The Adventurous Lectionary – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 15,2021
I Kings 2:10-12; 3:13-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
This week’s readings focus on the dynamic interplay of divine and human wisdom. God is still speaking, providing insights for the short haul and the far horizons. Human wisdom is grounded in our attentiveness to divine creativity evidenced in the heavens above, the earth upon which we live, and the divine movements in our body, mind, and spirit. Alignment with divine wisdom – and not our own individualistic and self-interested projects – brings true joy and promotes healthy community. Divine wisdom takes us from self-interest to world loyalty.
If you have wisdom, you have everything? Would that our national leaders took Solomon’s prayer seriously. He doesn’t ask for wealth or power. He doesn’t want to subjugate national wellbeing to political gain. He recognizes his inexperience and asks for something much more important – an understanding mind or what Etty Hillesum describes as a “thinking heart.” Wisdom and understanding give us a spiritual GPS that joins the ideal and actual, the possible and the concrete, the big picture and the daily details.
Wise leadership looks beyond the moment to see what is best for a family, congregation, community, or nation. Decisions are made, inspired by seeking the greatest good and encouraging the widest creativity. In congregational life, Solomon’s prayer involves both pastoral and lay leaders: we need to look beyond ourselves, recognize limitations and possibilities, honor diversity, and look for ways to bring health to the whole organism. Wise congregational leadership is imperative as we seek new life in our congregations, with COVID still hovering in the wings. We need to think big and consider small details. We need to pace our spiritual selves so that our decisions bring health to our communities, trusting God’s timetable as well as our own. (For more on a theo-spirituality in a time of pandemic, see FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC; HOPE BEYOND PANDEMIC; and LOVE IN A TIME OF CRISIS AND PANDEMIC.)
Psalm 111 affirms the importance of the “fear” or “awe” of God in wise decision-making. Our lives are rooted in the cosmic providence of God. God is not only the creator of a wondrous universe; God has a bias toward justice and well-being. Alignment with the universe – and with its creator – begins with radical amazement and awe, humility before God’s grandeur, and wise decisions in light of God’s care-taking of all creation. Gratitude for the wonder of all being leads to gracious generosity.
Ephesians continues the theme of wisdom. Live wisely for the days are evil. Time is short, don’t be tempted by the trivial. Seize the moment for grace and generosity. The author of Ephesians is not denying the wonder of creation but recognizing the situation in which he lives – a time of persecution and temptation. Nothing really has changed in the course of human history or this time of lingering pandemic. Even in the best of times, life is ambiguous. Our lives are brief – too brief – and we need to make the most of every moment. We need to discover and orient our spiritual GPS to guide our lives through the maze of daily life and citizenship. Ephesians gives both negative and positive guidance – don’t be foolish or get drunk. Don’t get caught up in the seductions of power, pleasure, and prosperity. Find your orientation in worship, prayer, and gratitude. Remember God is your creator and source of wisdom and in turning toward God’s way, you will find your way. “This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The gospel reading presents a eucharistic vision of life. Jesus is the bread of life. Those who share in this bread share in eternity in the present moment. They can enjoy good bread and the best life has to offer, but true enjoyment comes from sharing in the divine bread – receiving nourishment to sustain our spirits now and forevermore. God permeates the earth – the Spirit is embodied and embodiment reflects divine wisdom. The bread of life is spiritual, but in light of the wisdom passages, it is also physical. We share in God’s bread so we can provide whole-person nourishment for those around us.
This passage has deep economic implications. Solomon recognizes that understanding goes beyond wealth and seeks the health the community. If some go hungry and lack the basics, the community is at risk. Jesus’ words may initially seem sacramental, but the divine sacrament embraces the whole earth. The bread that lasts forever nourishes body, mind, and spirit. It is not about escape from ambiguity but embracing ambiguity and struggle with a sense of God’s presence and healing power. Let us pray for wise hearts and practical wisdom in the conduct of our personal and corporate lives.
Bruce Epperly is a “retired” pastor, professor, and author of over forty books, including MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWEARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR GRANDPARENTS WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD; ONE WORD: THE LORD’S PRAYER FROM A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE.