Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 15, 2021

Scriptures: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Ps 111; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58

About 30 years ago, before I attended seminary, I led a mental health team who treated residents of 4 nursing homes in and around Tallahassee, Florida. In this work, I learned a hymn I’d never heard before. My colleague who provided music therapy for those who had Alzheimer’s would play this hymn and the patients–even if they could not remember their children’s names–all remembered it and would sing along! I was amazed.

What can wash away my sins?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Such a great hymn and so true.  We were bought with a price and redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

    Our readings today have to do with gaining true wisdom, spiritual wisdom.  School began this past Tuesday here in North Florida.  The start of the school year always puts me in mind of our hopes that our children’s and grandchildren’s teachers and professors would…

    1.) Recognize and even appreciate their academic talents;     2.) Make allowances for and help them overcome their deficits. 

Some years back, I taught a male student at Santa Fe Community College who could not read.  He failed my first two exams.  After class following the second test, I asked him to verbally respond to the questions.  He knew the information completely.  He could remember the material but was sadly unable to “crack the written code.”  Some of my college students admitted they had never opened a book in high school; others realized, too late, they would have to study more to succeed in college. 

    3.) We also hope teachers and professors will not kill students’ desire to learn, nor their love for their God, their family, or their country.

We also hope that our kids/grandkids would be intent on being fully present; attentive; eager to learn; on time; well-behaved, and disciplined enough not to play games on their laptops or text on their cell phones. Wouldn’t it be great if students all sought wisdom in their educational endeavors? Similarly, wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers/professors also exhibited wisdom in both the presentation of material in their classes, and in their evaluations of how much their students have learned?

    I don’t know about you but I find it interesting that, just as school is starting, our lectionary readings–which cycle around every three years—contrast the two forms of wisdom, academic or secular wisdom and spiritual wisdom?  It’s no coincidence, but rather a “God-incidence.”

    Our Old Testament reading comes from 1 Kings 3:3-14. It narrates events from 970 BC, almost 3000 years ago.   Having ruled from 1010-970 BC, King David has died.  His two eldest sons predeceased him:  As you may remember from last week, Amnon—son of David’s 3rd wife–was killed by Absalom—son of his 4th wife, for having raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister.  Nine years later, Absalom was slain in a Civil War he had started to wrest the throne from his father.  The next son in line was Adonijah, the son of David’s 5th wife, Haggith.  But God had selected, and King David had crowned Solomon—son of Bathsheba, his 8th wife—as his successor.  (Remember that  David had been the runt of the litter, youngest of 8 boys, when he was chosen by the Lord to be King).  Once again, God jumps the “normal” order of succession to bring about His choice.  After all, the King of Israel was both a political and a theocratic or spiritual king, who ruled at God’s pleasure.  So, despite his birth order, Solomon has assumed the throne.

In some verses skipped, he takes as his wife, in a political alliance, the daughter of Pharaoh and not a believer in the God of Israel. We are told in verse 3 that he loved the Lord. Initially, then, he lived according to the Law of Moses—he kept God’s Law. However, he also worshipped the Lord in Canaanite “high places” which had been set apart for pagan gods of fertility. From the get-go, Solomon seemed to be hedging his bets. He appears to have had a weakness for women, lots of women (having accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines—many of whom worshipped pagan gods–by the end of his reign). So, over the long run, he did not remain loyal to God. He appears to have thought: I’ll follow the God of my father, David; but what can it hurt to honor other gods as well?

    This practice of mixing pagan elements with worshiping the One True God is called syncretism and is abhorrent to our God.  When I was in seminary, my daughter and I had a friend named Mrs. Wilson.  She was kind and generous to us, but she mixed her Roman Catholic beliefs in with the Hindu concept of reincarnation.  I remember asking her why she would want to risk returning to earth as a cockroach or a rat.  I assured her that Jesus Christ had done all the work necessary for her to reach heaven if she only put her trust in Him.  Such syncretism violates the 1st Commandment.  We are told (verse 5) that the syncretistic Solomon offered a very generous number (1000) of sacrifices to Israel’s God, Yahweh—but in a place devoted to pagan worship.  Thus Solomon ignores the urging of the one who wrote Psalm 111 who says, (verse 1) I will extol the LORD with all my heart, in the council of the upright and in the assembly.  The psalmist implores us to worship our God with single-minded devotion.

    Nevertheless, despite Solomon’s lack of a steadfast commitment to God alone, notice that God still planned to use him and to bless him.  This is good news to him and to us.  Except for Jesus Christ, there are no perfect people.  We tend to align ourselves along a continuum from not at all committed to God to totally sold out to God, and on any given day, we land somewhere in between–and often moving toward one pole or the other.  Even so, God chooses to use us.  How amazing!

That night, God spoke to Solomon in a dream. In what strikes me as a beautiful act of grace, God says to the not-quite-committed new king, (verse 5) Ask for whatever you want Me to give you. If I had been God, I doubt I would have been so generous. This guy is all too human—not as whole-heartedly faithful to God as his father David had been. Why should God trust him? Solomon, though, gives a great answer: Recognizing his limitations, he admits (verse 7), I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. He honestly admits he knows he is not yet equipped or experienced enough to rule. As Eugene Peterson, in his modern paraphrase of the Bible, restates it, I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘in’s’ and ‘outs’ of this job and the scope of it is intimidating. So please give me a God-listening-heart so I can rule your people well. He has asked for wisdom in judgment and in governmental leadership or statesmanship. He has asked to know what is the right thing to do as he rules. God is so pleased with this request that He rewards him. God notes that Solomon wasn’t moved by self-centered motives: a long life for himself, great personal wealth, or the deaths of his enemies. So the Lord grants his request, (v.12) I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Solomon will be the wisest king—other than Jesus—who ever lived!

However, he fails in moral leadership, in the way he lives his life. He asked for wisdom to govern well, not wisdom to guide his own personal life. That just occurred to me as I studied the passage this week. I had never seen it before. I always wondered how he could have messed up so badly and still been so wise. Under the influence of his foreign wives, he veers off into idolatry, and appears to have suffered from a sexual addiction. Perhaps Paul was thinking about Solomon as he wrote to the Ephesians in our New Testament lesson today (Ephesian 5:15-20). The apostle tells us Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise….Solomon had great wisdom for governing—oh, if we only had that in DC today! But he lacked a firm moral compass, rooted in faithfulness to the Lord. Believers who walk wisely, remain in the will of God. Jesus urges us in John 15:4 No branch can bear fruit by itself [“operating out of human wisdom”]; it [we, the branches] must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

King Solomon provides such a good lesson to us as someone who starts off pretty well, but ends up badly. Nevertheless, God knew he was inadequate and chose to work through him anyway. In a sense, all of us are inadequate to serve God. We can only go as far and as high as we do on our knees (in prayer and submission to God). We do best when we seek spiritual wisdom, God’s will. Again, the author of Psalm 111 writes, (verse 10) The fear of the Lord [awe, reverence for, respect of] is the beginning of wisdom. My Old Testament professor, Dr. Paul House, put it this way: Wisdom, even God-given wisdom, must be maintained by responsible human faithfulness. Serving God faithfully, according to Eugene Peterson, really is a long obedience in the same direction—us being obedient to accompany God in His direction.

    Jesus shocked His contemporaries by suggesting in today’s Gospel (John 6:51-58) that they feed on Him.  They didn’t understand that He meant spiritually.  We need to establish, nurse, and maintain a deep relationship with Him.  He is our source!  He is our Savior.  As the old hymn says, the shed blood of Christ protects and redeems us.  Recognizing and exhibiting gratitude for His great love for     us is true wisdom.

As your loved ones (or you yourself) begin the new school year, may you (and they) be endowed with Godly wisdom and an obedient heart, remaining faithful to the God who loves, equips, and blesses you.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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