We ended last week with David grieving. This David, that we’ve spent all summer getting to know, was first introduced to us as a shepherd, too young to be taken seriously, until the prophet Samuel walked by all of Jesse’s sons and anointed him the chosen one. This David, with whom God’s presence was so clear in the early days, walks by soldiers trembling across from the armies of the philistines, and their giant Goliath. He strolls out with a sling and a couple of stones, striking the giant down. David waited patiently, as Saul, the previous king, stumbles, his reign crumbling.
The arc of ascent was steep, with David anointed as King over Judah, then all Israel, the kingdoms united. He brings the great Ark of the Covenant, the very symbol of God’s presence, back in a magnificent parade of tens of thousands, into the city of David, now named, Jerusalem, into the tent that would become the great temple. David danced, with joyous abandon, and the people did, too. Then, at the heart of this amazing collection of stories, this historical narrative, this theological remembering, is a promise. A covenant between God and David, in the mouth of the prophet Nathan. It is in II Samuel 7 the narrative finds its heart:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to prince over my people…I have been with you wherever you went…" Like covenants made to the people through folks like Abram, Isaac, Jacob, to Moses, Joshua. The prophet also points beyond, saying that God will bless not only David, but: "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom…"
Too soon after this magnificent promise King David, the beloved one, begins to seem very, very human. He is caught up in power struggles, takes possession of another man’s wife, Bathsheba, sending her husband to the front to be killed. Later children of David are caught up in dysfunction, siblings warring against each other, one son, Absalom, leading a rebellion that David’s own troops must beat back. In this rebellion, and against his father’s wishes, Absalom is killed. Last week Davis Bingham as our lector read for us so beautifully this gut wrenching narrative, ending with David on his knees, weeping, "Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son." Many more things happen in the chapters following, but David never recovers. Grief does this to us, especially with a child. He then makes some decent decisions, does kind things, makes mistakes. He praises the Lord and looks to his own death. But, at least as I read it, it feels like David’s heart is gone.
As the book of I Kings begins David is close to death, and must clarify which of his sons shall succeed him. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, is chosen. "Then," as today’s first text begins, one crucial chapter in the life of the people concludes and another begins: "David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned for seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem."
Solomon quickly secures his reign. He marries the daughter of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. Then in the second text Mary Beck read, Solomon is offering a sacrifice, and up at this high place he falls asleep. As he sleeps he has an encounter, and God asks the king what he wants: ‘Ask what I should give you.’ I want to stop here in this extraordinary moment. ‘Ask what I should give you.’ What would you ask for? I don’t know what I’d come up with if confronted by God like this. I’d mess it up and start too small, for grass to grow in the part of my yard that it won’t ever grow, for a new bathroom upstairs because our shower could be better. Then, as I settled in, I’d ask for health for my family, maybe some hopes and dreams about who my kids will grow up to be. I like to think I’d get around to thinking about the embarrassing rates of child poverty in Durham, close to 30%, or about global conflicts in Syria and Iraq, bleeding into each other. Hunger in huge swaths or our world. Pretty soon I’d have too many wishes to count, overwhelmed by the choices. ‘Ask what I should give you.’
Yet Solomon, already gifted, asks for wisdom. He’s young, and knows he has a lot of work ahead of him, and he asks for, "an understanding mind," able "to discern between good and evil." The Hebrew has a lot going on here, but this is much deeper than intelligence, then smarts, than good decision-making. The word for understanding here is SHEMA, which is more about listening, and is also the same word as the portion of Deuteronomy 6 known as the ‘Shema,’ the great prayer our Jewish brothers and sisters say today, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone," language that shapes the people still. Solomon asks to be able to listen for God, to hear God’s will, to be able to receive God’s guidance as he makes decisions. God loves this, and this text seems to be holding Solomon’s prayer out as an example. God is so excited God not only answers his prayer, but piles on riches and honor and a long life, the stuff most of us would have asked for to begin with. Solomon doesn’t ask for something for himself, but something that will allow him to benefit others, as they all seek to serve God.
We may not get attempts like Solomon had, king of a nation, to choose anything we want. But, I do think this text gives us something of framework for the kinds of decisions God calls us to make. When he had a chance to grab something for himself, he chose something that would benefit others, something that he would use to serve God. On a smaller scale, we get this chance every day. Each day God places opportunities in front of us, decisions to make, where we will go, what we will do, how we will spend our time, our money. We make these decisions, these stewardship decisions – how we will be stewards of the gifts God gives. And our instinct, almost all the time, is to shrink back. We don’t discern, don’t listen, we spit back: I’m too busy. My plate is full. We can’t afford to help. I can’t do another thing. I don’t even know if I have those gifts. And the lists form and we are tired already and we want to shut it all out.
But it is in these moments when Solomon must inspire us. Who will we be FOR? The world doesn’t work, society doesn’t work, neighborhoods don’t work, churches surely don’t work, without EVERYONE stepping in and doing their part, leaning in, listening, and more often saying YES instead of NO. Democracy depends upon us all being informed and active, voting and going to meetings instead of sitting around and moaning (which is what I most often do), about how government doesn’t work and both parties stink. Neighborhoods don’t work without us offering to cover the mail or the trash while someone is gone, listening, tending to the people around you so you can step in when things get hard. Churches don’t work without everyone stepping in. Everyone. We finished up officer training last week, and a good number of those 13 people who said YES when the nominating committee called had a little anxiety. But they realized that a committee of their peers must have thought they had gifts, that they were called. We have a number of openings for Church School teachers, because we’ve had some folks who have taught for a long time take a break and we have split some classes because we have the gift of a ton of kids. But making this crucial experience, where children of all ages are nurtured and told the stories of God, kids that will grow and shape our church and the world, takes a lot of people. Whether it’s Church School or a volunteer team or working for IHN or Urban Ministries, it takes ALL OF US, to step in, to step up, to follow, to listen to Christ’s call and risk. Often we don’t know what we are to do or what exactly will be required. But I don’t know of anything worth doing in life that we agree to do when all of the details are nailed down. Yet, the call is to follow, to live in the example of Solomon, being willing to risk the journey, trusting God will give us what we need. But none of any of it works if our gut response to any request, from the church or from your school or any other social organization, from a friend or family member, if our gut response is NO instead of YES. We are called to do more together, but not for US. For others, we all seek to serve God.
Lucas Hobbs is 12 and earlier this year finished chemo for stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. When he was asked by the Make-A-Wish foundation to wish for basically ANYTHING, he didn’t ask to go to Disneyland or meet Lebron James, he commandeered a fleet of food trucks and chose to feed people. He took them to his church, and served people who had supported and prayed for him. He then drove to the children’s hospital where he had laid, exhausted from chemo, not wanting to eat anything, and served up food to as many doctors and nurses and staff as would come out, he then went up to patients on the floors. He named some dishes he created, a special hot dog after his oncologist. He then went to the police station and fed our public servants. He could have chosen so many other things, and I would not have blamed him, he could have been angry 12-year-old asking "why me?" as he was recovering from this horrible illness, but instead, he chose to share those gifts, for others.
God offered anything Solomon wanted. He chose wisdom, so he might serve. As we go about our days, might we look for ways to be FOR others. Ways we might say YES to the God who loves us and claims us and calls us to serve.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. Amazing stuff from II Samuel 7:4-17.
2. II Samuel 18:33.
3. "Minnesota Boy Uses Make-A-Wish to Feed Hospital That Saved Him," NBC News, August 5, 2015.