Sermon for August 15th

First Reading 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Second Reading Ephesians 5:15-20

Gospel Reading John 6:51-58

Sermon “Wisdom?”

Well, It’s that time of year again – school’s back in session and all over the county, thousands of eager and not so eager minds are being offered a feast of knowledge, if they will just apply themselves. Keep the teachers in your prayers won’t you? Not to depress the Kids this morning, but the working world is much the same way, school is never out of session, there is no graduation after which we never need to learn other things. For us Christians, it is the same. We too are called to keep learning all the time. So, with school starting, it seems like a fitting Sunday to deal with the topic of Godly wisdom and the lectionary has provided us with some excellent texts to consider.

As you know, we have been working our way through the set of Old testament readings this summer and lifting up various people to see what the examples of their lives have to teach us. For the last several weeks, we have looked at David and those close around him. Now today we come to his famous son Solomon. The readings leave out all the intrigues about how it was that this young man came to the throne. Interestingly enough, he himself had little or nothing to do with it! But as we will see, he was the right choice, and the young man started out pretty well.

It all started like this: Scripture tells us that when David eventually became old, and feeble, he had apparently never made any public plans for his succession. It fit a pattern with David. He was an avoider. If he could just let things slide, he did. And so it was that his oldest surviving son Adonijah decided it was time for him to make his move. 1st kings tells it this way: (1 Kings 1:5-10 NIV)

[5] Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. [6] (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.) [7] Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. [8] But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah. [9] Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, [10] but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.

Perhaps you recall the whole chariot and 50 runners schtick, yep, it’s the same way Absalom behaved when he declared himself king. That didn’t turn out too well and this won’t either. Why was Solomon included in the party list? Very likely because Adonijah knew he was his likely competition. Solomon appears to have been clueless, but thankfully, those around him were not.

It was Nathan the prophet who started the ball rolling when he went to Solomon’s mother Bathsheba and asked her (1 Kings 1:11-14 NIV) “Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king, and our lord David knows nothing about it? [12] Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. [13] Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ [14] While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and add my word to what you have said.”

And so it was that they convinced David to finally publicly declare that Solomon was to be king. (1 Kings 1:32-35 NIV) [32] King David said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, [33] he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon. [34] There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ [35] Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.”

That was all well and good but now Solomon is now king with a usurper older brother who has an old army commander (who has disobeyed David on several occasions) as an ally along with several other dangerous friends. Not to mention several other troublesome folks that David has let slide. I don’t have time to tell you all the details this morning, but you can read all about it in the first 3 chapters of 1st kings.

The sum of it all is that the young man was dropped into a dangerous and complicated mess. Solomon was in way, way over his head and so it was not all that surprising that he asked God to give him wisdom to govern.

Now, we need to chew a bit on this word wisdom. Wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge speaks of information and skills. Knowing how the ride a bicycle or drive a car for instance, the ability to read and certainly all of that stuff that those dedicated teachers have tried to pour into our heads – That’s knowledge. Wisdom is different – it has to do with what we do with knowledge – how we apply it. For instance you might know how to ride a bicycle, but riding it on a highway at night is not very wise is it? Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, to know right from wrong, to be able to figure out what to do in difficult situations. It is often more a matter of knowing to ask the right questions than of knowing right answers to other people’s questions. It is also important to separate wisdom from intelligence. Some people are just learn quicker and more deeply than others. But, smart, even highly educated people are not necessarily wise. Here are some practical illustrations of that from history:

Famous False Predictions

• “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876.

• “Who wants to hear actors talk?” – H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

• “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

• “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” – Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

• “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

I wonder what they will be saying about us in the years to come? That’s the problem with earthly wisdom. Even in the best of circumstances it is finite, limited and short sighted. In other cases it can be disastrous or downright evil. Thanks be to God that He has given us his Word and the example of his Son, our Lord, to follow that are not so limited. But in order for us to benefit, effort, discipline and training are required – just as they are required to succeed in school and the workplace. Godly wisdom requires us to admit that we don’t have all the answers and to trust our God who does all things well.

Solomon started out as a great example of that type of thinking. When God asked him what he desired, he answered with humility and earnest seeking – listen again to the account preserved for us in 1 Kings 3:5-13 NIV

[5] … God said,“ Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” [6] Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. [7] “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. [8] Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. [9] So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

Wisdom to rule well was a good thing to ask for and God honored it. I wish that he could have remained in that mindset all during his reign, the history of Israel might have been very, very different. But as Scripture teaches us, is is not enough to know what is right, we have to act it out as well. Knowledge and the wisdom to use it properly are absolutely worthless if they are not put into practice. History tells us that Solomon fell away from his initially so promising beginning. O, he remained very smart, but he neglected his relationship God and focused on earthly wealth and power. He married many many foreign wives, brought their pagan religions into Israel, introduced crushing taxes and forced labor, to build up enormous wealth and possessions – all of which set the nation on a course of civil war, idolatry and ultimately conquest and exile. Solomon’s glorious wealth didn’t even survive one generation after his death. His actions however influenced the nation for centuries.

Paul emphasizes this thought in his letter to the Ephesians. Listen again to this section of Chapter 5 “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

“Be careful how you live.” That’s not a statement of fear or restriction, but a call to careful examination. Keep a lookout on your life; walk around it, kick the tires, be sure things are in balance. We must stay focused on the things of God so that we don’t get distracted by all the ungodly influences that surround us. Did you hear his emphasis on time – “Make the most of every opportunity” he says. Distractions and time wasters do not lead us into deeper fellowship with God and so, many potentially wonderful ministry opportunities slip right past us. It also requires effort, and purpose to resist those things that would harm us and lead us down self destructive paths.

Finally, let’s take a look at our wondrous Gospel passage – what does this passage about heavenly bread have to do with wisdom, you might ask? Jesus identifies himself as the living bread that came down from Heaven. He goes on to urge us to feed on him. We all know that food is the fuel that keeps our bodies functioning. When we feed our bodies good food, we can feel the positive results. But it’s so easy to be tempted to fill ourselves with empty calories instead of nutrition, which can’t sustain us for long. In our gospel, Jesus reminds us that when we fill ourselves with his own self, we are going to be nourished in a way that sustains us for the journey, until we are fully united with God for all time. We will be tempted along the way to fill ourselves with spiritual “junk food,” but Jesus knows that isn’t going to be enough. Only when we live our lives in Christ will we receive “true food and true drink”—the kind that gives us what we really need to face the challenges of serving God in our daily lives. Staying close to the true source of life is the best wisdom of all.

A closing thought for you: Interestingly, the passage in John uses a word that in Greek implies a very physical, not particularly polite way of eating – it means to gnaw, to chew or munch. John apparently preserves this choice of wording to teach us that being sustained by Jesus requires some work on our part. We are to study, to pray, to contemplate and to wrestle with what it means for us to follow Jesus day by day. Mere intellectual knowledge is not enough – true Godly wisdom means living it out – wrestling with the implications of God’s living word and acting accordingly.