Reading Ramblings – August 15, 2021

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 15, 2021

Texts: Proverbs 9:1-10; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

Context: Pastors are trained to interpret Biblical texts.  It ought to be a lifelong practice of not just personal reflection but also continued study in the art of exegesis, with reference to how others have interpreted the texts.  A combination of skills, spiritual giftings, intellectual aptitude, and practice all contribute to how a particular pastor reads a particular text or multiple texts together.  Often this is a very isolated process.  Working with others in the process is hugely beneficial but can be hard to arrange as exegesis towards sermon preparation is often assumed to be a very personal process.  This Sunday I’m preaching at another congregation and the pastor has provided a theme for the texts today, primarily based around St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians in the Epistle lesson.  The theme is one of time and making good use of time.  While verses 15-16 clearly articulate this theme, it was interesting to see how this theme of time might be linked to the other readings for today.  It’s a different process than I normally use, and it’s an interesting exercise for me!

Proverbs 9:1-10 – Several themes are recurrent through the book of Proverbs.  The overarching framing of a father passing on advice to his son is the major one.  Another is the personification of wisdom and foolishness/folly as two very different women.  Each offers themselves to the son in particular ways.  Wisdom’s offer is to share her wisdom – here further embedded in the metaphor of a feast.  Foolishness offers ease, pleasure, and ultimately destruction.  The son needs to choose judiciously which voice he listens to as the consequences can be far reaching.  In keeping with the theme of time, we are offered some advice as to how to share what wisdom we may have acquired with others.  Wasting time sharing wisdom with someone too foolish or arrogant to receive it is ultimately just that – a waste of our time.  Yet wisdom is revealed when someone else (or we ourselves) takes the wisdom of another to heart and benefits from it.  Finally, in our pluralistic age it is important to remember and affirm as followers of Christ that there is only one source of true wisdom and that is God the Creator of all things.  Any contrary wisdom is not wise at all but rather empty words, as Paul states in the Epistle reading.  We cannot hope to be truly wise apart from the God who Created us, died for us, and promises to indwell with us forever.

Psalm 34:12-22 – This psalm reads very much like a proverb!  Wisdom is not an assurance of long life and good days, but it certainly doesn’t hurt those goals!  Choosing the good rather than evil in both large and small ways leads toward a long and good life.  This is grounded in the understanding that there is a God and that God is very much present with us.  Our actions large and small do not go unnoticed.  While we rejoice in the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ through our repentance, to assume God doesn’t care about what we do is not simply ignorant but dangerous.  Little decisions and actions build and can easily lead us down roads we never would have anticipated initially, and those roads ultimately either lead towards salvation in Jesus Christ or eternal separation from the love of God.  God will deliver his faithful.  We take assurance in this when life reveals twists and turns and stumbles in the path we thought would be smooth and easy.  Our plans are not capable of delivering us from sin and death – only God is capable of that, and He has revealed his eagerness to do so in sending his Son to exchange his perfect and righteous life for our sinful and unholy ones. 

Ephesians 5:6-21 – Our time is limited.  Living in a time-obsessed culture we are told daily there are certain and definable ways to live long lives – to have as much time as possible.  What we eat, how we exercise, what habits we engage in – often these are discussed as though we are in control of how much time we have.  This is not the case.  This does not lead us towards ignoring the decisions we make as though they have no impact on us, but it does call us to remember where our ultimate faith and trust  lie – not in our own efforts individually or communally but only and always of the God who alone created, redeemed, and sanctifies us.  Those who follow Christ therefore use the time allotted to them wisely rather than foolishly, as the writer of Proverbs would agree with.  We make choices and engage in behaviors with an eye towards the eternal consequences, giving thanks to God for his wisdom and strength to strive after obedience to his good and perfect Word!

John 6:51-69 – The world focuses us on the here and now.  We are convinced through repetition that really, this life is all we have.  We cling to it at all costs, literally.  But Jesus’ words call us to the stark remembrance that our life here and now is only part of the story.  Ultimately apparently a very small part.  It occupies our attention at the risk of eclipsing the larger picture we are promised.  That may well be the essence of Paul’s description of the days as evil.  They blind and distract us to the reality these days are finite and limited.  But in Jesus we are promised eternity.  He brings us not just an improvement in the quality of our lives here and now, but rather eternal life.  As diligently as many people focus on what they eat and put into their bodies, followers of Jesus are to literally receive him into their bodies.  Lutherans would be quick to assert this is Sacramental language.  Jesus is not calling us to cannibalism but rather to trust in his promise that as we eat the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we are taking into ourselves his body and blood, and it is this union in faith and reality that lead us to eternal life, that prepare us and assure us for our bodily resurrection and entrance into eternal life in the presence of one another and our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier God. 

There are no other means towards this end. Science is working diligently on unraveling the mystery of our mortality and aging in an effort to slow or even eliminate these realities.  Genetic studies so far have determined that there is nothing in our DNA that indicates we have to die.  There is no gene for death that could simply be switched off.  At our most central identity, we are programmed for life, not death!  But it is life with God.  Life as his creatures in full acknowledgement and worship and obedience to their Creator.  Jesus promises us life, but not on our terms.  They are his terms because He is the means by which we access it.  Knowing this eternal timeframe should better inform how we spend the time we have here and now, prior to our death or his return!

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