A Sermon for Proper 15; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
23 years ago, I attended my first diocesan convention. As one of 8 newly ordained priest, among some 400 or so clergy, and uncountable lay delegates; I was a bit overwhelmed. Friday night our banquet speaker, a distinguished scholar I’d never heard of (which means nothing), got up to share an idea with some long and lofty title (I don’t remember). She began as expected, setting out her subject matter. Then she noted the usual conflicts and the unsatisfactory customary ways of dealing with them. Next was the introduction of some new possibilities. Then came the emphasis of her presentation walking through it all in greater detail. Only ~ as her presentation continues a significant word is all jumbled. The misspeaks increase. In a few minutes, you can hear a few rumbles of what sounds like laughter. Not long afterward, the misspeaks are more frequent and more obvious. In a few minutes, we are all guffawing at most sentences. It turns out our featured speaker, was a gifted misspeaking comedian.
Not all misspeaks are so obvious, or so humorous. Some are the results of the hears’ or readers’ lack of background knowledge. Some are harmless. Others can lead us astray.
This morning we heard, from 1 Kings, the story of Solomon succeeding his father David, as King of Israel. It was a controversial succession, with lots of lots of political intrigues. The Game of Thrones has nothing on 1 Kings. We hear how Solomon loves the Lord, and that he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places, though the ark was in Jerusalem (Seow).
Solomon speaks of how his father David, had walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness. We hear how God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is fulfilled as Israel is so great a people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Solomon asks for an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, on hearing that God agrees, and promises more: honors, riches, and long life.
At this point we all are thinking of King Solomon, the wisest king ever. But we may have forgotten that the Books of Kings are written in the tradition of the Book of Deuteronomy, which emphasizes steadfast love and covenant faithfulness between God and Israel. Israel is to worship in places the LORD chooses (Howard). The high places were mountain or hilltop sanctuaries where the Canaanites sacrificed to their gods (Harrelson). Though Gibeon has become a place of legitimate worship; but by worshiping in such high places Solomon and Israel walk a fine line between adapting local customs and observing their own unique religious and ethnic identity rooted in Yahweh (Keener and Walton).
By now the whole of the passage begins to sound a bit like the convention’s guest speaker. Did David, who started a rebellion, raped Bathsheba, killed her husband, lured his commander into the plot to cover his sin, walk in the ways of the Lord? You remember the Ten Commandments. You shall not murder, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor lie, nor covet, (Exo 20:1-17); David has covered them all.
Is Solomon walking before God in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness? The first thing the new king does, after he has murdered or banished all who had sought to be king and their supporters in the royal court, is to make a marriage alliance with the pharaoh of Egypt which is against the teaching of Deuteronomy that warns against “a return to Egypt” (Deut. 17:16) (Gaventa and Petersen). Israel is offering sacrifices in places not of God’s choosing because Solomon has ignored dealing with important religious matters and has failed to build the Temple that would have solved the problem of people worshiping at local cultic sites (Gaventa and Petersen). He has also ignored the defense of the city, compromising the security of the nation, (1 Kings 3:1) (Seow).
In a divine dream, God asks Solomon What I should give you? (1 Kings 3:5) Solomon calls himself a little child which points to his modesty and lack of experience (Harrelson). His request for wisdom to rule, acknowledges that his rule so far has not been very good, and he needs a do-over (Gaventa and Petersen). It is a model of faith that first seeks the good of God’s kingdom, the just and proper rule of God’s people (Seow). This pleases God because Solomon is showing an interest in God’s people, not himself. (Gaventa and Petersen).
We can now see how Solomon is both undoubtedly great, and yet dangerously flawed. And though we should never assume anything he says or does should be an unquestioned model for life, we are also called to act in ways even as we pray to have those ways gifted to us through God’s generosity as Solomon did (Howard).
We did not hear verse 15,
Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being and provided a feast for all his servants. (1 Kings 3:15)
which shows us the new king can be a devout servant of the Lord (Harrelson).
In a less combative political atmosphere, I might be tempted to explore how Solomon’s great and flawed ways are reflected in our political, social and economic life. However, that is not where the divine muse is leading me. Choon-Leong Seow writes
Neither Solomon’s legendary wisdom, … nor his … longevity, wealth, honor, and victory over his enemies, [are] due to his own righteousness. It is true that he loved the Lord, and it is true that he came before God with the proper attitude of humility. … [However] … it was God who came to Solomon first, despite the fact that the king had endangered the integrity of the kingdom by bringing it into alliance with Egypt. Solomon, [and], was slow to build the Temple and the defenses of the city (Seow).
In this way, Solomon’s story is my story, Solomon’s story is your story. Though we may never be so wise, or long-lived, or wealthy, or honored or victorious we are beloved of God. So beloved, that even as we only love God with some of our hearts, some of our souls, some of our mind and some of our strength, God still comes to me; God still comes to you, with open invitations. God responds to our imperfect love, our sincere if inadequate response, with undeserved blessings, summoning us, yet again, to love and to obey (Seow).
So, to borrow a phrase, in these evil days, in a time of misspeaks, both intended and the results of ignorance, let us love as wise people, trusting the LORD’s will, trusting in the eternal life of I AM the Living Bread, thankfully receiving Christ’s redeeming work, by which we seek first the good of all God’s kingdom and well-being of all God’s people.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Howard, Cameron B.R. Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14. 19 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreter’s Bible The First and Second Books of Kings Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (NIBC) 2 Samuel 24:18. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Deuteronomy 34, 2015. Olive Tree App.