Jesus, sermon

Wisdom

David died and was buried in Jerusalem. 

So Solomon – not without drama (read the first chapter of 1 Kings) – sat on the throne; and his kingdom was firmly established. By firmly established the writer means he had killed all known threats to his reign.  (read chapter 2)

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; but he was not unpolluted by his people, who sacrificed and offered incense at the high places even though they weren’t supposed to.  They did it because the temple had not yet been built and they had no where else to worship.  

If you know the history of Israel, you know it was a chronic problem this failure to tear down the Ashera poles and altars in the high places …

Nonetheless, when Solomon went to Gibeon (the highest of the high places) to sacrifice, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I should give you.” 

Maybe it was the story of Aladdin or maybe it was because I grew up watching “I Dream of Jeannie,” but when I was a kid my sisters and I often supposed what we would wish for if we had 3 wishes.  Our first wishes were always for stuff, our second wishes were always for more stuff and our third wishes were always for 3 more wishes.

But Solomon was different.

He replied, “You have always been good to my dad because he yielded his heart to you; and you have kept him in your great and steadfast love; You’ve kept your promise to put one of his sons on his throne. And now you have made me king, though I am only a little child and I do not know how to go out or come in.   

Solomon was not literally a little child (like Josiah was when he took the throne at age 8), he was probably 20.  What he likely meant was that he was young and inexperienced and didn’t know a thing about governing.

“Therefore,” Solomon continued, “give me an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

In his podcast last week, Scott Jones harkened this passage back to Genesis 3, and he wondered how God would have responded had A & E asked for knowledge instead of grabbing it, since He seems pleased with the request here.  

But this is different.

Solomon didn’t ask for knowledge of good and evil – that ship had sailed – he already knew all about evil.  He had likely seen the evil deeds inflicted upon his father by his brother Absalom; he had likely heard stories about the evil his father inflicted upon his mom’s first husband, Uriah. He didn’t ask for a knowledge of good and evil, he asked for the ability to discern between the two.

Knowledge = awareness of facts

Discernment = ability to judge them well

The second big difference has to do with motive.  Adam and Eve bit into forbidden knowledge because they wanted to be like God.  We all want to be like Jesus, but this was different, they wanted to be on a par with God.

Solomon wanted the ability to judge between good and evil so he could govern well. He knew he was out of his league with this kingship, he knew he had big shoes to fill and he wanted to make his dad proud.  He wanted to make the Lord proud, too.

So he asked for the one thing he knew he needed in order to do a good job.

James understood the importance of asking with the right motive. He wrote: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

It wasn’t so much Solomon’s request for the ability to discern between good and evil that pleased God, it was the motive behind it.  He didn’t want wisdom so he could show off it off, he wanted it so he could do right by God’s people.

“Because you have asked this,” God replied, “and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, I will indeed give you a wise and discerning mind.”

Wiser than anyone’s before you and after you.

I remember laying in my trundle bed one Sunday night after hearing this story in church.  It must have been before I was six because we stopped going to church when I was six. My older sister asked me what I’d rather have – riches or wisdom.

“Wisdom,” I said, seemed like a no-brainer.

I was surprised when she said, “Not me, I’d rather have riches.”

Had she not listened to the end of the story?

To Solomon God said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

And.

 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, I will also lengthen your life.”

If you walk in my ways, if you keep my commandments…

If you continue to take me seriously.

When Solomon awoke he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

It wasn’t long before the Lord gave him an opportunity to use his newly bestowed wisdom.

You probably know the story well.

Two prostitutes came and stood before him.

They both lived in the same house.

They each had a son within 3 days of one another.

During the night one son died because his mother laid on him. 

The mother of the dead son switched the babies.

“Did not,” she said.

“Did so.”

And so they argued before the king.

“Bring me a sword,” he said.

So they brought him a sword. 

“Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then Solomon gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

Hooray.

Wisdom discerns between those who would destroy life and those who would protect it.   Wisdom discerns between selfishness and sacrifice.

And Wisdom sides with life.

Psalm 111:10 reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”

Proverbs 9:10 says it, too:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.   So what, exactly, is the fear of the Lord? 

Rudy is one of the hub’s favorite movies so we watch it from time to time.  You know Rudy?  True story of a young man whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame in spite of having no real athletic ability, size or academic talent.

He studied hard at a community college, prayed hard, kept applying to Notre Dame and kept getting rejected.

He finally asked his mentor, Father Cavenaugh, for help. He wanted to know what else he could do besides study and pray. He wanted to know the mind of God.

The priest’s response says it all; “Son, in 35 years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts:  There is a God and I’m not Him.”

That’s the fear of the Lord.

Realizing that, “I’m not Him,”

I’m not smarter than He is, I’m not kinder than He is, I’m not more compassionate than He is, I don’t care more than He does.

I don’t care nearly as much as He does.

Once we realize that – as Solomon did, we begin to depend on His intelligence, His goodness and His compassion and we ask for it in service to others.

The lectionary’s alternative OT text for today is Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You who are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Okay first of all, wisdom is a woman.

I love how she has prepared a sacrifice and set out wine.  It ties in so well with our gospel.

“Come eat,” she says to the simple.

None of us has to has remain a fool because we are all invited to eat at Wisdom’s table.

But we must eat.  It’s not enough to just come and admire her beautiful china or read her beautifully crafted words, we must ingest what she has to offer.  We must chew and swallow and let it become part of our cells.

And we must be careful because folly is a woman, too.

Further down in Proverbs 9 it says,

Folly is an unruly woman who is simple and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Welcome to the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sounds like pornography – sounds like an addiction to anything.

Both wisdom and folly call to the those who have no sense but one serves up Christ and the other serves up contraband.

If you need help discerning between the two, do as James advised when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

We can confidently say that a prayer request for wisdom is one to which God will always reply, “Yes!” There’s no, “no” or “wait” when it comes to a request fro wisdom, it’s always “Yes, yes, yes!, Right now!”

Because Wisdom keeps us out of trouble. Which brings us to our epistle.

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. 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.   Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in college, my heart was broken by a young man who was not wise, who was not filled with the Spirit.  I’m talking debauchery.  

So my friend Sandy took me and my broken heart to the Peanut Barrel – some of you MSU alums might remember it – to get us drunk.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I do remember thinking, after a couple glasses of wine, “John who?”  And for one glorious moment I thought I had discovered the key to not feeling the hurt – just keep drinking wine. Every day, until time has healed the wound.

But then wisdom spoke up and said, “Yea, but then you’ll have to deal with a drinking problem.”

Dang it.  That’s wisdom for you, always calling us back to the high road.  Always keeping us from being a fool.

And wisdom is right, of course.  Psalms, hymns and gratitude are much better than wine at comforting a broken heart.

God has always given wisdom lavishly.  Even in the midst of their obstinance, God, through the mouth of Isaiah, promised the voice of wisdom to the ancient Israelites. 

 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left,” He said, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Likewise, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.

In our gospel reading He 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.”

If we tie the gospel reading to the OT texts, the bread He’s talking about here is wisdom.  

And the wisdom that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus said to the tempter after 40 days in the wilderness, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When He said that He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which says: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Manna was food for the body.

Jesus is food for the spirit.

I like how Thomas Nash put it in in his book entitled Worthy is the Lamb: “As the bread-like manna sustained ancient Israel en route to their earthly Promised Land, so too, Christ, the ‘true bread from heaven’  leads us to our eternal paradise … Thus Jesus became not only the perfect Passover Sacrifice for our sins, but also the perfect Passover meal to sustain us spiritually unto heaven.”

At the churches I’ve attended in the past, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated only once a month, but I like our weekly eucharist.  I need weekly sustenance for the long, hard journey to heaven.

I’ll end with a quote that Scott Jones shared on the podcast I mentioned earlier.  It’s taken from Dale Bruner’s commentary on the book of John.

“The sacraments are not a second way of salvation, they are simply Jesus’ one way of salvation scaled down, physicalized, individualized, simplified and concretized [in other words, they are object lessons]. From heart to hands, from soul to body, from group to individual, Jesus was eminently wise when he instituted the sacraments for His disciples.  He knew that we need not only spiritual things but also physical things in order to grasp Him more easily, to come to Him more specifically.”

As I listened to the quote, I thought of all of us, lined up in the aisle, our attention focused for the moment on receiving Christ.

I like the image I saw of us – young and old – simply participating in the weekly reminder that Jesus is our spiritual strength; the weekly reminder that salvation is a gift, placed in our hands, not taken.

“Come,’ wisdom says, “eat.”

Amen.

#SundaysSermon

Lectionary readings:

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

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