know what God is saying to me through scripture, if I am ready to get outside my own head and see my assumptions in a new light, then I have to open up the book and get to know the content through conversation, study and prayer. But I also have to choose what I do with it. Because its not just words, not just information that God offers, it’s relationship.
It’s relationship that compels us to check our assumptions.
Am I doing what God is really calling me to do?
Or am I doing what I want to do…
Or, what I assume God wants me to do?
How do I know? maybe this is a way to know. At the end of the day, has what I’ve chosen to do and what I’ve chosen to think caused me to become a little more like Jesus?
Has what I’ve chosen to think about the college women in that study, what I’ve chosen to do about the woman I met in the median, made me more, or less, like Jesus?
Those choices will reshape my assumptions, reshape my habits, turn me around to recognize Jesus more readily tomorrow, or not, depending on what choices I make today. How we live comes down to hundreds of choices we make through the course of each day. What we choose to say:
Who ever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who corrects boldly makes peace. Proverbs 10:10
Mud thrown is ground lost. Bumper sticker
What we choose to do:
Did Martha have one of these proverbs (her background education) in mind when she was stewing in the kitchen?
Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy….
I wonder whether she wasn’t abdicating her own choice by distraction at what someone else should be doing,
I wonder whether she was pinned to the kitchen by the assumption that that was where she was supposed to be.
Mary has chosen the best thing, Jesus said.
Ouch, that must have hurt, no matter how gentle his voice might have been.
What Martha does next is her choice, what she thinks next is her choice. They will reveal her ultimate commitment, either to the assumptions she carries, or to the living One standing before her.
If the choice she makes embitters her then it makes her less like the Christ she is trying to serve. But perhaps she will choose to think, to do, and to be free of whatever is holding her back. Perhaps she will take a minute to sit and join her sister listening at his feet. Perhaps she will return to the kitchen singing with the joy of serving such a Lord.
You see we make our choices based on what, or who, we chose, consciously or unconsciously to pay attention to.
Former President Jimmy Carter remembers a Cuban pastor he met at a Puerto Rican revival service. The pastor seemed to form an instant relationship with those listening. So President Carter asked him how he established such rapport with the immigrant workers he was preaching to. What was the secret of his success? (An understandable thing for a politician to want to learn.) Senor Jimmy, said Elroy Cruz, we only need to have 2 loves in our lives: for God, and for the person who happens to be in front of us at any time.
That sounds a lot like something we heard last week, doesn’t it? If you will love the Lord your God with all your ….(heart, mind, and soul) and your. …(neighbor) as yourself, then you will have done all there is to do. And there is no “but.”
 “The Time Bernake got it wrong,” Floyd Norris, nytimes.com/economix.7-19-13
 “She Can Play That Game Too” Kate Taylor, NYTimes, Sunday Styles, 7-14-13
 Jimmy Carter, “Sources of Strength, introduction
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist