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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/27/2014

I was going to start this morning by saying that Solomon is one of the more complicated characters in the Bible but then, in the sometimes disconnected way my mind works, as I thought about saying that I was reminded of an episode of the old television show Cheers. If only I could remember important things as well as I remember episodes of old TV shows and song lyrics and things like that, but there was an episode when Cliff, the mailman, came into the bar all excited because he said he had found a potato that was the spitting image of Richard M. Nixon to which Carla, the wisecracking waitress, responded, “Find me one that isn’t.” So, while I could identify Solomon as one of the more complicated characters in the Bible, one could also say, “Find me a Bible character who isn’t complicated.”

If you know anything about Solomon the word that probably comes to mind is wisdom, you hear about the wisdom of Solomon. That is one aspect of his character and it derives in part from this story today, when the Lord in essence gave Solomon a blank check saying, “Ask what I should give you.” Presented with this offer, instead of asking for long life or riches or for vengeance on his enemies as one might expect, Solomon asked for an understanding mind or a more literal translation of the Hebrew would be “a listening heart.” However you translate it, understanding mind or listening heart, what’s most significant is that presented with this opportunity, Solomon was very humble before the Lord.

A few chapters later, connected to this request for an understanding mind you get the story that Solomon is probably best known for when he arbitrates between the two women claiming to be the mother of the same child telling them to cut the baby in two so each could have a half, Solomon in his wisdom knowing that the real mother would never agree to it.

When you think about Solomon, if you think about Solomon, that’s probably what you think about; but there’s more to him than that, much of it not so good as he is a complicated character. Actually, to get into that complication, all you have to do is go back a couple of verses from where today’s reading starts because it says there that Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt and if that doesn’t make red flags pop up, it should. Pharaoh’s bad! You don’t have to go too far in Sunday School to know that, what with the whole Moses story, slavery, the plagues the exodus and so forth. Pharaoh is the bad guy in that whole narrative so for Solomon to enter into a marriage alliance with Pharaoh’s evil empire is not a good sign.

In the verse after that there is mention of the people sacrificing at the high places which sounds quite innocent and in this case it may be innocent but on the other hand, in much of the Old Testament worshiping at the high places is seen as an abomination, a departure from proper worship of the Lord, in any case, another possible red flag. With the reference to Pharaoh and with the reference to the high places the indication is that Solomon was willing to make compromises to enhance his position. He’s not all about faith in the Lord and wisdom. As the story plays out Solomon’s acquisitiveness, his desire for more of just about everything winds up portraying him more as a practitioner of foolishness than as a purveyor of wisdom. The listening heart he had requested eventually seems to go deaf, but that’s another story.

Today we get mostly good Solomon in this encounter with the Lord in a dream and because of his restraint when presented with the Lord’s blank check, Solomon didn’t just receive the understanding mind he asked for, but he also received what he didn’t ask for; the Lord would bless him with riches and honor. So this story isn’t just about Solomon; it provides some important information about the nature of God too! In a remarkable act of grace, the Lord’s generosity goes beyond human need, beyond what Solomon or any of us ask for.

Keep in mind that many of these Old Testament stories reached their final form during the time of the Babylonian exile, a low point in biblical history when many of the people of Israel were separated from the homeland and from the ability to worship in the usual ways. Along with those in Babylon there were some who had taken refuge in Egypt, some, mostly the poor, who were left in Jerusalem. It wasn’t a happy time. The evidence indicated that their God, the Lord, had been defeated.

These stories are written out of the exile and what that means is that while there is no doubt an historical component to these stories, what they really represent is not so much history but theological commentary, commentary intended to help the people understand what was going on as they lived through this low point and especially to remind them that their God, the Lord, had not been defeated but was still at the center of things. In particular, the stories offer reminders that gracious provision for the people was central to the nature of their God. Affected as they were by the exile and the low point it represented, they needed to hear that. These are stories that were intended to provided encouragement and hope at a time when both were hard to find.

The text assigned for today ends at verse 12 but really it’s incomplete if you don’t go to verse 14 where you encounter the big IF; The gracious response to Solomon is followed by “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments…” Solomon along with many other Bible characters is complicated, but so is the God they worship and so is the relationship with that God.

Their relationship with God and our relationship with God is absolutely dependent on God’s grace, in this story it’s grace represented by the abundant blessing Solomon received from the Lord; but with that grace comes responsibility, the IF. That’s the tension we live in which is the same tension Solomon lived in; on the one hand there’s the gift of grace based only on the generosity of God, on the other hand there are the uncompromising requirements of being in a covenantal relationship with God. That’s the reality that each of us has to navigate, the reality and the tension that Solomon didn’t always navigate very well.

Today, as little Claire is baptized, she and all of us really, will experience both sides of this tension. Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit is an act of God’s grace. Claire has done nothing to deserve it. At the same time, as she is baptized, she enters into the covenantal relationship. It’s a relationship predicated on God’s grace but it’s not a one way street; a response is called for.

Eventually Claire will have a say in that response, but today it comes primarily from her parents and sponsors who, with the support of the church and the gathered community, promise to bring Claire to the word of God and the Holy Supper, to teach her the Lord’s prayer, the creed, and the Ten Commandments, to place in her hands the holy scriptures, and so forth. That call for a response is why we talk about baptism being a once in a lifetime event but one that each of us lives out every day in the tension of grace and responsibility.

As Claire is baptized, there will also be a prayer calling on the Holy Spirit to sustain her with, among other things, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, kind of echoing the prayer and request of Solomon and also raising the question of just what that means. What represents wisdom in our world? We might all agree that there is a shortage of wisdom out there but to define exactly what’s missing isn’t so easy.

The idea of the listening heart Solomon asked for might not be a bad place to start though when thinking about wisdom. To listen implies paying attention to what others are saying and being open to the possibility that they might be right, or at least that they might have something useful to offer. Does that happen a lot these days?? A listening heart implies recognition that everything is not black and white but that there is a need to navigate the gray areas and to be tolerant of the uncertainties. A listening heart might just be the beginning of wisdom.

We do pray for wisdom for Claire. We pray for wisdom as she begins her journey of faith in which she will live out the tension between grace and responsibility as we all do. The good news for her and for all of us is that when the journey goes off course as it inevitably does, there is forgiveness. In and through Jesus Christ we have been forgiven. That forgiveness is made real and visible to us in the sacrament we celebrate today, a sacrament that is another gift of God’s grace and for that, we do give thanks.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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