“A Proverb for Life”
Proverbs 3:27
By the Rev. Paul Boersma, the Leonard and Marjorie Maas Endowed Senior Chaplain
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Dimnent Memorial Chapel, Holland, Michigan

Do you know what a proverb is? A proverb is a saying or a phrase that challenges you to do something or to live a certain way. In the Bible, there is an entire book comprised of just proverbs, which is appropriately titled, The Book of Proverbs. It is located in a section of the Bible known as The Writings or The Wisdom Literature. And it consists of 31 chapters, 915 verses containing more than 500 proverbs.

This morning, I want to share with you just one proverb from this book of the Bible, that I hope you will tuck away in your back pocket and carry it with you for the rest of your life. It’s a proverb that I believe when lived out, has the power to impact relationships between people regardless of age, gender, race, economic status, political preference, or educational background for good. Do you want hear it? Well, I’m going to teach it to you through a Call and Response. Meaning, I’ll say a part of it and you repeat back to me until we can say the whole proverb together. Are you ready?

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

That was good but now I’m going to add some hand motions, to help us remember this proverb.

“Do not” — “Withhold” — “Good” — “From those to whom it is due” — “When” — “It is in your power” — “To do it”

Have any of you ever seen the movie, Pay It Forward? It’s an oldie. It stars Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. It is a story about a young boy named Kevin, who was given an assignment on the first day of school by his teacher to, “Change the World.” Kevin takes the assignment very seriously, to the point of envisioning a system where if a good deed was done to one person and they in turn pass a good deed onto another person, the chain reaction effect would change the world for good. And in the movie it does. Individuals, marriages, family structures, communities, governments, and even nations are impacted by the passing on of good.

It seems that somewhere along the way, someone must have taught Kevin the proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Or did any of you happen to hear about event that occurred in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon.

In the early innings of the game, Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky comes up to the plate and hits the first home run of her career. Never having had the occasion to practice, Tucholsky’s home run trot around the bases quickly turned into a disaster. She missed first base, turned back to tag it and collapsed with a knee injury. As Tucholsky crawled back to the bag, Western’s first base coach shouted, “Nobody touch her,” knowing that any assistance from teammates or her trainers, or replacing Tucholsky with a pinch-runner, meant the home run would only count as a single. While the coaches and umpires tried to figure what to do next, Central Washington’s first basemen Mallory Holtman waded into the huddle and asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

With the umpires’ blessing, Holtman and Central teammate Liz Wallace gingerly scooped up Tucholsky and carried her toward second. Trying to figure out which was the good leg, the trio broke into laughter. By the time they reached second, just about everybody in the grandstand was on their feet cheering or crying, and some were doing both. It’s worth noting the game, which had NCAA tournament implications for both schools, was won by Western Oregon 4–2.

It seems that somewhere along the way, someone must have taught Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace the proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Or have you ever heard the story of Teddy Stollard. Teddy Stollard was not the kind of kid who got invited to parties. He slouched in his chair and looked bored most of the time; he only spoke when called upon, and then in monosyllables. He never dressed right; he had smelly clothes; he was a rather unattractive boy.

Whenever his teacher would mark Teddy’s papers, she got a certain perverse pleasure out of marking all the wrong answers. She would put the “F” on the top with a little flair. She might have known better, because his history was on record:

First grade: Teddy is a good boy and shows promise, but has a poor home situation.

Second grade: Teddy is quiet and withdrawn. His mother is terminally ill.

Third grade: Teddy is falling behind. His mother died this year; his father is uninvolved.

Fourth grade: Teddy is hopelessly backward. His father has moved away; Teddy’s living with an aunt. He is deeply troubled.

Christmas came, and all the children brought presents to school. They were carefully wrapped, except for Teddy’s, which was packaged in brown paper and held together with tape and marked, “For Miss Thompson. From Teddy.”

The teacher would open the gifts one by one for the class to admire. When she opened Teddy’s, it was a rhinestone bracelet with most of the stones missing, and a bottle of perfume that was mostly gone. The other children started to laugh, but Miss Thompson caught herself. Snapping on the bracelet, she said: “Isn’t it lovely, class? And doesn’t the perfume smell good?”

At the end of the class, Teddy approached her shyly. “I’m glad you liked my gifts, Miss Thompson,” he whispered. “All day long you smelled like my mother. And her bracelet looked nice on you, too.”

After he left, Miss Thompson put her head down on the desk and cried. She asked God to forgive her. She prayed that God would help her to see what he sees when she looks at a motherless boy.

When the children came back to school the next day, Miss Thompson was a new teacher. She tutored the children who needed extra help, Teddy most of all. By the end of the year he had caught up with most of his classmates and was ahead of some. After that, she didn’t hear from him for quite a while. Then one day she received a note:

Dear Miss Thompson,

I wanted you to be the first to know I am graduating from high school, and I am second in my class.

Love, Teddy Stollard

Four years later came another note:

Dear Miss Thompson,

I wanted you to be the first to know I am graduating first in my class. The university has not been easy, but I like it.

Love, Teddy Stollard

Four years later, another note”

Dear Miss Thompson,

I wanted you to be the first to know that as of today I am Theodore J. Stollard, M.D. How about that? I want you to come sit where my mother would have sat, because you’re the nearest thing to family that I’ve had.

Love, Teddy Stollard

It seems that somewhere along the way, someone must have taught Miss Thompson the proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

It is a proverb that Jesus himself would have known. In fact, Jesus seems to build on this very proverb when he says in the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (v. 14–16).

You see Jesus reminds us here, that our good works are not driven out of self-promotion but out of a deep gratitude of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and a genuine longing for others to come to know God and experience His goodness.

I was recently reading an article where the author was commenting that a veterinarian can learn a lot about a dog owner they have never met just by observing the dog. What does the world learn about God by watching his followers?

Author David Kinnaman would say, “not much in regards to good”. In his book, “UnChristian” Kinnaman shows the results of his three-year nationwide study, where he reveals that the two most common perceptions of present-day Christians are judgmental and hypocritical (p. 27).

But Kinnaman and his research team must have not known you, the Hope College Class of 2022. As I look out on this gathering this morning, I’m fortunate to know a lot of you. Which means over the past four years, I’ve noticed the ways that you have graciously loved and served. Whether that was as a CASA after school instructor, a Ready for Life mentor, a Spring Break Immersion trip participant or a Dance Marathon team member. I’ve seen the ways you’ve given of yourself in the “Purple” athletic competitions for Cancer research or in certain organizations such as the Foster Hope Initiative or International Justice Mission. I’ve caught glimpses of unselfish acts of kindness in the lives of Orientation leaders, RA’s, Multicultural Student Organization leaders, Small Group Bible Study leaders and Student Congress members.

Which tells me that somewhere along the way, someone must have taught you the proverb,
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Brian McLaren in his book, A New Kind of Christian, states, “the challenge with culture and society in the past was to prove that we Christians were right and others outside the Christian faith were wrong. But I think we have a different challenge today. The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong, and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think that more people would believe we are right”.

Hope College Class of 2022, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” So do it! As you go out from this place, and whether you go, East, West, North or South, tuck this proverb in your back pocket and use it generously today, tomorrow and throughout the rest of your lives for God’s glory and for His Kingdom to be experienced here on earth as it is in heaven.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.