This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Feast of Creation.



Proverbs 9:1-6

I.
            We see in this passage from the book of Proverbs that the practice among of God’s people of sharing together in a ritual meal of bread and wine goes back much further than Jesus’ last supper.  It even goes back further than Proverbs.
            In Genesis, when the mysterious High Priest Melchizedek comes out and blesses our father Abraham, he does it by bringing out an offering of bread and wine to share. 
            When the people of Israel were being delivered from bondage in Egypt, God instructs them to celebrate this event with a holy meal, the central elements of which are unleavened bread and cups of wine. 
            And here in Proverbs, we see the personified female character of Holy Wisdom, after she has participated with God in the creation of the world in those wonderful verses in chapter 8, she invites the people to a banquet of unity with the whole creation.  It is as if the dazzling description of God’s creating activity culminates in this meal to which all the people are invited.  Creation was created so there would be a place for Wisdom’s holy meal.  God made the world for the sake of this gathering.  Creation itself is the “house” that Wisdom has built for the purpose of this banquet.  And the invitation explicitly mentions bread and wine.
            Bread and wine constitute the gifts of God which are a sign of the unity of God’s people and God’s creation.  Unlike, say, milk and honey, or water and blueberries, bread and wine are not natural products of the earth.  In order to make bread, the grain has to be harvested.  Then there is a very involved process of making flour and finally bread.  It requires some human ingenuity, skill, tradition, and community to make bread.  The same goes with wine.  Turning grapes into wine is something people learned to do over centuries of experimentation.  It requires education, practice, and, most importantly, a community.  You can’t do either one of these things by yourself.      
            So this gathering around the Table to give thanks to God and to share bread and wine is constitutive of God’s people.  It is perhaps the one activity that reveals and creates who we are.  It is, in a sense, what we are all made for… and what the whole earth is made for.  We are made for the communion demonstrated and realized in this holy meal.  We are made, in short, for community.  
            God creates and requires a community, a gathering, a group of people who over time and through the use of their God-given wisdom, develop these means of nourishment and sustenance.  Creation itself is a place which God carves out of the chaos for the purpose of having community flourish.  There is the community of nature, and within it we have the community of human beings: People who are able to figure out how to make bread and wine.  Creation is a place of community and celebration, of the partnership between God and creation.

II. 
            When he comes into the world, the Lord Jesus fulfills this pattern and brings it all together.  Jesus Christ is God’s Word, by whom everything is created.  He is the One doing the creating at the beginning.  It is therefore his communal banquet that Wisdom sets here.  For he comes into the world to reveal, realize, and fulfill the communion and partnership that God intends for all people and the whole creation.
            On the night before he is killed, when Jesus sits down to his last supper with his disciples, it is a celebration of the Passover.  It is a commemoration and reliving the liberation of the people of God from bondage in Egypt.  It is about freedom!  It is about a new way of life not under the cruel thumb of Pharaoh.  Pharaoh’s unjust regime was about exploiting people and nature to make a few wildly rich.  That is not the kind of community and partnership God intends.  And it was severely punished with ten plagues, successive ecological disasters that ruined Egypt.
            You do not mock or defile the house of Wisdom.  Wisdom’s ways are the ways of creation itself.  There is a purpose and a content, a story and a bias, to creation.  Creation bends and moves in a certain, definite direction.  And we participate in Wisdom when we, in our lives, live by her instruction and keep her ways.  In other words, we may live our lives in harmony with creation.  We may attune our actions to the patterns built into creation itself and revealed in God’s word.  We may go along with and share in the movement and direction of nature, as God created it.  This is what it means to be wise.  And the consequence of this way of life is happiness and blessing.  Or we can go the way of Pharaoh, putting creation so out of balance that nature has no choice but to reject us. 
            In Proverbs, Wisdom is contrasted with another unnamed, foolish woman.  The intended readers of this book were young men.  They are urged to follow the good woman, Wisdom, and to reject the foolish woman, who leads them to destruction.  The foolish woman lures them into selfishness, lust, gluttony, carelessness, and pride.
            Anyone who reads this book, male or female, has to make the same choice.  We may follow the way of Wisdom, seen in the two books of nature and the Bible; or we may follow the way of the foolish.  One leads to life, justice, equality, prosperity, and truth.  The other inevitably bends towards violence and disaster.

III.
            After the supper with his disciples, when Jesus lifts up the bread and breaks it, he announces: “This is my body.”  And when he says “this” he refers first to the bread, of course; but he also means the disciples gathered around him who will be eating the bread.  The gathering of his followers is his body as well; they become the extension of his mission in the world.  And when he says “this” he may even be indicating the whole earth and creation.  This is the fulfillment of Wisdom’s holy meal.  The whole creation was made to make a place for this gathering, this communion.  “This, this is all my body,” he is saying.
            It all belongs to God, as I repeat weekly prior to the offering, quoting Psalm 24.  Creation is God’s body in the sense that it is made by God and is God’s property.  God made creation for communion.  It is a place for coming together and cooperation; a place for mutual help and complementary action; a place where man different voices join together in splendid harmony.  So when we gather at the Lord’s Table, even here in this little church, we represent and witness to the communion of all creation.
            The apostle Paul writes that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is imperative that we “discern the Lord’s body.”  That doesn’t mean just focusing intently upon this piece of bread and developing complicated theories about it, like transubstantiation.  I am sure Paul means more than the bread; he wants people to look around and see Christ’s presence all around us: yes, in the bread, and also in the worshiping community, and finally and most broadly in humanity and creation itself. 
            When we eat this bread and drink from this cup we share spiritually in the lives of all who produced and prepared and distributed it, as well as in the life of the stalks of wheat, the grape vines, and the water, and the sunlight, and every living thing that died to make the nourishing soil.  Indeed, we share spiritually in the very life of God, by whose Word this bread represents Christ’s body nailed to a Roman cross, finally fulfilling the atoning blood sacrifices of the Torah.  To eat and drink this sacrament is to ingest oneness, forgiveness, blessing, unity, and peace.  It is to take God into yourself so that God permeates every cell of your body; it is to participate in the divine nature, as Peter says in his second letter.
            In Scripture blood is life.  In this meal and on the cross Jesus is giving his life, shedding and spilling and spreading his life across the whole of creation.  And one of the ways this happens is through us.  When we eat this bread and drink from this cup we are taking Jesus’ life into us, so that his life may become our life, and through us become the life of the world.
            Participating in the holy meal of bread and wine is indicative of our following the way of Wisdom.

IV.
            And Wisdom’s Way has specific content.  It means living in a certain way.  It means engaging in some behaviors and avoiding others.  Wisdom is reflected and expressed in our actions.  Just prior to this passage, after Wisdom has assisted at the creation of the world, we hear Wisdom say, “Happy are those who keep my ways.” 
            Wisdom’s ways are creation’s ways.  They are the laws governing the whole creation.  If we live according to them, creation provides a banquet for us of prosperity and joy.  We enter Wisdom’s house; we gather at Wisdom’s table for the feast of bread and wine.  We know that the ways of creation and Wisdom are revealed in Jesus.  He is the Word by whom everything was created.  In his life of love, healing, justice, equality, compassion, and simplicity we see what God intends for all of us.  He fulfills the moral law of the Torah and invites us to participate with him in the way of life.
            If we live like Jesus, we live in harmony with all of life.  If we choose self-centered foolishness, if we choose injustice and violence and inequality, then we do not follow Wisdom.  The world becomes not a glorious banquet in which the whole community shares, but a dog-eat-dog rat-race, a war of each against all in which we try to get ours before others get theirs.  It is not God’s holy and blessed community, but a jungle where the rules are survival of the fittest and natural selection.  Instead of the infinite blessings of God’s garden, we fall into a satanic nightmare, where the weak are left to die, the strong and rich grow more powerful, and the inevitable result is a comprehensive ecological catastrophe.
            If we continue to read in the book of Proverbs, we find lifted up virtues like honesty, generosity, hard work, humility, compassion, simplicity, and loyalty, while sins like greed, selfishness, cheating, meanness, lying, laziness, and gluttony are strongly warned against.  This is what characterizes the house of Wisdom, the community of creation.  And this is what Jesus comes to fulfill and embody.  And this is how we who eat his flesh and drink his blood and who thus share his life are called to follow him.
            Jesus does not come to teach personal responsibility for ourselves as individuals.  That’s not what Wisdom is about.  That’s not why creation was created, so you could get something for yourself.  Jesus teaches us to be personally responsible for each other.  Wisdom’s house rises or falls on how we provide for our poor, sick, lost, alien, hurt, lonely, disabled, excluded, disenfranchised neighbor.  

V.
            Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Live like Jesus, and you will live forever.  You will live forever because forever will be present to you in every moment.  In every action you will witness to the presence of forever.
            This is the banquet of forever, the dinner of Wisdom, the supper of the Lord, the joyful feast of the people of God.  If you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, this, this gathering, this sharing, these words and these actions, in which the whole creation is united at this Table, where we are fed with the body and blood of God so we can be God’s blessing to our world, this is a glimpse of forever.
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