“When a foreigner comes”

File:King-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg

Wednesday

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

42When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name.

If you are cynical, you will hear Solomon praying that his temple might be the greatest on earth – and his god the most renowned. And maybe that’s all that Solomon had in mind – or all that the author who composed Solomon’s prayer imagined. But there is a seed, here, a deep and profound seed, that will grow into Christ gathering all nations into the peace of God.

This happens often in life where a chance word is later seen to have much deeper truth lying within. It’s why psychologists and psychiatrists pay attention to random associations. It’s why we catch a spouse or a friend saying, “See, that’s what you really mean.” It’s why a song I wrote the week before my wedding seemed to portend things I didn’t consciously understand until the marriage dissolved. It turns out I did know what I was getting into; I just didn’t know I knew.

So even if Solomon’s noble prayer is shallow with self-interest – the depths are there. And scripture can’t escape them. God is the God of all. Not just Israel. Not just the church. Not just the believing. Not just any subset of humanity. God hears the prayers of all.

Of course, the other shallow water to be avoided is the notion that it doesn’t really matter what you call God because there is only one God of all. But it does matter what you call God, because what you say of God shapes our encounter with God. So Solomon doesn’t pray to a nameless divine power, but to the God whose name is LORD, who walked with Abraham promising to bring blessing to the world. This God named LORD wrestled with Jacob and inspired Joseph and called Moses to lead a people out from bondage. This God named LORD spoke laws that may seem archaic to us, but were radical justice and mercy in their day (and still today for those with ears). This God named LORD raised up prophets and a king named David who sought a world at peace and planned for a temple where all came to pray and rejoice.

And we can look at it all and imagine it self-serving, but the words remain and their depths emerge and the prophets push the insight further, and then a child is born who is called Son of David and Son of God who pushes the boundaries yet further, gathering the outcast and the foreigners. And God vindicates this Son of David, reversing his death sentence, and his Spirit flows out upon his followers and they are baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles, beginning with a Centurion named Cornelius. Paul takes the Gospel to the center of the Mediterranean world – embodying the commission to make students to Jesus of all nations.

And we still fight, in our frail and unredeemed humanity, about who should be allowed in and kept out, but the truth is that whether Solomon realizes it or not, he is praying that God will hear every prayer and all the earth will sing God’s praise. We build walls, but God builds an altar where all may be fed – and a holy city where the light never fails. And again and again God bids us all come to pray and to learn and to feast at God’s table.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKing-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Choosing well

Wednesday

1 Kings 3

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Icon of King Solomon in the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night.

When we in the modern West hear an opening sentence like this, it sounds to us like “Once upon a time.” It is the introduction to a fairy tale.

We don’t trust dreams. They are not, for us, windows into the divine. They may be windows into the inner workings of our psychology, they may be voices of the subconscious, but they are not the voice of God.

Most of us don’t remember our dreams. Few of us pay attention to them. But most cultures do. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, dreamt dreams that revealed the future. And Joseph, husband of Mary, dreamt dreams that saved the life of the child Jesus. We may hear them as children’s stories, but the ancients did not. Solomon has an authentic encounter with the divine – and what comes from that encounter is of great import.

5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”

There at the climax of the swiftly moving events surrounding David’s death, there in the tumult and political machinations over which of David’s many sons will gain the throne, Solomon emerges victorious. Nathan the prophet plays a part. Bathsheba plays a crucial role. Her son Solomon is not the eldest son. She is not the first wife. But racing to install him as king before Adonijah seizes the crown, they succeed in setting Solomon on the throne.

And why? Why should the kingdom go to another? For the next 400 years in Judah the crown will go to the eldest son. In the northern kingdom of Israel it will be different. There, coups and counter coups, rivalries and butcheries will be the pattern of power. But not in the southern kingdom. There it will be more or less orderly.

But David chooses Solomon. And where will God come down in this succession struggle? Will he side with the younger son, or will God side with the claims of heritage and social norms?

“Ask what I should give you.”

Much hangs on this question. Will Judah’s kingship pursue the familiar quest for glory, wealth and power? Or will Judah’s kingship journey towards a different goal?

Will God stand with Solomon if he chooses wealth and power? Or will God turn from David’s line as God turned away from Saul?

In this night Solomon is being tested, probed, questioned. Who will he show himself to be? What path will he choose? It is another narrative like Jacob wrestling God at the river Jabbok, or Abraham taking Isaac to the mountain. This is not royal propaganda; the heart of Solomon is being weighed. And the fate of the nation lies in the answer.

We are all tested. At some time or another choices have to be made, prayers are offered, a path chosen. And what shall I choose? What goal do I pursue? To what end do I lay down my life?

Solomon chooses wisdom; he chooses the care of his neighbor; he chooses the path that begins with the fear of the LORD.

The point of the story isn’t that Solomon got his cake and ate it, too; the point is that Solomon, who could have chosen anything, chose wisdom. He was tested at Gibeon and chose well.

Such a story doesn’t simply praise Solomon; it pries into our own hearts and asks how we have chosen – inviting us to choose anew today.

The wise see

Watching for the morning of July 27

Year A

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

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Mustard seedling. Photocredit: Tess Watson

What you see now is a mere seed, but from the smallest of seeds, a surprising end awaits.

Jesus was not much to look at. He was not a member of any ruling family. He had no noble blood or title. He was a carpenter’s son, after all, perhaps a stonemason; he worked construction. What few could see was that he would be building a new world, a living temple, a true humanity.

We think of Solomon in all his glory – 500 wives and concubines and the wealth of the nations. But his prayer was for wisdom. Wisdom to rule wisely. Wisdom to understand the world God had fashioned. Wisdom to understand the meaning of life. Wisdom that begins in the commands of God.

Perhaps the narrative of Solomon at Gibeon is nothing more than political propaganda, but if so, it is propaganda that has become scripture. The king who follows David, the king who will carry forth the plan of building a holy nation and temple, should ask above all for wisdom. Kingships stand or fall on whether they seek the glory of the king or the glory of God – justice and mercy and care for the poor. Should Solomon seek wealth and power or a just nation that attends to God’s commands?

And so the psalmist adds his voice to these texts for Sunday, singing praise of that true wisdom which God has embodied in the Torah: God’s law, God’s teaching, God’s path for the people.

Wisdom sees what is of true value: the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, the home for the birds that shall grow from the tiniest seed, the reign of God that is hidden in humble beginnings of the man from Nazareth. Those who are wise will give everything to gain it.

The Prayer for July 27, 2014

O God, your promises never fail
and your purpose for the world
will be brought to its fulfillment in Christ Jesus.
Grant us wisdom to recognize the riches of your grace
and to live now the joy that awaits us;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 27, 2014

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” – After David’s death, Solomon gains the throne and comes to worship at the ancient holy site of Gibeon where he asks God for wisdom.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:129-136
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” – In a majestic tour de force in praise of God’s law/teaching/word, the poet celebrates the guiding commands of God in 22 8-line strophes that proceed from Aleph to Taw (A to Z) with each of the 8 lines in every strophe begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Second Reading: Romans 8:26-39
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
– Paul’s argument that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ by God’s favor (grace) apprehended by our trust in his promise (faith) now culminates in an ecstatic declaration that nothing in the heavens or on earth can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” – From unlikely beginnings – a tiny seed, a bit of yeast – comes an extraordinary end, so it is with the reign of God. What is sown looks frail and powerless – a Galilean rabble and a crucified ‘messiah’ – but from it will come an exceptional harvest. Like a merchant finding a priceless pearl or a farmer finding a great treasure, the wise will do all in their power to obtain it.