August 19, 2018
Our reading from Kings tells of Solomon, David's son, succeeding David as king of Israel. It was not a totally peaceable transition of power. At least two sons claimed the throne. Adonijah was the fourth son of David. After the death of his elder brothers, Amnon and Absalom-whose efforts to take the throne resulted in his death-we read that last week, Adonijah became heir-apparent to the throne. Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba and David had promised Bathsheba that Solomon would be the next king. So Adonijah was exiled. Later, he made another attempt to gain the throne, but was seized and put to death. David's sons wanted to succeed him on the throne. It seems it was the lure of power that drew them in. Solomon seems different; sometimes it is simply a son seeking to fill his father's shoes.
Shirley read of Solomon following the footsteps of his father. He is ascending to the throne of David. And God comes to him in a dream. Solomon responded to God's call in his dream by commending the relationship God shared with David; “You were extravagantly generous in love with David my father. And you have persisted in this great and generous love by giving him a son to sit on his throne. You have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom in place of David my father.” Solomon, whether he was ready or not, was following in his father's footsteps. He wanted to be like his Dad in the relationship that God and David had.
In this dream God asked Solomon, “What can I give you? Ask.” Solomon is given the promise of anything he can ask for. Think of the choices that may have run through his head. Riches, fame, love, long life, health, revenge against his enemies. What would you ask for? Solomon asked for understanding; for wisdom to distinguish between right and wrong, the ability to lead wisely. And God was well-pleased with Solomon's request. And God granted him his request for wisdom and understanding. Then God added on the things he didn't ask for. He became extremely wealthy with untold possessions. It is reported that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He oversaw the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, a magnificent structure that housed the Ark of the Covenant. He was renowned world-wide for his wealth and possessions; but mostly for his wisdom.
We don't read it in the lectionary, but you are probably familiar with the rest of chapter 3. Solomon wakes up, and his wished for wisdom is soon tested. Two mothers who shared a house came to Solomon. One of their babies had been accidentally smothered. Both women claimed the surviving child was theirs. Today, we would use DNA to do a maternity test; no such thing back then. Solomon took a sword and said he would cut the baby in two and each woman could take one-half. When the one woman protested, Solomon awarded the baby to her, wisely discerning her love for her child went beyond selfishly insisting on her own way. Would Solomon have cut the baby in half? I doubt it; but God's gift of understanding allowed him to make a wise decision.
As I've been writing, I realize there are 2 distinct meanings for the word understanding; the understanding requested by Solomon where we learn to distinguish right from wrong, understanding on how to lead and how to make right decisions.
The other kind of understanding is more in line with Jacob's 11 traits we are studying. It is the ability and willingness to understand the trials and motives and sorrows and feelings of others. To be understanding is to be gracious to others, to seek to give the benefit of the doubt when questions arise. This is something we can pursue in our relationships with each other here and with all with whom we come in contact in the world.
That sounds good, but can you think of situations where you are not under-standing? What comes to my mind is a bad driver; a slow driver, an indecisive driver, a speeding driver, a driver who doesn't signal their intentions. Hard to be understanding in those situations. Maybe its a noisy neighbor or a rude sales clerk. A pushy customer in line or the noisy person talking on their cell phone. Anybody bothered by any of these?
You have probably heard the saying, before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes. This means before judging someone, you must seek to understand his or her experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc. In effect, it is a reminder to be understanding of your neighbor.
Another similar saying comes from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
In fact, it seems that my two types of understanding aren't so different after all. In this one we seek to understand the mind of the people around us. In the other, we seek to understand the mind of God. And that is where I want to focus the rest of the sermon, how can we follow the example of Solomon and his desire for wisdom and under-standing?
Back to the scripture, in his dream, Solomon replied to God's offer, “God, my God, you have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom.” The first step to understanding is to realize that we are all servants of the most high. It is important to remember our place in the scheme of all things; we are created by God to love and serve God and neighbor. This is certainly not the lesson the world teaches. The world teaches that we are no. 1, that our job is to take care of no. 1 and to manage relationships to gain maximum advantage in career, pleasure, possessions. Steve Martin used our earlier quote to help make this point, 'Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.' But that is not in line with God's teaching: John the Baptist said it well, "If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn't have any. If you have food, share it with someone else." We serve others, just as Jesus came into the world, not to be served, but to serve...and give his life as a ransom.
The next thing Solomon says, “I’m too young for this, a mere child!” It is not clear from the scriptures how old Solomon was when we ascended tot he throne, but we can calculate that he was probably between 20 and 30 years of age. So, no, he was not a mere child. But he realized that he wasn't as wise or understanding as older, more experienced leaders. He showed true humility when he admitted that his youth was a drawback as king. As Christians, we are called to a life of humility in addition to that life of service. Solomon demonstrated that humility; humbly seeking wisdom from other sources is a good guide for how to rule a kingdom. Seeking wisdom and advice in humility is a good way to live out the Christian life as well. Realize that none of us knows it all. Seek advice from wise counselors.
Wisdom is a little different than knowledge. Today, we have unlimited knowledge at our fingertips when we access the internet. We pursue knowledge at higher speeds with smarter tools today than ever before. As she noted this fact, Arianna Huffington wrote, “But wisdom is found no more readily than it was three thousand years ago in the court of King Solomon. In fact, ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.” She gives some suggestions as to how we can better seek under-standing/wisdom rather than just knowledge:
-Appreciate the difference between information and wisdom
-Slow down in this culture of hurry sickness
-Be mindful instead of operating on automatic pilot. I'd say live fully aware of the moment.
Solomon's request of God: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind.” Who among us would not be well served to make this our prayer as well? “Give us a mind that understands how we ought to live out our faith. Give us a mind that understands how to love our neighbor as ourselves. Give us a mind that understands the things of God. Give us a mind that understands theology.” Wait, theology is hard, we can't understand theology! Whether you label it as theology or not, we each have some understanding of theology. God, Jesus, heaven, hell, Satan, sin,... when you hear these words and think about what they mean, that's theology. How we make sense of this world in light of God's word, that's theology. We are mistaken if we think all theology is done in a monastery or seminary or by masters of Divinity students and professors. Every one of us does theology. Please consider studying scriptures with us in the two weekly bible studies starting in September...details will be in the newsletter. All of us can grow in our understanding of theology. And we do well then to model our study after King Solomon; “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind.”
And as we continue reading Ephesians, Paul tells us the same thing. The second half of the book of Ephesians is all about how to live, and Paul gave us this advice, “Be careful then how you live... understand what the will of the Lord is”.
Now we also need to realize there are limits to what we can understand. God is more than we can comprehend, and sometimes we get reminders of that. Early Monday morning I was in our backyard looking up at the stars, seeking a glimpse of the Perseid meteor showers. Scriptures often speak of how the heavens proclaim the glories of God. I did not see any meteors while I was out there, but as I tried to understand how the light of the stars was light years away, I was overwhelmed once again by the glory of God. Psalm 19: 1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Theology and the heavens seem to go together. Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” And in the book of Job; while Job was suffering through all his losses, his one friend Zopar asked Job theological questions that help put understanding God in perspective. He challenged Job, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? 8 They are higher than heaven—what can you do?”
We are reminded that we can never in this world fully know the ways of God. We cannot fully discern how God works in the world, or even how God is working in our life right now. Ah, but we can ask for understanding, for wisdom. And with God's affirming presence, we can move forward trusting in God's grace. We won't know all the answers, but we can grow in understanding; and more importantly we can grow in faith.
I close with a quote from Charles Spurgeon, one of the more famous preachers of the last 200 years, he preached in London in the 1800's, so don’t feel bad if you haven't heard of him. He changed many lives with his sound teaching and spell-binding preaching. On his deathbed he said this about his theology, “My theology has become very simple. It consists of four words: Jesus died for me.” And then he died.
May we all grow in understanding of theology, understanding of living out God's love and grace and understanding the things of God. But especially may we understand that the Lord Jesus is a real and personal presence in our lives. Jesus loves you, Jesus died for you, Jesus reigns as Lord. Everything else is just details. Amen.
Hymn: Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak 426 PH