Sermon … Chapter 13

The Problem of Wealth

Jan 5, 2014 | by Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson | series: The Story

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Got Wisdom?

Got WisdomSince I was a child I have shared the desire of Solomon. If there is one word that I hope people would use to describe me and my life, it would be “wise.” Wisdom is more than intelligence or knowledge; it is the ability to see what really is, to know Truth.  I’m not sure why wisdom was so important to me as a child.  I’ve learned, though, that knowing a lot of stuff, being educated and being able to recite what other people say about things is all well and good, but it doesn’t change anything without the gift to see beyond the knowledge and research and to apply it — to create something new with it.

Solomon asked The Lord for “a discerning heart … to distinguish between right and wrong.”  In other translations the request is to discern good and evil.  The request is reminiscent of God’s command to Adam in the Garden of Eden:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” [Genesis 2:16-17, NIV]

The serpent tempts Adam and Eve by saying that the tree will not kill them, but it will give them the ability to see as God sees, to know what’s really going on, to know good and evil.  Having the knowledge of good and evil, however, is a dangerous thing. While we, humans, are like God, we are not God.  The danger of wisdom is thinking we know it all, that we no longer need God, that all of creation is at our command.  It’s, as Dwayne puts it in his post this week, the pride before the fall.

God knows, all too well, the affect of wisdom on human beings.  I believe that’s why he banished Adam and Eve from the garden, in order to protect them a bit more —  they needed help remembering to constantly rely on God and remain in close communion with the creator.  Yet, God hears young Solomon’s request for wisdom coming from the vulnerability of his deepest fear (that he is too young, too inexperienced, too naïve to govern the people well).  And God is moved.  So moved that God not only succumbs and bestows upon the young king the ability to see what really is, but God bathes him in all of the natural desires of men and women — riches, fame, prestige, good fortune, and progeny.

“Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?” [1 Kings 3:9, The Message]

When Solomon begins to worship the gods of his wives, he falls far from his original request for a “God-listening heart.”  The child king knows innately that wisdom comes from listening to God, not just with the mind, but with his heart.  Wisdom is God-loving, God-praising, God-focussed, God-centered.  God approached Solomon in a dream after the king had loved, worshipped and praised the LORD with a thousand burnt offerings.  It was in the still, quiet, listening, discerning time of night, that Solomon heard the voice of God.  When his mind and heart were prepared to hear — his soul was naked, his vulnerability uncovered, and he was longing for the presence of God in his life.

That’s real wisdom, right there, already present within Solomon … like the Wizard of Oz offering the Lion a badge of courage … Embracing a child-like vulnerability that is open, truly open, to hear the Word of God, to see as God sees, to invite God into our lives … that’s how we discern good and evil, right and wrong.

I still long for wisdom.  I need to be constantly reminded, though, that true wisdom doesn’t come from me; it comes from God.  And it only comes when I am able to put my pride and my own ego aside, be vulnerable to the Spirit of creation, and allow God to share God’s vision with me.

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Pride before a fall

Pride goes before a fall The power, wealth, and wisdom of Solomon are legendary. There have even been conspiracy theories that say that the wealth and power of the Knights Templar came from discovery of some of Solomon’s treasures in Jerusalem. But, I have to say, the thing that always struck me in reading Solomon’ story was not how great he was, but how much of a show-off he appeared to be. He just had to show the Queen of Sheba how rich he was. Silver wasn’t good enough for him – it had to be gold, or nothing. Even the famous “cut the baby in half” story struck me as self-aggrandizing. Really – even if you were the woman who’s baby had died, would you really say to go ahead and cut him in two, on the off chance that the other woman would get him? I think the story was probably “enhanced” to make Solomon look even better.

Solomon certainly started out with an attitude of humility. Or, at least the appearance of it. When given the opportunity to have whatever he wanted from God, he asked for wisdom to help him rule Israel. But that didn’t seem to last long. Even in his prayer of dedication of the temple, he seemed never to miss an opportunity to mention that it was the temple that HE built.

Of course, that pride eventually lead to his downfall. The Bible tells us that he was lead to worship other gods by some of his foreign wives. And how else, other than pride, could you explain having 1000 wives? No man could ever hope to be a husband to so many women. Most of us find one more than enough. 😉 So while worshipping other gods may have been the nominal sin that caused Solomon’s downfall, it is my belief that it was pride that was the real failure. A fault that I unfortunately see in myself as well.

It’s ironic, of course, that Solomon himself wrote of the dangers of pride. Proverbs 16:18-19 reads

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Of course, in Ecclesiastes 3 says that all of life is a cycle, so maybe Solomon was saying he was doomed to repeat the failings of his ancestors, as are we. All we can hope is that, as we move through that spiral, we slowly work our way up closer to God.

In closing, I couldn’t help but include a version of this song

Who would have thought that some Bible verses could get kids screaming with excitement? 😉

Assignment … Chapter 13

assignment_icon This week we’ll be reading the story of Solomon.  That’s Chapter 13: The King Who Had It All.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: 1 Kings 1-810-112 Chronicles 5-7Proverbs 1-3620-21. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory