The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

Sermon St Annes 13 Oct 2019

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We heard this line in our Psalm today, and it’s so familiar that maybe you heard it and thought, oh, that’s where that line comes from.

Let’s have a look at what it might mean for us, both on its own and when we put it with our readings about healing that we have heard.

The fear of the Lord – does that mean fear like being terrified? Is it like the fear some of us experience when we go into enclosed buildings that hold bad earthquake memories? Or is it like the fear of the unknown – starting a new job, or when you receive a diagnosis of a health journey no one wants to go on? Or is it like the fear that grips you when you are out in the mall, and you do a head count of your kids and realise that you’re one short? No, those are all fear as in being afraid.

The fear of the Lord is more a respect of the Lord. Yes, there is a real fear involved too when we think about how huge and awesome God is. After all, a God who made the sun and all the stars and the universe, is so incredible that God could wipe us out if God chose.

But we know from reading other scriptures, and from a journey with Christ, that God is all-loving as well as all-powerful, and will not harm us. So fear of God is a respect for God, and it’s a respect for and an understanding of God’s word for us.

Let’s look at the other bit – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Not the sum total of wisdom, but the beginning. It’s placing ourselves on a journey. It’s when we have the car tyres pumped up, the oil and water checked, everyone on board with drinks and food and all-important lollies for the journey, as well as the map. Yes, in my case it’s a paper map, much to my kids’ amusement. It’s an intentional thing. You can head out on a journey in the car without taking care of all those details, but to get far and to be confident, you need to take more care. The journey with God is like that.

Now, if it is only the beginning of wisdom, this implies that the growth of wisdom, the journey to wisdom, is a long process. Has your life been like that so far? Have you had experiences where you made a decision, only to realise later on that it wasn’t the wisest? I’m sure we all have. Wisdom grows with time, and with being fed. We can feed wisdom by exposing ourselves to the Godly and the righteous around us, to people who embody those ideals, and to God’s word.

Today two of our readings are about healing from leprosy. This was a dreaded disease back in the day, and there was no cure. Now, it’s known as Hansen’s disease, and it can be cured by courses of antibiotics, though it often leaves damage if the disease has advanced.

Naaman wasn’t a Jew, he was a Syrian. He hadn’t grown up in the tradition of the fear of the Lord. He was highly respected in his role in the army, and this had brought him into contact with one of God’s people, a young lass who was brought back to serve his wife. This girl in interesting – rather than lamenting her fate at being taken from her home and her family, taken into slavery with people of another faith, she stood true to what she believed, and told her mistress about the prophet in her land, who in the name of God would be able to speak healing over Naaman.

Great! Naaman thought. I can go and see this prophet, he will wave his hand over me, and I shall be set free from what is rather embarrassing for such a great one as I am.

He set off, but the Elisha wouldn’t even see him. He just sent instructions to bathe in the river Jordan. Naaman wasn’t too impressed at this – after all, didn’t such a one as he warrant a bit more attention? He had a tantrum.

But his servants persuaded him that it wasn’t such a big thing to do, and that he was the sort of guy who wouldn’t shirk a difficult instruction, so why not try it? After all, what had he got to lose?

This is where the fear of the Lord entered. Naaman must have known that there was a reason Elisha had instructed him to bathe seven times – the holy number – in the Jordan. He knew God spoke through the prophet, so he began to be wise, and followed the instruction.

He was healed, and I hope this meant he continued to walk in the fear of the Lord.

In our Gospel reading we again see people suffering from leprosy. They already had the fear of the Lord- they knew Jesus was sent from God and could speak words of healing over them. They were already on their path of wisdom. Perhaps their faith was so strong that when Jesus said, go, show yourselves to the priest, off they went, trusting that their healing had already happened. After all, they wouldn’t be able to approach the priest if they were still afflicted.

Maybe their faith was so strong that they thought, oh yeah, I’m healed now, of course. That’s what God does. Time to get on with life.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a faith so strong that healings are a normal part of your life, and that you trust God to provide for you all the time? This scripture encourages us in this bit of wisdom. This is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven – God reigning sovereign on the earth, healing and providing for our every need.

But hang on, you say. Only one of these people was grateful and thanked Jesus, and praised God. Surely the other nine were not grateful? Maybe so.

It’s the other man who gets most of the attention in this story, so let’s look at a few more details about him. We hear, just as an aside, that he was a Samaritan. Remember, they were the ones who didn’t worship God properly on the right mountain, but were seen by the Jews as Other, to be despised.

Naaman too was from another race. These two shone a light to the locals on what God was really doing.

Jesus was really encouraging of the Samaritan man, but asked pointedly about the other nine. Maybe Jesus knew that they weren’t so strong in their faith that they took it for granted that they would be healed. Maybe he thought they were ungrateful and didn’t give praise to God.

There are two sorts of thanks going on here – the ritualistic thanks where the former leprosy sufferers were to present themselves to the priests, according to the rules laid down many hundreds of years ago, and the joyful, spontaneous bubbling out of praise and thanks to God directly for healing.

The Samaritan man approached God directly, praising God and not even thinking about whether he should do the ritual thing next. Jesus was pointing out here that praising and thanking God is always our first duty. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

My friends, in your life, do you thank God as your first instinct when healing happens? Or when God’s provision is made for you? Do you thank God when your life goes well, when you can find a car park, when the eftpos transaction that you suspected might be declined wasn’t? Isn’t that the slowest second in a supermarket trip, waiting for that?

Today’s story of the Samaritan leper shows you a path of wisdom – that fear of the Lord, gratitude to God, acknowledging God in everything we do, is the beginning of a journey to wisdom.

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