Thursday, November 10, 2022

Living in the Covenant: Solomon's Wisdom

Last week, we heard the story of David and his sin against Bathsheba, her husband, Uriah, and, particularly, about David’s sin before God. We heard him confronted in his sin by the Prophet Nathan. His repentance. And God’s forgiveness.

Yet, as I also mentioned, forgiveness does not always mean escaping the consequences of one’s sin. The dysfunctional aspects of David’s actions led to the death of that first child he had with Bathseba, the sexual assault of a daughter by one of his own sons, the murder of that son by another, and a third son who attempted to overthrow David and who lost his own life in the process. 

Today’s reading is about King Solomon. He was the second son of David and Bathsheba. He was not David’s oldest son so, according to tradition, should never have become king. But, unlike last week, when we saw Bathsheba with no agency, by the time a successor to David must be named, she claims her agency to ensure that the line of succession will be turned upside down. And that her son - Solomon - will ascend to the throne. After a great deal of political turmoil, Solomon has taken the reigns of the kingdom - most likely as a teenager. It is here where the reading begins.

The king went to the great shrine at Gibeon in order to sacrifice there. He used to offer a thousand entirely burned offerings on that altar. The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.”

Solomon awoke and realized it was a dream. He went to Jerusalem and stood before the chest containing the Lord’s covenant. Then he offered entirely burned offerings and well-being sacrifices, and held a celebration for all his servants.

Sometime later, two prostitutes came and stood before the king. One of them said, “Please, Your Majesty, listen: This woman and I have been living in the same house. I gave birth while she was there. This woman gave birth three days after I did. We stayed together. Apart from the two of us, there was no one else in the house. This woman’s son died one night when she rolled over him. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I was asleep. She laid him on her chest and laid her dead son on mine. When I got up in the morning to nurse my son, he was dead! But when I looked more closely in the daylight, it turned out that it wasn’t my son—not the baby I had birthed.”

The other woman said, “No! My son is alive! Your son is the dead one.”

But the first woman objected, “No! Your son is dead! My son is alive!” In this way they argued back and forth in front of the king.

The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead.’ The other one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and my son is alive.’ Get me a sword!” They brought a sword to the king. Then the king said, “Cut the living child in two! Give half to one woman and half to the other woman.”

Then the woman whose son was still alive said to the king, “Please, Your Majesty, give her the living child; please don’t kill him,” for she had great love for her son.

But the other woman said, “If I can’t have him, neither will you. Cut the child in half.”

Then the king answered, “Give the first woman the living newborn. Don’t kill him. She is his mother.”

All Israel heard about the judgment that the king made. Their respect for the king grew because they saw that God’s wisdom was in him so he could execute justice. (1 Kings 3:4-28 CEB)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you through God our Father and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine if Aladdin appeared here today right in our midst. You are offered three wishes. What are your wishes?

There are many tales throughout history of some supernatural power that offers someone a wish. Or two. Or three. I’m a child of the 70’s - remember “I Dream Of Jeannie? Of course, there is also Aladdin, who I just mentioned. Can you think of any others?

Then there's the story about the married couple? Both of them were 60 years old and celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. During their party, they were given a gift. They opened it and found a lamp. Out popped a genie who congratulated them on their anniversary, then offered each of them one wish. The wife wanted to travel around the world. Poof! Into her hand popped tickets for a world cruise. Then, the genie turned to her husband to ask what he wanted. His response? “I wish I had a wife 30 years younger than me.” The genie picked up his wand and “poof!” The husband was immediately 90 years old. (Sometimes we need to be very careful for what we wish!)

Now God isn’t a magic genie or a magic piggy bank - even though we might like to think so. But, in today’s story, God comes to Solomon - this teenage king - and actually says, “Ask for anything you want. And I’ll give it to you.” I wonder if I, as a teenager, would have had the presence of mind to ask for what Solomon did - a “discerning mind.” More literally in Hebrew - a “listening heart.” 

In Hebrew, the heart was not the place of feelings or emotions, as we think today. But the center of understanding and will. It’s the heart that determines what our spiritual direction will be. It’s also the heart where God influences and determines who we will be. So, to ask for a “listening heart,” Solomon is asking for unity between himself and God. And that this unity would influence his own reign as king.

It was a pretty impressive request, coming from one so young. God was pleased by it. And, in addition to giving Solomon that “listening heart” God also gave him other things - things Solomon didn’t ask for. Wealth. Fame. And a promise that, if Solomon would continue in God’s ways, he would life a long life, just like his father, David.

Then, in the second half of today’s story, this listening heart is immediately put to the test with the story of the two sex workers.

It’s important for us to understand that, being a sex worker or a prostitute in ancient Israel did not carry with it the same moral judgment then as it does today. It likely meant that both of these women were widowed, with no family and, thus, no means of support other than prostitution. They lived together. Each with a baby.

We might wonder why Solomon’s first test concerns women, especially women who were single parents and sex workers. Perhaps it’s because, at least for God, justice belongs as much with the wealthy and the powerful as it does with the least in our society. And it is a wise leader who will work to ensure that everyone - rich or poor, powerful or powerless - that everyone experiences justice.

Very soon, we will be casting our votes in an election. If one measure of justice in a society is the well-being of the most vulnerable, might this be something for us to consider as we go about the business of electing leaders? Who is the best choice on the ballot for a leader that will work to ensure that everyone experiences justice? Who should we vote for - the leader that protects only our interests? Or the leader with wisdom who protects the interests of everyone, who works to ensure that social and economic inequities will be addressed and that no one will be ignored? 

Or as one theologian writes, “Wisdom arrives when the soul discerns its destiny, when life aligns in sync with the soul. Wisdom pleases the Lord when it is not self serving, but other serving.” 

Solomon will make many mistakes in his reign. Yet, he is given the gift of wisdom - a discernment that allows his soul to be in sync with God. But he is not the only one in our story with wisdom. So, too, is the heart of the true mother of the child. And, isn't she, perhaps, the real hero of this story? That she, for the sake of her son, is willing to give up her life with him? This is the same Wisdom - the same, self-sacrificing love - that we experience from God through Christ Jesus. Who came to us, to be with us, to serve us - that we, too, might live lives of service, especially to those most in need.

This year, as we go to the ballot box, may this, like Solomon, be our wish, too - that our hearts might be fully in sync with God. And our actions, as well. May God grant it, through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Preached October 30, 2022, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, with Third, Louisville.
Reformation Sunday
Reading: 1 Kings 3:4-28

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