Wisdom, Folly and the Spirit

John 6:51-69 / Proper 15B / 19 August 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Wisdom and Folly. Light and Darkness. Spirit and Flesh. Those are the contrasts set before us this morning in our three readings. I don’t know if that’s what was intended, but they dovetail beautifully. To put these into more familiar Lutheran terms: Saint and Sinner. Faith and Unbelief. Old man and New.

These aren’t categories or buckets that we can sort people, the way fishermen sort fish hauled up in a net, the keepers and the toss-backers. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? He’s wise, she’s foolish. She’s of the light, he’s of the darkness. That one over there is spiritual; this one over here is carnal, of the flesh. Insiders and outsiders. Winners and losers. True Christians and …, well you get the idea.

The Pharisees were into that game. They thought they were the winners, the insiders, the wise, the spiritual, the enlightened. They weren’t like the rest of humanity, those “sinners” out there, the hookers and tax agents. Remember the story of the Pharisee and tax collector in the temple? The Pharisee prays, “Thank God, I’m not like that tax collector over there. I tithe, I pray, I keep the feasts.” And the tax collector hiding in the back row can’t ever lift his eyes, much less his ego, to heaven and prays, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” And then comes the punch line from Jesus. That one, the tax collector, went home justified. Who would have put him in with the wise, the enlightened, the spiritual? Not the pharisees, that’s for sure. And not you or me.

One of the great insights of the Lutheran Reformation, and there were many but this is one of the great ones, is that the line between wisdom and folly, light and darkness, spirit and flesh, saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever does not simply run between people, it runs right smack through the middle of each of us. Simul justus et peccator, was the way it goes in Latin. Simultaneously righteous and sinner. Totally 100 percent both at the same time. That means you are capable of both horrendous evil and of magnificent good at the same time. It also means that whatever you do that is good must be done with the reluctant, coerced cooperation of your foolish, sinful flesh because that’s what you’re stuck in at the moment.

And it means that you have not one but two reactions or responses to God’s Word as it engages you. Take the Word of Law, the ten commandments or simply the commandment to love one another. You have not one but two reactions to the Law as a baptized believer. Your flesh, your old Adam, the original sinner in you that is darkness and foolishness hates the Law and rebels against it constantly.

You’ve likely experienced this yourself. You go to someone who claims to be a Christian but is doing something contrary to the Word of God. There’s no need to go into specifics here, you can all come up with scenarios of your own. But you go to that person with the loving intent to show him his sin. You’re doing it out of love because he’s hurting himself and others. You’re concerned and you’re speaking out of love. What sort of reaction did you get? Did that person look at you and say, “Thank you. I needed someone to tell me that.” Not likely. What you probably got was anger, rage, abuse, slander, self-justification, who do you think you are, how dare you, mind your own business. Right?

Now think about the last time someone came to you and confronted you with something you were doing that was contrary to God’s Word. Again, we don’t need to go into any specifics here, you fill in the blanks, and remember, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Or if you don’t have courageous, loving friends who will go to you and confront you, then pick one of those juicy secret sins you are cultivating and imagine the person next to you in the pew pulling you aside to talk to you about it after the service today. I can just imagine how that conversation might go.

Now hear the Proverb:

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. So who is it that attacks someone bringing a word of correction? The wise man or the fool? The saint or the sinner? If you reprove a scoffer, a fool, a darkened unbelieving son of Adam, he will hate you. And what about you? Do you attack those who correct you? Hate those who admonish you? Rail against those who dare to rebuke you? And which one of you is doing that – the saint or the sinner?

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. And he’ll thank you for it.

But don’t expect that first off. First, you have to get through the old Adam, the sinner, the fool. And he hates this, because it literally kills him. The sinner hates the Law of God even as the Law curbs and mirror and instructs and accuses coerces him to death. “I was glad when the said to me, let’s go the house of the Lord.” Really? Were you really glad when the alarm went off? Wouldn’t you have rather rolled over and gone back to sleep? And who’s talking there, the sinner or the saint? Adam or Christ? The flesh or the Spirit?

I’ll use myself as an example. I don’t take correction well or kindly. Were you to correct or rebuke me, my first reaction will likely be anger, outrage, self-justification, and an attempt to turn the tables on to you. But here’s what I notice about that. I won’t rest easy about it. I’ll stew about it. And then there comes that moment, often late at night when the defenses are down, when I’ll let out a big sigh, a kind of last breath of the old Adam, and admit, “He was right.” It may take a while – a day, a week, a month, maybe more. But that word of Law does it’s work – accusing and killing us – and woe to us if it doesn’t. And I will take that word and learn and grow and maybe even thank you for it. But it has to get through the old adamic flesh first. That’s why we need to be patient with one another and tirelessly forgiving. It takes a while for the Law to cut through and coerce this flesh of ours to shut up and die. Remember, a fool doesn’t take to correction kindly. But a wise man knows wisdom when he hears it.

In the epistle lesson from Ephesians, the apostle Paul sounds a wake up call for Christians – “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The saint, the new you in Christ, loves the light, loves what is good and right and true, loves those psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and sings the melody of the Spirit constantly. But the old Adam responds to that alarm with a stretch, a yawn, and a whack at the snooze button. He doesn’t want to be bothered with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. He moves to a different rhythm of death and destruction and decay. And dare to expose the drunken debauchery of darkness and you’ll be sure to hear from him.

The fact is that our flesh counts for nothing with God. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. What is born of flesh is flesh, what is born of Spirit is spirit, and unless one is born from above by water and Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

The greater fact is that the Son of God, the Word that made and ordered all things, became flesh, our human flesh. He descended down to us, with our flesh and blood. And He gave His flesh and blood for the live of the world, for the entire human race, for every child of Adam. He is so invested in our salvation, so driven to rescue us from Sin and Death, that He gives Himself as a sacrificial food. He wants to be our food and drink. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The foolish old Adam says, “Who needs that? Certainly not me!” The foolish sinner says, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, that’s impossible, that’s crazy talk.” The fool turns his back on Wisdom’s table to pursue the folly of Sunday brunch. Lots of people left Jesus that day he preached in Capernaum and talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Even His own disciples seemed as though they were looking in the same direction when Jesus asked them, “Do you want to go away too,” and Peter answers, “Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.”

To refuse to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Supper is like saying to Jesus, “Lord, I know you died on a cross and shed your blood to save me, and I don’t believe a word you say.” And when we do and say that, who’s doing the talking, the sinner or the saint?

Fear and faith go together, just as we are both sinner and saint, foolish and wise, darkness and light. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Without fear there is no point to faith. God would be justified in destroying us, in condemning us to eternal destruction. And deservedly so for the darkness that is in us, for the evil that we think, say, and do, for all the ways we have shaken our fist at God and said to Him, “I don’t care what You say, I want it my way.”

And yet for Jesus’ sake God is merciful. Jesus came in the flesh to save our flesh. Jesus shed His blood to save our blood.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God, calls out to you this morning, “Come, eat the bread prepared for you. Come, drink the wine mixed for you. This bread is my body, given for you. This wine is my blood, shed for you.” The wise saint in Christ says faithfully “Amen” and rejoices.

In the name of Jesus,