Note: After the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27th, we started out today’s worship service by reading the ELCA’s 1994 statement repudiating Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings. If you care to read that, you can find the statement at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Declaration_Of_The_ELCA_To_The_Jewish_Community.pdf?_ga=2.34349479.788548289.1540726238-1345016708.1528066462. If this link doesn’t work, please go to http://www.elca.org and search for “Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community.”
Sermon for Reformation Sunday
Narrative Lectionary Year 1
1 Kings 3:3-28
Today we move from a story during the reign of King David to the story of the beginning of the reign of David’s son, Solomon. After the incident with Bathsheba, chaos engulfed David’s family; the consequences of David’s sin were being played out. David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. In revenge, Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, killed their half-brother, Amnon. Then Absalom led a rebellion against his father, David, which succeeded for a time, until Joab put the rebellion down and killed Absalom. David, who had not wanted another son of his killed, mourned for Absalom for a long time. After this, there was relative calm for the rest of David’s reign. But, as David was dying, there was another struggle among his children for who would succeed him. David’s son Adonijah thought that he was next in line and began preparing himself to be king, even though David was still alive. Nathan—yes, the same Nathan who confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba—told Bathsheba herself what was going on. At Nathan’s urging, Bathsheba went to David and said, “David, didn’t you say that my son Solomon was going to be king? Yet here is Adonijah proclaiming himself king.” While David lay on his deathbed, he summoned the priest Zadok and commanded him and Nathan to anoint Solomon as king. Then David died and Solomon did indeed become king and consolidated his power. This brings us to today’s story, at the beginning of Solomon’s reign.
God asks Solomon what gift God should give him. Solomon could have had anything he wanted, and what does he do? He asks for wisdom. That might not be the first thing that we would ask for. This week, the lottery went up to the billions of dollars, and everyone was running out to buy a ticket in the hopes that they might be the winner. And I think that, if God came to one of us and asked what God should give us, money might be our first answer. Money to pay off debts. Money to buy the things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Money just to get by from day to day. Perhaps some of us might ask for long life. Or for the happiness of our loved ones. But somehow, I don’t think that wisdom would be our first choice. And yet, this is what Solomon asks God to give him. This is not long into Solomon’s reign. He has just finished consolidating power and he has made his country’s first alliance by marrying the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And he must settle down now into the daily, mundane business of governing the people. He is probably a little frightened of the responsibility which has come upon him. And so, after reciting all of the good things that God has done for him, Solomon humbly asks for wisdom to govern God’s people rightly.
Now, any time that the theme of wisdom comes up, I like to tell this story. Some of you have heard it before, and for that, I beg your forgiveness for the repeat. There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge. When I was a senior in college, I managed to catch the flu on the last day before Christmas break. My plans had been to take my last final and then drive home, which at that time was in New Hampshire, a 2 ½ hour drive away. When I woke up sick, I went to the Health Center, where the nurse examined me and said, “Yep, you have the flu,” gave me a couple of Tylenol, and sent me on my way. Somehow I managed to take my final exam, but during the time that I was taking the exam, it started snowing. And not just flurries; a real, honest-to-goodness blizzard. After my exam, I went back to my room and called my dad, who said, “Well, if you’re going to come home, do it now, because it’s only supposed to get worse over the next couple of days.” My car had 4-wheel drive and I knew how to drive in the snow, so I decided to drive home. On my dad’s advice, I took the route that went up by the ski resorts and over to the interstate on the theory that they would have those roads better plowed. Which ended up not being true. During the drive, I had to periodically stop, get out of the car, and scrape snow and ice off of the windshield. And, the Tylenol that I had taken wore off, so that my flu symptoms came back. To this day I don’t know how I managed to make it home, but I did. I had the knowledge that I needed to drive home that day, but wisdom would have said, “Stay where you are until the weather passes and you feel better.”
Solomon asks for wisdom, not knowledge. And when God grants him that wisdom, God says that the other things that Solomon has not asked for—riches and honor all his life—will be his as well. And God also promises Solomon that if he keeps all of God’s commandments and statutes, then God will lengthen his life as well. And after this dream, Solomon demonstrates his wisdom in this strange story of the two women fighting over the baby, determining that the woman who wants the baby to live, even if the other woman gets the baby, is truly the baby’s mother. Our system of justice would ask for all kinds of evidence, including genetic evidence, eyewitness evidence, and the like. But would we take into account who loves the baby more? Because, here’s the thing: what if the woman who begged for the baby’s life was not the genetic mother of the child? Wisdom says that whoever wants what is best for the child is truly the mother, regardless of what genetics may tell us.
In his commentary on this passage, noted Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “On the one hand one may choose worldly wisdom . . . worldly might, and worldly wealth. On the other hand one may choose steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, the characteristic marks of Yahweh and the things Yahweh most delights in. The first choice is a decision to serve self at the expense of everyone else. The alternative choice is to serve the well-being of the community and to enhance it through fidelity and just dealings” (51). Today is Reformation Sunday, when we commemorate the day that Martin Luther began the Reformation by nailing 95 Theses for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. If you have read those 95 Theses, they will seem very obscure to us today, because we struggle to understand the system of indulgences that Luther wanted to debate. But at its core, those 95 Theses showed a concern for the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness of God. The people of that time and place were being taught that they could buy their way out of purgatory rather than trusting that Jesus Christ had already done everything for them, and that their sins were forgiven. What Luther began on that day was to call the church back to a trust in God, rather than in human institutions. This is one example of what the wisdom of God looks like.
The wisdom of God keeps calling us back to trust in God for that steadfast love, justice, and righteousness and not in human institutions. Last Thursday, I went to a continuing education event called the bishop’s convocation. Our guest speaker was Bishop Craig Satterlee, from the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. And he had some good things to say about how we are to be about the mission of God in this time and this place. One of the things that he said was this: People are not looking for a church. People are looking for an encounter with Jesus that will change their lives. And so, he said, when you are speaking to people outside the church, you should not be speaking about your church: that is, how friendly the people are and what kinds of activities you do. Rather, you should be speaking about Jesus: how has Jesus changed your life? What does Jesus mean to you?
So, this week you all have a homework assignment. Are you ready? In your prayers and in your devotions, I want you to think about how Jesus has changed your life in specific and concrete ways. Not just, “Oh, I’m a much nicer person because of Jesus,” or “My life is so much easier because of Jesus.” That’s too general. People want to know the specifics. Like, for example, part of my story: I went to college with the goal of becoming a translator. Towards the end of my college career, I discovered that I would have to go on to graduate school to do that, and I was tired of school. So, I graduated and took a job as a reservations agent for a tour operator. But after a while, even though I had some good perks at that job, the customer service aspect of it got to be too much. I started expecting the worst out of people. And that wasn’t who I was. One day when I went to church, the president of the congregation came up to me and said, “I got this list of mission opportunities from St. Louis, and I thought you might be interested.” Long story short, I went to Taiwan as a volunteer missionary for 2 ½ years. And Jesus changed my life. By introducing me to new people who did not know Jesus, I got to think about my faith and why I believed in Jesus. And I began to love Jesus again, and I began to love people again. Your story does not need to be quite that dramatic. But I believe that if you reflect back on your life, you can find times when Jesus came and changed it from what it used to be. So find those times, and be ready to share them with others.
St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1:25). God’s wisdom prompted King Solomon to judge between two women by saying that the one who loved the baby more was the baby’s mother. God’s wisdom meant sending God’s Son to this world to die on the cross for us. God’s wisdom transformed the church when a German monk nailed a piece of paper to a church door. And God’s wisdom says that Jesus isn’t just showing up in our church buildings on Sunday mornings, but also that Jesus shows up in some of the most unexpected places in our lives. When we ask for God’s wisdom to guide us as we make decisions, not only in our individual lives but in our life together as a congregation, we don’t always know what we’re going to get. God’s wisdom doesn’t always look like what we think it should look like. But if something shows us the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness of God, then we can trust that God’s wisdom is there, even if it looks like foolishness to us. Amen.