Sermons That Work

It Has Been Said…, Proper 15 (B) – 2003

August 17, 2003

It has been said that if advice giving worked, we wouldn’t need therapists or marriage counselors. Pastoral advice from one’s favorite member of the clergy would be almost irrelevant, too. Just think of the great insights you’ve given your family and/or friends when they’ve gotten in a jam, been misunderstood, or have just, plain, messed up. They sound appreciative — and then say something to the effect that, “Oh, you just don’t understand,” or “that would never work for me.” Or they just sound like they really get it — but do something else anyway.

And then there are those sayings: Haste makes waste. A penny saved is a penny earned. A stitch in time saves nine. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Little sayings that maybe you heard from a relative or a neighbor. Maybe a book of advice included old adages and clever sayings. Maybe someone repeated one of these every time you saw them, until you never, ever wanted to hear from them again.

Well, that’s what the book of Proverbs is about. A collection of good advice, probably actually used to educate appropriately young men of “better” families. But interwoven with this advice is, indeed, the idea of Wisdom — that strange spirit that keeps reappearing, and confuses. This desirable attribute that we are called upon to make integral to our life.

And it is confusing. Often people think of Wisdom as somehow the purveyor of knowledge. Hmmm. A prominent business man writes: “During the past 10 years, the amount of information available to an individual, not a scientist or a genius, just a normal, average person, increased by a factor of 10,000! Are you 10,000 times more knowledgeable than 10 years ago? How about 1,000 times? Perhaps only 100 times? I’ll settle on 10 times. How many of us here will truthfully admit to themselves that they are 10 times more knowledgeable today than a decade ago?” While he is challenging his employees, it is easy to see how we, too, might not be taking advantage of new ways to “know.”

But Wisdom and knowledge are not the same. Wisdom guides how we live, not at all the same as facts and figures, or even how we interpret those facts and figures. So here we are much more than a decade later. We’re people living some 2,400 years later than Proverbs was written. Why? Why is this included in the Bible, much less the lectionary? What does this have to do with us as church-goers?

Well, being followers of Christ is not an abstract thing. Believing in God and seeking to do God’s will, and in that way seeking to be wise, is not about feeling guilty or embracing some vague spirituality. It is about living. And Wisdom invites us to that place where we can live abundantly. Where we are invited to a party called life. Which is part of the essence of being God’s creation, God’s children, God’s hands in the world.

Ah, yes, but how? Being Wise is a great idea, but no one gives us lessons, except for the well- meaning advice we hear. And we all know how hard it is sometimes to do something just because we think (or “know”) we should. Can one suddenly become wise? How do we indeed attend Wisdom’s party?

Always being ready to learn — knowing indeed that “a word to the wise is sufficient,” which really paraphrases Proverbs 9:8-10, just after today’s lesson: “A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you. Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (NRSV)

But finally we must turn to the Gospel for our insight and strength. Here we have that strange cannibalistic story in John that seems to make no sense at all in the context reported, and maybe only a little sense in the early Christian context where the practice of celebrating the last supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist was being established. Jesus says, “…whoever eats me will live because of me.”

However, we are being told something very straightforward here; something central to the thoughts of insufficiency that were raised in our other lessons. It is only by making Jesus so integral to who we are — as food becomes our body, nourishes us, becomes part of us — that we will indeed live abundantly and eternally. So partake at our Lord’s table, listen to the words of scripture and struggle to understand, “walk in love as Christ loves us,” and when we’re given advice, at least listen long enough to hear if it is gentle Wisdom speaking.

For as Jesus becomes part of us in this visceral way, we can indeed, “walk in the way of insight” and live in that place of Wisdom that is not about knowledge, but about who and how we are. So not only are we living with Wisdom, but we are living as an integral part of the Body of Christ, “we in him and he in us.” And it is in claiming that intimacy that we are not only assured of eternal life, but that the life we live here may be truly wise.

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Christopher Sikkema


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