A Reading from the First Book of Kings (2:10-12; 3:3-14)
David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (5:15-20)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:51-58)
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Earlier this summer, one of my sisters sent me an electronic copy of this summer’s priest reassignments for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, in which I served many years ago. I was a little surprised when I looked through the list of these 15 priests and realized that I didn’t know any of them. The only familiar names came in a supplementary paragraph at the bottom of the article. It listed 11 priests, including three seminary classmates of mine, who had retired. It’s just one more sign that I am getting old — as if I needed another one!
As I look ahead to the last few years of my own active ministry, I have been identifying certain projects and initiatives that I still want to undertake before I retire. At least some of these are based on what I have learned in my little more than 40 years as a priest and how I can make use of that experience for the benefit of the church and the community. Some of these learnings are, I think, significant. Others are relatively minor, including certain words and phrases that always seem to catch my attention.
One of these is a statement that I have heard time and time again when I have met someone new, usually outside of a church context, and that person finds out that I am a priest. I’ve heard them remark something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re a priest. You should meet my aunt. She’s very religious.” That statement immediately sets off an alarm for me because I have too often found that what it really means is that that aunt needs some serious professional help.
Many people, outside of churches as well as in them, interpret the idea of “being religious” as meaning that someone is living in an imaginary world detached from the one in which the rest of us spend our days. Those who do so often focus on practices and mental images and ways of thinking that are, in effect, magical and superstitious. I suspect that they resort to them in an attempt to deal with the uncertainties and fears and challenges of their daily lives, but they become instead a way of trying to escape from them. They serve as a shield to try to protect these so-called “religious people” from having to take responsibility for their decisions and actions and to help them avoid the often challenging work of serving as God’s stewards and of doing God’s work in the world.
Those who take this sort of approach to faith inhabit a world in which God is ready to step in and fix just about every little thing for us: the ultimate micromanager. Theirs is a world in which our choices and what we think we control are always being trumped by a greater plan and for a higher purpose. Ultimately, they make our decisions and our responsibility for our decisions irrelevant, and so we’re supposedly “off the hook.” No matter what happens, it’s never our fault. When something goes terribly wrong, it’s never that I made a bad decision; instead, “It must have been God’s will.”
Sometimes, that attitude results in pure silliness. There was a woman who used to come to this church many years ago, who clearly embraced that sort of so-called faith. One day, she told Judy that she was praying that God would make sure that she remembered to make a particular kind of casserole for her husband. My “nearest and dearest” asked her simply, “Don’t you think that God has more important things to worry about than that?”
At other times, well-meaning people invoke that approach, one of a constantly in-control and constantly intervening God, in an attempt to help others, but they end up accomplishing just the opposite. They will, for example, tell someone who has just suffered the loss of a family member something along the lines of, “God needed him more than you do.” What a horrible thing to say. What a horrible and selfish god that would be – one who is just the opposite of the loving God who weeps with us in our sorrows and who “comforts us in all our afflictions” (2 Cor. 2:1:4).
There are many people around today, who insist that, in order to be truly religious, we have to embrace a blind faith: one that never challenges or questions. But as New Testament scholar, John Pilch, has observed, “’Blind faith,’ after all, is a curious gift to return to the creator of human intelligence.” (The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A, page 75).
As opposed to such a childish, really irresponsible approach to faith, today’s first reading offers us an alternative. It is the one that Solomon, reputed to have been an extremely wise person, embraced. In his prayer to God after he has become king, Solomon never asks God to fix everything and so remove any responsibility from him for the way he governs. Instead he asks, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” His was not a prayer that God would magically take care of everything, making sure that whatever he did came out alright. Instead, he was willing to take responsibility for his actions; but he also asked God to give him the wisdom to make intelligent and responsible decisions, knowing that the choice in the end was his and that he couldn’t push off the blame for his decisions on anyone, not even on God.
So often in life, we try to do just the opposite. Over and over again, I’ve heard people, when life is going well, give themselves credit for their wise and responsible decisions and actions: “Didn’t I do a great job!” But when things go wrong, it’s never their fault; it’s a matter of “How could God let this happen!”
One of the major factors that brought me to the Episcopal Church and to the Anglican pattern of Christianity in general, is the way that our tradition tends to avoid such a childish and naïve religiosity. Instead, our heritage calls upon us to use all the gifts that God has given us: to study, to question, to challenge, to use all the ways of knowing that God has made available to us. We do so in order that, like Solomon, we might use whatever wisdom God has given us to act as God’s representatives, God’s stewards, in the world.
As 20th theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote in what became known as the “Serenity Prayer”:
“O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
The courage to change what can be changed,
and the wisdom to know the one from the other.”
And, we might add: “And give us, as genuinely religious people, the wisdom not to indulge ourselves in childish ways, but to live as your children: walking in your image, using all the gifts with which you bless us, not in an attempt to escape our responsibility in the world, but to do your work in all things.”