This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 8/15/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
Can you think of a time that you made a wish? We’ve all done it, right? You’re supposed to make a wish when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. Or when you see a shooting star. Or when you find a lamp in a cave and this weird blue creature who speaks with the voice of Robin Williams starts singing and… Oh wait, that was a Disney movie.
Anyway, think back to a time when you made a wish. What was it?
Now think again. Imagine you have another chance to make a wish. But this time, you know it’s going to come true. Whatever you ask for will be yours.
What is it? What would you ask for?
In our reading this morning from First Kings, Solomon has just become king of Israel, succeeding his father David to the throne. He’s very early in his reign. He’s just settled some old accounts and secured his position in the very dicey transition of power from monarch to monarch. And it says that his kingdom is now firmly established.
Solomon was a man who sought the Lord, who came before God in prayer. And God appeared to him one night in a dream and said to him: “Ask what I should give you.”
Imagine you’re Solomon. What would your answer be?
Solomon’s answer is surprising. It’s surprising, because it is not some variation on the theme: “More.”
Because that’s what most of us want, most of the time. “Give me more.” More of whatever it is we have. More money. More autonomy. More attention. More success. More, more, more – give me more.
It shows a lack of imagination, doesn’t it? It’s easy to see life in terms of what we already have. Or maybe the things that others have, that we want.
Solomon shows he has a keen imagination. He has a healthy sense of his own limitations, an awareness of the impossible. And Solomon realizes that he already has enough. He doesn’t need more. What he really needs is the ability to deal rightly with that which God has already given him.
Solomon realizes that more important than riches or armies or palaces or wives, the most important thing that he has in his care is the people of Israel, God’s own chosen nation. He understands that God has established him as king, not for his own pleasure or vanity, but to serve as God’s instrument – to be a shepherd to his people, guided by the Lord. And so Solomon asks God for wisdom.
And the text says that God is very pleased with Solomon’s answer. God grants him not only greater wisdom than anyone else before or since, but also all the other things that he might have asked for, but didn’t: Riches, honor, and a long life.
What would you ask for? I want to say that I would ask for wisdom, just like Solomon. But am I being honest with myself?
What are we, as a community, asking for? When God says to us in the silence, “ask what I should give you,” what is our response?
Do we ask for more? Bigger? Better? Do we ask God to baptize our own will, the choices that we have already made, the assumptions that we already have? “God, we already know what we want. We’ve already made up our minds. Just make us successful!”
The wisdom of Solomon is knowing that what we have isn’t the point. What we want isn’t necessarily what God wants. And what feels good in the moment isn’t necessarily what God blesses.
Early Quakers understood this. Wisdom, discernment, a humble seeking of God’s will, this was at the heart of their faith. Early Quakers believed that God’s leading is more likely at work when we feel called to things that we don’t want. Because God’s will is not about our personal pleasure, or even our beliefs about how the world ought to be. Discerning God’s will involves releasing our own desires and allowing God to show us his desire for us in this particular moment and circumstance.
Solomon was the wisest king that Israel ever had, because he understood priority – that which comes first. Solomon knew who he served. He knew that his first calling was to obey the voice of God. His responsibility was to serve the people of God, whom he had been given authority to shepherd.
As followers of Jesus, we know an even wiser king than Solomon. We know a shepherd who is even more reliable. We know a person who has laid down his life and his ego to be a good shepherd to us. And because Jesus has laid down everything to embody the wisdom of God, God has given him everything, lifting him up to the highest position in the cosmos and making him king of kings and lord of lords.
What will you say when God speaks in your heart: “Ask what I should give you”? Will you be like Solomon, aware of your responsibility to shepherd the sheep, to care for the people, to move as Jesus leads, so that the whole body can be built up?
“Ask what I should give you.”
Lord, give us wisdom. Lord, teach us to follow you. Teach us to serve and shepherd one another as you lead us. Lord, bless us as a community that listens for your will, abides in your love, and seeks first your kingdom. Amen.