Achieving and Accepting

Image: The Lamp of Wisdom (Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0)

Note: I preached a version of this sermon on August 16, 2015

Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Did anyone go outside on Wednesday night to see the meteor shower?

Did anyone not hear about it?

Each year we get a meteor shower at about this time in August as we pass through the debris left by a comet. This debris could be as small as grains of sand or as large as a walnut, and as it hits our atmosphere going 37 miles per second it burns up, leaving those little streaks in the night sky.

This year there was no moon to interfere with the show, so it was supposed to be especially good viewing.

So I went out late Wednesday into the empty lot next to the parsonage. If I’d been thinking about it I’d have taken a blanket and laid down for a while to really let the experience happen. And it’s reasonably dark out there. It takes a while for our eyes to adjust, really adjust, to that level of darkness. But still you see all these unnecessary lights on.

Anyway, I got to see some meteors. And it was awesome to think that this was just happening outside, and all we had to do was go and watch it. Find a dark enough place and stare up. A whole astonishing show was going on for you to watch. Nothing to it.

Except that it’s actually kind of hard to find a real dark spot these days. And it’s getting harder. We’re filling the night with light. We’re conquering the night, little by little, so that the experience of just seeing the night sky is becoming more and more rare.

It was an odd feeling, coming back inside that night. It was bright and cheerful at almost midnight. I could watch a movie or do some work on my computer. I could read comfortably into the middle of the night. But just outside, a great show was going on that I was missing.

Today we hear in our reading from the Proverbs about Wisdom. Now Wisdom was a very important concept in the ancient world. You see it discussed, often in the form of a female character in today’s reading, in the Old Testament and in the New. Ancient Greeks and others sought after wisdom just as eagerly as the people of the Bible, maybe more so.

And we like wisdom, too. For us, wisdom is usually earned, even hard-earned. It comes through experience, learning, trial and error. Wisdom is something we achieve through hard work, or suffering, or difficulty.

But listen to how Wisdom is described in our reading today:

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 the town
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed
Lay aside immaturity and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Anything strike you as odd about this? Does it seem strange to you that Wisdom is building a house and setting a feast and then inviting everyone to her house to eat her bread and drink her wine?

This doesn’t sound like how you achieve wisdom. You achieve wisdom by years of searching and struggle and tears and hard experience! You achieve parenting wisdom by getting through the sleepless nights and random panics of that first child so that by, say, your third child you don’t worry so much. For example.

But here the Scripture is saying something different. The Scripture is saying that Wisdom is the hostess. Wisdom builds the house. Wisdom sets the table. Wisdom prepares the feast. Wisdom even invites you. All you have to do is come. All you have to do is show up. Leave your simplicity, your foolishness at the door and come. Wisdom is not something you achieve. It’s something you accept. Wisdom doesn’t hide from you. Wisdom invites you to her party.

We see this in our Gospel today, when Jesus repeats what he’s been saying for the whole story: 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… 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.”

And it’s funny—it seems that no one can think about these words for more than a few minutes without turning them into a problem that has to be solved. What did Jesus mean? Was he referring to the meal his disciples shared, the sacrament of bread and wine? Or was he talking about eating and drinking as a metaphor for believing in him?

Christians will try to answer these questions and then turn the answers into tests. We don’t just want people to believe in Jesus and to share in his body and blood and his sacrifice and his resurrection but we want you to do these things in the right way. We want you to achieve a proper understanding of this stuff.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted to leave us with here. Jesus did not want to give us a problem to overcome. He wanted to feed us. He didn’t want to test our understanding or our knowledge, he wanted to feed us. He doesn’t want belief in him to be something you achieve.

This is not supposed to hurt our brains. It’s supposed to nourish our souls.

Like Wisdom in our lesson today, it is something you can’t achieve, but can only accept.

A couple of years ago, Soren (my oldest) asked me whether we could see Jesus.

Years of study and preaching and reading and it all comes down to this, I think to myself.

Well, I told him, we can’t see Jesus the way his friends could see him, the way we can see each other. But there are two ways we can kind of see him. One is the stories about Jesus that his friends told, and that got written down. When we hear those stories now, it’s a little like seeing Jesus.

And the other way we can see Jesus is in the sacrament, in the bread and wine that is his body. We see Jesus when we share that food.

Soren’s eyes lit up. “We see Jesus with our tummies!”

In years of doing this, years of presiding at the Lord’s table and teaching confirmation and adult education and Bible study and preaching about the sacrament I’d never said it that well. We see Jesus with our tummies.

To be honest it was a little humbling. Here I’d spent all this effort trying to understand, trying to explain, trying to make sense of these words that Jesus says. And my four-year-old grasped it as easy as could be. This is why, incidentally, I am not a big believer in making our young people wait until they are ten and have taken a course on the sacrament to receive it. If your three or four year old has a desire for the bread, let’s start with that. Let’s sit down and talk. Because that may be enough. Hunger, desire—Jesus wants those things from us.

We want to understand, explain, we want to satisfy our eyes and our big brains. But Jesus is interested in our tummies. We want to achieve our faith, achieve our wisdom, accomplish something. But in reality, it’s just there for us. We just have to turn out the lights and go outside. We just have to answer Wisdom’s invitation. We just have to take and eat.

Of course, people refuse the invitation to Wisdom’s feast all the time. People refuse to take and eat all the time. What about that?

Come back next week to find out.


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