Garbage In, Garbage Out

Sermon  August 19, 2018  Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, Year B
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Let us pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

There is a saying in the computer world that says “garbage in, garbage out.”  When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand what this meant.  But I do now.  It is used by computer programmers to suggest that no matter how good their program is, if the user enters in bad information to the computer, they will get bad information out.  Let me give you a specific example from my work as the church treasurer.  We use the QuickBooks program to keep track of finances.  At the end of each month, I need to print out information to let both the Mission Committee and the diocese know about the financial situation of the church.  Suppose I just spend the month entering nonsense into QuickBooks.  Would I magically then get an accurate monthly report?  No, of course not.  I will only get an accurate report if I accurate enter all the information in.

The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” can also apply to each one of us, as individual human beings.  If we fill ourselves with garbage, chances are that it’s going to be garbage coming out of us.  Think about our diet.  If we constantly eat junk food, we’re probably going to be very unhealthy and experience serious health consequences.  If we eat too much fattening food, we won’t lose weight.  Think about our environment.  If we constantly breathe in polluted air, or are exposed to dangerous chemicals, we can expect to be faced with sickness and disease.

This concept goes beyond the physical though.  It also applies to the intellectual and the spiritual.  If we are immersed in rude and dismissive behavior – whether this is on social media platforms, or by watching television or movies, or the way we interact with friends and family – then we are very likely to become rude and dismissive to others.  I watched a news story this past week about a formerly racist man who spoke about how he was drawn into the racist lifestyle.  He started out as an angry young man just out of the military but he immersed himself in racist thought.  He filled his mind with hate, and he became what he filled himself with.

Many studies show that men who consume pornography, become unable to develop real relationships with women, and sometimes are unable to even perform sexually.  Pornography can also have a similar effect of women.  Young people are immersed in a hook up culture that teaches them that others are simply there to meet their sexual needs.  The end result is the same – more loneliness and sexual and relationship dysfunction.

It matters what we fill ourselves with.  If we fill ourselves with ideas, thoughts, ideologies, and worldviews that are antithetical to God, then we will not live obediently to God.  If we fill ourselves with hatred, we will not be loving.  If we fill ourselves with self-centered lust, we will not be good husbands or wives.  If we fill ourselves with greedy thoughts of money, we will not be generous to others.

Our culture is constantly trying to fill us with bad and unhealthy things.  Unhealthy food, overly individualistic attitudes in areas of money, sexuality, and personal achievement.  We are taught that life is all about us, that we are the only ones that matter.  And we wonder at how our society has become so coarse and vile.  If we fill ourselves with things that are displeasing to God, then it is a good bet that we will live lives that are displeasing to God.  We need to fill ourselves with God pleasing things.

This is the theme that runs through all of our readings today.  In our readings from the book of Kings, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and from the Gospel of John, we learn how important it is that we fill ourselves with the right things.  Each passage discusses something important with which we can fill ourselves, and so become more obedient disciples of Jesus.  And so let’s consider each reading in turn.

Our first reading comes from the Old Testament Book of Kings, and looks to an event at the very beginning of King Solomon’s reign over Israel.  Solomon was the son of the great King David, who God had used to establish a strong kingdom for Israel.  We read that God came to Solomon one night and said to him “Ask what I shall give you.”  That’s a pretty awe inspiring question to come from God.  I remember when I was a kid discussing with friends what three things you would ask for if a wizard gave you three wishes.  I always thought that the smart move was to leave the final wish very open ended, saying “and my third wish is that you will keep granting me whatever I want.”  I am sure that God would not have been impressed.

Solomon could have asked for anything from God.  He might not have gotten it, but he could have asked.  He could have asked for even greater military success than his father David.  He could have asked for great riches.  Or he could have asked to be the most handsome guy in the world.  But he didn’t.  Instead Solomon replied to God saying “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”  Solomon asked for wisdom and a discerning mind, and he made this request from a position of humility and service to God’s people.

This pleased God because Solomon did not ask for something that would benefit himself, but for something that would allow him to serve both God and the people.  Solomon asked that he would have the understanding to discern right from wrong.  God honored Solomon’s request, and responded by saying “if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”  Wisdom, understanding and the discernment of right from wrong is all about walking in the ways of God and being obedient to him.

Psalm 111, which we read together today, tells of the goodness of God and of how he has redeemed his people and then concludes by saying “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”  Being wise means to humble ourselves before God, seeking out his ways, his commandments, and his calling on our lives.

And so, this is the first thing that we should fill ourselves with.  Beginning from a place of humility before God, let us fill ourselves with a knowledge of God, his precepts and his commandments.  Let us fill ourselves with everything that God has revealed of himself to us in the Bible.  Let us fill ourselves with obedience, awe, and the fear of the Lord.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, concluding a larger passage in which Paul urges the Ephesians to reject the sinful behaviors that had characterized their lives before they heard the Gospel.  Paul tells them “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”  And he gives them advice on how they can do this.  Paul writes “and do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He is telling us not to fill ourselves with things that will draw us away from God, but instead to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  And we can do this most effectively by praising God both in outwardly and in our hearts, and by “giving thanks always” to God.

Paul’s advice accomplishes a number of things.  First, when we praise God, we won’t be praising ourselves.  When we praise God, we are giving him the glory, and doing this should give us a spirit of humility before God.  When we thank God, we will develop a spirit of gratitude towards him, and we won’t be focused on all of our perceived injustices and demands.  Instead we will be focused on our own shortcomings, and thankful that God has saved us from sin.  In turn, our gratitude towards God will make us more generous to others.  So let us fill ourselves with praise and thanksgiving towards God.

In our passage from the Gospel of John, we read about filling ourselves with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As I read what various commentators have said about this passage, I learned that many argue that this is not primarily about the Eucharist.  This passage comes well before Jesus introduced the Lord’s Supper, and so while we can apply this teaching to the Eucharist, we need to ask what John’s primary objective was in including it.

I think that this is a passage that is very rich and deep in meaning.  It communicates many truths to us via the illustration of eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood.  I want to highlight a few layers.  First, Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  With this comment Jesus is pointing back to the time when the people of Israel had escaped captivity in Egypt in the time of the Exodus.  They had been wandering in the desert and were going hungry.  The Lord sent manna to the people so that they would survive.  Jesus is declaring that he is like this manna, except whereas people had to keep eating the manna again and again to stay alive, with Jesus we will live forever.  Jesus is telling us that he is our lifeline, that if we fill ourselves with him, we will have eternal life.

The second way of looking at this comes from Bishop N.T. Wright of the Church of England.  He suggests that concept of eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood means that we are taking on ourselves the benefit that Jesus gave us by giving his body and blood for us in the crucifixion.  Bishop Wright points to a story in the Old Testament when David refuses to drink some water that men had risked their lives to bring him.  David says that to drink the water would be akin to drinking their blood because they had placed their lives on the line.  And so when John writes “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” what he means that unless we accept and take hold of the forgiveness of our sins that Jesus Christ won for us through his death on the cross, then we have no life in us.  This sort of language would have been shocking for the people to hear from Jesus.  We need to eat his body and drink his blood?  What craziness is this?  And yet, the truth that this points to is that Jesus put his body and his blood on the line for us when he died on the cross in our place.  Shocking, for sure, but an absolute necessity.  This is a complicated concept, but a very important one.

I think that these are the two main points of our Gospel passage, and they both point to the Lord’s Supper.  We need to fill ourselves with Jesus because there is nothing else that will sustain us.  Just like the manna in the desert was the only option for life for the people of Israel in the time of the Exodus, so is Jesus Christ our only option for life today.  And we need to realize the shocking reality of what the crucifixion of Jesus means for us today, and that our only hope for eternal life is to accept his death and the forgiveness that the sacrifice of his body and blood won for us.

We need to fill ourselves with Jesus Christ.  We need to fill ourselves with faith in him as the only source of true life in this world.  We need to fill ourselves with the awesome reality that he gave his body and blood on the cross to win for us eternal life.  If we fill ourselves with Jesus in this way, we can’t but help become his disciples and live for him.

And so what will we fill ourselves with?  Garbage in will mean garbage out.  Is that what we want?  I don’t think so.  Let’s fill ourselves with wisdom, discernment, humility before God, praise and thanksgiving towards God, and finally with Jesus Christ.  When we fill ourselves with these things, we have become part of the Kingdom, abiding with God and God abiding in us.  Amen.

Let us pray.

God of constant mercy, who sent your Son to save us: you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we deserve: fill us with wisdom, discernment, praise and thanksgiving, and most of all with the knowledge of your Son Jesus Christ.  Increase your grace within us, that our thankfulness may grow, through Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.

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