Text: Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
It’s been interesting to watch how our islands have changed over the past eighteen months. In particular the business districts of the three main islands are not the same now as they were. Businesses have closed.Some new ones have opened. Others have remained in operation the whole time but are doing business differently these days.
Of course change always happens. And perhaps it’s not so much that more change has occurred but rather that we’ve paid more attention to our communities over these months when the pandemic has kept us close to home. And perhaps we’ve felt more keenly the loss of places we depended upon for the things we consume.
Today all our scriptures invite us to think from a spiritual perspective about being consumers. It’s about what we consume. How the things we consume affect us.How our consumerism affects everything around us.
The book of Proverbs is tightly focused on teaching Wisdom, God’s precious creation. Wisdom is personified as a chaste, noble, and gracious lady attended by servants.
Wisdom’s house is located at the most prominent place in town. Which is to say that the people who pass by have had opportunity for improvement and advantage. Yet Wisdom offers something qualitatively different and necessary.
Wisdom’s invitation to everyone who is “simple” and “without sense”. Turn in here, eat at Wisdom’s table. Drink her wine, gain maturity, and live and walk in the way of insight.
The alternative to Wisdom is folly who is also a feminine figure. But folly is no lady. She is a loud, ignorant, sly temptress who also calls out to people who are simple and without sense.
Folly has a house too.It is located at the same advantaged address in town. But folly’s table is set with wine that is sweet because it is stolen, and bread that is pleasant because it is eaten in secret. In fact, all the guests at folly’s table are residents of Sheol – the place of the dishonorable and therefore forgotten dead.Folly’s food and drink come at an incalculable cost.
If this were a bad horror movie we’d all know which house to choose, right? We’d all shout out in unison just in time. Don’t! Go! In! There!
But this isn’t a movie. Proverbs is a very old book and it bears certain cultural prejudices and imagery that differ from what we use now. But it is right up to the moment in understanding how human behavior is not just physical but is a sign of spiritual well-being.
You’ve heard it said, that you are what you eat.In a broad sense, what we consume creates our world. So the conditions of our world broadly reflect human spiritual well-being. And if we hear and see that the world, both animate and inanimate is suffering, it means our spirits are too.
“Be careful then, how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” That’s from Ephesians to all Christians in Asia Minor. Their culture, their daily experience of life was competitive, destructive, and ego-driven. Which is to say it’s just like what we know.
This is the point of saying that the days are evil. Time is our enemy when we believe that everything we desire is here and now. All consuming begins in desire. It is human to desire.
The things we desire are seldom evil in and of themselves. Security, comfort, food, freedom, community, order…all have their place. But any of these things in excess or without boundaries becomes problematic personally and collectively, bodily and spiritually. Therefore the only way to prevail against the urge to consume in ways that threaten our very existence is to be wise and mature in our desiring.
And that’s exactly where Ephesians tells us to begin.It is God’s will for us to live in Kairos time not chronos. Kairos is God’s creation; it is redemptive and renewing. Chronos is a human invention; it encourages anxiety and is unrenewable. We experience the difference between the two kinds of time, for example, when time compresses or lengthens depending on our circumstances.
Wisdom and maturity lead to understanding. There is a difference between a toxic world and the lively intoxication of the Holy Spirit. Rebuild and restore your connection with the Spirit with songs and prayers.And be thankful to God. Which is a means of remembering that everything worth having comes from God. These are ways to create the space for wisdom and maturity to guide your desire.
The argument in John’s gospel between Jesus and some Judeans one day is also about consuming. It really probably wasn’t about how Jesus was like Moses in calling down bread from heaven or making fine wine from water at a wedding banquet. It had nothing to do with our denominational disputes about how Jesus is present in the bread and wine of communion.
This was how Jesus chose to speak about God and our desire for God. If all we desire is here and now it is a thin and poor diet.Jesus provides food in all kinds of places and ways but when does he ever eat himself? In John’s gospel Jesus turns down food from his disciples. And the story of him eating with sinners and tax collectors is entirely absent. His life is sustained in God.
What the Judeans desired and consumed most was knowledge. That’s why they were in constant debate, arguing and disputing points of religious law. They consumed knowledge about God voraciously. But Jesus offered himself as living bread from heaven – God’s means to consume an ever-flowing fountain of insight and wisdom leading to harmony and peace.
Consuming God’s living bread and growing in wisdom and insight leads to mature living in the world. In fact the best evidence of eating at the table that God sets, is less desire for, and consumption of, goods. And much more investment in restored relationships, community, and planet. God gives us the means to be wise in the business of our own lives. To close down what is not sustainable, to begin new enterprises that are, and to operate with gracious spiritual insight.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.