Jesus, life, sermon

Job

The very beginning of Job chapter 1 tells us that  Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

He had such a healthy fear of God that when his sons held family feasts to celebrate their birthdays, he would get up early the next morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them – just in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts.

That’s the kind of man he was – He sacrificed for his children – acted as their priest – every single time they feasted.

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan showed up. 

The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been surveying the earth.”

“Have you seen Job? There is no one on earth as blameless and upright as he.”

“Of course he’s blameless and upright,” Satan hissed, “You’ve given him nothing but protection and blessings. Take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”

“Go ahead then, take everything I’ve given him,” the Lord replied,  “but don’t lay a finger on his body.”

So when Job’s sons and daughters were gathered at the oldest brother’s house feasting and drinking wine, a messenger came to Job and cried, “All of your oxen and donkeys have been stolen and all of your ranch hands have been killed!”

Another messenger came: “Fire has fallen from heaven and burned up all your sheep and shepherds!’

A third messenger reported, “Raiders have made off with all your camels and all their caretakers have been killed!”

Yet another messenger hurried in with horrific news, “The roof of your son’s house has collapsed and all your sons and daughters are dead!”

Job tore his robe and shaved his head, fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

“In all this,” Scripture says,  “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan basically accused Job of loving God for His money.

But when the money was gone, when his children and his employees and his livestock –  all his wealth – were gone,  Job continued to praise.

You would think that Job’s praise would have shut the accuser up – proved that Job loved God for who He is and not for what He could give him.

Except the accuser doesn’t shut up.  We all have first hand knowledge of that.

Instead of shutting up, he showed up at another angelic staff meeting.

Again the Lord said to him, “Where have you come from?”

Again Satan answered, “I’ve been out surveying the earth.” 

Apparently that’s what he does.  Peter said he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

“Did you see Job?,” the Lord asked,  “he still maintains his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”

Integrity is an important word to this story.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  The second definition is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  It’s to have all parts of your life integrated and consistent.  To be the same on the inside and the outside, in public and in private.

Even after all of his tragic losses, Job remained consistent and God was proud of him.

“Anyone can maintain their integrity after losing their stuff,” the accuser spat, “but strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, take his health, too; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

And there was nothing for Job to do but sit among the ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Remember the itchy misery of chicken pox?

Seeing him sitting there, his wife had had enough. “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

But Job was committed to God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. 

He replied to his wife.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Again Scripture reports, “In all his suffering he did not sin in what he said.”

Four of Job’s friends heard what happened and went to comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him; they began to weep, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads and got down in the ashes with him. 

For seven days and nights they sat with him and no one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.

And then, after seven silent days,  Job opened his mouth and wondered why he had ever been born.

Once he broke the silence, his friend, Eliphaz, dared to speak.

“Think how you have instructed many,
how you have always strengthened and supported those who stumble
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
Shouldn’t you be confident in your piety, 
shouldn’t your blameless ways be your hope?”

Eliphaz started well, with words we all want to hear in our distress – “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve this.”

My dad spoke those words to me over the phone when my first husband left. “You are a fine Christian woman, you don’t deserve this.”  And, bless his compassionate heart, he left it that.

But Eliphaz’s words of comfort quickly turned to condemnation.

“Or maybe you’re not so blameless… in my experience,” he continued, “you reap what you sow.”

“So even though it appears that you’re an upstanding citizen on the outside, there must be some hidden sin on the inside. 

Only the wicked suffer, after all, and you’re suffering, therefore you must be wicked.”

Then, to his faulty logic Eliphaz added a spiritual gut punch:

“A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on people,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.

A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?”

Eliphaz assumed that the presence that came into his room and gave him insight was God, but I don’t think it was.

Because God doesn’t accuse.  The accuser accuses.

And God doesn’t twist the truth.

The twister of truth twists the truth.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God, to be more pure than his Maker.  Job’s words and actions clearly showed that he knew his humble position.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.”

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

He sacrificed for his children after every party for crying out loud, you can’t get more aware of your need for atonement than that.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God yet here’s the snake in the dark shadows of Eliphaz’s bedroom hissing and twisting and accusing and planting seeds of condemnation.

You gotta’ feel for Job.  He has lost everything, he’s covered in itchy, oozy sores and now his “friend” is saying that he brought it all on himself.  Hinting that the problem might be his self-righteousness.

It’s ironic that the accuser would plant that particular prejudice against Job in Eliphaz’s mind when the whole reason he got booted from heaven was because he wanted to be above God.

When we point a finger at another, we’re pointing three back at ourselves.

Job replied, “Seriously?  That’s how you are going to respond to the magnitude of my suffering? Give me specific examples of my sin and self-righteousness and I’ll be quiet. But don’t make accusations without proof, my integrity is at stake.”

And then, because his friend got into his head, Job turned his attention to God.

“What is mankind that you make so much of us,
that you give us so much attention,(scrutinize us so closely)
and test us at every moment?

Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, tell me what I have done,
you who see everything we do.”

For the next 3 chapters Job lamented his misery and wondered what he did wrong. Have you ever been there?  I have.  When my first husband left.

Eliphaz (with Satan’s help) played into Job’s fear of offending God, he exploited his fastidiousness, leaving  Job crushed under the weight of what he thinks is God’s condemning gaze.

But what Job and his friends don’t know is what transpired in heaven between God and Satan.

Job’s confusion and Eliphaz’s condemnation are all based on a lack of information.

That’s something we should remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual struggle – or a relationship struggle or a work situation:

When things don’t add up, there is more to the equation.

His second friend, Bildad spoke up.

“How long will you maintain your innocence when clearly you are lying?
God doesn’t pervert justice, therefore if you are suffering it must be warranted.

Case in point, your children.  Clearly they all sinned or they wouldn’t all be dead.

But if you will seek God earnestly and confess
And if you are pure and upright,
He will restore you to your prosperous state.”

OMG.  His children were all crushed under the roof of his eldest son’s house at a birthday party and this “friend” is saying it was because of their sin?

If I were Job, and if I weren’t weak with fever and grief, I might have grabbed Bildad’s neck.

Instead Job answered, 

“Indeed, I know that I should plead with God,
But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.

If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him?

Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”

Then Zophar, jumped on the condemnation bandwagon:

He, too, had been listening to Job with prejudiced ears. He too was offended by Job’s claim of innocence. 

What all three friends failed to hear is that when Job claimed to be innocent, he wasn’t claiming to be perfect or more righteous than God.

He was saying that he didn’t do anything to warrant complete devastation.

It’s like when some friends from my young marrieds Sunday school class called after my husband left wondering what I did.  Some were looking for scandal, some were looking for rhyme and reason – assurance that a random abandonment wouldn’t happen to them.

When I answered, “I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t mean I was perfect or blameless, I meant I didn’t do anything to warrant being abandoned – I didn’t have an affair, for example – as one of my callers had.  By Job’s friends’ logic her husband should have been gone, not mine.

Zophar said, “Do you really think you’re going to win this argument when it’s three against one and you are clearly wrong because you’re the one covered in sores?

I won’t sit back and listen to you mock God.
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

Do you ever wish God would open His mouth and speak against someone when you are convinced that you are right and he/she is wrong?

Be careful with that because God did eventually open his mouth and speak against someone, but it wasn’t Job!

“Surely he recognizes deceivers,” Zophar continued,
“and when he sees evil, he takes note.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.”

“THERE IS NO SIN IN MY HAND!”

Job was sick of the pat, spiritual answers that didn’t apply to his situation. He was sick of judgment parading as concern.  He was sick of insult being heaped on his injury.

 He replied to Zophar,

“You are miserable comforters, all of you!”

Tell me something I don’t know, something that will actually help.

What’s your problem that you insist I admit to some grave sin?

“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But I wouldn’t, I would speak words of comfort and encouragement.”

They all knew that was true because that was the first thing Eliphaz said when the silence was broken – “you’ve always strengthened and lifted up the faltering.”

Yet on him they heaped condemnation – all because the accuser whispered in Eliphaz’s ear and took control of the narrative.  If Eliphaz hadn’t been the first to speak would the others have been so quick to pile on?

Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar went ‘round and around for 28 chapters.  It’s a long thread.

Job turned his thoughts to the good old days:

“when people listened to him expectantly,
waiting in silence for his counsel.
For his words to fall gently on their ears.

To the days when people were thrilled to receive his smile, when the light of his face was precious to them.

Back to the days when he dwelt as a king among his troops;
When he was like one who comforts mourners.”

When he was treated with respect.

“But now,” he said, “my skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.”

And after lamenting for quite awhile more, the words of Job ended.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s words ended, too.  There was no point in arguing with Job since he was clearly right in his own eyes and not willing to repent.

Young Elihu, who had been silent up until now, was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had failed to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.  They could produce no solid evidence against him but they still convicted him – all because of their faulty understanding of his situation, their prejudices against him and their limited understanding of God.  

(If you give each friend’s arguments a close reading, you will see their particular prejudices and jealousies bubble to the surface.)

Elihu started by saying something similar to what Eliphaz said:

“God speaks in various ways,
though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
and keep them from pride,”

Remember when Zophar claimed God gave him insight in his restless sleep?

This is different.  Here Elihu is saying God speaks to us about us in order to save us from sin.

He doesn’t whisper to us about the behavior of others so we can accuse and condemn.

In so doing, Elihu added salvation and redemption to the equation.

But then Elihu makes an arrogant statement, even as he accuses Job of thinking he’s perfect.

“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”

Elihu is confident that he has perfect knowledge when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about – implying that  Job’s problem is he won’t confess his sin and cry for mercy.

“God is wooing you from the jaws of distress.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.”

And then Elihu reveals his particular prejudice:

“Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?

Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.

Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.” 

Elihu seems to assume that Job’s hidden sin has something to do with his wealth, with ill-gotten gain.  But if wealth were Job’s problem his story would not have ended as it does.

All this angst, all these accusations, all these prejudices surfaced because Satan couldn’t stand that a human would actually, sincerely want to please God.

It’s all the more maddening because Job was humble to begin with.  It wasn’t until he was forced defend himself against the accusations of his friends that he became puffed up.  And annoyed.

Elihu’s speech was closer to the truth about God than E’s, B’s or Z’s because he recognized God’s focus on redemption where they others were focused on judgment, but he was wrong about Job.  And he didn’t have perfect knowledge of the situation because he didn’t know the whole equation.

The only one who knew the truth about Job was God.

Job suffered because Satan accused God at an angelic gathering.  Just as Jesus suffered because Satan accused God at the base of a fruit tree.  It had nothing to do with Job.

When His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us.

But in the midst of our suffering, when things don’t add up, we assume that God is angry with us.  We flail around trying to figure out why, beg Him to tell us what we did.  But if the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe we didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s interesting that when God finally spoke, He didn’t tell Job about the wager in heaven, He didn’t address Job’s suffering at all.  Instead He asked Job a series of questions all designed to help him understand mercy. 

To ask for mercy is to look up and beg, to be merciful is to stoop down and bestow kindness.

It’s a positional thing.

Job kept insisting that he had done nothing wrong but the need for mercy isn’t a matter of whether or not you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply a matter of humbly recognizing your size.

A carpenter ant looks up under the shadow of the sole of my shoe and begs for mercy, not because it did anything wrong, but because it is aware that it is small and I am big enough to squash it like a bug. (Actually, if it is in my house it did do something wrong, but if it’s outside, I won’t squash it, even though I can.)

Mercy is recognizing that God can do anything He wants, and trusting that what He wants is good.

God’s questions to Job also revealed Him as a powerful, genius Creator.

Job responded,

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this who obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember how at the beginning of the book God bragged about Job to Satan – called him upright and blameless?  God wasn’t nitpicking Job’s imperfections, as Job assumed, He was saying, “What about that Job, huh?” Like a proud Papa.

And now Job understood that God isn’t sitting in heaven judging, just waiting for us to mess up so He can pound the gavel.  He’s a Creator who sits in heaven and delights in His creation.  And who cares enough to stoop down in kindness and explain it to us.

After the Lord spoke to Job He said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 

See how God reiterated that Job’s friends were the ones who were wrong?  Perhaps because of Zophar’s wish that God would open his mouth and set  Job straight.

Notice something else here:  God doesn’t give the silent treatment, we don’t have to flail around wondering why He’s angry or if He’s angry.  He was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and He said so.  And He said why.  And then He offered them the way of restoration.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people would anger Him, He would send prophets to point out their sin, they would repent and be blessed.

Nowadays He sends the Holy Spirit.

So stop flailing.

The best thing we can do for a suffering friend is to keep what we think we know to ourselves and simply ask God to tell the person what they need to know.  Because He is the only one who can truly nail it. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Obviously his problem wasn’t his wealth.) All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

 I’d have a really hard time accepting the fair weather comfort and consolation – at my dinner table – of those who mocked me when I was down, but God was gracious enough to restore Job’s good will toward men.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. In addition to his restored wealth, he also had seven sons and three daughters. 

Notice, the daughters are named and the sons are not.

Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

Did you catch that? 

Now that Job saw God clearly, he did what he hadn’t done before, he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons.

Seeing God clearly causes the traditions of men to yield to the heart of God.

After this,  Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 

And so Job died, old and full of years.

Job was seeing God with shiny new spiritual eyes and Bartimaeus wasn’t seeing a thing.

Our Gospel reading today tells us he was sitting along the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and His following went by.   When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why he was blind, he asked for mercy. That was the lesson Job needed to learn:  Knowing why doesn’t make you see, the mercy of God does. 

There’s humility in a request for mercy.  There’s no accusation of wrong-doing, there’s no demand for fairness, just a humble request from the powerless to the all-powerful.

Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mercy can take many forms – the provision of a seeing eye dog, the invention of braille, friends to assist…

“I want to see!”

And see he did.

When you need mercy, speak up even when others tell you to pipe down.  Be specific about what you want God to do for you.

We could spend a bit of time on the Hebrews passage comparing  Job’s atoning sacrifices for his children party after party with  Jesus’s one sacrifice for every party past, present and future.  I could point out that Jesus is the Redeemer  Job longed for in chapter 19, and the Mediator he longed for in chapters 9, 25 and 33.  But I’d rather end with a personal story so I’ll answer Job’s question from earlier: “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

We don’t have to.  We have an eternal Mediator who lives to plead our case.

A Mediator who talks us through things and helps us make sense of it all.  He’s talked me through a few hard things.

Back when my first husband left me all those years ago and my so-called friends were breaking my heart – after much Job-like lamenting and Job-like confusion, God finally spoke and said, “You can choose to believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can choose to believe what I say about my love for you.”

It was a defining moment.

Seventeen years later came another defining moment.  My daughter had just gone off to college when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

Let that sink in:  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered “yes” once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He called me into His family knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He adopted me.  

“Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?,” He asked.

 I love it when He reasons with me.  

He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you don’t recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the palpable peace He gave my sister as she battled cancer and faced death.  I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand and not God’s, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

Job’s defining moment came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” 

Peter’s defining moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (See Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

If you are suffering and wondering what you did wrong, wondering whether God still cares or ever cared, I’m here to say, of course He cares.  Of course He loves you. If nothing makes sense ask Him what’s missing from the equation.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you in your suffering?  Does He love you?  Remember your adoption day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

Beth Moore shared a sweet moment she had with God:

He said to her:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

No matter what is going on in your life, He is always saying it first.  Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Standard
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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