Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sermon from July 24, 2011; 1 Kings 3:5-15

Rev. George Miller
1 Kings 3:5-15
“Blessed are Those Who Know”
July 24, 2011

What is intelligence? How do we know what we know? And who gets to say that they know better?

Is an English professor smarter then a car mechanic? Is a care mechanic smarter then a fisherman? Is a fisherman smarter then a seamstress?

Who’s to say, but I know who I’d want to teach Hamlet, I know who I want to fix my car, I know who I want to bait my hook, and I know who I want to hem my pants.

What is intelligence? How do we know what we know? And who gets to say that they know better?

Reminds me of a pastor I knew. He was the kind who brought his definition of morality and clean living into the pulpit.

One Sunday he was so sure that he had created the perfect sermon illustration. He stood up with a jar of worms in his hand and “Behold!” in his best holier-then-thou voice, “See what happens when I place one of these worms into a glass of alcohol.”

The congregation sat enraptured as he plopped a hopeless worm into a fifth of vodka. It squirmed, it turned, and it floated to the bottom of the bottle, dead.

Proud of himself, the pastor took out an ashtray filled with cigarettes. “Behold what happens to this worm when it’s introduced to tobacco.”

He shoved a worm into the tray. It squirmed, it turned, and it was dead.

The sanctuary was silent. “And finally,” he said, taking out a bottle of vegetable oil, “Behold what happens when this worm is introduced to grease!”

He plopped the worm in. It squirmed, it turned and it floated to the top of the bottle, dead.

“Now,” the pastor said, so in love with himself, “Can anyone tell me what lesson God is trying to teach us today?”

It was so still, you could hear a Communion wafer drop. Until Old Lady Peggy chimed up “We should all drink, smoke and eat fast food so we won’t get worms!”

…..What is intelligence? How do we know what we know? And who gets to say that they know better?

I find the concept of intelligence to be fascinating. Some equate it with the ability to take tests. But that’s not really intelligence; that’s more the ability to spit information out.

Intelligence happens on many levels. Such as musical intelligence. How someone can look at lines and squiggles on a piece of paper and turn them into rhythm and song.

Athletic intelligence; how a child could pick up a football and know how to throw it and catch; how someone can hit a teeny tiny golf ball into a teeny tiny hole 100 yards away.

Street intelligence; how to walk the walk and talk and the talk; where to go, what to say, how to stand up and when to back done.

Perhaps intelligence is best replaced with the word wisdom because wisdom goes beyond facts and figures and brings into play ethics and emotions, reality and relationships.

Wisdom is a way in which one can experience the world and as Proverbs 1:7 states “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

Wisdom plays an important part in today’s reading. We just heard about Solomon, he who was King of Israel, son of David.

He was a man who was truly imperfect, who made his own share of mistakes, but he was also a man who sincerely loved the Lord.

One night the Lord appears to Solomon and offers him anything his wishes, anything at all.

…reminds me of a biker I knew in Sarasota who was one day riding along the coast when he heard God say “Because you have been faithful to me, I will grant you one wish.”

Immediately he said “Build a bridge from here to the Keys so I can go there whenever I want.”

The Lord replied “Your request is too materialistic. Think of the supports needed; the concrete and steal it would require. It’s an enormous task to undertake; it’s hard to justify such a worldly thing. Think of something that would honor me.”

The biker thought, then said “Lord, I wish that I could understand my wife. I want to know how she feels inside; what she’s thinking when she gives me the silent treatment; what she means when she says nothing’s wrong but I know something is. I want to know how to make her happy.”

And the Lord replied… “You want that bridge to have two lanes or four?”

…Wisdom. That’s what Solomon asks for; an understanding mind to govern the people, the ability discern between good and evil.

This so pleases God that not only is wisdom granted, but so are all the other things Solomon could have asked for, but did not.

Wisdom becomes a way for Solomon to be a better ruler and wisdom is one way in which people experienced Jesus Christ.

Wisdom was highly prized in Jesus’ day. In fact, for some people wisdom was the way to know God, be it scholarship, debates, storytelling.

God was not simply a thing or a magician or a being in the sky, but God was seen as thought and logic, reason and wonderment.

So for some people, when they experienced Jesus they would say “Behold, the Wisdom of God” or “Behold, the Word of God.”

The wisdom that Jesus displayed was extraordinary; it had to be for Mary to sit enraptured at his feet, for thousands of people to forget that it was dinner time, and for the Sadducees and Pharisees to continuously try to find ways to trip him up.

In fact, the earliest written collections about Jesus were not about what he did or who he healed, they were about what he said and taught; the wisdom that emanated from his very being.

Wisdom was a way in which Jesus made people feel as if they had truly encountered the living God.

And that wisdom is still alive today.

I believe that this is one of the most important teachings that I as a pastor can share because far too often we neglect the wisdom aspect of God and of our faith.

I hear people talk and pray and it’s all about what God has done or can do or should do. Which is all well and good and has its place in our religious life.

But unfortunately what I often get is a sense of God doing it all, as if all choice and ability to think for ourselves has been stripped away.

But wisdom? To embrace the Triune God as a source of wisdom is a way to experience the Trinity as co-participants in our lives.

If God is the source of all wisdom and Jesus is the embodiment of that wisdom, how can we better welcome wisdom into our lives?

Think of the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr, a UCC pastor: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Praying for wisdom in times of trials can be empowering because it moves one from feeling like a passive victim into feeling like a proactive victor.

For example, instead of asking that God sends one a job, it may help to ask for the wisdom to sit down, think about one’s skills and to go about creating a cover letter and resume that will get a person in the door.

Instead of asking God to solve a problem, it may be more helpful to say “Give me the wisdom to figure out the best possible solution.”

Instead of the Democrats and Republicans playing ‘My Budget is better then yours’, they could stop and ask “God, give us the wisdom to do what’s right for your people.”

Wisdom is not just a way to experience life, but a way to experience God because it further solidifies a relationship in which we are working with God, side by side, as opposed to being puppets on a string.

Sometimes we listen to God’s wisdom, but thank God for grace for those moments we do not.

Speaking of which, let me end with another story. Up in Michigan there was a woman named Mildred, the church gossip and self-appointed know-it-all who felt she alone had the smarts to monitor people’s actions.

Oh how Mildred stuck her nose in everyone’s business. Many people disapproved of her actions, but were afraid of the ramifications if they spoke up.

Mildred’s big mistake was accusing Stephen, a new member, of being an alcoholic.

She told people that she had spotted his car in front of the town bar and as she proudly boasted “Everyone knows what that means.”

Stephen, not being a man of many words, didn’t speak up to defend himself. He just turned to walk away.

Next Saturday, while everyone was asleep, Stephen very quietly pushed his car onto Mildred’s driveway and walked the 2 miles home, leaving it there on Sunday morning.

You can imagine what people thought and talked about as they drove past Mildred’s house on the way to church that day…

Wisdom. How do we know what we know? And who gets to say that they know better?

I know enough to know that I don’t know, and I am fine with that.

And I’m sure glad that we have a Savior who is the living wisdom of God, who teaches us how to love and calls us to be students of the Spirit.

May we all find ways to seek out and utilize that wisdom this week.


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