Sunday, July 27, 2014

“Doing What Matters” (I Kings 3:5-12)

It is a part of the journey of life . . . we have all done it . . . usually early in our lives . . . we have declared that we do not want to be like our parents.  We have declared that we want to do things differently . . . that we do not want to be held up as being an “ol’ chip off of the block” . . . that we want to be seen for who we are and not somebody else.  We have all done it to some degree, and to be quite honest, it is just a part of life that we all go through.

So, who could blame Solomon for wishing the same for himself.  Solomon was the “boy king” who succeeded his father—King David—to the throne of Israel.  Solomon was not the rightful successor to the throne as he was not the oldest of David’s sons, but he was the one chosen to move into the seat of power.  This is pretty heady stuff for a youth . . . to move into the seat of royalty with all of its fringe benefits . . . there was power and wealth . . . plenty to get any individual into trouble, much less a young whippersnapper like Solomon.  Yet, Solomon stepped into the role as the King of Israel . . . the successor to his father David . . . and would become one of the most beloved monarchs of Israel . . . and, he would be the last king of the unified kingdom.

I imagine that this was heady stuff to the youngster . . . a lot to have to try and wrap his brain around.  This huge responsibility was more than one mere person, much less a young person, could handle alone.  Knowing this, Solomon sought out guidance and advice wherever he could find it.  Our reading this morning reflects this yearning in Solomon to find assistance . . . to find guidance.  A part of that guidance was in how he could avoid being like his father.  Thus the story of him burning the sacrifices and praying to God for help.

Though Solomon would get involved in the political games of being a monarch—just like his father, he was already displaying that separation from his father when he offered his prayer with his sacrifices.  Though appreciative of God’s presence in his father’s monarchy, he did not want to rule as his father had ruled.  Instead he wanted to rule the kingdom and its people from within the community . . . he wanted to be the people’s king who represented their best interests and needs.  He did not want to rule with the power of an iron fist, but as one who listened, discerned, and did the right thing for all involved.  Thus his prayer was simple: Lord, give me wisdom.

Actually, what he asked for was a discerning heart: “Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

God was impressed . . . impressed that Solomon would ask for such a gift . . . the gift of wisdom, the gift of discernment.  Solomon could have asked for anything his heart desired . . . more power, more wealth, more worldliness; but, he asked for wisdom and discernment.  Solomon, despite his age, did not think of himself, but thought about others and their welfare . . . he wanted to serve both God and the people.  Pretty impressive because I know if I had such an opportunity for blessing . . . well, I don’t think I would have asked for wisdom and discernment.  Nope, not me . . . I would have asked God to pile it on and give me more wealth and power than I could ever handle! 

But, Solomon did not do that . . . he asked for wisdom and discernment.

God granted Solomon his prayer.

The Old Testament paints King Solomon as being quite wise as his writings are throughout the book in what is known as the “wisdom” sections.  There is no arguing that Solomon was not wise . . . but, you know what?  Maybe Solomon was wise before he asked God for the blessing . . . after all, he was wise enough to ask God to make him wise and discerning.  God just amplified what was already there . . . made it more pronounced . . . enlightened Solomon to what was already one of his “gifts”.  Maybe the guy knew how to get what he wanted . . . or at least how to butter up the Holy.

It worked.  God was pleased with what Solomon asked for because it was not the usual list of longevity of life . . . more wealth . . . more power . . . wiping out one’s enemies.  It tickled God that Solomon wanted to serve the people . . . to meet them where they were . . . to care for them.  Thus God gave to him “a wise and discerning heart”.  Oh yeah, though it is not mentioned in our reading this morning . . . in the next verse . . . God also gives him what he is not asking for . . . more riches and honor.

The prayer request of Solomon is pretty remarkable whether one considers it in the setting of the story or in our society today.  It is remarkable because it put others before self . . . this is not something we encounter very often in the secular work in which we work and play.  Though we should ask the question more often—how is this good for all the people, we rarely do as we more often than not only consider how it is going to help us or groups that we belong to.  We urge our children to follow their hearts . . . we tell people to watch out for themselves . . . we are still a very self-centered society and world.  We are going to do what is best for us and the heck with the rest of the world.  Thus it is that Solomon’s servant prayer . . . his prayer for wisdom and discernment . . . is remarkable because he put others before himself . . . he asked God to help him know what matters and not what he wanted to do.

From the beginning of creation all of creation has been inter-connected . . . has been related to one another . . . especially the human race.  Yet, it has not been until the last couple of generations that this awareness has begun to sink in.  Thanks to technology over the past few decades we have become aware of how small our world really is . . . how connected we really are.  And, it is slowly beginning to make us aware of the fact that when we throw a stone into the waters of the world . . . its ripple touches the lives of many that we are not even aware of.

A simple example.  Years ago at a church I was serving in Iowa, the Disciples Women’s Fellowship had a studying about the poor conditions of the factories in Asia that produced a lot of the products we Americans enjoy at cheap prices.  They learned that everyone except the people actually making the product were getting rich while the workers were living in poverty . . . pretty much living a slaves.  This made the women upset.       One lady in particular stated that letters should be written letting these companies know how despicable this practice was . . . and, to stop doing it.  I suggested that they consider their retirement funds that were stuck away in stocks . . . that they might want to diversify what they had to make a point with those companies.  After all, whether they realized it or not, they were a part of the problem too.

When I wore a Nike ball cap into the establishment of one of the ladies, she told me I should not where the hat.  It was wrong for how Nike used basically slave labor to create that product . . . paying pennies on the hour for the labor while selling the product for hundreds of times more than it was worth—thus making Nike quite wealthy.  I told her to call her broker and find out where her money was invested.  The next day she told me I could keep on wearing the cap . . . Nike was one of her most profitable stocks.

Here was an example of doing what one wants to benefit one’s self.  It was not a matter of doing what was good for everyone.  Solomon chose to do what matters, not what one wanted for him or herself.  He sought to have the wisdom of a discerning heart.

A discerning heart takes a lot of hard work because it is a heart that is willing to listen to all the facts from all sides of the issue.  A discerning heart then lifts these facts up to God in prayer . . . prayer seeking to do what is the will of God’s heart, not the heart of the one praying.  It is a matter of doing what matters to all of God’s family . . . of recognizing the thin thread that weaves through all of us to make us one.  And, it is doing it over and over again until the will of God succeeds and all of God’s children are considered.

Given the opportunity . . . what request would you ask of God in prayer?  Would it be focused on yourself . . . focused on others?  Would it be to get what you want or think you need . . . or would it be for the good of all of God’s creation and children?  Let us listen to the words of our prayers . . . may they be words that reflect the will of God not only for ourselves, but for all of God’s people.  Let us do what matters.  Amen.

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