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August 19, 2012
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
This week's readings revolve around Wisdom. It is the gift asked for by Solomon, praised in the psalm, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, and encouraged by the Epistle. In the opening pages of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, he writes, "The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people." I agree with Foster and understand his statement to reflect a need for wisdom in our world, that is, not just information or opinions, but a knowledge which comes from a deep well of faith.
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
The verses from the second chapter record King David's death, burial, and legacy. The verses in the third chapter record the new king's worship of God and a dream encounter with God. When I consider this text as being written by the Jews in exile, then it seems that one of the questions that is being answered is, "Why was the reign of Solomon so successful?" Certainly Solomon had done many things that were against Jewish law, such as marrying lots of foreign women, one of them Pharaoh's daughter, and worshipping at the places of foreign gods. It is commonly agreed that the marriages brought political alliances, but it also seems that Solomon had many of the human failings of his father David.
However, the dream encounter with God in today's reading gives the answer to Solomon's successful reign as the king of God's chosen people. After Solomon sacrifices to God at the "the principal high place" in Gibeon, God asks what Solomon what he wants of God. This open ended question brings a recitation of what God has already given him through his father David and an acknowledgment of his inexperience ("I am only a child," verse 7). Then Solomon answers the question: he asks for an understanding mind (NRSV) or discerning heart (NIBV) to govern God's people. This is the key to all the other blessings that Solomon enjoyed: his intention to place importance on ruling God's people well as the first priority. The wisdom and splendor of King Solomon's rule is remembered to this day.
So, how are those who desire to rule our world today doing with being wise? Is there even a conversation about the important of wisdom or even encouragement to give a thoughtful response to an issue or situation that our country faces? I think the cultivation of wisdom not only requires listening/being open to God, but listening – deeply listening – to others. Not only those who agree with us, but those who don't.
There is a lot of discussion about the polarization of our current political system. Recently, one of the few moderate politicians left on Capital Hill, Republican representative from Ohio, Steve LaTourett, announced he would not seek re-election. LaTourett said, “The time has come for not only good politics but good policy. I have reached the conclusion that the atmosphere today, and the reality that exists in the House of Representatives, no longer encourages the finding of common ground.”
Also, I remember a news report that said neighborhoods were dividing themselves by political parties. It said that you could map out not only blue (Democrat) and red (Republican) states, but communities within states where people could live with neighbors who shared their political world view. If we are no longer encouraging our politicians to find common ground and are not willing to live near people who think differently than we do, how do we ever find different perspectives to find unique answers to increasing difficult and complex challenges?
When the Hebrew people wrote about the essential element of King Solomon's successful reign, they wrote about God's wisdom being made evident in his life. How much energy are we willing to use to seek God's wisdom for the situations that we face today?
The psalm for this week is a hymn of praise recited before the faithful congregation and would work well with the reading from I Kings. The psalm begins with praise for God's wonderful deeds, God's grace and mercy, and God's faithfulness to the covenant God established. After the recitation of gratitude to God for all that has been given to God's people, the psalm’s final verse says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever." So, both passages begin with thanksgiving for all God has given to God's people and then to the importance of wisdom for God's people.
I like Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of this psalm, particularly the last two verses, "He paid the ransom for his people, He ordered his Covenant kept forever. He's so personal and holy, worthy of our respect. The Good life begins in the fear of God -- Do that and you'll know the blessing of God. His Hallelujah lasts forever!" The juxtaposition of personal and holy is illuminating. It is this God who keeps promises, knows us personally and whose love and mercy are endless that gives us the perspective that brings a good life. I think it is important to note that the text doesn't say that life is easy or convenient or problem free, but life can be good.
The brief five verses of the Epistle continue the theme of living wisely. The instructions in this part of the letter have a 'do this, not that' pattern; i.e. be wise, not unwise and be filled with the Spirit, not with wine. The pericope ends with encouragement to give thanks always.
One concept that could be explored through this reading is the admonition that this new faith is to effect every part of one's life. Certainly, the Hebrew faith had laws for every aspect of how to live life properly. However, in the writings of the New Testament, there is a lot of criticism about how the adherence to that law is an external facade instead of an internal resolve. How each day is lived is essential to this new life of faith. Each day is to be filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving to God in all circumstances. Think about the people you serve in your church: are they convinced that each choice they make is important to God and is part of the experiential reality that builds their relationship with God?
I believe that grounding our journey in the experience of thanksgiving to God is the crux of our faith. So, how do we choose to see the events of our lives? Where is God in the midst of that reflection? Can we see the lure of God's grace in each moment, consider deeply how we respond to that lure and be grateful for that moment? For me, these are questions that help me to think about how I might grow wise in the ways of God.
Today's text begins with one of the many 'I am' statements in John's gospel and continues the image of Jesus as manna from heaven. In the argument from the Jews, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" perhaps you can hear the echo of Nicodemus' question of entering the womb again (John 3:4). Yet, neither the re-birthing language of chapter 3 nor even the sacrificial imagine in the Lamb of God language (John 1:29), are as difficult for me to process as the cannibalistic language of this passage.
Jesus' statement that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to abide in him has always seemed so harsh and raw to me. Many scholars have debated if this is a Eucharistic reference, but there is no agreement on this point. Particularly, because of the context of this proclamation, the Eucharistic angle is not a helpful one for me. If you consider the "body and blood language" of the Hebrew Scriptures it might be a good reference point. The psalmist often talks of bones breaking and blood being poured out.
One of my favorite passages is Jeremiah 20:7-12. The Jerusalem Bible translates the beginning of verse 7, "You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced.” I have always appreciated the passion of this translation and it continues in verse 9, "I would say to myself, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more,' but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not do it." These are strong imagines of God's relationship with the prophet Jeremiah.
So, in the gospel passage, Jesus is stating his case in the most provocative and powerful language possible. Jesus is God's bread. God has sent him and it is God's power that he embodies. It is through feasting on him that we gain an intimate relationship with him and eternal life. In John's gospel, eternal life is a term for living in God's spirit in this life and in the life to come.
Perhaps the question is how passionate is our relationship with Jesus? Do we look to God’s presence that enlivened Jesus to bring life to us, to literally be as important to us as the food and drink that sustains our physical lives?