Dear Blog Friends and Readers,
I recently preached at a Lutheran church here in SC and I have been asked for copies of my sermon. I am posting it to my blog for ease, knowing that sermons are not my typical blog. You are welcome to read it and even comment. Or if this isn’t your thing, just pass it by. I am including the Scripture readings for the day so that if you do read it, you have it in a context.
Sermon: August 16th, 2015
Mt. Horeb Lutheran Church, Leesville, SC
Proverbs 9: 1-6
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
From the highest places in town.
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
Come and eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
And walk in the ways of insight.”
Psalm 34: 9-14
Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 6: 51-58
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.
Take my lips and speak through them
Take our minds and think through them,
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you, O God. Amen
Was Jesus Wise? Are you?
These are the questions I want us to ponder today.
Jesus said a lot of things that do not sound like conventional Western, American, Southern wisdom. Let me remind you of a few of Jesus’ statements.
“Blessed are the poor, the meek, the lowly.”
“It is easier for a camel to be able to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to know God.”
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that you have a grievance with your brother or your sister, leave your gift there and go and be reconciled with your brother or sister first.”
“Give away everything you have and follow me.”
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gauge it out. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Hell.”
“Do not return evil for evil. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, give him your left as well. If someone wants to sue you for your cloak, give him your tunic as well.”
“Go out and invite all the street people to the wedding. Invite the street people. Invite everyone!”
I hope at least one of those made you squirm a little. If not, wake up, because they should make you squirm. All of them make me squirm.
CS Lewis, that great Christian writer, said this about Jesus’s statements.
“A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
The list could go on and on, but today we have another weird Jesus saying.
Today we have, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” It sounds like a vampire movie to me.
The closest I can come to understanding this graphic language is remembering what it was like to nurse my daughter. I remember the marvel of knowing that I, my body, was supplying everything that was essential for my child’s nutrition. She needed nothing else except my breast milk. I remember thinking, “She is literally feeding on me and she cannot live without me.” I think that is the closest I can come in this world to understanding the kind of dependence Jesus is inviting us to.
We have made this language very civil. We now say words like “The bread of Life, the cup of salvation.” But here in John, we have a Jesus who actually says, EAT MY FLESH AND DRINK MY BLOOD. It’s wild, isn’t it? This is not tame, sterile language.
Did your mother ever say to you, “You are what you eat?” My mother said that a lot. She was way ahead of her time. She nursed all four of her children in an era when most women were being duped into believing that their breast milk wasn’t good enough for their children. My mother knew deep in her soul that that just was not true. And she fed us as nutritious a diet as she possibly could. We didn’t have many snacks or sodas. She would say, “You are what you eat,” meaning….when we digest something, it becomes a part of us. Feed on junk food, become junk food.
Eat me, Jesus says. Drink me, Jesus says. How do we rely on Jesus so deeply that he alone is who we depend on for our needs? What are we digesting when we eat his flesh and drink his blood?
In Biblical times, bread was the most constant food. It was eaten at every meal, and sometimes it was the whole meal. You gave bread to strangers, and you were really poor if you had no bread to eat. Today, many of us still think of bread as indispensible. Look at the grocery store shelves when we fear a snowstorm. Milk, bread, peanut butter and eggs go first.
So Jesus says, “I am the bread of Life.” I am what is indispensible. I am the most basic food you can eat.” The day before this in John, Jesus is somehow making physical bread appear. He has fed the multitudes, making bread turn into bread. Then the next day he basically says, that’s nice, all that bread I made yesterday, but listen up. I AM THE BREAD. The Jews would have recognized this “I Am” statement because it was what God used with Moses. Yahweh means “ I AM…tell them I am who I am, God said.” So when Jesus said, I Am the bread of life, the Jews would have known he was talking about his connection to God. He was saying Digesting me should make you more connected to God.
Eugene Peterson has a book entitled Eat This Book. It is a book about how to digest the Holy Scriptures. It is a book about taking the time to allow the Word of God to actually be digested and become a part of us. In the Book of Common Prayer, Episcopalians pray this prayer, “Grant us so to hear the Scripture, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace them.” But really, how do we do this, with Jesus, with the Scriptures? What works?
Well….all wisdom begins with listening. In another verse in the book of Proverbs it says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. Wisdom existed before creation.”‘The fear of the Lord’, in the Old Testament did not mean to be afraid of God. It meant to be in right relationship with God, to be listening for God. So, the first rule of a healthy, mature relationship is learning to listen. How do you listen for God? Not how do you talk to God? Not how do you talk about God? Not how do you claim God is on your side? But Wisdom says that listening for and to God is the beginning.
What else will help us inwardly digest Jesus? What will help us have spiritual wisdom, the unconventional Jesus kind of wisdom?
Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman in their book Character Strengths and Virtues name these five strengths as routes to wisdom. I bet if you listen you can see these character strengths in Jesus.
Creativity: we need imagination and inspiration to be wise. We must develop our creative gifts and solve problems in new and surprising ways. We must be adaptive. Think of Jesus in the desert during his 40 days. He was quite creative with the Devil, don’t you think? And all those parables and storied he told. Great creativity. We need personal creativity and we need institutional creativity. Creativity must now be the currency of the church.
Curiosity: We must be open and reflective, wondering about life’s complexities. And we must put some action behind our curiosity. Curious people can see how they contribute to problems and can take responsibility for their part in things. In my office I often tell couples the most important word for them to cultivate is “HMMMM…..” Hmmmm….I wonder how I could be different? Hmmm….I wonder what I am doing to contribute to these problems. I wonder why I am stuck? Hmmmm…..
Jesus was a master at asking questions. Some of the questions were designed to help us think. Others were asked out of his deep curiosity. Why are you crying? What do you want me to do for you? What is your name? Who touched me? Where is your faith? Why are you trying to kill me? Do you love me? Jesus stayed curious throughout his life.
Open-mindedness: Open-minded people actively search for and consider evidence against their own bias. Let me repeat myself. Open- minded people actively search for and consider evidence against their own bias. Open-minded people are willing to abandon their previous belief if evidence and facts and research tell them otherwise. Jesus must have been very open-minded if he was able to critique the authorities of his own religion. He did not just accept what others told him. He searched for truth.
Love of Learning: Wise people engage content. They continue to have positive experiences when they acquire new information and new skills. They look for opportunities to learn from others who know more than they do. We know Jesus loved to learn as we are told he was schooled well in the temples and synagogues. His parents thought they had lost him but found him sitting at the feet of the temple teachers, learning all he could.
Perspective, Or Big Picture Thinking: Wise people just see a bigger picture than others. It is not necessarily academic intelligence. Wise, big picture thinkers use this skill for the common good of the community. When Jesus realized it was his time to die, he saw the big picture. He wasn’t focused on just himself.
Another thought about wisdom comes from Richard Rohr, Franciscan monk and writer who says, “Wisdom is always a common domain and not a do-it-yourself project.” In other words, wisdom is caught from others.
I want to share a portion of a dream with you. I don’t often share dreams publicly, and sharing this one makes me feel a little vulnerable, but it was just too apropos not to take the risk. I had this dream during my spiritual director’s training program. This was a seven-day residency program and we had knowledgable and holy speakers. Glenn Hinson, was one of my favorites. I think Glenn had all five of the wisdom traits I just mentioned.. The first night that Glenn lectured he was holding his Bible in his left hand and he would read and reference a passage and I kept saying to myself, “Wow, I’ve never heard it put that way,” and wondered what translation he was using. So after the lecture I waited in line to speak with him and I said, “Gosh, I just love that translation, which one are you using?” And Glenn handed me his Bible, which was in Hebrew and Greek. Yeah. So Glenn was brilliant, but Glenn was also meek and mild and present and wise. And we just hit it off. I wanted to sit at his feet everyday, gaining whatever wisdom I could. The night before we were to leave, I had this dream. In this dream, I approached Glenn, and we embraced. I then began sucking on his neck, (like a vampire but more gently) and while I was sucking on his neck a great wind encircled us and we were held in the most amazing vortex of spirit. It was not erotic at all. It was deeply spiritual. That is all I remember. But upon awakening, what I knew was that Glenn was a living symbol for me of the wisdom of Jesus. And I wanted to eat that flesh and drink that blood. We have that desire deep in us, all of us, the desire to be more like Jesus.
In India, people wear a bindi…a mark or a jewel sometimes in the center of their eyebrows. It is a symbol of the “third eye” or wise eye. It is symbol of deep wisdom that is believed to be inside each of us. We Christians have our own bindi. It is our invisible tattoo. Do you know what it is? It is the invisible tattoo, the seal that is set upon us at our baptism. The sign of the cross made on our forehead, with holy water, that says we are marked as Christ’s own forever. You have an invisible tattoo on your forehead that should not be thought of just as an insurance policy. It should also be a reminder to you to access God’s wisdom. My husband recently reminded me as I read my sermon to him that on Ash Wednesday we make a decision to make our invisible Christian bindi visible when we receive ashes on our third eye. This is an outward reminder of the inner Wisdom we are desiring.
Wisdom has set the table, we are told in Proverbs today, and Jesus awaits. When you receive communion in just a few minutes, make it an intention to digest Jesus. Make it your intention to give up immaturity and become wise. The world needs wise people. Our nation and state needs wise people. Your church needs wise people. People who can see the whole picture. People who can get out of their comfort zone. People who are willing to risk being called a fool.
People who have really digested Jesus become like Jesus. Are you going to be one of them?
I have a prayer to share with you. This prayer basically wrote itself while I was keeping vigil Maundy Thursday evening. It is, as you shall see, in the style of the prayer of St.Francis which you may be familiar with. But I guess God wanted me to pray again and again for wisdom. So let’s end by praying this prayer together.
Lord, make me an embodiment of your Wisdom.
Where there is confusion, let me stand still until a way is clear.
Where there is self righteousness, let me ask questions that challenge rigid thoughts.
Where there is shame, let me shine the Light of acceptance and belonging
Grant that I may not so much judge as offer compassion.
Give me a heart that mirrors another’s dignity rather than being protective of my own.
Let my need to be connected to others outweigh my need to be right.
For it is in careful discernment that we find your Way,
In painstaking listening that we hear your voice,
And in quiet and stillness that we know your true Presence.
Amy Sander Montanez