“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

Our Deacon Team is currently reading together the book who’s title comes from this verse in Proverbs, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart”.  It is a book about caring for the grieving, a task our Deacon Team knows all too well and an important one to train people to perform.

Grief comes to us all, and it comes in differing stages.  It can come when a team loses a game we were desperately hoping to win, when a loved one is sick with the flu, when we lose a job unexpectedly, or at the death of someone close to us.  Though the degrees differ, all of these are causes of grief and need careful attention.  Ranking the degree of someone’s grief is never helpful – their grief is theirs to feel and not ours to judge.

When someone is grieving, it usually makes us uncomfortable.  And uncomfortable people tend to do and say pretty dumb things.  I’ve been told, “It’s fine.  You’ll get over it,” and “they were 86; it was probably time for them to die anyway” and neither brought me hope, comfort, or peace.  In fact, both simply mingled my grief with anger at the insensitivity of it.  On the other hand, I’ve also been told, “I’m so sorry; is there anything I can do?” and “…”; nothing at all but a gentle presence, both of which helped the healing process of my grief.

We don’t like it when other people grieve.  It scares us, it makes us uncomfortable, and we too often avoid it.  But avoidance may be better than the usual alternative which is to try to stop them from grieving.  “Cheer up” and it’s insensitive siblings have no place when someone is grieving.  We must be sure that we do not sing songs to a heavy heart, but instead be a calming presence, ready to listen, to sit in silence, and to incarnate Christ for those in need of His healing and comforting presence.

“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

Our Deacon Team is currently reading together the book who’s title comes from this verse in Proverbs, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart”.  It is a book about caring for the grieving, a task our Deacon Team knows all too well and an important one to train people to perform.

Grief comes to us all, and it comes in differing stages.  It can come when a team loses a game we were desperately hoping to win, when a loved one is sick with the flu, when we lose a job unexpectedly, or at the death of someone close to us.  Though the degrees differ, all of these are causes of grief and need careful attention.  Ranking the degree of someone’s grief is never helpful – their grief is theirs to feel and not ours to judge.

When someone is grieving, it usually makes us uncomfortable.  And uncomfortable people tend to do and say pretty dumb things.  I’ve been told, “It’s fine.  You’ll get over it,” and “they were 86; it was probably time for them to die anyway” and neither brought me hope, comfort, or peace.  In fact, both simply mingled my grief with anger at the insensitivity of it.  On the other hand, I’ve also been told, “I’m so sorry; is there anything I can do?” and “…”; nothing at all but a gentle presence, both of which helped the healing process of my grief.

We don’t like it when other people grieve.  It scares us, it makes us uncomfortable, and we too often avoid it.  But avoidance may be better than the usual alternative which is to try to stop them from grieving.  “Cheer up” and it’s insensitive siblings have no place when someone is grieving.  We must be sure that we do not sing songs to a heavy heart, but instead be a calming presence, ready to listen, to sit in silence, and to incarnate Christ for those in need of His healing and comforting presence.

Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.

We are called to reflect God to anyone and everyone we meet.  We are to show God, show Jesus Christ, through our attitudes, actions, and life.  God is generous, so we are to be as well.  God is love so we are to be as well.  God is life, and joy, and righteousness… and so must we be.  However, this does not always work.  Sometimes God is simply so different from us that we cannot reflect that aspect of Him.  Today’s proverbs contain one of those times.

One of the most important traits of the Christian is humility.  The proverbs talk about it, Paul talks about it, Jesus talks about it.  It is not a trait of God’s, for He is All and has no need for humility.  Or does He?

One person has defined humility unlike any other.  Rather than the usual thought of humility as self-debasement – “I’m not even worthy to untie His sandal!” – he defined humility as a right understanding of our place in the universe.  To be humble was to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, but most importantly where they come from.  God gives all good gifts, and so humility is recognizing God’s authority.  In relation to Him, all people are equal, so humility is also an understanding that we are not better (nor worse) than others but all stand humbled together before God’s greatness.

“Humility is the fear of the Lord,” the recognition of who and how much He is.  “It’s wages are riches and honor and life,” because only through that right understanding of our place in the world are we prepared to receive these gifts from God, and truly riches, honor, and life are God’s gifts to us.

Today’s thoughts come from Sarah Larson, my sophomore daughter:

When we read texts like these, we tend to hear these words as a guideline for our lives as if we have fallen short of them all and are in need of the schooling of the Bible. Proverbs addresses these guidelines in a familiar way, using phrases that indicate wrongdoings or dangers we may face. In light of these, I think it is safe to say that the writings of proverbs are not meant to condemn believers and set us on the right path we have strayed so far from, but they are instead warnings of the struggles we face in the world around us.

You may notice that very rarely does the word “You” show up in the Proverbs. I think this is intentional as the main “You” passages are advice on how to listen and serve well. Outside of these passages, the rest use general terms like “a person” or “him who” or the like. I think Paul places this type of connotation in his second letter to the Corinthians. He reminds them that he meant no distress and is quite pleased with them. He details how their reputation has grown and how his words may have hurt and may have caused doubt, but were neither regretted nor taken back. I think in this we see the way the Bible seems to be written. I, personally, often find myself reading the Proverbs like a Corinthian and worrying over every line that it may be meant for me. The Bible is not a personal letter, nor is it a rule book. It is the story of Christianity and the good news for us to share with those around us from God Himself. Sometimes, that requires us to do some self-reflection, but the Bible never uses accusatory language towards the reader with the intent to cause distress or worry.

With that being said, the message I find in the Proverbs is one of phrases and reminders to us that help us to be better disciples. Sometimes, that means we find ourselves guilty of wrongdoings or misconceptions, but the word “guilty” has an almost solely worldy meaning because guilt in front of God is always reconcilable. Remember as you read to not read like a Corinthian, searching for personal shortcomings, but to read like a disciple, striving to learn better how to live like God in every aspect.

Though Jesus gave us a clear example of One who ate with, befriended, and even seemed to prefer “traitors and sinners”, Paul tells us we have nothing in common and so to avoid them in 2 Cor. 6:14-16.  He doesn’t give any “unlesses” or “except fors”.  Paul, in true Pauline style, makes no bones about where he stands on this.  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”

I’ve heard many explanations for Paul’s strong rebuke of the Corinthian church.  One is that the image is of two animals yoked together to pull a plow.  When one is strong and robust (a Follower of Christ) and one is weak (a follower of another faith), the plow will simply pull in a circle and not accomplish what it was meant to do.  Every plowman knows that you only yoke two similar animals to avoid this fate.  Another is that this is a situational admonition, given because of a specific incident previously reported to him.  Remember, this is the same church that was celebrating a man’s affair with his own stepmother as an example of a believer’s freedom in Christ from the law.  The reasoning is simple: Paul had to tell this to this particular church because this church was messed up!

But how do we reconcile this today?  Do we avoid those who do not believe, per Paul’s instruction?  Do we tolerate them as an unavoidable part of our society?  Do we go out of our way to befriend them as Jesus did, hoping to influence them for the better?  How can we read this?

A few more thoughts to really confuse the matter.  While we give a lot of press to Jesus’ befriending of sinners and tax collectors, this is not an overly common occurrence in the Gospels.  When it happens, we talk about it all the time.  But while there are a few times that we find Jesus eating at the house of a non-believer (Zachaeus and friends come to mind), He was also meeting with Pharisees.  Yes, His disciples included a tax-collector, considered a traitor to the Jewish people, but He also called a Zealot, a Jewish freedom fighter, and a large percentage of them were common fisherman.

The danger of taking Jesus’ lead and befriending people who don’t follow Him is that we may be influenced away from our own faithfulness without making any inroads with the gospel.  The danger of taking Paul’s lead and avoiding people who don’t follow Jesus is that our witness goes unheard and people die eternally.

So which is right?  Well…

We Larsons have never been good at anger.  Watching “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” the other day, her therapist told her that it was ok for her to be angry, and she refused.  And as she did, I felt an echo inside myself.  I seldom got angry for the first 40 years of my life.  I prided myself on the fact that I had nobody I could call an enemy.  And it wasn’t until I began seeing a counselor myself that I learned the importance of anger.

It feels like this world has the opposite problem much of the time.  Our culture loves to get angry and does so quickly.  Read any public group thread on social media and you’ll see that it quickly devolves into name calling, shouting, and anger.  What began as “<insert your political opinion here>” within 5 replies will gather haters, vitriol, and even threats of violence.

Solomon must have seen the same anger in his time, for he begins chapter 15 of his collection of Proverbs with advice on how to avoid the anger spiral of the world: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  A quiet, thoughtful, gentle answer is like a shield for those who can wield it well.  When someone lashes out with wrath, this shield can turn away the blow with little effort.  On the other hand, to return harsh words for wrath simply stirs up anger like a ruckus in a lake.  The clear water is soon stirred up, cloudy, murky, and hiding any kind of thing.

So the next time someone throws a harsh word, a wrathful tirade, or any kind of anger your way, remember to turn it away with a gentle answer.  This won’t show you to be weak but mature in the face of this world’s sinful ways.

Kali had to travel 2 miles to the nearest river for clean water.  Every morning under the African sun she would take a yoke upon her shoulders to carry the two clay jars to the river.  She would fill the jars in the flowing current, hoist them back up onto the yoke, and the yoke onto her shoulders.  The trip home took twice as long due to the added weight.  But her family relied on her, and so she went.

The people began to notice a funny thing about the girls who went for water.  Over time, they began to smile more.  They sang more often as they walked and seemed more at peace with the world.  Kali’s father noticed as well, but was too distracted by Kali’s jars.  One of them had a large crack down the side so that as she walked, she lost water.  Not only that, but the weight on her shoulders became more and more uneven as she trod, making the trip more painful and difficult with each step.  Her father said, “Kali, dear.  Let me get you another jar for the trip.”  But Kali refused and her father obliged her.  Day after day she would return with enough water, but not all she could carry.  Day after day her back hurt a little more and her walk was a little slower.

Finally, her father asked one of Kali’s friends, herself a water bearer for her family, “How can you sing and be happy when your friend Kali is hurting more and more?”  Kali’s friend replied, “I sing for Kali, because she has done a marvelous thing.  You see, as the broken jar spills water along the side of the path, it waters the ground and now we have a beautiful flower garden to see and smell every day when we go for water.  The flowers bring us peace and joy, and make our lives easier.  This is why Kali will not change her pot and suffers… it is for us.”

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

When people are being dumb, don’t you just want to correct them, sometimes even need to correct them?  People we think are wise are generally not the ones we want to just get it right.  Whether it’s a political conversation, a theological one, or just a battle of opinions, we are most likely to correct those we think are being ridiculous.  But strangely, that is not the advice of Solomon in his proverbs.

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Solomon, known for his wisdom, says that fools won’t take the advice anyway so why give it?  He says that only the wise are wise enough to take rebuke and correction well.  Assuming our intention is to help the person we are rebuking, the only ones worth focusing on are the wise.

But here we run into a problem.  When we rebuke people, it usually isn’t for the sake of the person at all.  We are seldom seeking to help our opponents find a new wisdom that we have.  Instead, our arguments are usually about beating our opponents, beating them into submission to our superior opinions.  Our rebuke is usually about us.  If so, then it doesn’t matter who we correct because it isn’t about them anyway.

So Solomon has two pieces of advice for us today.  First, don’t correct someone to show how smart your are or to win a war of words.  Correct them so that they are better people, out of concern for them.  Second, only rebuke the wise who can take your words and grow through them.  And implied in it all, be the wise one so that when you are rebuked, you don’t hear the opening  shots of a war but instead, with humility, hear a rebuke as an attempt to help you grow and be grateful.

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

There are a few lists like this in scripture, but it was a common way of poetic writing in this culture at this time. Let’s look at them individually.

haughty eyes – arrogance is inappropriate before God (and where are we not before God?) because God calls us to be humble, recognizing that we are not the King of our own lives.  Much sin in this world has come from people arrogantly putting themselves before God.

a lying tongue – today’s sermon is all about Truth.  Check it out at here.

hands that shed innocent blood – from bullying to unjust legal systems to murderers, this is a pretty wide net.  God hates injustice because He Himself is justice.

a heart that devises wicked schemes – schemes take a lot of work to devise, so while some sins slip into our lives accidentally, this is a fully intentional attempt to be wicked.

feet that are quick to rush into evil – those with a desire, an addiction if you will, to get involved in evil things are unrepentant and therefore desire no mercy.

a false witness who pours out lies – this is bigger than someone who lies for their own benefit.  This is one who foils justice and law by bringing lies into the courtroom, the very place where justice is to be meted out.

The reason for the “six things… seven” formula is to point to the seventh of the list as the ultimate of them all. In this case, though God hates the 6 listed first, He hates the seventh the most.

a person who stirs up conflict in the community – God is a God of order, and so hates conflict between His children.  While the church is often quick to point out others who are engaging in the first six of these sins, it is far more regularly within the church itself that the seventh appears, and it is the most hated by God.  We need to think about that as a community and work for unity and peace, not conflict.

This year, Christian Formation is working on…

Faith Mapping
Updated Brochures
Children’s Ministry

Children’s Ministry Director Position
GROWing CHRISTlike
Bible Memory work
knowing the books of the bible
Curriculum: Gospel Project (Sunday – Old Testament, Wed – New Testament)

Weekly Activities

Sunday School

9:15-9:30am Opening
9:30-10:15am Classes

Sunday Worship Options

Nursery (full worship service)
Children’s Church (second half of worship service)
Worship bags
Sermon notes

Wednesday Night Together

Dinner @ 5:30pm
Nursery & Kids Club (preK-5th grade) @ 6:15pm
Middle School Youth Group @ 6:30pm
Everything finishes at 7:45pm