A sermon preached on Pentecost 12 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
RCL /Proper 15 / Year B
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
(Audio of Sermon)
A couple of months ago, Antonio and I were invited to a birthday celebration of one of our friends at a popular restaurant. When we arrived we realized that someone had forgotten to make a reservation and we were facing a ninety minutes wait before our group could be seated. Ivan, whose birthday we were celebrating, was not happy with this and made the decision that we should celebrate somewhere else. None of us had a problem with this as there were lots of nice restaurants in the area. So off we went wandering up the street to find a restaurant. A familiar pattern began to emerge. We would arrive at the front of a restaurant and everyone would get their smartphones out. Some of us read the yelp reviews, some went to the restaurant’s Facebook page or website. With so much information coming into us you would have thought that we would find the perfect restaurant. Not so. The information paralyzed us. We could not get group consensus. In the end we ended up an old favorite, a place that we had eaten at many times before. It is a pity that we didn’t have the wisdom to simply look inside the restaurant, look at the diners, were they happy? Was any food that we could see nicely presented? Was there a line? What was the ambience like? Information overload dampened our wisdom.
King Solomon, who we have just read about in our reading from the Old Testament seemed to have a desire for wisdom. We read that soon after coming to the throne, God came to Solomon in a dream and offered him anything that he wanted. I am sure that there were many things that Solomon could have asked for but he does something quite surprising. First he offers God his praise and thanksgiving
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.
Then he humbles himself and recognizes that God is the creator and organizer of all things in the world
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.
Then finally he goes in for the ask!
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?
An understanding mind, the ability to discern. Surely that is a very good description of what is at the heart of Wisdom.
Of course in theological and academic debate there are some people who question the motives of Solomon. The royal court in Israel was a hotbed of political maneuvering, indeed even his own ascension to the throne is a political drama in itself. When we read the first two chapters of 1 Kings we are told the story of how his mother went to King David’s deathbed with the prophet Nathan to convince King David into making Solomon his heir and successor over the king’s older son Adonijah. Some people have argued that Solomon, even at a young age was a ruthless, calculating, vengeful leader, in many ways not unlike his father. That his request was far from a humbled, God fearing and heartfelt plea but more of a calculated strategic and power driven play.
There probably was elements of this in the reality of what happened. We will never know for sure as this is history and we can’t go back in time. I prefer to think that Solomon, was a little in over his head. He was made king unexpectedly, found himself leader of all of Israel, living in the shadow of his father the great King David. He was young, we do not know his exact age but scholars say anywhere from twelve to twenty. It must have been scary being in that position. He had withdrawn to a holy place to sacrifice a thousand burnt offerings. I am guessing that God came to him in his dream at the very moment that the young Solomon needed him most.
And there we have the pivotal point. God came to Solomon when he most needed it. As king over Israel, Solomon had all the earthly desires that he needed and much more, but he was lost. In that place of sacrifice he heard the Lord calling his name. He heard the call and the promise of the Lord and he responded.
His request for wisdom came in three parts. Firstly he asked “Give me an understanding mind to govern your people”. Solomon recognized that he needed to be transformed in order to be able to understand all of the requests that were being made of him. He asks, transform me so that I can go deeper than the facts, transform me so that I can turn facts into meaningful information.
Secondly he asks for the ability to discern between good and evil. Discern is such an important word and concept. To seek, to listen, to watch for – are all essential in achieving discernment. Solomon is asking God to see more than what is in front of his eyes, he is asking to see into the places that he does not normally look, to seek the truth where many dare not go.
Finally he says “for who can govern this your great people”. By this statement he is keeping God at the center of all he does. He is acknowledging that anything that he achieves is by the grace of God.
And so my friends, what does this mean to us? To you and to me? Solomon was a complex character, full of good and not so good. He had skeletons in his closest. He had done things that with hindsight he was not proud of. Does that sound like you and me? We are not that different, and in God’s eyes we have the same status, as a child of his, that Solomon had. God can and does come to each and every one of us. No matter what we have done, no matter who we are.
God can come but that does not mean we will see him or acknowledge him. Our lives are so full, full of everything, that the world can blind us to his presence. Sometimes it is in our darkest hours when we are search of God that we are able to find him but I challenge each and every one of us to consciously look for God in our everyday lives.
If we let him God will also grant us wisdom, but to fully harness the power of wisdom we would be well served to follow Solomon’s example.
We need to be transformed by our faith into a community that is understanding. Of course we need facts and information but facts and information alone do not build knowledge. When we read that a victim of human trafficking was the daughter of a north county family. We need to do more than accept this as a fact we need to develop an understanding mind that realizes that horrors like human trafficking can and do affect not only families close to the boarder, but is happening in our own communities. We need to use the information to develop responses in our own lives here in Del Mar.
We need to be able to discern the truth. Ask ourselves what in our lives is blocking us seeing God around us? Are we so overloaded on facts that we fail to see and hear the story. In my story about finding a restaurant, facts blocked us from discovering something new and we ended up back in a familiar same old place. I pray that we can cut through the distractions in our modern day lives to see a new reality. To discern where God is truly calling us.
Finally, let us never forget that God is front, center and all around. You may think that that is an obvious thing to say in a sermon but wisdom has shown me that sometimes we need to be reminded that God is the creator, God is the sustainer and God is the redeemer.