At the beginning of our worship on Sunday, before our young children depart for Children’s Chapel, I will invite all of our children to come forward for a prayer and a blessing as they begin this new school year. If they bring their backpacks to church on Sunday, these will also be “blessed,” but the real prayer for God’s blessing is for the children themselves. We will ask that they may be aware of God’s loving and guiding presence with them every day, and that they may be strengthened and empowered to learn and grow in ways that prepare them for the work God has in store for their lives. We will also lift up the teachers who work with them, as well as all the parents who support their lives.
This time of new beginnings in the lives of our children reminds us that God calls us all to grow continually, throughout our lives, into the people He calls us to be. He never leaves us without provision and resources for that growth, and He never leaves us alone, forced to rely only on ourselves. Indeed, God is always present with us, and God is the source of the wisdom and the strength we seek. Our lessons from scripture this week are clear reminders of this truth.
The Old Testament reading from 1 Kings accounts for Solomon’s wisdom. Following the death of his father David, Solomon assumes the throne. Imagine the weight of that responsibility! What kind of king he will be is a question both for Solomon and for his people. So, Solomon takes himself to one of the holiest places and sleeps there, hoping for a vision in a dream, something to guide him on his way. Sure enough, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask what I should give you.” Solomon replies, “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?” God is pleased with this request, pleased that Solomon did not ask for wealth or power or dominance or long life, but rather for the gifts to be a servant king. And so, God gives Solomon “a wise and discerning mind,” as well as riches and honor and distinction. All of these things, clearly, are gifts from God, given for the purpose of walking in God’s ways.
The Gospel reading this week continues John’s account of Jesus as the “living bread that came down from heaven.” Now this theme becomes primary, moving beyond the teaching that eternal life is to be found by believing in Jesus to asserting that it comes from feeding on his body and drinking his blood. Jesus explains concisely and forcefully how he brings us into God’s own life: “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” Although John’s gospel does not recount the institution of the Eucharist, it does explain very clearly what the Eucharist does for Christians. When we eat the body and drink the blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, we take into ourselves the indwelling of God and his Son and we join ourselves in covenant with the divine life.
God is the source of wisdom and discernment for us, as He was for Solomon. Jesus Christ, as we are joined with him in Holy Communion, is the source of our strength and our hope of full and eternal life. There could be no better preparation for the days, weeks, and months ahead than to come together in worship to receive these gifts.