A Sermon Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, 19 August, 2012 Lectionary Year B: Provers 9:1-6, Ps 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-58, John 6:51-
1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4 "You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says, 5 "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight." Proverbs 9:1-6
Last night my wife and I were invited to a pig roast, hosted by two young managers from the base. These two guys quite generously paid for the pig, spent an afternoon preparing it, and shared it with a large number of friends and neighbours. Because there was an Hawaiian theme to the party, Kay and I changed beforehand. Kay chose a summer dress and a plastic garland of flowers she’s saved from some mess function, and I wore my loudest shirt. It was a great evening, with more delicious pork than we could eat, and a chance to get to know friends and coworkers better. So while we changed for dinner, were we changed by dinner? Well, not really, except that we returned home slightly distended and much in need of exercise.
In today’s first lesson from Proverbs, we hear another invitation to dinner. Wisdom, who in the Old Testment sometimes is associated with God in a manner that anticipates the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit, also throws a big party. It’s probably not a pig roast, but there are no doubt some fatted calves and goats among the animals she slaughters, there are tables and wine, and even a brand new house to welcome the guests. This generosity is quite simply epic in its scale. To underscore this amazing generosity, we are told that Wisdom sends out her invitations via servants who shout it through the town. We get the sense that no one will be turned away from this feast, and we also realize that Wisdom has a particular kind of guest in mind, those “that are simple” and immature.
Now anyone who saw the Hawaiian shirt I wore last night might question my maturity, and rightly so, but there is something more profound going on here. Wisdom doesn’t want her guests to change for dinner. She wants her guests to be changed by dinner. Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures, as the preacher Wil Gafney notes, is knowledge of God and of Torah, God’s law. This knowledge changes people by bringing them into relationship with God and allowing them to live as God wants them to live. As Gafney notes, the acquisition of Wisdom is often associated with eating in the Old Testament, as in the psalmist’s call to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8), or by comparing the sweetness of God's word(s) to honey, (Psalm 119:103; Ezekiel 3:3)”.
The challenge in this invitation is for us, the recipient, to admit that we are simple. That invitation wouldn’t go so well if we put it on a sign board (Come To Church All You Simple People). But if we get beyond the idea of simple as in simple-minded and see it as meaning that we need transformation, then it starts to become more attractive. In our second lesson from Ephesians, Paul may be thinking of Proverbs when he writes that coming to worship, pray and praise, will help us to live “not as unwise people but as wise”. Paul isn’t talking about wisdom vs foolishness in terms of IQ, but rather as the difference between wanting to know God and not wanting to know God. In fact, as Paul writes elsewhere, there are plenty of smart people in the world who find the Christian message to be “foolishness”, but the Apostle is consistent in his message that knowing God leads to true wisdom.
In today’s gospel there is another call to eat, which seems to build on the first reading from Proverbs. As we did last week, we come back to John 6, where Jesus is still talking about himself as food. In talking about himself as bread, Jesus says that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” . I think we need to give this verse a moment to sink in. My friends were generous with their pig roast in wanting to feed their coworkers and neighbours. Wisdom is incredibly generous in wanting to feed a whole city. Here Jesus says he is giving himself for the whole world. You can’t get more generous than that.
Like Wisdom, Jesus is offering food that will change us. Ginger Barfield breaks this reading down by listing what Jesus is offering: * To have life ongoing (verse 52) * To be raised on the last day (verse 52) * To abide in Jesus (verse 53) * To have Jesus abide in [me] (verse 53) * To live because of/for the sake of Jesus (verse 53) * To live forever (verse 58)
The message of Jesus here is consistent with the whole Fourth Gospel. If we want life, both abundant life on earth and eternal life, if we want to be in a profound and wonderful relationship with God’s Son so that we “abide” with Jesus and him with us, then we need the meal that Jesus offers. As I said last week, there are several ways that we can understand what Jesus means by “bread of life”, whether in a sacramental, Eucharistic sense or in a larger sense of living with/abiding with Jesus, but however we understand it, Christ is giving us an invitation.
What we do with this invitation is our business, I suppose. But with all its emphasis on “life” in today’s gospel, there is the strong sense that we are giving up something profound and essential if we pass on this invitation. I think of that old song I learned in camp, “I cannot come to the banquet”, which is based on the Parable of the Great Dinner (Matt 22:1-10, Luk 14:15-24), and I think of the urgency behind this invitation, and how, while the choice is left to us, there are consequences if we decline. Who would want to be on the outside of a great and wonderful feast, wishing that we had said “sure, I’ll come?” and hearing from our friends later of the great time they had. So don’t miss that invitation. The table is spread before us now. And the good news is, you don’t have to change for dinner (unless, of course, you have a Hawaiian shirt, those are always a good choice). You don’t have to change for dinner. Dinner will change you.