August 16 2015 Reflection

12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 16, 2015)
‘Living Wisely in God
’s Spirit
By Rev. Toby Keva

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 111

Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20

REFLECTION

Friends, do you know that 35% of Australians in 2001 drank alcohol at dangerous level? That is around one person in every three people! In 2003, the total social cost of alcohol in our society was around $7.5 billion a year. In 1997, more than 3000 people in Australia died from injury or disease related to drinking excessive alcohol. In NSW alone, in 2005 and 2006, 300.000 crimes reported to police were alcohol related.[1]

But problem with alcohol is not only a modern problem plaguing modern people. It affected the lives of ancient people as well. The author of the Ephesians warned that being filled with alcohol would lead one to ruin, as the horrible stories of lives destroyed by alcohol will attest today. But being filled with God’s Spirit will help us discern God’s will in our lives (v. 17-18).

The letter follows the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. In the wisdom tradition, people were often invited to choose between two ways: the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.

In our reading from the Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. In Hebrew, the word for wisdom, hokmah, is female, thus it was quite common for the Hebrews to personify wisdom as a woman. Here, in this passage, wisdom has prepared a feast and she invites people to join her.

It’s interesting that foolishness is also personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs (9:13-18). And, just like wisdom, foolishness also invites people to come to her house for a meal (9:16). But, unlike wisdom, the food and water that foolishness offers are stolen food and water (9:17)! And those who accept her invitation are now dead (9:18)! This is in contrast to the promise of life that wisdom gives to those who accept her invitation (9:6).

These two readings, about wisdom and foolishness, are to be read together. We are the people whom both wisdom and foolishness invite to join in their feasts. It is our choice to choose whether to accept the invitation of wisdom or foolishness. But the direction of the readings is clear: we will find life when we choose wisdom. Whoever finds her, finds life (8:35). One commentator of passage says that “To accept wisdom’s invitation is to embrace the life that God has designed for us.”[2]

For the psalmist of Psalm 111, the way to become wise is to honour the Lord (v.1). This statement is in line with Proverbs 9:10 (NRSV) that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” To live wisely is to live a life that gives honour to God.

But how do we honour God if we often fail to discern God’s will in our lives? American actor and singer, Pearl Bailey, once said, “People see God every day, they just don’t recognise him.”[3] In the words of the Proverbs, we hear God’s invitation every day, but we often fail to listen. And one main reason why we often fail to recognise God’s voice is our busy lifestyle.

But, every moment, every minute, is the opportunity to do what God wants us to do. The author of the Ephesians asked his readers to use every opportunity to find out what was God’s will in their life. Indeed, he was aware that there were many things that people could choose to fill their time with. But he invited his readers to find those opportunities when they could do something good; something that was in accordance with God’s will. In other words, he invited his readers to align their plan and time with God’s plan and time. (See v. 16-17)

A few weeks ago, I was in Perth city to fix my laptop and iPad. As I was walking back home, I saw a young woman, standing against a wall, selling the Big Issue Magazine.

The Big Issue Magazine is a unique magazine. The magazine’s vendors often are either homeless or marginalised or disadvantaged individuals.[4] Some vendors that I knew were mentally and/or physically disabled. They would buy the magazines for $3 and sell them for $6, making money out of the difference.

But this particular young female vendor was just standing there with a blank face, using one of the magazines to protect her face from the afternoon sun. She didn’t look like someone who wanted to be there in the first place. I didn’t know what her situation was, but she looked like she was selling the magazines out of necessity not her own will. She was the exact opposite of the typical newspaper boys in the past, enthusiastically selling their newspapers with their loud voices to the crowd.

I don’t necessarily like people who are not appreciative of the opportunity given to them, so I was about to ignore her and continue on with my journey. Yet, I heard a small still voice in my heart asking me to stop and talk to her. I could easily ignore this voice and moved on. I was on my way back to the train station to catch the train to Rockingham and it would be dark soon. Yet, I’d heard this voice before and I knew that I should never ignore it. So, in that split second, I decided to turn back and walked to the woman.

I asked her how much was the magazine. She put down her magazine from her face, looked at me and said, “Six dollars.” I gave ten dollars to her (that’s the only cash I had). She took the ten dollars and asked me to wait for her to get a change (I must have been her first customer in a long time). I told her not to worry about the change. “Are you sure?” she asked, a bit surprised. “Yeah,” I answered as I walked away with the magazine in my hand.  “Thanks,” I heard her reply.

I don’t know what happened next. She may change her attitude and sell the magazines with a little bit more enthusiasm or she may not. She may realise that others do care about people like her or she may not. She may return home with a new perspective on life or she may not. But I’m not worried about what came out of that encounter. God would work it out for her. What I knew was that I’d done my part and I didn’t ignore that sacred moment when I believe that God spoke in my heart.

Last week, we talked about having love as the centre, the guiding principle of our life. In the same way, we are to embody God’s will and plan for all people and the whole creation in everything that we do and say. We are to live a life that becomes an act of worship to God.[5]

When the author of the letter asked his readers to speak with psalms, hymns, and sacred songs, he didn’t mean that they all now had to sing like opera singers. To speak to one another in psalms and hymns and songs means to embody the Spirit of wisdom in every word that we utter and every action that we do. Worshipping God shall not become an act that we do only on Sunday in the church; worship shall become our way of living our day-to-day life.

So the key here is about being filled with the Spirit of God (v. 18 - GNT). I don’t think that this is necessarily about being in a trance and speaking in tongue or in a heavenly language. The other English translation of the Bible (New English Translation) talks about being filled by the Spirit instead of with the Spirit. This translation gives a different perspective. We are to be filled by the Spirit, which means that, instead of being a passive agent, like the wine that we drink, the Spirit is an active agent that guides our life. To be filled by the Spirit means to allow enough space and time for God’s Spirit to guide our life.

Living wisely, thus, means living a life that continually tries to discern God’s will in our life. Wisdom, thus, is not about becoming smarter and smarter. Wisdom is not about being smart. Wisdom is about being aware of God’s will and trying to apply it in every opportunity available to us.

Amen.

[1] John Ashton, Some Interesting Facts on Alcohol Consumption, in Christian Spirituality and Science, Volume 8, Issue 1 (07/11/2010)

on http://research.avondale.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=css  

[2] Scott Shauf, Commentary on Proverbs 9:1-6, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 16, 2015)

[3] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (© Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 170

[4] http://www.thebigissue.org.au/the-big-issue-magazine/about/ (retrieved: August 15, 2015)

[5] Brian Peterson, Commentary on Ephesians 5:15-20, http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 15, 2015)