Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 15 August 2021.
• First Reading: Proverbs 9: 1-6 (The invitation of Wisdom)
• Psalm 34: 9-14
• Epistle: Ephesians 5: 15-20 (Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord)
• Gospel: John 6: 51-58 (Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh)
I think that we have all been in situations where there is someone who has to make a parade of their verbal dexterity. It may be in story-telling, or the ferocious put down, determination to have the last word, monopolizing the conversation and a refusal to engage in any kind of real conversation, or a kind of social boorishness.
We have all been there and probably have been tempted to imitate these habits ourselves.
And then there is the person who has read all the books, knows all the facts and has an encyclopedic memory with which to crush any and all views that differ from their own.
I suppose that we have found our coping mechanisms – to smile politely, and listen carefully without being drawn into pointless arguments; possibly we might see where the social encounter is going and find a way of moving away.
And there are probably many other examples of both the pitfalls to avoid and the best way of doing so.
But there is a difference between cleverness and wisdom. It is the difference between having all the facts and being able to use them intelligently. The difference between promoting ourselves and being genuinely interested in the other person.
In the bible, Wisdom is given a name and a place. It is there in the Wisdom books – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
It is there as John begins his gospel with the words ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’
You might also say that the epistles of the New Testament are also wisdom writings, this time attributed to those who were Jesus’ original disciples, or who like Paul, were divinely appointed as an apostle.
In giving His only-begotten Son to be the atonement for our sins, God appointed the expression of His personal Wisdom for this particular task, and He came to show the people of the earth in general and of Israel in particular, what Wisdom of God was like as He taught, healed, and on occasion took control of events without being overcome by them.
In the Old Testament we have the words of Job: ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.’ (Job 28: 28).
In Psalm 19, the law of the Lord is perfect, the testimony of the Lord is sure, the statutes of the Lord are right, the commandment of the Lord is pure, the fear of the Lord is clean, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. (verses 7–9).
The Wisdom of God is in this sense the very foundation of human relations and of intellectual inquiry. Take away that sense of what is and always was, and you end up with a set of propositions that are always in dispute, whose validity is never trusted, and which generate the suspicion that someone is out to benefit personally to the detriment of someone else.
Perhaps this is the foundation of much of today’s preoccupation with identity politics.
I only know that if we start with God and stay with God then by definition we will end up with God. If we start with self and stay with self then at the end of it all we will only have self – and that is for eternity. I cannot think of a worse description of hell.
And yes, if we start with humanity alone and stay with that, then our heritage will be both the best and the worst that humanity, separated from God, has to offer. Think of the concentration camps, to the tunes of Beethoven and decorated with the Italian painters. And chimneys belching in the background.
But in the gospel, Jesus has a quite different point to make. It is that we are called not only to be His disciples but as such to become part of who He is and what He has done.
We are to receive Him in the most intimate and basic manner possible: by receiving Him and ingesting Him. In this we are part of His eternal plan and purpose in restoring human fellowship with God.
To receive Jesus in the elements of communion is to be part of His work of atonement on the cross. But more than receiving the benefits of His death, we are also to receive the benefits of His life and His resurrection.
St Paul wrote that if we are blessed by being drawn into the death of Jesus, then how much more will we be blessed and glorified by being drawn into His resurrection.
In this sense the communion points to and incorporates us not only into Jesus death but also into His resurrection. To be joined with Jesus is to be part of both aspects of the atonement and of the life that flows from it.
That means being renewed in His life, and hence His strength, wisdom, righteousness, and the fulness of His atonement.
It also means that in receiving His life, we submit to His agency, His agenda, His means and His initiative in all things. There is no longer any room for spiritual or moral self-sufficiency. There is certainly no salvation apart from Him.
In coming among humanity, Jesus put flesh and blood upon the Wisdom of God, and in going to the cross, He allowed humanity to do its worst, without morally or spiritually compromising Himself.
The loving wisdom and the eternal glory of God went to the cross so that we would not pay that penalty ourselves. But equally, God was and is supreme in all the universe and certainly was not going to be overcome by the fact of death. That He would overcome Himself, personally and directly.