"Why Solomon Sought Wisdom"
Sermon Delivered by Rev. Richard E. Stetler, August 16, 2009
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
In order to receive such images, however, we would first have to be exposed to them through the traditions of our faith. There are pictures that also form in the minds of nearly everyone because of words or concepts that have nothing to do with religious beliefs. Such images are created because of humanity’s common experiences in the world.
In our culture, for example, many people will resonate with these words, “Teenagers, are you tired of being hassled by your stupid parents? Act now! Move out! Get a job! Start paying your own bills while you still know everything.” In fact, Socrates wrote in a similar vein about teenagers thousands of years ago.
On a more serious note, Ben Franklin captured the delicacy of understanding that was frequently required during moments of serious debate among colleagues as they were attempting to create documents that would fashion how our country would be governed. Ben Franklin wrote, “When you assemble a number of people to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those people all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their parochial interests and their selfish views.”
There is a part of the human consciousness that recognizes truth when it is communicated with words that are universal to the human family. One of my favorites is the following:
I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I would rather one walk with me than merely tell me the way. The eye is a better student and more willing than the ear; fine counsel can be confusing, but example is always clear. I can soon learn how to do it, if I only see it done; I can watch your life in action, while you’re serious or having fun. The greatest of all my friends are the ones who live their creeds, for to see the good in action, is what everybody needs.
Such a statement is far too general for many Christians to accept because it sounds as though all we need to do in life is become a remarkable person with an outstanding character and we will be fine in the eyes of God. My thoughts about such a response is that I would prefer being with such people rather than with Christians who think that way. Once Mahatma Gandhi said, “I would gladly become a Christian if it were not for Christians.” He was refused entrance into several churches because of the color of his skin. In spite of Christians, Gandhi embraced the Gospel anyway.Erasmus, who was ordained into the priesthood in 1492, must have felt the same way when he wrote: “Truly the yoke of Christ would be sweet if petty human institutions added nothing more to what Jesus, himself, taught. He commanded us nothing save to share love for one another.” If the followers of Jesus through the centuries had made visible the attitudes and spirit that the Master taught, there would have been no Crusades, no witch hunts and no burning-at-the-stake those who dared to differ with the orthodox teachings of the Church.
In our Scripture lesson today from the Book of Kings, we find Solomon on a quest for understanding. In fact, he wanted wisdom and understanding above all other things. He was credited with having amassed the greatest collection of Wisdom Literature by anyone in the ancient world. The Hebrew Bible features three of his surviving works -- the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon. He also wrote the Wisdom of Solomon found in the Apocrypha.
Many of us enjoy the guidance that comes from sayings that create images that can be universally applied to the human experience. We have already considered a number of such examples. Why would Solomon collect Wisdom Literature? What was he seeking?
Our lesson tells us that he was young and inexperienced when he inherited the throne of Israel from his father David around 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. He also wanted to rule with justice and he wanted to be able to discern the differences between good and evil. This was his response to God when God came to him in a dream and asked, “What would you like me to give to you?”
Once Solomon answered, God responded,
“Because you have asked for the wisdom to rule justly instead of a long
life for yourself, or riches or the death of your enemies, I will give
you more wisdom and understanding than anyone has ever had before or
will ever have again. I will also give you what you have not asked for
– wealth, honor and a long life if you follow my guidance.” During the
forty years that Solomon ruled, Israel was at the peak of stability and
enjoyed unprecedented prosperity.
In spite of his vast understanding, Solomon
also encountered longing, emptiness and uncertainty about the future.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11) Try to imagine having these thoughts while
living among such opulence. It happens to wealthy people today once
they discover that their material assets cannot give them an inner world
that is filled with confidence and peace.
Solomon tried to comfort his yearnings by collecting Wisdom Literature from Egypt, Cana and Mesopotamia as well as countless other middle-eastern countries. It was as if these sayings could provide a roadmap for him to follow. The problem Solomon faced was that a disciplined life often does not equip the spirit to be caring and compassionate. Nor can discipline equip the human spirit with the consistent ability to let go of issues that excite human passions. Many of us have the same experience. We know of Jesus Christ but we cannot always love others through the spirit that he said was possible.Back in the mid-1970s, I spent six weeks in Yorkshire, England as part of a Rotary International Exchange Program. I learned that many English are very controlled emotionally. Yet there are moments when what to us might represent a small thing can cause an emotional earthquake throughout the country. While I was there, such a small thing occurred.
This national crisis had to do with milk delivery to individual residences. Milk delivery was going to be phased-out. Once the practice was stopped, people would have to buy their milk in grocery stores like we do. The Brits would have nothing to do with such a plan. Traditional milk delivery had to be preserved. The tele featured hearings that dwarfed what we see at some of the congressional town hall meetings over our President’s health-care reforms. People were screaming and throwing things at the speakers. My host said, “Generally, we do not behave in this manner.”
Many of us have heard most recently the passions of people when Michael Vick returned to professional football. He has signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Dog lovers are prepared to turn in their season tickets and boycott the team’s sponsors. Others feel he has paid his debt to society and should be forgiven. I’m sure many of the people who remain bitter about the Eagles’ decision to sign Vick were in their church pews on Sunday morning praying, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Several books in my office library contain thousands of quotes from every historic period and from every discipline from business to medicine. They could easily replace the Book of Proverbs because that is what such sayings represent – truisms that create images in our minds. Humanity has never been short of wisdom. Fabulous books have been written in our life-time from every self-help guru who teaches such timeless wisdom. Yet, we can still be like Solomon who collected wisdom but found it difficult to live.
Even though God promised him in a dream that he would give him everything he could possibly want, Solomon strayed. Chapter 11 describes how Solomon built temples to many of the local gods of countries where his wives had been born and he even worshipped many of these other gods. With all the material successes he experienced during his life, Solomon still found happiness, purpose and meaning-fleeting qualities of life. He spent his life searching for that pearl of great price and he never found it.
Just what is that pearl of great price? It is true that Jesus taught very little that was new. His teachings were thoroughly rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. The one thing that Jesus taught that was beyond the thinking of many in the ancient world was the need to internalize what we know. Our daily attitudes and behavior had to come from our inner world that we cannot see rather than from a law code that we can more easily follow. In other words, our loving energy patterns have to flow away from us all the time in spite of the circumstances taking place in our external world. Performing well cannot be a discipline like what the Pharisee had achieved.
Solomon lost his way. Searching for answers and collecting international wisdom became his goal. In doing so, Solomon neglected his inner world where all responses have their origins. In Solomon’s defense, however, he brought to life the best that he knew how to bring. This is all any of us can do.
The only way to become
an angel-in-the-flesh is to nurture our inner world by keeping our
personal energy flowing away from us. Jesus taught that no one could
enter the Kingdom of God unless they became like a child. What did he
mean? We must learn how to trust God for the outcome of all things
without making the judgments that only have the power to attach us
further to our material world.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, we thank you for giving meaning and purpose to our lives. Fill our cups with the water that causes us never to thirst again. We tend to seek fulfillment in many tangible symbols of our world, as though abundance is the pearl of great price. There are moments when our belief, “This is for God and this for me,” becomes visible. There are times when our identities are clearly anchored in our possessions. There are times when our values are compromised or violated and we are unable to perceive with love. Such moments as these cause us to forget that all injustices will be resolved in your time and not ours. Cause us to remember that our faithfulness in giving ourselves away can become the greatest gift to other people. Encourage us to become signposts for what loving energy patterns look like, as each of us learns to live in eternity now. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you God, for the fragile moments in life that teach us that we do not have to know the reasons why anything happens before we take that leap of faith into our next adventure. Thank you for the challenges that make us stretch beyond our known capabilities. Thank you for the times when all our symbols of security dissolve around us, and, once again, our thoughts must find peace with you as the unexpected unfolds.
Why is it, O God, that so often we quickly respond with frustration when your will may be fashioning our destiny? Why is it that we find detours so unattractive? Why is it that so often we conclude that something is a waste of our time? What is more important than reflecting your likeness in everything we experience?
As we reflect on our lives thus far, who could have known ahead of time the jobs that we have, the person with whom we enjoy a relationship, the children born to us whose personalities are still forming? What an adventure life has been! We confess it has been an adventure because of hindsight. As we anticipate tomorrow, help each of us to stand forth with faith and trust, knowing that our future will be as fascinating as our past. May we radiate unwavering confidence by accepting every moment as our opportunity to mirror your nature to an audience of onlookers whom we may not know is being attentive to what we do. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . . .