13TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 19, 2018

13TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Passage: Proverbs 9:1-6

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time.” That’s what Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:12).

“Wisdom has built her a house,” we read in the Proverbs. And wisdom calls out to the simple and the senseless, “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Proverbs 9:1, 6).

“Come, children, and listen to me,” writes the Psalmist. “I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:11).

Over and over again the scriptures exhort us to seek wisdom – that we might actually become wise people. Because, so far as I can tell, wisdom isn’t a birthright. And neither is it something that happens automatically to us when we become old. What seems more often to be the case is that the destination of old age is determined long before by the way we’ve chosen to live in all the years leading up to it.

As Jesus once said, “Seek and ye shall find.” And this begs the question for us, “What is it that we’re seeking?” And the answer isn’t found in the philosophical musing we may occasionally have with a friend. The answer to what we’re truly seeking is found in the choices we’re making every day about how we live and how we behave.

And this is what I observe:

Those who seek wisdom find it.

Those who seek love became loving, and in turn are surrounded by love.

Those who seek to bless become a blessing.

But the opposite is also true, and in many ways, is far more common – even for those in the church:

Those who never let go of indignation and bitterness…well… they tend to become irritable and bitter old people.

Those who are driven by vanity and ego, just end up vain and egocentric.

Those who never stop being enamored by the sound of their own voice just end up repeating a lot of tired old stories that nobody wants to hear anymore.

Those who keep trying to fill their empty spirit by shopping end up isolated and lonesome, save for all their clutter.

But wisdom has built her a house and calls out to us simple and senseless children, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live.”

I heard news this week of a friend who was just diagnosed with an incurable form of bone cancer. There’s no mystery about where this will lead. And I called her on the phone and asked, “How are you?” “I’m fine,” she said. Then there was a pause, and she rephrased it: “I’m fine, but my body is dying.” And then she went on to share all the ways she is being loved by her family and friends. And I told her what I knew to be true of her, “You have chosen to live your life with an extraordinary amount of love, so it’s no surprise to me that love is surrounding you now.” And she thought about that for a minute and said, “It’s true. I made that decision a long time ago.” And because it was true she could name it for it was, without any sense of false modesty. To love, to bless, to seek the other’s good, to see and to celebrate what is worthy of celebrating in someone else’s life: this is the path of love, and it is a choice, and it will lead to wisdom.

Wisdom has built her a house, and she has found her home in her.

My father-in-law was a wise man – but not in some picturesque, made-for-television Hallmark Special kind of way. He wasn’t the most polished man, and I doubt that he ever would have claimed to be “pursuing wisdom.” But he got there, all the same. And what that path for him seemed to be, was that time and again when the decision needed to be made of choosing what was most pleasant for himself or what was needful for the other, he chose the other. His marriage was a difficult one. For many complex reasons, his wife kept intimacy at bay. She was not an easy woman to live with. And when he was in his mid-forties (about my age) he came very close to leaving her. And had he chosen to do so, few would have criticized his decision. But he didn’t leave. Years later, after his wife had had a series of strokes and he’d become her constant care-giver, I asked him, “Clyde, do you ever regret your decision to stay in this marriage?” “No,” he said without hesitation. “If I’d left her, who’d be taking care of Dot now?” And that’s the moment when my respect for him quadrupled in size. The choices he’d made day by day and year by year had formed his character in such a way that now, in old age, he was a man of wisdom, who both knew and desired what was worthy and true.

Wisdom had built her a house, and Clyde had found his home in her.

It reminds me of another conversation I had just a couple weeks ago with an older member of our church. She observed that in most every couple she knows, there seems to be a care-giver and a care-receiver. And she’d been talking with an old friend who was lamenting the struggles of getting old and caring for his wife and she told him, “Oh, Charlie, we can never complain about getting old, because so many were denied the privilege.” And she began to recall all the friends and siblings who never made it to old age – those who were snatched away young by disease, by war, by accidents… “We can never complain about getting old, because so many were denied the privilege.”

And again, I was stunned by her wisdom. Because wisdom wasn’t simply having the right words to say. I was in the presence of Wisdom through this actual woman who had been formed by the truth of which she spoke.

And then she went on to say with a laugh, “You know, marriage can make you an expert on what the other person is doing wrong. You could write a whole, thick book about their faults. But then I think about the fact that my husband chose me. I’ve got all my own problems, and he chose me, and committed himself to me for my whole life. And realizing that overshadows all my griping and complaints, and I’m just so grateful.”

Wisdom has built her a house, and she has found her home in her.

You don’t have to be a Christian for this to be true. The world is filled with people who have never been to church, or who have been – and found it wanting – but who nonetheless know by the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit what the path of wisdom looks like. And wherever it has grown, there (I would say) is the Kingdom of God indeed.

But for those of us who are in the church, who have chosen to pursue life as followers of Jesus, there is a distinctive path of wisdom charted before us of seeking God – of seeking God as the author of life, as the destination of life, as the means and meaning of life and every breath therein. For it is this God in whom we live and move and have our being, so it must be that the knowing of God is the source of wisdom in its truest form.

And please hear me when I say, that at this level I am not talking about doctrine or catechisms or all the many useful forms we develop to understand and communicate knowledge about God. I am talking about our soul’s unquenchable yearning to be in union and partnership with God.

For wisdom is not the attainment of knowledge. It is the nurturing of truth within our character and being. And as we enter into the proximity of God, then shall we begin to resemble this God whom we have long sought.

Woe to us who have worshipped Jesus without ever following Jesus on his same path.

Woe to us who have reduced Jesus to a mere religion, without finding in him our pathway to union with God and everything else.

Woe to us who have made religion a matter of belonging and believing, rather than the wellspring of our transformation (paraphrased from Richard Rohr).

“Very truly, I tell you,” said Jesus, “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

But can I confess something to you? The more I study and the more I learn, and the more time I spend on the journey of faith, the less I can tell you what this means… but the more I believe it to be true.

I have found lately that in my prayers I’m asking Jesus afresh to show me who he is.

Who are you, Jesus of Nazareth?

Who are you, Jesus of Gig Harbor and Eric Stelle?

Who are you, Cosmic Christ, God from God, Light from light… the one through whom all things were made?

Who are you?

And what does it mean to eat your flesh and drink your blood?

How does the substance of what you taught intersect with the Church’s tradition of Eucharist and intersect with the world we are living in it today?

And mystery of mysteries, though my questions keep expanding (without any concise answers!), the very fact of my asking is known to my spirit as the fitting progress of faith. And I suspect that the asking itself is its own form of communion – that the pursuit of God is also the meal of God that leads to eternal life.

For just as the food we eat, day after day, determines the health of our bodies in years to come, so I believe that the steady pursuit of Christ over the years will determine the health of our person that we are to become.

So we need to decide: Who do we want to be and become? We’ve only got this one life after all – this one shot at living into our true and best selves. And for most of us, it’s already halfway over or more. For many, there’s just a few years left! So let us be done with lesser things, with small and petty cravings. And let us feast instead on the Living Bread that comes down from heaven.

May the words of Christ and the faith of Christ and the love of Christ[1] become as food for us that we may truly live.

 

 

[1] “Renew yourself in faith, which is the flesh of the Lord, and in love, which is the blood of Jesus Christ” (Ignatius, Ad Trallianos, viii); “Faith is the flesh, the substance of Christian life; love is the blood, the energy coursing through its veins and arteries (Bishop Lightfoot), quoted in William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. 81.

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