Monday, August 20, 2018

Maturity Is the Path to Wisdom

Maturity Is the Path to Wisdom  
Psalm 111; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Throughout the Bible God tries to upend the persistent intent of the people to make God out to be mean, and visiting punishment on children, in particular punishment for the sins of the father. King Solomon is a classic example. Solomon is the second child of David and Bathsheba. The traditionalists might have expected the progeny of this couple to be flawed and an embarrassment. Instead, Solomon established the high water mark for the culture. 

As Solomon survives the battles between his older brothers to move into the throne, he demonstrates the wisdom to show humility before God. The early days of his reign are marked by dramatic success, and great respect for his wisdom. 

The truth of the matter is, in time Solomon believed too much of the adulation of the crowds and began to feel like he had earned all that he amassed. It is a long known challenge for those who have money and success to keep in touch with their own humanity and limitations. 

Today though, let us focus on the text at hand. The book we know of as First Kings is treated by Christian scholars as a history book, part of the Deuteronomistic Historians story of Israel and Judah. The Jews consider these texts as a part of the “Former Prophets.” However it is approached, it should be read as a theological reflection on the events of the time. 

God appears before Solomon in a dream, the God for whom he will construct the Temple, that will forever be remembered as the ultimate celebration of the faith and the partnership between God and the King of Israel. 

Solomon is a young man. He has emerged as the favored son of the legendary King David. It would be expected that he would be full of himself. That is what makes this such an unexpected prayer. “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this - your great people?” 

We are not yet ready to write the legend of what comes next to Community UCC in Morton. But we may be visited in our dreams by God. We know that like the Psalmist, we can praise the Lord. We can give thanks for the blessings that are in our hands, and the blessings that are yet to be discovered, like surprises along the various Exits of the Interstate. We thank God because we trust God. We trust God. 

In the heart of Solomon’s prayer, he asks God for wisdom and the ability to sort between good and evil. Solomon trusts God. When we think about Adam and Eve; they were tempted by the lure of the knowledge between good and evil. The difference is, Adam and Eve tried to steal it in disrespect of God’s wishes, and Solomon asked boldly. 

Let me level with you. God already knows what is in your heart. God already knows what you need. God wants to hear you say that you love God and trust God. It is a relationship thing. More than numb obedience, we should model Solomon and ask God to give us the wisdom to make choices that result in what is good for this congregation, and the people the congregation is called to serve. 

Being a church is not first and foremost about making yourself happy and satisfied. That is what God expected Solomon to ask for. “Make me happy and satisfied.” Being a church is being called to service. It is service shared with the community. The sense of community sustains us and gives us courage. But the community is first a presence in worship before God, and then a force for the good God desires to be done in this community. As Solomon asked for wisdom to protect and guide the people of God, we pray for God to give this congregation the wisdom and tools to serve those who would be discounted, or left hurting, or without voice, in the busyness and bustle of Morton and the surrounding area. 

The Search Committee had a wonderful batch of candidates apply to join you here as your new pastor. There are many UCC churches that receive very few interested candidates. There is keen competition for ministry positions in and near the city of Chicago and major suburbs. There is often little attention directed downstate. 

The beauty of having a variety of candidates, is that the committee has the hard work of sorting through multiple people who have the right credentials and desire to be here. Then a higher level of discernment takes place. Is there a candidate with a vision and a skill set that suits this congregation in this time and place, and is ready to walk into the future? 

There are candidates who presented experience in being successful in the past. However, the past is unlikely to come around again. Even if there is a resurgence of respect for church and community life, it will not resemble the faith of the 50s and early 60s. That faith existed with a certain naivety and trained blindness to prejudice and bias that cannot be claimed with integrity in the world of today. 

So your committee settled on a candidate that has been prepared through life experience to live and breathe in the world of today, and has hope for the future of a healthy UCC congregation in this conservative area, attached to the city of Peoria. This is a church with a future and is calling a pastor with a vision and the energy needed to move the vision forward. 

We read about Solomon’s opening prayer to God at the start of his time in office. What he asked pleased God. What does God like to hear from us? What could we ask of God, that would make God happy? I have an idea for you, and I expect you have several of your own. I suppose if I name yours, you will decide that I am a wise man, too. 

The first of my ideas begins and ends with gratitude. Solomon approaches God with words of thanks for blessings already received. It is impossible to be thankful without acknowledging that God is the source of what is good, and the logistics manager extraordinaire. We get what we need right on time. 

We might not immediately recognize the value of the gifts we are given. I have seen many occasions when what was first considered a weakness, put me in position to accept a great blessing. 

We might think we know better than God, and complain that what was sent does not meet our expectations. It is not what we wanted. I suggest that you be careful. God has a much better idea of what you need than you can imagine. In fact, God is way ahead of you, and is providing gifts for your present situation, as well as the stuff you need for what is right around the corner. Funny thing about corners, you can be very near to what is coming, and not even know it. You have not seen around the corner! 

The key then to petitioning God in a way that makes God happy, is to let yourself acknowledge that God is God, and you are not. Reflect first on the ways God has responded to your needs in the past, and express your trust in God’s ongoing grace and intentions.  

The other thing that Solomon demonstrated is that he asked for the ability to serve those that God provided to him. We already touched on that briefly. If a congregation shifts its focus to being pleased and squabbling with each other over the building and appointments, and not about its ministry, they are on a path that leads them away from God.  

So then we pray for the wisdom and maturity to serve the community in ways that give glory to God, and please the God of infinite creativity. 

I would like that to be a point of emphasis. God is the creator of all. It was God who developed the forces of nature that resulted in the Big Bang, that might be the best explanation we have of the origins of our solar system. I am no expert in these discussions. 

What I want to emphasize is that God is continually being creative. God inspires the great and small, with words of hope - the voice of wisdom, and as we draw near to God, when we recognize that at every junction there may be only two manmade roads forward, but an infinite number of ways to turn as seen through the eyes of God. God is all about diversity, and choices, and rainbows, and love for one another. 

You have a new pastor on the way. You have a congregational history of ups and downs. Your committee was diligent and prayerful, and God will be with you. Thank God for the blessings you have received. Thank God for the opportunity you have to share God’s love of diversity in this time and place. Ask God for the wisdom to appreciate the gifted new pastor, and the future ministry you will begin together, that is already near but hidden from sight. 
Close with Psalm 111 

Psalm 111
111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.

111:3 Full of honor and majesty is (God’s) his work, and (God’s) his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 (God) He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 (God) He provides food for those who fear (God) him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

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