The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - August 19, 2018
Scripture 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Ephesians 5:15-20     
Sermon Title: Becoming Wise

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     For our old Testament reading this morning we go back to First Kings.  Last week our reading was from the same book but much later, chapter 19, and today we are back to chapters 2 and 3.  If you were here last week we talked about Elijah, who lived after Solomon’s death, but today’s reading is about Solomon.  I also included in our readings a little piece of the book of Ephesians, one of Paul’s letters.

     Chronologically, in First Kings, we are at about 970 BCE, almost a thousand years before Jesus.  And before talking about Solomon, we need to at least touch on history.  While this may be historically accurate, we really don’t know.  Dates are a little fuzzy, and when this was finally written down, probably about 500 years after it happened, there may have been some things added or taken away for emphasis.  But this is what we have, so knowing that it may not be 100% accurate, here is what we are told happened. 

     About 1050 BCE the tribes of Israel lived in the same general region, and in order to get along had a system of Judges.  It didn’t really work; it appears they fought a lot among themselves, and also with outside groups.  In order to defend themselves from attacks of outside groups, they get together, and formed the United Monarchy.  The first king was named Saul.  Saul was killed in battle, so one of his sons, Ishbaal, becomes King.  The tribe of Judah didn’t like Ishbaal, and left the United Monarchy, proclaiming David as their king.  David had been married to Ishbaal’s sister, so was the brother in law of Ishbaal and the Son in law of Saul, so it was still in the family, at least through marriage. 

     The other tribes came around, and David became king.  Now we have David in power.  David is considered the perfect King.  And if you remember the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, because Joseph was from the house of David.  David was Jesus’ many, many times’ great grandfather.  David is credited with writing many of the Psalms, and there was at least some peace during his rule.  He did run into a bit of trouble, had an affair with the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a woman named Bathsheba, and she ended up get pregnant.  David sent Uriah off to war, and he was killed.  That first son they had together died, or was killed, but since she was now a widow, David could marry her.  Together they had Solomon, and 3 other sons, full brothers of David.  There were also at least 6 half brothers, from some of David’s other wives. 

     One of David’s other sons tried to take over at one point, David went into exile for a while, then came back.  Eventually David got old, so one of the older half brothers of Solomon was going to become king.  Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, wanted Solomon to be king, so there is some trickery and it is done.  Solomon is crowned king. 

     As soon as he became king, he had a few people killed whom he thought might cause problems, and then put all his friends in positions of power, greatly expanded the military, using these new military outposts as both military and trading posts.  Developed wonderful relationships with neighbors and became known for trading in all sorts of stuff from all over the world.  Solomon was rich.  It was officially the United Monarchy’s money, but as King it was really his.  It is recorded that one year they collected 660 talents of gold. That is almost 40,000 pounds of gold.  And by all accounts, he was a good king, for the most part. 

     Solomon was the last king of the United Monarchy.  When he died, the Kingdom split into Israel in the North and Judea in the South. 

     Solomon is known for his wisdom.  There is a well known story of two women debating whose child this one son was.  They appear before Solomon who says “Cut the baby in two, give each mother half of the child.”  Based on the women’s reactions, he is able to determine who the real mother is.  He is also credited with writing the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, and perhaps even a few of the Psalms. 

     And today’s reading starts with David dying and Solomon taking over the kingdom, the shortened version, and then Solomon’s dream.  From the initial reading, we think that Solomon must be doing it all right.  The rules for Jewish life were established by that point, so he was making sure he offered the sacrifices he was required, and more.  But little problem… Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  One of the better known was the daughter of Pharaoh, over in Egypt.  Want a good trading partner in another country?  Marry his daughter.  And he had wives from other countries also.  But one of those Jewish laws was that you should not marry a foreigner.  Plus, these wives came in with their own gods, so some of those sacrifices were probably made to other gods. 

     The whole history of Israel, of the Jewish people, is forming a covenant with God, then breaking that covenant, but God keeps coming back.  David and Solomon are God’s chosen rulers, but even they have trouble keeping the covenant that God has established.

     So Solomon prays for wisdom.  Not riches - he would get enough of those.  Not a long life, although God was so happy with his wish that God also grants him a long life.  Solomon knew what he needed to pray for. 

     When I was younger I used to pray for the weather.  If I were going camping I prayed for warm dry weather.  If I had not completed my homework, or had a big project that I had not quite finished, I prayed for enough snow to cancel school.  As I got older, I realized that when I prayed for warm dry weather, sometimes I got it, and other times it was cold and wet.  When I prayed for snow, sometimes we got a blizzard, and other times a flurry.  I still pray for people who are sick, but don’t pray that they will be better, I pray that they will be comfortable. 

     I also pray for wisdom more and more as I get older, which I think includes a lot more than just the brain.  There are some things in this world where the line between right and wrong is clear, but often it seems there is a lot of gray.  In addition to knowing right from wrong, you must follow it.  But wisdom also includes teaching others about it. 

     Which brings us to our second reading this morning.  Chronologically we jump forward about a thousand years.  Jesus has come, taught, died, raised from the dead.  And Paul, who was the first of Jesus’s followers to have never met Jesus, is trying to help us figure it all out.  At that time, the church was separating from the synagogue, and attracting Non-Jewish followers.  This is hard, what do you do with those who don’t know the law and don’t follow the law?  And for those who are still Jewish, should we still follow the law, or not. 

     Being a Jew is very hard and yet easy.  It is very hard because you have all these rules to follow.  Dietary, moral, how to live.  But it is also easy because everything you can think of has been addressed.  Take a fasting day, you are not supposed to eat between sunrise and sunset.  You can drink all the water you want.  But what about your baby or your elderly grandparents?  The explanation of the rules say you are older, younger, pregnant, or have a medical problem, then you don’t have to fast on those days.  Even modern things have been addressed.  Is striking a match considered work on the Sabbath, or how about turning on an electric light? All been addressed, all been answered before.  There is very little decision making needed, just to follow those rules or not.  And the covenant with God is in those rules.  You follow God’s rules, and God will show favor on you.

     But Jesus took away those rules, he fulfilled the law, we are no longer required to live by it.  Awesome, we can eat bacon cheeseburgers every day, we can get drunk and party all night long. Well, Paul says, wait a minute.  While the rules no longer need to be followed, we must be wise.  There we go with that wisdom again, knowing what is right and wrong, following and teaching others.  Paul suggests three things:  speaking to each other biblically, making music to God, and always giving thanks to the Lord. 

     God loves you.  That is kind of the whole Bible boiled down into 3 words.  Want it a little bit longer, how about:  Love others as God loves you.   Maybe learning all those Jewish laws is easier than loving others, even in just our talking with each other.  I wonder if that includes telemarketers or those scammers trying to get you to enter information on line so they can steal your money or identity?  Wonder if that includes insurance companies when they deny a claim?  What about others who try to do bad things to you?  Even just saying that we should love all others as God loves us is hard. 

     Making music to God we are good at.  Well at least singing many hymns.  But how about our music when we are outside these doors.  One of the Boy Scout mottos or slogans or pledges, I should know which one, says “Do a Good Turn Daily.”  When Baden Powell started Scouting he wanted each scout to be known for being kind.  And while nothing is perfect, the Boy Scout uniform does carry with it a responsibility that we try to teach kids.  If you ever need help with something, and there is a kid in a Scout shirt, they should be willing to help you.  

     How do we show that we are Christians in our songs that we sing out on our streets?  Do we sing songs of love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness?  You don’t need to look very far to see someone claiming Christian values who do not show love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness.  Paul is asking us to change that.  Our songs, our public and private songs, must be about the values that we hold dear.

     And always, giving thanks to the Lord for everything.  This is probably harder than all the Jewish laws, speaking biblically and making music all put together.  It is easy to give God thanks for the beautiful sunrise, the smell of fresh coffee first thing in the morning, the birds, the rain, the green trees.  What about those things you don’t like, that we don’t like.   This is something I struggle with, there are things in which

I do not thank God, things I just can not see any good in. 

     There is a Chinese Proverb that goes something like this…

          A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
          A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
          A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

     The moral of this story, is, of course, that no event, in and of itself, can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate, but that only time will tell the whole story. Additionally, no one really lives long enough to find out the ‘whole story,’ so it could be considered a great waste of time to judge minor inconveniences as misfortunes or to invest tons of energy into things that look outstanding on the surface, but may not pay off in the end.

     Which brings us full circle back to the wisdom that Solomon prayed for, which we should also pray for.  In 2008, shortly after Collin was born, a lot of changes had occurred at the camp I had been directing, and I felt it was time for me to move on.  I applied to two jobs, one on Lake Tahoe, a 40 acre retreat center with a budget of about 6 million dollars a year, and the New Hampshire Conference, a slightly larger physical site, with a much lower visitor rate, and a budget of about 100,000 dollars a year.  I was offered the job here, and decided to accept it.  It was only about 2 years after that when Keri’s mother in New Jersey was diagnosed with cancer, and then died.  We were back and forth before she died, and then after she died made many trips down to clean out the house and get it ready to sell.  I have shared that my parents are now getting older, and my father has had some of his own health issues over the past few years.  From my house to their house, it is just under 4 hours.  If I had ended up in Nevada, it was almost 2 hours just to the airport. 

     I was a little bummed I didn’t get offered the job in Nevada.  It is the largest retreat center, in terms of sleeping capacity, in the Presbyterian Church, much larger than any center in the United Church of Christ.  I was one of two finalists, flown from North Carolina to Nevada for an onsite interview.  I was told it was a hard decision between myself and the other finalist.  Now, 10 years later, I am glad I came to New Hampshire.  I was able to deal with family issues, have had some wonderful experiences.  Now I am able to thank God that I was chosen in New Hampshire and did not move to Nevada. 

Let’s end in prayer:
     God, please give me wisdom as you did with Solomon so long ago.  Because you came to us in the form of Jesus, we don’t have specific religious laws we must follow, but now need your wisdom to guide us to show your love in all that we do, and to all who we encounter.  Help us to speak Biblically and sing your songs.  Most of all God, give us the wisdom to praise you for everything.  We believe that you do not call us to accept things we see as wrong, or not to speak out when we see evil, but in the end God, we know that you have power over us and power over everything.  You call us to be your hands in the world, but when we have done all that we can, we hand it over to you, and give you thanks.  Give us the wisdom to know what is right, do what is right and teach others in your ways.