"God's Topsy-Turvy Wisdom" - Pentecost 13B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 19, 2018 at 10:00 AM
Central Passage
Proverbs 9:1-6
Pentecost 13B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: August 19, 2018 – Pentecost 13B

Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-21; John 6:51-58


God’s Topsy-Turvy Wisdom


              Since I was a kid, my favorite comic strip has been “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson. I love the comic strip so much that a few years ago I bought the entire three-volume hardcover set of the strip. So many places in the strip, Watterson nails human nature with a grace and humor that can’t be replicated. Take the dialogue from this strip, from August 4th, 1989. 


              Calvin approaches his mom watering house plants and says, just offhandedly, “Hey, Mom, did you know that gravity in outer space works as if space was a soft, flat surface? It's true. Heavy matter, like planets, sinks into the surface and anything passing by, like light, will ‘roll’ toward the dip in space made by the planet. Light is actually deflected by gravity! Amazing, huh? And speaking of gravity, I dropped a pitcher of lemonade on the kitchen floor when my roller skates slipped.” As we cut to Mom mopping up the mess in the kitchen, she wonders, “How can kids know so much and still be so dumb?”[1]


              As our confirmation class knows from our discussion on Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament, knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Wisdom is far more comprehensive than mere knowledge. For instance, most of us know how to live a healthy life. Don’t eat too much, especially sugar or simple carbs, don’t drink too much, don’t use tobacco or illegal drugs, get enough exercise, cultivate one’s relationship with God with tools such as prayer, Scripture reading, or other spiritual disciplines, learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways such as meditation or healthy hobbies, and continue to attend to one’s relationships with family and friends. We all know these things. Yet, we don’t do them all the time. The fact that we know that we fail at living a healthy, whole life can make us more stressed and anxious – and even less likely to live well. I know that I have failed, from time to time, at nearly all of these things. You might think that’s surprising, considering that I’m a pastor, but like the proverb Jesus says, “Physician, heal thyself”, it can be very difficult for the pastor to take his own good advice to heart. We know that we fail to live well sometimes. We have the knowledge, but we don’t have the wisdom. We don’t have the outlook combined with knowledge combined with the will to live as whole human beings in our eyes or in the eyes of God.


              In the first reading from Proverbs, Lady Wisdom sets a table for those who are “naïve” and “lack sense”. Of course, that’s people like us. We want to think that we’re commonsensical, down-to-earth folk, but the truth is that we’re just as much in need of Lady Wisdom’s fare as anyone else. The metaphor here is of a banquet. Lady Wisdom (who, by the way, is portrayed in Proverbs as “the first of God’s works”) calls all to come and feast at the great meal she has prepared. Come and gain understanding by coming to her table.


              The allusions here should be obvious for Christians – and for the church fathers, they were. Wisdom’s feast is the body and blood of Christ, offered to the faithful Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. (Or in our case, every other Sunday after every other Sunday.) When we come up and receive the bread and wine, we aren’t just eating a wafer that, frankly, tastes little like bread dipped in a bit of subpar wine. That on its own would be quite a stupid ritual if that was all it was. No, rather at that humble ritual, we are receiving the very body and blood of Christ, the food that makes the simple wise and the weak strong. It is the food that feeds the new creation that God created within us at baptism. It is the food which gives us, God’s people, strength to endure to eternal life. When we receive Jesus, both in Communion and in the Word, we are coming the source of the wisdom that comes from God – a wisdom that is ultimately topsy-turvy.


              Think of it. I listed all these things that we know make for a healthy life. But we know that we cannot do them. Not all the time, anyway. We lack the strength or the sense or the will to do the right things all the time. And we can feel guilty about it. But what if we were able to do all the right things at all the right times? What if we were able to attain eternal life on our own merits or by our own ingenuity? What would happen if we could be our own gods, our own masters?


              It sounds like a tempting dream. But you could imagine what would result. We would become prideful. We would become arrogant. In other words, we would fall into worse sin than before. We would replace the true God of heaven and earth with a false one – that of ourselves. As Paul says in Romans 1, we would exchange the truth about God for a lie. The way of worldly wisdom always tells us to earn our way, and turns the life of faith into little more than a spiritual self-help program. If you want that, there are plenty of false prophets on TV who will tell you how to do that.


              But God’s topsy-turvy wisdom – a wisdom which Paul, in 1 Corinthians, says seems foolish to us – is the very path of life. Hearing the Word and receiving Communion is about coming to the cross of Christ, the last place on earth we might expect to find the Lord of Creation and Author of Life. When we do that, we abandon our false hopes of becoming our own god. We leave all our guilt, shame, and fear at the foot of the cross – at the place where Jesus offered his body and blood for the life of the world. It is a bizarre kind of wisdom, no doubt. The idea that a crucified first-century Galilean Jew is actually God’s Son and the Savior of the world seems ludicrous on the surface, especially to someone who is new to the faith. But Jesus crucified and risen is the wisdom and power of God, wrapped in a cloak of foolishness and weakness. Jesus crucified and risen is the banquet of Wisdom we are invited to, week after week. And when we come to this banquet, when we receive the good news of new, eternal life in Christ through his life, death, and resurrection, we grow in our humanity. We grow, more and more, into the people that God made us to be and adopted us as in our baptism. We come to a growing understanding that these days that we have been given before we enter into the life of the Age – eternal life – are precious beyond measure, because they are the days we are given to grow in humanity. The days may be evil, as the author of Ephesians says, but they are a gift of God.


              Luther said in his Large Catechism that whatever we set our heart on is our god. God help us to set our heart on him, receiving the food at Lady Wisdom’s table that helps us to grow as new people of God. 


              Let us pray. Help us, Jesus, to come to your cross as the source of the wisdom that leads to eternal life. Lead us to the table today, where you continue to offer yourself for the life of the world. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given



[1] Bill Watterson, “Calvin and Hobbes”, August 4, 1989. Retrieved from www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1989/08/04 on August 19, 2018.