Sermon for Sunday, August 16th 2015 || Proper 15, Year B || Proverbs 9: 1-6; Psalm 34: 9-14; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
The scriptures this week say a lot about wisdom. In Proverbs, we read that “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars…to those without sense she says, ‘Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of wisdom.’”
Then in Ephesians, we’re cautioned to, “Be careful…how you live, not as unwise people but as wise… understanding what the will of the Lord is.”
And the writer of the psalm appointed for this morning promises to teach us to “fear the Lord,”– which isn’t at all about being afraid of God, but about having the wisdom to feel awe and reverence in response to the reality of God’s breathtaking presence.
Wisdom is what today we might call spiritual maturity—it’s what Paul’s been exhorting us to grow into for the past few weeks, as the Body of Christ. And believe it or not, psychologists have a term for it. They call it “spiritual intelligence,” (like intellectual intelligence or emotional intelligence) and they even have tests for measuring it.
Now, remember how in Proverbs we just heard that Wisdom had built her house and hewn her seven pillars? Well I want to share with you what a Roman Catholic priest named Patrick Brennan calls the ‘seven pillars” of spiritual intelligence for Christians. I’ve mentioned these before, but it’s been a long time so I want to go over them briefly again. Fr. Brennan calls spiritual intelligence “lived spirituality.” It’s what our scriptures call wisdom.
Here are what he calls the “seven pillars” of spiritual intelligence—or wisdom– for Christians:
Pillar #1: A Christ-centered self-concept: When we have a Christ-centered concept of ourselves, we accept the reality that we, like Jesus, are truly God’s beloved. This astonishing truth anchors us, and gives us confidence and courage for life.
Pillar #2: A Christ-centered concept of others: Realizing that we really are all brothers and sisters, all equally loved by God, gives us radical respect for those different from ourselves, and a radical commitment to reconciliation and healing as members of God’s precious human family.
Pillar #3: A Christ-centered concept of stewardship: Living in the reality that “all that we are and all that we have” is a gift given to us by our creator, and not ours to exploit or hoard, compels us to care for creation, to work for economic justice, to share what we have generously, and to lead, like Jesus, by serving.
Pillar #4 A balance between contemplation and action: Jesus was an activist, but he constantly sought renewal and refreshment in prayer, and we need to do the same. If we want to become more spiritually intelligent, we need to spend a minimum of 20 minutes a day in prayer or meditation, re-filling our tanks.
Pillar # 5: A paschal perspective on life: That means recognizing the pattern of life, death and resurrection that permeates all of reality, over and over again, offering us profound meaning even in the midst of suffering and death. There is always new life after death, hope after despair, new beginnings after endings.
Pillar #6: The way of forgiveness: Choosing to look at one’s own faults, to put ego aside, and to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” This means setting aside anger and hostility for the sake of the body of Christ and for the gospel imperative to forgive.
Pillar #7: Groundedness in God: To see God in the people and events of our lives and to feel God’s presence all around us is to live in the reality of life’s sacredness and to experience awe at God’s magnificent generosity.
I know it sounds like a lot, but this is where John’s gospel comes in. Remember that in the very first chapter of John’s gospel, we learned that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
See, in John’s gospel, Jesus is Wisdom—Jesus is the Logos, the Word of God—is, in fact, God’s own self made human. Keep that in mind, and remember how for the past couple of weeks in John’s gospel we’ve been reading the “bread of life” discourse—with John’s Jesus telling us every which way but sideways that the bread he provides in his life, death, and resurrection is the only bread that matters…that the bread of the world, like the manna the Israelites ate in the wilderness, is nothing but spiritually empty calories.
“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” he says in this morning’s gospel, “you have no life in you…my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them…..”
It’s offensively graphic language—especially in the Greek–and it’s meant to be. We know that, because where John used to use the word “body,” here he uses the word “flesh.” Where he used to say “eat,” here he uses a word that means gnawing, chewing—eating audibly, almost desperately. As one commentator points out, it refers to the kind of urgent eating that an animal does because its life depends on it—and in John’s gospel Jesus wants us to know that our lives do depend on it. They depend on him– the One who “in the beginning was the Word” and was with God, and was God.
Is he suggesting cannibalism? Of course not. But John’s Jesus does want to shock us, to rattle us, to dislodge our normal thought patterns so we can hear something entirely new, something startling and life-changing and awe-inspiring: “Unless you take me into yourself, unless you feed on me like a hungry animal, and make me a part of you, you’ll have no real life in you. You may be alive, but you won’t know what real life is. For that you need to feed on my Word. You need to feed on my presence in the Sacrament. You need to feed on me in the solitude of prayer and meditation. You need to feed on me in the worship and wonder of community.”
You see, when we feast on Jesus in scripture and sacrament we feast on the only truly life-giving food there is. Because just as God is fully alive in Christ, so Christ is then fully alive in us. We are the Body of Christ.
And trusting that, and “faithing into” it (as we said last week) is the beginning of all Wisdom. Amen.