Let’s get real. That’s what people say when they feel that they have some undisputed – and uncomfortable – truth to share. I think our readings approach that phrase in a different way. I think they speak to us today about what it means to be “real” – to find and know and understand our identity and purpose.
At least, that is where we begin with Solomon. If you read chapters 1 and 2, you’ll get a little more detail. In fact, you might find it to be like a Spark Notes version of the Game of Thrones (sex, betrayal, vengeful bloody transfer of power)! In fact, the last several weeks of Old Testament readings have been like that. The Psalms have complimented them, and have been woven between lament over our sinfulness and praise for the way in which God is always faithful – even when we are not.
The letter to the Ephesians has been telling us about the calling to unity in the Body of Christ and the different quality of life that results from our coming together. Today we are told why – because the days are evil.
And in John’s gospel, Jesus keeps telling us, “I am the Bread of Life, and if you believe in me you will not hunger.” Then he said, “I am the Bread of Life, and I give you life because I am from above.” And today he tells us, “I am the Bread of Life, and you must consume me if you want to live.”
All in all, these texts are about wisdom. They are about God revealing God’s self to us, and because of that they are about understanding what it means to be real and true because God is real and true. They are about living in fullness in the face of our worldly limitations. They are an encouragement to live as “wise people.”
I think we like to think of ourselves as wise – as a congregation, as a community, as a nation. That’s not to say that we always act like we are wise. Of course, in the age of information, we often confuse knowledge and wisdom. I think there is some irony in the fact that a recent quote from Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, that went viral states, “We are a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.” We are so starved for wisdom that we’ll share our hunger with anyone who will like, re-tweet, or pin these words to an imaginary page.
The Psalmist reminds us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That may sound strange – or at least culturally misplaced – but let’s not dismiss it too quickly. First it reminds us that there is a God, and it is not us. Beyond that, fear may be the beginning of wisdom – like the first time you burned your tongue on hot chocolate – but fear certainly isn’t the end result of wisdom.
Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear, and that love is perfected in the sacrificial love of Jesus. And so wisdom begins when we realize that we are not the center of the universe, but it doesn’t end there. In fact it never ends. It simply moves us toward a more complete understanding of life in all its fullness.
So it was with Solomon who was faithful like his father, except when he went to the high places that people used to make sacrifices without the tabernacle priests. These “high places” were thought to be closer to whatever deity ruled over crops and rain and ruled the sky. It was seen as the closest you could get to the heavens. So, Solomon was in the wrong place – hedging his sacrificial bet – and yet God showed up.
Interestingly, Solomon didn’t ask for wisdom. He asked for a certain knowledge of good and evil. Sound familiar? Adam and Eve took the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and they were punished. But Solomon asked for it. He wanted it to know how to be a good king. He wanted a moral compass that would help him serve God and guide God’s people.
All you have to do is read the news to know that we need that moral compass now as much as we ever have, and not just for our leaders but for all of us. We are a culture marked by a history of imperialism, genocide, and protests over everything we think that it is our right to own, posses, and evaluate. At the same time, we are part of a nation and a community where creative responses to the issues of the day are constantly being generated.
Just last week I became involved in conversations about a partnership between Catholic Family Services and the Sheriff’s department about opening a new facility to address issues related to homelessness and vagrancy without locking people up for being poor or having addictions. In our congregation we continue to support C.U.P.S. and Family Promise and the U.C.O., and yet we find ourselves constantly in need of wisdom and discernment about how we relate to the community around us.
And that’s a good thing. We are approaching 140 years of ministry in this community, yet we still find ourselves asking how we can become better connected to the community. Although we will certainly continue to answer that question through our ministry teams and committees, the Session has also appointed a commission to create a new initiative to involve the church in the community.
Why are we doing this? Because the days are evil. I don’t mean to say that we should live in fear, but I have come to realize that the days are evil because they are fixed. Living in the limitation of the days that we have lived is to move away from God. So, we must live in a way that pulls every little gratitude and expectation out of every day and pushes us further into God’s embrace!
That’s where we find true wisdom – through realizing that God is with us in all things. Not only that, but we have this gift of revelation in Jesus that allows us to recognize what God is doing in and through us. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he told the Jews to “eat his flesh and drink his blood.”
In some ways, I think those words were meant more for those of us who are reading than the ones in the story. Jesus, according to John, is the “word made flesh.” He was, as I’ve heard it said, God choosing to experience the creation through the filter of Jesus. In that way, God became real through Jesus.
So, when Jesus tells us to “eat his flesh,” he is telling us to become “real” in the same way. Only through understanding that we are a particular expression of God’s self can we find true meaning and purpose. Only through recognizing that each person we meet is not simply potentially an expression of God’s self but actually an expression of God’s self can we come to see God acting in and through them.
When we begin to see one another in this way, I believe we will find that the fertile ground between acceptance and tolerance – between love and indifference – is the space where wisdom takes root. To be real – to have a sense of purpose and meaning through God’s active presence – requires us to let go of our presumptions and recognize that we are bound by one another’s struggles yet free through the life giving love of God!
If that sounds too theoretical, then maybe you can just do what a woman named Brooke did. Brooke Ochoa is a young white professional. On her way to lunch she noticed an older African American woman who struggled to get in and eventually made it a to a seat all alone. So Brooke asked if she could join. She found out that the woman’s names was Delores, and that she had been caring for her mother until her recent passing. The two women found so much healing and value in their time together that they now meet, religiously, to share a meal on Thursdays. At the risk of sound trite, I think Jesus is on that menu.
Yes, we have received a knowledge of good and evil. Yes, we can become more real in our relationship with God through our relationships with others, and through those relationships we can discern the will of God for all relationships. At least I pray it will continue to be so with me, and I pray it will be so with you. And to God be the glory. Now and always. Amen.