The Challenge and the Promise - August 20, 2006
Dr. Susan Iliff
Montgomery United Methodist Church
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.
3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you." 6And Solomon said, "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. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give 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?" 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life." (NRSV)
Good morning! Today’s Old Testament story from 1 Kings is about King Solomon, just after he became king. This story is also about God and we will shift between these two characters, Solomon and God. Solomon was Israel’s third king and he ruled from about 962-922 BC. Although Solomon was best known for his wisdom, he was also known for other things, including his love of women and his many wives, especially his foreign wives. Today we will be focusing on his wisdom. The wisdom of Solomon is widely acknowledged in the Bible. Much of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), and an apocryphal book, The Wisdom of Solomon, are either attributed to Solomon’s authorship or are believed to be written about Solomon by someone else, depending on which of the biblical scholars’ theories you believe.
Today’s passage describes a time early on during Solomon’s reign when Solomon had just begun to fill in for his father David and care for the Israelite people who were now “so numerous they cannot be … counted.” Solomon was a young man, not having had a lot of worldly experience, particularly not in this new role as leader of his people. While this responsibility was on his shoulders he was expressing his feelings “I do not know how to go out or come in.” This was a challenge for Solomon to which I can relate. I have had days when I don’t know whether I’m coming or going and days when the responsibility or pressures are more intense than what I think I can handle. There have been times when I’ve taken on something new, filling the shoes of a predecessor, or of breaking new ground and have felt overwhelmed and concerned about meeting certain expectations others may have for me or even those expectations I have had for myself.
I remember starting a new job a number of years ago and meeting with my boss’s boss during my first week on the job. That person greeted me warmly; we spoke for awhile and at the end of our brief conversation, he shook my hand and said “Welcome aboard, we are glad to have you here. We are expecting great things from you.” It wasn’t so much the words, but the manner in which it was said that struck me. It was said with the utmost confidence that I would contribute great things; however, knowing the people and the high standards and caliber of the operation I was joining, this was a bit terrifying. I was afraid of not being able to meet the expectations that people had of and for me. Yet I did meet and in some ways exceed those expectations. At that stage in my life leaning on the Lord and asking for wisdom and guidance was not my daily model, and I believe that my meeting those expectations and succeeding in this position occurred simply through the grace of God.
I mentioned the words “afraid” and “terrifying” as I relayed this story. Perhaps they seem a bit strong but they described my feelings in relation to these human experiences. These words are somewhat in contrast to the last words of our Psalm for today, Psalm 111, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This “fear of the Lord” is a respect, awe, an admiration, and an amazement at the power and glory of the Lord. We are nothing compared to God, yet God can make greatness out of our humble humanness if we allow. If we simply allow the Lord’s will to drive our days and our actions, rather than our human wills and desires, the Lord will take us to wondrous places. This is the promise that God has for us.
I can picture Solomon at this time. He is now king but feeling a bit overwhelmed at having to take over for his father David, a man much beloved by his people and by his God. Not only was Solomon having to fill his father’s footsteps, but also watch his back and protect himself from his competitors and in particular, his brother Adonijah who had dearly wanted to be king and thought he had managed to make that happen. This part of the story is found in Chapter 1 of 1 Kings.
Can you imagine having a dream about God and God says “Ask what I should give you.” Sort of like the genie in the bottle – “Poof! I will grant you three wishes”, although God doesn’t specify three in this instance. This question would pose a challenge to us.
How would you respond to God? What would you say? Would you ask for materialistic things to ensure financial security and stability? Would you ask for money, a job, a means to pay the mortgage, rent, car payments, other bills, or perhaps for a vacation or trip or a new fun toy or hobby? Would you ask to win the lottery? I have one friend who would probably ask that of God.
Would you ask for things pertaining to personal gain and accomplishment – to win that next race, to hit a home run or score the most goals or points in the next game, to ace the next exam (perhaps those thoughts will happen once school begins in the fall), to play in the next recital flawlessly without any mistakes or without any nervousness, to get the lead role in the school play, to make that presentation to management stellar and convincing, to sell more products, to …. we can go on and on.
Perhaps you would ask for something like world peace with more of a positive and global impact on humankind.
Or would you ask, as did Solomon, for “an understanding mind…able to discern between good and evil”? Likely many of us today would not echo Solomon’s words.
While preparing this message, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer, authorship of which was attributed to theologian Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr in 1926. This prayer was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1942, and it asks that:
"God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot
courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Accepting certain things as they are while changing other things can be a challenge for substance abusers and non abusers alike. God’s gift of serenity is a promise to all.
Life can be a challenge for us as it was for Solomon. Yet it becomes much easier and more rewarding if we remember God’s promise and in the words of our Psalm today, “give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart.”
The challenge may be to follow the Lord and not rely on self and personal knowledge. The challenge may be to be open and always listening to God and what God has to say to each of us. The promise is that God is there for us and will speak to us, offering God’s wisdom to us each and every day.
The challenge may be to get past our “selves” and get our “selves” out of the way, taking our “selves” and our pride and our personal endeavors out of the picture. The promise is that God’s wisdom is there for us and is far greater than our own.
The challenge may be to focus outside ourselves on others and on God. The promise is that God’s love is always there for us, even when we don’t love ourselves or others.
Those who know me know that animals are an important part of my life. Thus friends and family forward animal-related stories and jokes to me, often via the internet. I want to share one of them with you today. These are the top six items from a list entitled “THINGS I CAN LEARN FROM A DOG”, which I have subtitled “Dog Wisdom”, and are as follows.
* Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
* Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
* When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
* If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
* Never pretend to be something you're not.
* When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
For any of you who can envision a dog doing these things and have a smile on your face as you envision them; I invite you to stand, or sit where you are, and join me in the last one. Join me in dancing and wagging as much of your head or body as you can! Let us also wag our spirits in expressing our happiness and joy in the Lord!
Wisdom is not just reading and understanding the Word of God but of knowing how to live it during the tough times as well as the good times. In the words of Eugene Peterson, wisdom is the biblical term for this on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven everyday living. As we face the daily challenges of life, let us remember and accept God’s promise of wisdom and God’s promise of love. Amen.
May God’s wisdom surround you and envelop you.
May you experience it;
may you understand it;
may you treasure it;
and may you share it with those around you.
Go forth with and in God’s love.
© 2006 Susan Iliff