Sermon: “God Would Have Us Choose Wisely”
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
1 Kings 2.10-12; 3.3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58
An emphasis on wisdom clearly connects today’s readings from the 1 Kings, Psalm 111, and Ephesians 5. In 1 Kings 3, we see that Solomon regularly offered sacrifices at Gibeon, one of the high places. This was prior to the building of the temple. As we read, “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you’” (Vs.5; NRSV). Solomon replied by acknowledging God’s steadfast love for David, his own ascendancy to the throne, and his inexperience (“I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (Vs. 7b; NRSV)). Then Solomon requested: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people” (Vs. 9; NRV)? Solomon sought wisdom.
God was pleased to grant his request. The Lord said: “Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life” (1 Kings 3.12b-14; NRSV).
Further on, the account states Solomon’s wisdom “surpassed the wisdom of all the people in the east, and all the wisdom in Egypt … his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations” (1 Kings 4.30-31; NRSV). We are told Solomon wrote over three thousand proverbs and over one thousand songs. His interests were far ranging. Solomon “would speak of trees … of animals and birds, and reptiles, and fish” (1 Kings 4.33; NRSV). Solomon may well have been the first botanist and the first biologist.
The Lord’s request of Solomon reminds me of Jesus’ request of the beggar, blind Bartimaeus. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was approaching, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Although many told him to be quiet, he continued to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus then stood still and said, “Call him here.” When Bartimaeus came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus then told Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has made you well.” His sight was immediately restored (Mark 10.46-52; NRSV).
What would you have the Lord do for you? What would you have the Lord give you? Some would choose fame, wealth, success – the physical things of this world. But Solomon chose wisdom and Bartimaeus chose sight. They chose wisely. Their choices reflected their trust in God. One can imagine both giving thanks and praising God.
They may have rejoiced with the psalmist, “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the deeds of the Lord! They are studied by all who delight in them. His work is full of majesty and splendor, and his righteousness endures forever” (Psalm 111.1-3; BCP). When we study the works of God’s creation we are often struck with a sense of awe. I suspect Solomon frequently experienced awe as he studied the detailed aspects of nature. We would likely experience a sense of awe more frequently if we took the time to carefully observe, to study, the natural world around us. It is something to watch a butterfly pollinate a flower – to watch a wren build a nest then feed the hatchlings until they are large enough to be on their own. The psalmist reminds us, “The fear (reverential trust) in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding; his praise endures forever” (Psalm 111.10; BCP).
A few verses before our reading from Ephesians 5, the author reminds the Christians in the Church of Ephesus to “live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is right and true.” They are to try to “find out what is pleasing to the Lord;” to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (5.8b-10; NRSV). The author further instructs them: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise … do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5.15-17; NRSV). If we are to fully understand the will of the Lord, we must be filled with God’s Spirit. Once again, that involves a choice. We must petition the Spirit to live within us that we might have life!
John 6 has a lot to say about bread and the life of the Spirit. How does this relate to the theme of wisdom expressed in our other readings? The chapter opens with the feeding of the five thousand from five barley loaves and two fish. As you may recall from the sermon two weeks ago, the crowd pursued Jesus. Jesus admonished them, “Verily, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal” (John 6.26-27; NRSV).
The crowd then asked, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”, to which Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The crowd than asked what sign Jesus would give them and reminded him that Moses had fed them with manna in the wilderness. Jesus told them it was not Moses who provided the manna, for his “Father…gives …the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The crowd then said, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6.28-34; NRSV). Keep in mind the crowd understood Jesus to be speaking of physical bread.
In the discourse that follows, John uses two different Greek words for eat: phagein and trogein. Trogein is rarely used, for “trogein” refers to eating as an animal would gnaw or chew while smacking its lips. In the verses which follow, when trogein is used, I will replace “eat” with “chew.’
Jesus then said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I have said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6.35-36; NRSV).
Hearing this, the Jews began to dispute among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They were still thinking in terms of the physical substance of bread. Then Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat (phagein) the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6.53; NRSV). Jesus meant eternal life, as is evident from what follows: “Those who chew on 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 chew on my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever chews on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who chews on this bread will live forever” (John 6.54-58; NRSV).
These words shocked and offended many, for John tells us, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’…It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’” (John 6.60-63; NRSV). Again, note Jesus’ emphasis on spiritual sustenance as opposed to physical sustenance.
Many disciples failed to comprehend what Jesus was saying and departed. John tells us, “Jesus asked the twelve, ’Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6. 66-69; NRSV).
The twelve chose wisely, though, as John notes, one of them would go on to betray Jesus. One who chooses wisely chews on God’s word; in doing so, one has communion with Christ and other believers. The physical elements of bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us wisely chew on them; let us ponder them deeply and live our lives accordingly. Amen