Based on Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
We live in a time where there are all sorts of ways to acquire knowledge and information – faster than ever before. No question goes unanswered in this world of Siri, Google, Alexa, etc. In fact, most of us spend our days speeding along the information super highway. You might say that we live in a country where most of us are as informed as we choose to be. Yet, I wonder sometimes where our collective wisdom has gone. It is one thing to have access to expansive knowledge and to be able to access facts and data with a few key strokes on a computer or smart phone – it is quite another to know how to use those facts and data in the way that God intends. Wisdom is the ability to use our knowledge to make decisions that are sensible and lead to positive outcomes for as many persons as possible – foolishness makes decisions that are self-centered and often poorly considered.
Foolishness, often seen as implementing policies or programs without an understanding of people or their behaviors, is all too common. Look at the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, as an example of this. Not to pick on Mr. Greenspan, because this type of decision making in all too prevalent nowdays, but he is a glaring example of too much knowledge without enough wisdom. Mr. Greenspan served as Fed Chair for a couple of decades. He was a person who believed that government deregulation of financial markets would in turn lead to self-regulation by self-interests within financial institutions, which would then lead to prosperity for all. The crash of insolvent banks in 2007-2008 brought this lack of understanding of the power of greed overwhelming self-regulation into stark relief. Mr. Greenspan’s Congressional testimony in October 2008 showed a man who for all his knowledge of economics, did not understand the power and foolishness of unrestrained self-interest. Though a devotee of the author Ayn Rand, he did not fully understand her egoist philosophy put forth in her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness” in 1964. You see, “…Rand believed that the individual exists solely for her own happiness and thus that rational self-interest is the only objective basis for moral action. There are no moral constraints on the selfish pursuit of personal happiness, except force and fraud. And there is no moral duty to sacrifice individual advantage for any greater good, because there simply is no greater good than personal happiness (“egoism”)….” In contradistinction, we have a book that was published many centuries before hers that posits the polar opposite approach to living abundantly, wisely and well. In fact, our scriptures for today give us some guidance on how we can all live this way. Let us ask God to open our minds and hearts to hear this word today…
The psalmist reminds us in song 111 of all the things that God has done to live into the covenant God made with the Patriarchs Noah and Moses. It opens with “Hallelujah” which means “Praise the LORD”. It goes on to say that the LORD is gracious and merciful, doing great deeds, redeeming God’s chosen people from slavery and from their constant sinning. Verse 10 states that “…the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice it have a good understanding….” The Hebrew word that is translated as “fear” is the word “yara” which means “to love”, “to cling to”, “to serve”. It connotes a degree of reverence and awe rather than a sense of being afraid or terrorized. A drawing to relationship rather than a running away from something scary. Psalm 112 follows up the teachings in 111 by showing us what we are to do as believers. It opens with “…Hallelujah! Happy are those who revere the LORD, who greatly delight in God’s commandments….” The song tells of dealing generously with others and conducting our affairs with justice. Then our hearts will not be afraid of any evil thing because they are “secure in the LORD”. This is how we live wisely into the LORD with our whole hearts and love others as ourselves.
Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, admonishes them to live in a counter cultural way. Make the most of the time you have, says Peter, be aware that evil is ever present. Rather than escape life through the power of alcohol, be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and sing songs that are praising God for all that God has done through Jesus. Understand, Paul says, all the things I have written to you in this letter so that you might live wisely and well in a world that seeks to harm you. Remember that Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned, and so knew full well the consequences of evangelizing in a land that did not want to hear about the “Man from Galilee” and his great works. Neither did they want to hear that following Jesus would lead them to greater wisdom and abundant life.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is reiterating his teaching on the importance of sharing the Communion meal. If you eat and drink of me during this meal, Jesus says, then you abide in me and I in you. Then you will have eternal life and be raised up on the last day. John Wesley believed Communion was so important to the development of a disciple, that partaking of it daily was to be commended as it is a “means of grace” which allows the Holy Spirit to work within us to help us grow towards perfection. The more broken and disconnected we feel, the greater the need to seek forgiveness and healing in this meal. The wise choice is to partake of this meal as often as it is made available and so to live more fully into the God image in us all.
Living wisely means that we not only look to care for our physical and mental health, but that we do everything we can to discover and grow our spiritual health as well. Just like it is good to keep our bodies strong and our blood chemistries and pressure within the accepted guidelines, we need to look the same way at our spiritual health. John Wesley taught that there are many “means of grace”, that is ways we can access the Holy Spirit and be in touch with God’s great love for us. Means of grace fall into large two large buckets, “works of mercy” and “works of piety”. Thus, in addition to sharing Holy Communion, we can pray, fast, study scripture (alone or in a group), attend worship, do good deeds in the community, visit those who are shut-in or in prison, give generously for the less fortunate, and seeking to end injustice of all forms.
By caring wisely for our spiritual selves, we then begin to reap the benefits of coming to grips with how God has gifted and called us. In this way we begin to live abundantly into our God image and into God’s relationship with Jesus. We discover that we are capable of not only having a relationship with God/Jesus, but that we choose to do this of our own free will. Once we make those wise decisions, we begin to find that living wisely and well is not so onerous after all. We don’t have to be “holier than thou” or all caught up in our own spiritual understandings and development – because that is just another form of one-upmanship that is the sign of a small but active egocentric viewpoint. This is the exact opposite of what our texts are trying to teach us this morning.
Our wisdom texts this week speak of praising God for all that God has done and is doing; for God’s ongoing mercy and grace; and for God’s faithfulness and justice which continues to redeem God’s people. Our wise response to all we receive from God is to be gracious, merciful and righteous ourselves; to conduct ourselves with generosity and justice towards all; to be reverent and humble towards God that we might continue to learn and grow and become wiser. In the words of Paul, “…Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,…do not be foolish but understand what the will of the LORD is….” May we all continue to learn and to grow not just in knowledge, but ever more wise in the ways of God and Jesus! Amen and amen!