I Kings 3:3-14; Eph. 5:15-20
Who is the wisest person you have ever known? This is a pretty bright congregation. Chances are that person might be sitting among us. Then again it might be someone you met years ago. It could be someone who gave you some remarkable financial advice or steered you toward your life’s vocation. It might have been a spiritual guru who completely changed the way you look at life. If you exhibit any wisdom yourself, you might suggest the wisest person you know is your spouse, especially if she is setting next to you.
According to Old Testament tradition Solomon was the wisest man of his generation. Our text this morning tells us that God came to Solomon in a dream and allowed the new king to make one request. Solomon asked for wisdom, or to be more specific, he asked to be able to discern between good and evil. God responded by promising if Solomon kept the commandments of the Lord, his wish would be granted.
So how well did Solomon use this gift? It would seem as long as Solomon kept the commandments, he was able to discern between good and evil. The most famous example was when Solomon was confronted by two women, both claiming to be the mother of the same child. Do you remember what Solomon did? He picked up the child and declared he would cut the baby in half, giving each woman a fair share. The one woman screamed in agony begging Solomon to give the living child to the other woman. Through her protest, Solomon determined this was the real mother.
Solomon was also placed in charge of building the Temple. He did a marvelous job. No detail was missed. In fact he did such a wonderful job Solomon decided to build an equally impressive house for himself and his family. Perhaps this was not so wise. From that point on things began to fall apart. By the end of his reign Solomon’s days were filled with more self-indulgence than wisdom. He divided Israel into 12 regions and showed greater favor to the two regions surrounding Jerusalem. The other ten tribal units were subjugated to heavy taxes and even slave labor. Solomon justified this by claiming he was fortifying the capital city. But in truth he was building a palace to occupy his 700 wives and 300 concubines. You heard me right, 700 wives. Just how wise can a guy be if he has 700 wives? Most of these marriages included treaties with foreign neighbors, and each marriage brought different customs and the worship of other gods into the city. By the end of his reign, the kingdom was bankrupt, ten of the twelve tribes were in revolt, and the temple was occupied by foreign gods. The wisest man in the world turned out not to be so smart after all.
So what is wisdom? Is it defined by the number of academic accomplishments one hangs on their wall? Is wisdom transmitted more by pithy sayings or silence? What about “street smarts” or experience? Doesn’t that count for something? What about someone who has graduated from the school of hard knocks? Where does this rate on the wisdom scale? It seems every one is quick to share their wisdom while too few listen to Mark Twain who said, “Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” Perhaps I should shut my mouth and sit down, but we all know preachers tend to venture where angels fear to tread.
What intrigues me about the Solomon story is the promise God made that as long as Solomon kept the commandments, the king would remain wise. Obviously once Solomon opted for foreign wives and foreign worship practices, the promise of wisdom was negated. But I am not so worried about Solomon. That is ancient history. Does the offer to Solomon continue to be open to us? If we keep the commandments, will we be wiser? Certainly there is wisdom to be gained from not stealing, lying or killing. I could also make a case that there is wisdom to be found in not being consumed by greed. I believe it is wise to treat the elderly with respect and work hard to maintaining a healthy marriage. But what of the other commandments, particularly Sabbath keeping and claiming only one God. The author of Ephesians wrote. “Be careful how you live. Be wise, making the most of this time. Be filled with the Spirit. Sing Psalms and hymns; make melody and give thanks to God.”
There is a fancy phrase that seems to be making the rounds these days. It is called spiritual formation. Simply put, this is a process by which we attempt to become more mature in our faith and reshape our character as a human being. Every week I get phone calls from folks who have developed the perfect program to bring spiritual formation to our congregation. They have been tested by congregation large and small with amazing results. For prices ranging from $39.99 to $3,999 I can be assured of a program that will turn us into a God fearing, Bible believing, Army for the Almighty.
And yet I keep going back to the instructions given to Solomon and amplified by the writer of Ephesians. Follow the commandments of the Lord and fill oneself with the Spirit by singing psalms and making melody. Could it be that worship is the real key to both wisdom and our spiritual formation?
G. Porter Taylor states that “the worship of God orients us to the Almighty and keeps our lives in right relations.” He continues by saying “When we worship a number of things are going on which makes us wiser. We sing, we engage the biblical text, and we connect to the body of Christ each time we gather to celebrate God.”
Let’s begin with the music. Let’s face it, you folks don’t show up here each Sunday Morning to here me preach. No one in this area has a better music program than this church. I am amazed at some of the voices we have in our choirs. When someone like Jane or Marianne or Sarah gets up to sing, my heart is taken places I seldom visit. But the wisdom to be received from our music only begins with our talented musicians. Before we sing our hymns, it would be worth our time to look at the text of those great songs. This morning you have already sung the words, “Let courage be our friend, let wisdom be our guide, in bold accord come celebrate the journey and praise the Lord.” Those are marvelous words. But don’t stop there. We will conclude our service by singing If Thou but Trust in God to Guide Thee. This song was penned by Georg Neumark. As a young man Georg set out to attend the University of Konigsberg but along the way was robbed of all his possessions except his prayer book. In his darkest hour Georg was unexpectedly offered as a job as a tutor, allowing him to save the money he needed to attend the university. On receiving the job he opened his prayer book to Psalm 55 and wrote, Sing, pray, and swerve not from God’s ways, but do thine own part faithfully. Trust the promises of grace; so shall they be fulfilled in thee. God never yet forsook at need, the soul secured by trust indeed. There is more wisdom in the last verse of this song than any words I have spoken from any pulpit.
Second, how do we approach the biblical text in worship? Obviously that happens in the sermon, but we also begin each of our services with a selection from the Book of Psalms. Each Sunday you only get a few lines which are used as our call to worship. I would invite you, starting next week, before the service begins to turn to the Psalm used and read the passage in its entirety. You will never be disappointed.
Listen to portions of this mornings Psalm. Praise the Lord! I will give praise with my whole heart. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. God is full of honor and majesty and God’s righteousness endures forever. God is gracious and merciful ever mindful of his covenant. The works of Gods hands are faithful and just and all God’s precepts are trustworthy. God has sent redemption to his people. Holy is God’s name. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
These are words of salvation on which the people of God can feast. They sing of God’s justice and mercy. They reveal a God who bestows wisdom on those who are righteous. These words are the cornerstone of a community that understands the commandments are not a burden but rather a gift of grace.
In other words, when we worship, we are not doing do so alone but rather within the body of Christ. As much as I like my space, I realize that I cannot become fully human by myself. Humans were created to be interdependent and communal. Desmond TuTu writes, “My humanity is caught up in your humanity. It is not. ‘I think therefore I am.’ I am human because, I participate, I share, and I belong to a greater whole.”
Here, in this sacred place, we worship together.
Here, in this sacred place, we live the Holy Text together.
Here, in this sacred place, we praise God together.
Here, in this sacred place, we are the body of Christ.
Your joy is my joy. Your song is my song.
Your pain is my pain. Your ache is my ache.
Your wisdom becomes our wisdom.
Your vision becomes our vision.
Your life becomes our lives.
We are One in the Body of Christ.
In the songs, in the text, in each other,
We have seen the glory of God;
And that can make us wiser than Solomon.
Thanks be to God. Amen.