August 19, 2018 – Wisdom
First Scripture: Ephesians 5: 15-20 Be wise.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gospel: John 6: 51-58 Jesus the living bread.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
In the movie City Slickers, the character played by Billy Crystal, Mitch, has joined his friends on a journey to find themselves and perhaps even find the meaning of life. All of the men are going through personal struggles: They are dissatisfied with their jobs and their lives in general. One is going through a divorce. Their quest consists of helping with a cattle drive in the American midwest and therefore the men are travelling by horseback during the hot days and roughing it by campfire at night. At one point, Mitch encounters a frightening-looking older fellow (played by Jack Palance) whose name is Curly. Now Curly is tough! His entire life has been spent on horseback in the wilderness. His face is leathered from years in the wind and the sun. In fact, Mitch refers to Curly as “a saddlebag with eyes.” In their encounter, Curly asks Mitch if he would like to know the secret of life. “It’s this,” Curly says, holding up one finger. “It’s one thing,” Curly says. Mitch feels he is on the verge of having the universe revealed and is anxious for Curly to tell him about the one thing. “You have to find it for yourself,” Curly says. The rest of the film portrays Mitch trying to figure out what the one thing might be in his own life.
I wonder: What would that one thing be in my life? What would it be in your lives? If you knew, would you have arrived at true wisdom?
Our scripture today from Ephesians talks about wisdom. It is a short scripture but it is packed with four essential elements which, if followed, may help Christians in their path towards wisdom.
First, the scripture tells us that wise people understand that their lives are a gift from God. As a result, they make the most out of every opportunity because there will always be elements that impact a person negatively. John chapter 10 tells us that Jesus said we are to experience “life in all its fullness” which refers to our passion, our drive, our fire in the belly. We are wise because we understand that time is limited for us all and it’s up to us to make the most out of each day.
The second understanding from our scripture in Ephesians is that we must work hard at a personal relationship with God. Paul says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” For many people, they may interpret this as purpose or meaning in life. Each one of us has a responsibility to find the purpose of our lives in our alignment with our relationship to God. James 4:8 says, “Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.” This suggests that our seeking to become close to God is an active and constant endeavor.
The third precept from the scripture in Ephesians is that our faith must encourage us to transform our lives towards personal wellbeing. “Do not get drunk with wine,” the scripture says. Rather, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit which helps us to overcome other weaknesses we may have.
Finally, the scripture from Ephesians encourages us to draw together as a faith community as we listen for God’s word, sing hymns, and share in gratitude for the life God has given us. And this brings us directly to our Gospel reading for today from John, chapter 6, for this scripture is the foundation of our coming together for the sacrament of communion. Jesus says, “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” We have the assurance from Jesus that as we observe communion we are reminded of the abundance of life and we are reminded of the hope we have through Jesus in life everlasting.
In studying the sixth chapter of John these past weeks, we have been talking a lot about eating: We heard about Jesus feeding the crowd of thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish. But that story really wasn’t about food, was it? It was about the giving and sustaining of life. Then we were reminded about the bread God scattered all around the ground like dew in the morning during the Exodus; but that story really wasn’t about food, either. It was about trusting in God to provide for our daily needs. Then we learned that Jesus called himself “the bread of life.” That really wasn’t about bread but rather it is a metaphor to understand that through our belief in Jesus we will never be spiritually hungry. Then we were encouraged to decide if the bread we eat perishes or endures. But that also wasn’t really about bread; it was a call for us to understand that Christian faith includes our belief in eternal life. Today’s scripture about eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood isn’t about physical sustenance, either: It is about living a full life through Jesus so that we benefit now and have the promise of life eternal. And that understanding, I might argue, may be the wellspring of true wisdom.
But the sixth chapter of John is not the only part in the Bible which helps us towards true wisdom. The entire Bible’s purpose is so that we walk as wise people throughout our lives using God’s word as our guide. Three Bible books specifically were written as direct instruction on wisdom: They are the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the book of Job. As a matter of fact, some scholars refer to these three books as “wisdom literature.” Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and all three books ask us to discover what it means to live a life of wisdom with God’s guidance. Ecclesiastes teaches us that sometimes bad things may happen to those who are faithful. It also teaches us that time will march on for all of us and there will be difficult moments in our lives. We may not be able to control these events but we can be content with the daily blessings God bestows upon us. The book of Job gives us a portrayal of a man who deals with the complexities of suffering and has difficulty understanding how suffering can be part of God’s plan for faithful individuals. Job gives us hope that through our endurance blessings are restored to us.
I believe life’s journey is also a journey towards wisdom. Proverbs 16: 31 says, “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” It is true that we get wiser as we get older, isn’t it? Do you ever think how great it would be to revisit your younger years with the wisdom you have now? I, for one, am very grateful that I am slightly wiser than I was a couple of decades ago. Wisdom, for me, is expressed through a faith journey which is filled with blessings and often my own mistakes. I often wonder how, if I was on a horse riding with Mitch from City Slickers and ran into Jack Palance’s Curley, I would respond to the question about the one thing that life is all about. I might say that my work as a mental health therapist has taught me that we, all of us, are in pain: We all have experienced grief and loss and most of us have suffered some sort of trauma in our lives. The pain and fear that many of us live with each day is unfathomable and perhaps it is my role to help others through their pain. Or perhaps the one thing that life should be about for me is to be more generous with my time in the service of others. Or perhaps I have a God-given gift which I have been reluctant to share with others and my mission in life is to both find the gift and use it. You see, I am still on my journey to discover what the one thing is that my own faith journey is pointing me to.
What would you say to Curly, the “saddlebag with eyes”, when he asks you what is the one thing that your life is about? You are away from home and on a horse navigating the dusty cattle trails of the Canadian landscape. You haven’t been home in a long time and you are weathered from the wind and the sun. You are hungry and tired and are not really looking forward to another night under the stars. “It’s one thing,” Curly says as he holds up a finger. You contemplate the one thing in your own life and, as you settle on a response that may include your own journey growing in the knowledge of God and faith in his Son and our Saviour, you are able to shake the dust off your feet and respond to Curly with wisdom and truth. Amen.