Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pentecost Twelve
Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a character on the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory” is very intelligent. He is a physicist and his understanding of mathematics is incredible. He read and solve equations that make absolutely no sense to most of us and he sees the world from a perspective that few of us will ever understand.

Sheldon is a genius whose knowledge goes well beyond just science. He is insulting at times, even to his friends who are well educated and highly intelligent, about their lack of knowledge. He has an incredible brain, an eidetic memory, which many confuse as being photographic. He has an amazing ability to recall moments, images, information that most people forget minutes after they happen. On one occasion, he described not only a pinky swear between other characters, but he remembered not only the vow, but also the circumstances of the moment. He could name the food he ate a dinner three years previously and which shirt he was wearing at the restaurant. His incredible brain surely helps him with his study of physics, because a brain that has such incredible recall can remember everything he knows and apply it to current questions. It is no wonder that he sees himself as more intelligent than anyone else.

And yet, Sheldon has difficulty dealing with everyday problems. He can’t drive a car. He doesn’t know how to deal with the quirks of Penny, the beautifully blonde neighbor. He can’t understand the human need for companionship, touch, emotion or faith. He has a practical view of the world. When he found some common interests with Amy Farrah Fowler, a highly intelligent girl who is a friend (and eventually Sheldon’s girlfriend), Sheldon decided that their DNA was worth preserving in offspring. Shortly after their first ‘date’ Sheldon and Amy suggested that they should produce a child. Of course, they wouldn’t do it the normal way, they would do it in a test tube and surrogate.

Sheldon might be highly intelligent and have an incredible brain, but he’s missing something of the human mind. He lacks wisdom in a way that he will never understand. He can’t see the world through human eyes. His experience and intelligence has not helped him with interpersonal relationships or everyday life. He cannot discern circumstances in a way that helps him respond properly to the people and situations he faces. Of course, this inability to deal with the world makes for some very funny moments for the viewers, but it is not a life well lived in the real world.

Wikipedia defines wisdom, “Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one’s emotional reactions (the “passions”) so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Synonyms include: sagacity, discernment, or insight.”

The wise person can look at a situation and find the right way of dealing with it. Solomon, the wisest of all, knew how to deal with the two women who were fighting over one baby. The judgment of Solomon to cut the baby in half sounds ridiculous, but he knew that the real mother would never allow the child to die. How would Sheldon deal with a similar situation? I don’t know, but he sees the world in black and white, and the world is not always that clear. Sometimes there is some insight that isn’t obvious, a gray area that needs to be discerned through more than just facts. It takes the ability to deal with personal relationships, emotion, and faith, too. It takes seeing the world through the whole self, not just the brain.

Now, Jesus spoke words that went way beyond what the people could understand. The liked the miracles. They liked what they saw. The liked the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who would save them from the oppression they were experiencing. They liked that He filled their bellies and healed their sick. They liked that He had a large following, because with so many behind Him He would surely ‘win.’ They didn’t always understand what Jesus had to say. The parables were confusing. The attack on their faith was strange. They weren’t interested in anything spiritual, or even religious. They needed someone with practical answers to their problems.

His words in today’s passage are too shocking for the crowds. Not only had Jesus talked to them about being bread from heaven, opposed to the bread that Moses gave them, now He was telling them to eat his flesh and blood. This was the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood, and it would not have been seen as life-giving. As a matter of fact, it was cause for death! This was too much for many of the disciples and Jesus’ following became much smaller. They were afraid, but not of the God who offers eternal life. They were afraid of the consequences of the things they did not understand.

Those who followed Jesus were simple people. They needed practical lessons on how to live in faith, but Jesus was teaching them about life beyond today. They did not understand. But like the psalmist, Jesus was teaching through word and dead a healthy fear of the Lord. He was calling the people to live as God intended them to live: to depart from evil, to do good, to seek peace and to pursue it. The fear of the Lord is doing good and seeking peace. It is about building right relationships.

We know now that Jesus was pointing forward to the great and promised feast that we now celebrate in part at the Eucharistic table. But how would we have felt if we had been in that crowd that day? Jesus said that His flesh is meat and His blood is drink. Would we have been any more willing to partake? It is easy to assume from our point of view that the people were being foolish for not believing Him, but would His words have seemed any less foolish to us? Would we have recognized this passage as being the will of the Lord? Or would we have followed the crowd in running away from this madman?

Several weeks ago we began reading a story of Jesus revolving around bread. In the beginning, Jesus was surrounded by a great and hungry crowd of people. He asked the disciples to feed them. They had only five loaves of bread and two fish, but Jesus blessed the food and it fed more than five thousand people. Though this miraculous event is beyond our physical explanation, the people grasped the idea of Jesus filling their bellies. They wanted to make Him king so that they would never be hungry again.

When Jesus told them to work for the imperishable, they asked Him, “What is the work we are to do?” He answered, “Believe in the One whom God has sent.” That is the point of the sixth chapter of John, the stories we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. We are meant to believe that Jesus is the bread of life. Yet, Jesus makes it very hard to believe this. As we get further into the chapter Jesus gets progressively difficult, and it would have been even worse for those who were listening to Him that day.

Jesus first compared Himself to Moses, and though they wanted to make Him king, He was no Moses. Not even King David, most certainly the greatest king of Israel, was Moses. Then He compared Himself to the manna. How could He compare to the manna? The manna came and fed them for forty years! He said He was the bread “that came down from heaven.” This was not only beyond belief; it was blasphemy. He was identifying Himself with God. Finally, in today’s passage, Jesus tells the people that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. This is not only hard to believe, the idea is repulsive. We are not cannibals. How could anyone claiming to be from God ask His people to do something that is against God’s law?

Wisdom is calling us to listen and understand that Jesus is teaching us something outside the everyday. He did not literally want those people to kill him right then and there. He did not want them to follow the practices of the pagans who practiced human sacrifice. It is speak such spiritual words to people who live so matter of factly. Like Sheldon, who can see beyond the science that is his livelihood, the people heard the words and thought Jesus meant that they should understand them literally.

Matthew Henry writes, “What is meant by eating this flesh and drinking this blood, which is so necessary and beneficial; it is certain that is means neither more nor less than believing in Christ. As we partake of meat and drink by eating and drinking, so we partake of Christ and his benefits by faith: and believing in Christ includes these four things, which eating and drinking do:—First, It implies an appetite to Christ. This spiritual eating and drinking begins with hungering and thirsting (Matt. v. 6), earnest and importunate desires after Christ, not willing to take up with any thing short of an interest in him: “Give me Christ or else I die.” Secondly, An application of Christ to ourselves. Meat looked upon will not nourish us, but meat fed upon, and so made our own, and as it were one with us. We must so accept of Christ as to appropriate him to ourselves: my Lord, and my God, ch. xx. 28. Thirdly, A delight in Christ and his salvation. The doctrine of Christ crucified must be meat and drink to us, most pleasant and delightful. We must feast upon the dainties of the New Testament in the blood of Christ, taking as great a complacency in the methods which Infinite Wisdom has taken to redeem and save us as ever we did in the most needful supplies or grateful delights of nature. Fourthly, A derivation of nourishment from him and a dependence upon him for the support and comfort of our spiritual life, and the strength, growth, and vigour of the new man. To feed upon Christ is to do all in his name, in union with him, and by virtue drawn from him; it is to live upon him as we do upon our meat. How our bodies are nourished by our food we cannot describe, but that they are so we know and find; so it is with this spiritual nourishment. Our Saviour was so well pleased with this metaphor (as very significant and expressive) that, when afterwards he would institute some outward sensible signs, by which to represent our communicating of the benefits of his death, he chose those of eating and drinking, and made them sacramental actions.”

While we do eat and drink Christ in the bread and wine at the Eucharistic table, we also partake Christ by faith. Our lives lived in faith are lives that are nourished by Him. Our lives lived in response to the Gospel are lives that show our passion for Him. We eat His flesh and drink His blood every time we study the scriptures, pray and worship, share God’s grace with others. We join Him in a very spiritual way while being part of Him even in a physical way. Our whole selves become part of Christ. Our flesh and blood, our hearts and minds, our hands and feet are all joined with Christ through His body and blood. This sounds like foolishness, but there is wisdom in the words because it is God who calls us to come to the table.

We want to live according to the wisdom of the world, a wisdom that is founded on intellect. The world makes much more sense when we deal in practicality. Jesus made more sense to the people when He was feeding them bread and fish. He made more sense when He was talking about the Kingdom of God in language they understood. He lost them when He took them beyond their knowledge and asked them to see the Kingdom as something they could not touch. They rejected Him when He asked them to be part of the Kingdom in a new way.

Paul writes, “Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Jesus told us that the will of God is “to believe in the One He has sent.” The life well lived is not only the life that seeks God day in and day out, but it is the life of one who lives in communion with God and His people. Paul says, ‘Be filled with the Spirit.” The spiritual life is found in the body of Christ.

Paul writes, “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Paul is not trying to make the people of Ephesus afraid of the world in which they lived, although we aren’t much different than those to whom Paul was writing. And though times are different, the world is the same. We are surrounded by troubles. Many people today think that the days in which we live are evil. We are afraid because we do not know what tomorrow holds or how to get through today. But Paul calls us to be wise, to respond with faith. Foolish people respond to fear with senselessness. Wisdom responds by seeking the will of God.

Jesus asks us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Paul asks us to sing and make melody with our hearts to the Lord. It is no wonder that the world sees Christian faith as foolishness. But the life lived in faith is truly wise because it sees the world through Christ and trusts that God is faithful. We are not simply living for today or to get through the troubles of today. Faith gives us hope in that eternal Kingdom that God has promised to those who believe. When we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, we join in His body and we live forever.

Of course, someone like Dr. Sheldon Cooper would want that statement to be very real and literal. He would want the pill that keeps his body alive forever. He once even tried to live through a virtual presence device to avoid the dangers of the world. However, the life Christ promises is not in this world, it is in a world we can only imagine. The best we can do today is partake in the bread and wine, eat His flesh and drink His blood at the Eucharistic table, while we wait for the day that all His promises will be realized. We can’t understand this completely in practical terms, but we can believe. We can give thanks for all things in the name of Jesus, knowing that He is the One whose grace promises true life in this world and the next.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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