19 August 2012 / Proper 15B – Proverbs 9:1-6/John 6:51-58
Walk In The Way Of Insight
Why do we read? Why do we read literature? I suspect it is because we are seeking some further insight into what we often refer to as “the meaning of life.” We want to inform the way in which we walk. We read something, we gain insight into life and our self, and it changes the way in which we walk. To gain insight from what we read demands a close reading of the text. Such a close reading helps us to see what the author is getting at, how the author chooses to express herself, and the cultural context in which the text sit – what we called in seminary its sitz em laben, roughly “its place in life.” Once we gain insight into the text’s place in life, we can see how it may have a place in our own life.
When Jesus says, “eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood,” there is the promise of eternal life. Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-6 puts it this way: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight!”
The promise in these two invitations to feast at Lady Wisdom’s and Jesus’ table is 1) of a spiritual maturity, and 2) eternal life.
The spiritual maturity piece asserts that there is something more than just bread and wine available to satisfy our hunger and thirst. There is the Word of God, identified by John as Jesus, the Word made flesh. The Word can satisfy a deeper hunger and deeper thirst. In fact the Word satisfies our deepest hunger and deepest thirst. This has everything to do with our spiritual maturity and life as we live it here and now.
Similarly, eternal life has nothing to do with “timelessness and death, but is full-filled life here on earth that makes us yearn it will never end. Living life to the fullest as disciples brings great joy in the present and a hope for the future.” Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, p 291
As one preacher once put it, “We are on the road to heaven now if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death.” William Sloan Coffin, Credo, p170
It is life lived with, in and through God in Christ here and now – this is eternal life.
Both texts sit in the world of Jewish history – a history beset with dislocation – slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, and military occupation by Rome. All military occupation results in home no longer being home, it is a kind of exile that creates a sort of homelessness even though we are still geographically ‘at home.’
Jesus also announces that we can be in exile within ourselves since we are so preoccupied with sin. The Biblical words for sin originally were archery terms indicating that the arrow has missed its mark – one might translate it that we have lost our way. The Bible sometimes applies its vocabulary of sin to individuals, but most often this idea of missing the mark or losing our way is applied to the whole community – most often the community of faith, but also the political community, the polis, which in Hebrew terms cannot be separated out from the community of faith at all. Religion, politics, the economy, social justice are all considered parts of a great whole – the life God calls those in covenant with him to live.
It does not take much analysis to see when a community of persons has lost its way, either by forced dislocation, or the result of myriad decisions along the way. That is, it is usually pretty easy to know when we have lost our way. It is trickier, perhaps, to see when we have been led astray.
A few years ago, thanks to the Left Behind series of books, a 19th century movement originally called Millerism (for the man who thought it up) was resurrected. A Mr. Miller had radically re-cast the Biblical literature called Apocalyptic and announced the world would end in 1843. Apocalyptic literature in the Bible had a sitz em laben: such literature such as Daniel and the Revelation of Saint John were addressed to people in exile – in the case of the Revelation, a community in exile by way of Roman military occupation of Israel. In basic terms, Apocalyptic literature was not talking so much about future events, but rather means to instill a deep sense of hope to those who are in the despair of present dislocation – a sense of hope grounded in the past actions of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus on behalf of his people. The message of Apocalypse is quite simple: do not fear the present bad times and bad leaders, God is ultimately in charge. The visionary side of apocalyptic literature is akin to graphic novels (what we used to call comic books!) to provide a dramatic vision of what we would like to see happen to the bad guys. The reader, the faithful reader that is, knows it is highly unlikely that God would do such things – but it helps us to leave despair behind as we ruminate on how we would like to see the bad guys brought to an end! Which hopefully makes it possible for us not to try to violently bring them to an end ourselves.
Miller turned this on its head and is credited with inventing the idea of predicting a date certain that this world will end and a new world, “God’s kingdom,” would begin. We have all seen these dates come and go. We have seen the clever bumper stickers, “The End is Near, God is Coming, Look Busy!” And this summer and fall has seen a cottage industry of Apocalyptic movies and TV shows dominating the big, not-so-big and even tiny screens that seem to be in our field of vision no matter where we are – in the theatre, in our homes, on our computer screens, on our phones for goodness sake! It was Martin Heidegger, among others, who observed long ago that our home is no longer home with the presence of television – that our homes are populated by strangers day and night – that our children are raised by strangers for hours and hours a day.
So we all want to know, are these the end times? Is some version, presumably God’s version, of ‘apocalypse now” approaching our doorstep? It is curious to me that people like Mr. Miller who are indeed serious students of the Bible, and are always predicting that it is all about to happen now, seem to have overlooked what Jesus really says in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21. He says the Temple will be destroyed in their lifetime. In fact it was in 70ce. They in turn misconstrue what he is saying and like Mr. Miller decide he means the end of the age is about to come. This was not so strange at the time of Jesus. The Temple in Jerusalem was thought to be the center of the universe, and metaphorically, in Hebrew terms, “the belly button of God.” How could this be destroyed if that were so? But in fact the Romans burned it to the ground, and so it sits to this day. Jesus then tries to get them to see their error, AND issues a warning: do not listen to anyone who says they know when the end will come! That is, do not listen to Mr. Miller, do not listen to books, movies and TV shows. It would seem that Jesus is basically saying, it always looks like the end – leave it in God’s hands and live in the Way of God here and now.
If I were to tell you, “Yes, this is the end of days!” I would be a false prophet like Mr. Miller and all those who have come after him. Prophets are right. False prophets are wrong 100% of the time. It is that simple.
I suggest we all reflect on what Moltmann and Coffin say above: eternal life has nothing to do with “timelessness and death, but is full-filled life here on earth that makes us yearn it will never end. Living life to the fullest as disciples brings great joy in the present and a hope for the future.” Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, p 291
“We are on the road to heaven now if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death.” William Sloan Coffin, Credo, p170
Jesus is always concerned with the here and now. He says repeatedly we ought to be too. For the Bible there are no endings – only new beginnings. Jesus lived life to the fullest here and now. He calls us to follow him. There is much to do. It is time to lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight. Stop thinking about what might be and live into what is. This is the beginning of spiritual maturity. Because life lived with God is eternal life here and now. Forever and ever. Amen.
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD