Laughing at the Times to Come – James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a Proverbs 31:10-31
Thomas J Parlette
“Laughing at the Times to Come”
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
When you’re 16 years old, the most important thing in life is getting your driver’s license. I was no different. Because of the way we moved around so frequently when I was growing up, I was a little behind the curve on this rite of passage. So, I didn’t actually get my learner’s permit until I was 17.
I remember my dad letting me behind the wheel of our white Oldsmobile for the first time on the back roads of central Illinois to practice my driving skills. My big concern was checking the mirrors often, driving the appropriate speed and of course, keeping the car heading in as straight a line as possible – no weaving back and forth.
Now I was doing a pretty good job of handling all of my new driving duties – or so I thought. I remember,we were on a stretch of road notorious for tire crushing potholes, and I did what I thought was the right thing. I kept the car on a perfectly straight line, and went right through those potholes. Then we came upon a railroad crossing. I slowed down, made sure there wasn’t a train coming, and then bounced the Oldsmobile over the tracks, quite proud of myself for negotiating such a dangerous stretch of road.
I remember looking over at my dad as he gripped the dashboard with white-knuckled hands. That’s when he shared with me this bit of wisdom. “Son, try to remember. Always drive on the soft part of the road!”
Well, I thought that was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. What could that possibly mean – the soft part of the road! And I said, “Dad, where’s the soft part, the whole road is hard, it’s all pavement!” My dad sighed, and we drove home. After that, I usually drove with my mom.
I had no idea what to do with my dad’s bit of wisdom about driving on the soft part of the road. I was 17. I had no idea how much it costs to buy new tires or get the front end of a car re- aligned or replace worn out shocks. But now that I’m 48, I know what he meant – the soft part of the road is the part without the potholes, the raised railroad tracks or the big piece of rubber that just peeled off that semi-truck in front of you. So now, I make every effort to look for the soft parts of the road – and when it’s my turn to put a white knuckled death grip on the dashboard and go driving with my sons, I will turn to them and say – “Remember to drive on the soft part of the road.”
Ah wisdom – sometimes it takes a while to sink in.
Wisdom is the topic once again this morning as we visit with James. In today’s text, James asks the question, “Who among you is wise?” Then, in a way, answers his own question, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” The wisdom that James talks about, comes down from above, a voice of experience – such wisdom comes from God. It is not the wisdom that we learn from the world or invent for ourselves. The wisdom from above is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield and full of mercy. The conflicts and disputes among us, all stem from ambition and envy, things that we learn from the powers of the world. The world teaches us things like “get all you can while the getting’s good,” and “the one with the most toys at the end wins.” Earthly wisdom would tell us that the rich, the powerful, the most famous people among us – must be the wisest. After all, look at what they have. Look at how they live. Surely they have some wisdom that we do not.
Not so, says James. The truly wise seek to draw near to God. The truly wise know that wisdom comes down from above – wisdom comes from God. Submit yourselves to God, trust that God is the one in control and God will draw near to you. Who is wise among you? The ones who live their lives with God at the center.
Perhaps James could have turned to Proverbs to illustrate his point. The letter of James has often been described as a piece of wisdom literature, so why not turn to the grand daddy of wisdom literature in the Old Testament for support. And the passage we read from Proverbs today would be a good place to start. The passage called an “Ode to a capable Wife” is a good example of what James is talking about.
Now, I know this poem celebrating this super- woman rock-star housewife is not really a very popular piece of scripture, especially not with the ladies. Over the years, I have had more than one female parishioner tell me that they would prefer not to hear this passage at all – ever – and especially not on Mother’s Day! It’s just not realistic, it’s not fair, it sets the bar too high for women and it’s just plain sexist. After all, why is the woman expected to do all this – what’s the husband doing anyway? And I understand – the “Ode to a Capable Wife” is a tough passage to hear in our modern context.
But if we read Proverbs 31 simply as a job description for all good Christian women – then we misread the text. The woman described here is an illustration, she is the picture of wisdom. She prepares carefully, she works hard, she makes good choices and above all – she fears God. It’s right there in verse 30, “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
That’s the key, that’s the point – not all the tasks she takes care, but the fact that she fears the Lord. Not fear in that she is scared of what God might do to her – strike her down with a bolt of lightening or something. But fear as in respect for the power of God and confidence in the fact that God is in control. She has that wisdom from above – she knows that God is in control, not any human being or earthly power. So she lives her life with God at the center. Everything she does is in reverence for God. That is wisdom.
And that wisdom enables her to laugh at the time to come. She can laugh at the challenges and the uncertainties, she can laugh at the conflicts and demands she faces in the days to come. She can laugh, because she knows that God is in control. She doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t take things seriously. She doesn’t laugh out of disrespect – she laughs in the sense that she knows something the world does not. She has the wisdom from above that James talks about. She knows that God is in control. There is no need to fear anything else. God is in control. Those who live their lives secure in the knowledge that God is at the center, they can laugh – or perhaps “chortle knowingly” or “chuckle with confidence” – as they face the challenges of their day. They laugh at the times to come because they have the wisdom from above. The wisdom that when you draw near to God, there is nothing to fear.
Or, as James puts it, “Live a life guided by the wisdom from above, live a life filled with works done with gentleness. Live peacefully, be willing to yield, be full of mercy.” Those who are wise submit themselves to God’s way of life.
Perhaps you’ve seen the movie The Blind Side. It tells the story of Michael Ofer’s rise from poverty and severe academic struggles to become an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens football team. According to the film, for most of his childhood, Michael was in and out of foster care. The movie picks up when Michael is 17. He is large, he is strong and he shows a great deal of talent for football. So the Wingate Christian School allows him to enroll – even though his GPA is nearly zero.
Michael is wandering the streets one afternoon, no place to go, planning to spend the night in the school gym, when Leigh Ann Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, sees him, and ends up offering him a place to stay for the night. The family immediately takes to Michael and his gentle giant personality. In the face of neighborhood critics and suspicious coaches – the Tuohy’s show Michael compassion and mercy and love. They provide him a sense of stability and peace that he has never known. And he flourishes.
With the help of a tutor, his grades improve and his football skills also improve. So much so, that all the major colleges come recruiting. Leigh Ann and her husband are passionate alumni of the University of Mississippi – so that’s where they encourage Michael to go. Other colleges become aware of this and call the NCAA to investigate, charging that the Tuohy’s took Michael in only to get him into the Ole Miss football program.
Very upset by this possibility, Michael runs away, and Leigh Ann tracks him down and assures him the family loves him no matter what, and he can go to college wherever he wants.
The Tuohy’s show the willingness to yield, and they leave the decision up to Michael – who chooses Ole Miss anyway, because as he says, “That’s where my family went, so I want to go there too.”
Because of the love, mercy and compassion showed by the whole Tuohy family, Michael succeeds and makes it to the NFL.
Throughout the film, the character of Leigh Ann shows many of the traits we read about in the Ode to a Capable Wife. She opens up her arms to the poor, she is clothed with dignity and strength. She speaks with wisdom. She also lives with the kind of wisdom from above that James talks about.(1)
Who is wise among you? The wise live a good life, with works done with gentleness born of wisdom – wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield and full of mercy.
Live like that, submit yourselves to God, and God will draw near. And with God by your side, you will be able to laugh at the times to come.
You will be able to chortle knowingly, because you know something that the world does not. You will have the wisdom that comes down from above.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. XXIII, No. 5, p70.