Saturday, August 15, 2009

B, Pentecost 11 Proper 15 - Ephesians 5:15-20 "The Spirit of Wisdom"

If there's a time to feel sorry for the Jews, it's here. Jesus tells them the truth but it's just too much for them to hear. He says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

Even before we agree this would be hard to hear, we must also consider the Law, especially the commands on what is and isn't right to eat. Blood of animals was not to be consumed; how much more would the blood of a human desecrate their purity before the Lord?

And they were not to eat the flesh of any animal that did not have both a split hoof and chew its cud. To eat a human would put them far outside the realm of the Law to which they sought to observe.

Not to mention that to be associated with the corpse of a person would make the person unclean for seven days. And for those who didn't seek cleansing would be cut off from the community. (Numbers 19) How much more detestable would the eating of a person's flesh and the drinking of their blood be to a Jew who honestly sought to live by the Law?

What must have gone through the heads of the Jews when they heard Jesus say that he came from heaven? To hear him say he was the "I AM"; that he must be eaten; that his blood must be drunk; that unless you do this you don't have life in you; that in doing this you will live forever; that in eating and drinking him he would then somehow raise them up to eternal life; and that all of this is the truth?

Does this sound like wisdom and truth, or the ramblings of a mad man? Jesus basically tells them, he is God, God is a man, when you eat the man you eat God, and after God is eaten he still exists to raise up the person whose eaten him in the first place. Sound ludicrous to you? How much more ridiculous must it have sounded to the Jews, let alone anyone else who heard what Jesus was saying that day.

But for us it's perfectly explainable! We're not cannibals dining on corpse to glorify ourselves. We're receiving life from he who is eternal, glorifying him and his Father next to whom he stands in heaven.

We know what we eat is given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus Christ, the High Priest, who enters God's most holy presence is also the sacrifice that allows us to enter the most holy of holies, having had our bodies washed in his blood spilt on the cross to atone for our sin.

Next week in the Gospel reading we hear that many of the disciples desert Jesus because of what he says here. Today there are still those who depart from this truth as well. Some outside Christendom, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, call our sacramental practice straight out cannibalism if we hold Jesus at his word. Then again there are many inside the church who move to make what Jesus says more accommodating by rationalising his words into a symbolic or spiritual eating without recognising the physical reality of Jesus' words of truth.

Nevertheless, one can still feel a little sorry for the Jews and the disciples who opposed or left Jesus after he said these things. By our own intellectual wisdom, and powers of deduction, we can fully understand how Jesus' words would have made them rare up at his method of raising them up.

But we live after the fact and have a much greater picture since we now know of Jesus' death on the cross, the Last Supper the night before, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; all of which have benefited us since the moment of our baptism and our observation and hearing of these things in God's Word.

However there are many today who still reject the basic truths of Jesus' words in John six, and choose to rationalise it. So it comes as a great surprise after Jesus said these things there were still twelve disciples that remained with him. I suspect they too must have surely wondered what on earth Jesus was going on about.

What we do know, it takes more than human wisdom to comprehend any of what Jesus says. If we were to judge the situation with human limitations none of us would believe anything about God, or why we need him to come to us in the way he does. It would be too big for us to begin to grasp. And so we continually ask God to give us a discerning heart, a heart of wisdom.

So how do we get this wisdom? Is it through age? It should be but it's not! The greatest folly on earth is seeing someone who has experience of time under their belt and still they reject God's grace in the twilight of their earthly lives.

Is it through education and understanding? Neither doctorates nor degrees determine a person fit for eternal life, this wisdom can drown them in the details!

Or, do we get wisdom through what we do? Perhaps history has to repeat itself because in our wisdom we just don't learn the first time, or the second, or countless times after!

In Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians he says this: 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. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Here we are told to understand what the Lord's will is. But how does one understand? It has to be greater than just an exercise in using one's memory, lest every child and every senior with dementia has no place in the kingdom of heaven. And that's just not true! Perhaps this is why Paul then says not to get drunk. Maybe, if we're left to our own devices to understand God's will then in our frustrations and hopeless searching we might end up turning to the bottle.

Instead, we're told to be filled with the Spirit to be wise, to bear the true wisdom which enables us to trust Christ. But the question still remains, "How?" If it is left up to you or me to attain this wisdom, how do I know I've done enough? Can I ever do enough to know God's will? From where can I get the Spirit, and if I know where to find him, how do I get him into me, into my mind, into my heart, into my whole being? How do I know I've done the right thing to get the Spirit?

Isaiah prophesied about one who is the personification of wisdom… A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Isaiah speaks of Jesus receiving the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of the Lord. So we ask ourselves and search the Word to hear just where he received this Spirit. And our search takes us to Jesus' baptism where the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and rested on him. So too with us, in God's wisdom he sends the Spirit down on us so we bear the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of Christ, in our baptism.

It's from this point in time that we're placed on an eternal journey. This is the Lord's will. He desires us to remain on that journey and not to take leave from it.

In Psalm 111 we hear the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, Isaiah tells us Jesus delights in the fear of the Lord. And we know he did because he endured the cross and death and now reigns at the right hand of the Father, and since our baptism he reigns in our hearts bearing his wisdom in us.

Our hearts bear the heart of Christ. Therefore, in us the Spirit of the wisdom invokes a desire to hear Christ and his Word. Through the Spirit of wisdom the will of God is received which allows us to remain in and hear the Word of God. The Spirit of wisdom unites us with Christ, the personification of wisdom, so we might judge and discern with our Christ-given hearts and not the regular things the world uses to judge like sight, rationalities, and limited human understanding.

If you feel as though you are not very wise in the Lord, Saint James gives us some good advice, saying… If any of you lacks wisdom, they should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to them. But when one asks, they must believe and not doubt, because the person who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

And we can also pray for each other's wisdom too, just as Paul did for the Ephesians. He says… I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)

The wisdom of God in us does not bring us glory as does the wisdom of the world. But the wisdom of God enables us to trust Christ at his Word, to remain in his Word, and to know that the Holy Spirit works through his Word to bring us continually to Jesus to receive his forgiveness, life, and salvation, in the Spirit filled means he has given us.

We remain in Christ, we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we place ourselves continually in the hearing of his Word, and we judge and discern with his Word, since we and all humanity are and will be eternally judged by the Word, to the glory of God. Amen.

And the peace of God with passes all human wisdom and understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, our wisdom, Amen.