Sermon for August 29th

First Reading: 1Kings 10:23-29 & 11:1-13

Second Reading James 1:17-27

Gospel Reading Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Sermon: “What Begins Well, Ends…. ”

In our Sunday school lessons, we were normally just taught about the wisdom, wealth and splendor of Solomon. So today’s text may have come as a bit of a shock to you. It might even smack of revisionist history, but I firmly remind you that we are merely reviewing what has always been in the scriptures whether or not we like to pay attention to it. History is often that way – we teach and remember the things we like and that make us feel good and neglect to recall the full story. Solomon seemed to begin so well. His dedication speech of his temple was spot on. His request of God to be able to rule well and wisely was too. God promised him wealth, security and more if he would obey and be faithful. His wisdom is preserved for us in three different books in our Bibles: The Song of Songs which is a sensual composition extolling the joys of love between a husband and wife (often viewed as an allegory of the love between God and Israel or even of Christ and the Church) He collected and composed a great deal of the book of Proverbs which we certainly find useful and true. – He also is credited with Ecclesiastes, a book we rarely teach from, but probably should. It’s steely eyed view of the futility of trying to find meaning in life without God is depressing , yet even there we find truth and food for thought. Tradition holds that The Song of Songs is the work of a young Solomon, Proverbs by a somewhat more mature Solomon and Ecclesiastes by an elderly and cynical Solomon.

Let’s be brutally honest right up front. Solomon became obsessed with the accumulation of wealth, of women and of grandiose building projects. He became infamous for crushingly high taxes, for massive conscription of Israelites for his army and functionaries of all sorts. And worst of all, for subjecting virtually all of the non Jewish population to forced labor and slavery. It didn’t have to go that way.

God had arranged circumstances so that Solomon ruled in a time when the great powers of the day (Egypt and Assyria) were lessened in influence and might. This allowed little Israel, to flourish on the world scene as never before or since. He received a great gift from his faithful father David – secure borders, a professional and well seasoned army, a stable economy, a few key alliances – such as the one with King Hiram of Troy, and the stored wealth from David set apart to build the temple. Compared with what David started with – Nothing but a sling, a few rocks and a lot of faith, he had it pretty good. He managed (rather violently) to solve some of his father’s leftover problems and it seemed that he would prosper, which he did – to obscene excess.

By the end of his reign, rampant idolatry, disaster, rebellion, civil war and national division were already to wipe out this brief shinning moment in Israel’s history. Why did it all go so horribly wrong? Because Solomon forgot his God who have given him administrative wisdom. He would have done better perhaps to have asked for a faithful heart.

Let me remind you of a passage way back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 which contains the wisdom of God passed on through the words of Moses as Israel was about to enter the promised land: [14] “You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ [15] If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner. [16] “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ [17] The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. [18] “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. [19] He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. [20] This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.

Sad to say, Solomon violated every command about how a king should behave – eventually with tragic results. Thats the way it often is with sin. At first, it may seem as if everything is going well – wonderfully in fact. All the while consequences are piling up waiting to be revealed at the worst possible moment. We see this pattern often today – Someone seems to be sailing through life only to have it all come crashing down quite unexpectedly.

Solomon is revered for his knowledge and wisdom. The queen of Sheba visited him and left profoundly impressed. But wisdom without love and the commitment to use ones gifts in the service of God is mere intellectualism and ultimately, it is a dry and sterile thing as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 NIV

[12] I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. [13] I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! [14] I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. [15] What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. [16] I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” [17] Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. [18] For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

One of Solomon’s first wives was to set the pattern for most all of his many many marriages. (1 Kings 3:1 NIV)[1] Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem. David his father had several wives, it seems likely he had about 6-8 or so. But Solomon took this pattern to huge excess – 700 wives and another 300 concubines! Such behavior makes a mockery of the beauty and joy of the loving, exclusive relationship portrayed in Solomon’s Song of Songs. In this situation love has been traded for lust and hedonism – the pursuit of pleasure over all else.

Compare that with the worlds of Jesus when he taught (Matthew 19:4-6 NIV)

[4] “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ [5] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? [6] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” What Solomon did not only violated the simple intent of creation but even worse, most of his wives came from these foreign alliance and brought with them the worship of idols. The worship of some of these God’s involved fertility cults and ritual prostitution, other included terrible practices of self mutilation and even the occasion child sacrifice. Eventually these things changed Solomons heart. He went down the predictable path from accommodation (I’ll just build them a little shrine to keep them happy) all the way to participation and the erection of large public temples on the high places surrounding Jerusalem.

The accumulation of wealth was another source of corruption that invaded Israel through the reign of Solomon. You see, this is a form of idolatry as well. A good definition of an idol is anything that takes the proper place of God in our lives. We put our trust in money, possessions and grand structures, instead of putting our trust in God and obedience to God’s Will. This too turns out to be empty as we read in Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 NIV

[4] I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. [5] I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. [6] I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. [7] I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. [8] I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. [9] I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. [10] I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. [11] Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

So is that all there is – meaningless repetition of things that ultimately make no difference? If we place our trust in the things of this world, I’m afraid that is exactly right. Fortunately, we know a different source of life and meaning. We are children of God – bound the love of God for all eternity through the grace of Jesus our Savior. Love matters. Love endures through time and beyond. That makes us rich beyond measure. After all, it was Jesus who taught us saying (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

[19] “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. [20] But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where will you make your deposits this week?