Sermon: Eating Wisdom

Eating Wisdom
1 Kings 3:3-14, John 6:51-58
Rev. Julie Emery
A Sermon Preached at the Larchmont Avenue Church
August 16, 2009
            It’s good to be back here among you.  It’s good to be home.  As a youngest child I am slowly beginning to realize that while I may never stop calling the place where my parents live “home,” (even if that place is not necessarily the home I grew up in,) I also can have another home – one which I share with my husband and children, one which is made more home-y because of the community that helps to build it and make it possible.  So now I am happy to admit I have two places that I call home.  As it is coming up on the year anniversary of our move to Larchmont, I am poignantly aware of how much we feel at home here – and thankful to each of you who makes it so.

            These past two weeks we spent some time at my first home – the home where my parents live on Lake Michigan, just south of Grand Haven.  I suppose it feels like home because Lake Michigan holds a special place in my heart, the place where I learned to sail, where I learned to love the sand and water –when my mom had to bribe me out of it to force me to eat lunch.  My best childhood memories are somehow related to Lake Michigan – and I love now being able to pass some of those memories on to my own children.

            Along with the water and sand, one of those things that Western Michigan has to offer is blueberries – fresh and sweet and in full season right now during the month of August.  Blueberry farms spread out from the Lake in all directions, and so it was simply natural that we would find time, on one of our last days in Michigan, to bring the boys out into the fields to pick our own.  They were amazing – as plump and sweet as grapes, hanging thick and heavy off the bushes.  We went out into the field with buckets, our fingers and tongues turning purple with juice – and yes, some made it into our buckets.  We taught the boys how to twist them gently off the branches, how to leave the green ones behind.  The berries made this gratifying pop when they hit the bottom of the bucket.

            All told we came away with 30 pounds of blueberries – the last of which are spread before you – with four adults and two children picking we filled 5 buckets.  The day was sunny and beautiful, the picking was meditative – if it weren’t for the attention span of our toddlers, we might have picked all day…

            As anyone who has been a parent of small children might remember – blueberries can be a mess.  They squish wonderfully between your fingers, they stain terribly, and when they are cooked they ooze dark purple over everything.  My boys love them, as most children do, for these very reasons.  But in spite of the messiness of it, picking and eating blueberries helped us to feel a tangible participation in the gifts that are spread out abundantly before us, the taking, the eating, the juice running down our fingers and faces, the joy.  This is the life worth living.

            I have been convinced for weeks that I would be preaching this morning on the wisdom of Solomon.  I even told a colleague of mine that I wouldn’t preach on this gospel text to save my life – it is just so bizarre and repelling…  But perhaps because so much of my vacation was centered around eating – excellent meals and rich wines, wandering through farmer’s markets and tasting the best the season has to offer in peaches and cherries and plums, tomatoes only just starting to ripen, fresh, tasty, local foods.  Maybe this is the reason that I found myself compelled to take a look again at this strange conversation that Jesus has in the gospel of John about eating flesh and drinking blood.

             Solomon prays for wisdom, and God gives it willingly…King Solomon becomes known for his wise and just rule.  For us, today – we can relate to the desire for it.  Because with wisdom comes patience, the ability to discern the way into the future (a gift that we all covet in times such as our own.)  With wisdom comes a certain contentment… which is oh so appealing as the market drops and industries fold.

            While I pondered the wisdom of Solomon, I found myself noticing how the wisdom that I find in my own life always tends to be somehow bodily.  That thing we call wisdom is that thing that we know in the core of our being – It is the story we hear that resonate our bodies like a bell, or the music that moves us so deeply we find ourselves sobbing, it’s the warm embrace that we melt into and don’t ever want to part from, those few moments of physical calm at the end of a yoga class or long hike.  Contentment.  When once wisdom might have been understood as a few words which define one’s life purpose, or a creedal formula, a prayer or piece of advice – today, for most postmoderns like myself, wisdom is bound up with experience, it is contextual, it is tangible, it is felt and lived.  

            We may find words of wisdom just about anywhere – from a bumper sticker to a cereal box, to those stories that float around on the internet, but if those words don’t correspond to something we’ve experienced in our lives, they don’t hold a bit of power or truth for us.  In order for words to be wise, they must also move us.

            One of those bits of wisdom that has resonated in my body is just one of those emails that get passed around, that arrived in my inbox again this week.  The email tells about a man who stood in the Metro Station in Washington DC on a cold January morning in 2007. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.  In the time the musician played – only 6 people stopped, 20 people dropped money in his case, (he collected 32 dollars), but most people walked right on by hurrying to meet their trains.

            He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.   As the story goes: What no one knew – was the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

              As the story goes: We learn that the performance was a social experiment to see whether or not people can recognize beauty in their every day life – whether or not they would stop and notice, whether they can discern wisdom and beauty in the midst of the everyday routine.  If you buy into the experiment – it looks like the folks in DC didn’t do so well…I’m not sure we would have fared much better…  Could you stop long enough to have a piece of music move you to dancing?  To tears?  At the Metro station?  The truth of this story hummed in my for weeks after I first heart it…can you relate? 

            The wisdom of Christ is bodily to an extreme in this text in John.  You can imagine it is”one of the most controversial and hotly debated texts in the gospel of John.”[i]  If you’re anything like me – the explicit language is a turnoff.  While I’m married to a Roman Catholic I am quite Presbyterian enough to cringe at what seems a cannabalistic wording of calling the bread and wine flesh and blood.  It’s not that there isn’t something wonderfully important about what happens in the moment of communion, and I do believe that Christ is present in that act in a way we cannot comprehend or explain…but I might stop before I described the meal as flesh and blood.  

            On the other hand, there seems to be no question that this text is talking about communion.  The interrelationship of flesh and blood in the text, the constant mention of one with the other, you cannot mistake the allusion to the communion meal shared by the hearers of these words of Jesus.  What is missing for us this morning – is everything that comes before this text.  These words of Jesus come right on the heels of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus feeds thousands with a few of each.  These words of flesh and blood are an extension of this miracle – all of which point to the Bread of Life – who is it, what is it, what we do with it.

            What’s interesting is that in this text Jesus never moves into using the language of bread and wine – even if he is obviously addressing the Eucharistic act – he uses the words flesh and blood again and again, asserting his own fleshy-ness, making sure that we know his incarnation is as real as it is possible to be.  Jesus asserts – “unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

            I love to see movies – even if I don’t get to do it very often anymore.  One movie I’m dying to see but haven’t yet is called Julie and Julia.  If I weren’t drawn to it for the name I think I’d also be drawn to it for the content – a movie about food and eating is right up my alley.  Some of my most trusted friends have highly recommended the book on which the movie is based, which means I might be reading it as well as seeing it. 

            The Julie in the title is author and blogger Julie Powell, the Julia is Julia Childs.  If you haven’t seen the previews or heard of the book – it’s a story about a young woman looking for her purpose. Wading though her life like the folks walking through the DC Metro station.  Julie Powell is missing it and she knows it.  There is a moment when she has the spark of an idea, and she begins to enter into a relationship with Julia Childs.  She does this by cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking: 365 days, 536 recipes.  Sounds great, doesn’t it? 

            In my investigation into the movie I found myself checking out the author’s blog – the Julie/Julia project.  The first post that opened up was posted on the day of Julia Child’s death in 2004.  For Powell it was clearly like losing a beloved mentor – even though they had never met. 

Powell writes this: “Who knows how it happens, how you come upon your essential gift?  For 
this was hers.  Not the cooking itself so much – lots of people cook 
better than Julia.  Not even the recipes – others can write recipes.  
What was Julia’s true gift, then?  She certainly had enormous energy, 
and that was a sort of gift, if a genetic one – perhaps the one thing 
about her you can pin down on the luck of the draw.  She was a great 
teacher, certainly – funny, and generous, and enthusiastic, with so 
much overbrimming confidence that she had nothing to do with the 
surplus but start doling it out to others.  But she also had a great 
gift for learning.  Perhaps that was the talent she discovered in 
herself at the age of 37, at the Cordon Bleu School in Paris – the 
thirst to keep finding out, the openness to experience that makes life 
worth living.” 

Julia was so impressive, so instructive, so exhilarating, because she 
was a woman, not a goddess.  Julia didn’t create armies of drones, 
mindlessly equating her name with taste and muttering “It’s a Good 
Thing” under their minty breath.  Instead she created feisty, buttery, 
adventurous cooks, always diving in to the next possible disaster, 
because (darnnit), if Julia did it, so could we.  I would not have done (so much) without Julia to tell me – 
“Go ahead – What could happen?”

Because it would not have been 
there for me to do.  Without (her) here, I would be a different person – 
a smaller, a sadder, a more frightened person.

I don’t believe in this kind of thing, and I sort of get the feeling 
(Julia) didn’t either, but I’m going to make an exception in (her) case.  I’m 
going to choose to believe that tonight, (Julia is) eating sole meunieré, 
with (her husband) Paul, and (she’s) lifting a glass to toast whatever comes next.

            What I love about this post is that this is what Jesus is saying in John’s gospel.  Like Julie Powell does with Julia Childs, when we eat together again and again, we develop a relationship with each other.  We share stories and tastes, we enjoy life together, we pay attention to the little things.

            Eating the flesh and drinking the blood – it means nothing without a relationship with the Christ who offers it.  But within that relationship – it means an eating and drinking of life that is full of life – full of the fleshiness of life, full of the messiness, of the juice that stains fingers and runs down chins, full of moments when we show up late somewhere because there was this most amazing musician playing in the Metro. 

Participating in the life of Christ is full of the stop-and-smell-the-roses, savor every bite kind of life that is the wisdom of the body.  It is a feisty, buttery, adventurous living.  It is coming to the table and tasting the meal that is set, yes, but then it is tasting that meal again and again throughout our days – knowing that that meal makes every moment taste like the best French cuisine…

After all this is the Jesus who is the word made flesh…

Come – taste and see…



[i] Most of the scholarship behind my exegesis of this text is out of the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on John by Gail R. O’Day



[ii] The Julie/Julia Project:  Friday, August 13, 2004, by Julie Powell (part of the entry is reworded as Powell’s original entry was directed at Julia Childs in the 1st person…)


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