St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-19-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-19-2018

Mixed Messages

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I feel the need to mention, occasionally, that we follow the Revised Common Lectionary for our scripture readings here at St. Matthew’s. And I like to remind you every now and then that I like to do so; I find it challenging to preach on topics that aren’t on top of my list each week; it keeps me from getting into a rut; and the 3 year cycle does covermost of the various messages found in the Bible.

However, and I have mentioned this before; there are times when I feel the lectionary really lets us down; especially when the assigned reading for a Sunday skips parts that might seem insignificant to the text until, that is, you look closer.

Case in point; today’s Old Testament reading from the first book of Kings from which we heard chapter 2, verses 10-12, and then skipped to hear chapter 3, verses 3-14. With this break, we find a perfect example of how the scriptures can be misrepresented; misunderstood, and potentially misused when certain content of the story is omitted, ignored, or smoothed over.

What we heard in the reading, presented in this way, paints a sunny picture of the transition from David’s rule to Solomon’s as we move from following through the life of King David in 2nd Samuel to the reign of his appointed heir to the throne, Solomon. The first three verses of today’s reading tell us this. But what happens just before this is skipped over; and reveals a much darker tale.

In that part of the story, David chooses Solomon to rule after him, not the rightful heir, his eldest living son, Adonijah. David also instructed Solomon to kill his former enemies, ones that David himself had pardoned at the end of their rebellion. That’s not such a sunny start to the rule of Solomon is it?

Well, actually, it gets worse. In the part skipped over in today’s reading (between chapter2 verse 12 and chapter 3 verse 3) tells the part of the story where Solomon does kill the previously mentioned former enemies of David and adds the blood of his own brother Adonijah. Then he marries an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh; (not exactly keeping with “…the charge of the LORD God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies…”) as his father instructed him in 1 Kings chapter two verse 3. Add to that what we did hear today that is so easily missed: chapter three verse 3, “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The New American Standard Translation makes it more explicit, reading “…walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. Making sacrifices at “high places”, places other than where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, is not keeping with God’s commands and statutes.

Now, amid all this chaos, killing, and straying from God’s ways we hear the beautiful story of Solomon’s dream of a conversation with God in which he asks God for the wisdom to lead his people and is granted, not only wisdom, but health, wealth, and a long life as well!

It is, indeed, a beautiful story! And there’s another coming after this: the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. We’ll here the ending of that in next week’s reading as the Ark of the Covenant is brought in and the Temple is dedicated!

But, yet again, we will be skipping past a few other not-so-sunny parts of the life of Solomon. Like the part that tells us how expensive it was to keep his enormous household fed for just one day; (187 bushels of flour, 374 bushels of meal, ten fat oxen, twenty pasture-fed cattle, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl. (1 Kings 4:23)) And the fact that the Temple was built with forced labor; 30,000 men cutting cedar in Lebanon, 150,000 men in the hill country cutting stone and 3,300 supervisors to oversee the craftsmen and laborers.

Well, okay, they worked in shifts, 1/3 of them on for one month then 2 months off to do their work at home, but still…

Ironically, just to top it off, the man who built the Temple of the Lord, early in his time of rule is also the one who, in his later years, was led away from the God that granted him so much wealth and wisdom to other, false gods. It seems his fondness for foreign women, (not consistent with “…walking in [God’s] ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies…”) also brought a fondness for foreign gods.

 

It’s all such a crazy, mixed-up tale. All the wonder of God’s gifts to his people mixed with their unrighteousness; all the talk of how much the people love God stirred into their turning away from God; all the ups and downs, glory and shame, peace and war, poverty and prosperity jumbled together in one story; a story that we can learn so much from as we sort out all the mixed messages. And, we learn today, that we must be aware of how we view our heroes.

David, as I mentioned in an earlier sermon, is to this day revered as one of the greatest leaders of Israel; a hero of Jews and Christians alike. The same for Solomon whose remarkable wisdom and the building of the Temple make him a hero. Yet we must not think that everything they did was good, righteous or justifiable; they both had serious flaws! That is plain to see when we don’t cherry-pick our verses but, rather, read the whole story! There is no denying that!

Likewise, looking at the other side of that, we must be aware of how we view our enemies! For just as our heroes aren’t without flaw, our enemies (whoever we might count as such) aren’t always completely without righteousness!

It’s really easy for us to overlook the flaws of our Biblical heroes; it’s easy to skip past those parts of the Bible that don’t seem so nice or make us uncomfortable. Likewise, it’s easy to smooth-over the flaws of our living heroes. Even when undeniable, ugly facts are right in our face we will often remind ourselves of the grace of God and God’s forgiving nature to ease our pain when someone we love and admire commits atrocities against someone else or even ourselves.

On the flip side, it’s easy for us to point out the evil characters of the Bible; those we presume to be evil or those who God declares to be evil; and revel in their demise with thoughts of them getting what they deserve. Likewise, we tend to do the same with the undesirables in our world today.

But that is not why the Bible is given to us! That’s not how the stories are written and it’s not why they are written the way they are! We are given these crazy, mixed-up messages to challenge us to see all sides of the story; to open our eyes to the fact that life isn’t all a bowl of cherries and certainly not all black or white, good or evil; and neither are the people, the mere mortals who live in it.

We are given these wonder-filled stories to push us out of our comfort zone and give us the truths we need to live in a crazy, mixed-up world and to do so in a way that makes it less crazy and less mixed-up!

In reading the Bible it is important, then, for us to take it all in; the good, the bad, and the ugly and learn how to sort it out and deal with it! For, by doing so, we learn to be aware of the flaws of those we admire and love that we not be led astray, we learn to look for, and learn from, the good that can be found in all people rather than shunning everyone with whom we don’t agree, and we learn to deal with life itself.

Amen

 

 

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
2:10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.
2:11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
2:12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.
3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.
3:4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”
3:6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
3:7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
3:8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.
3:9 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?”
3:10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
3:11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,
3:12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
3:13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
3:14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

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 his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
111:5 He provides food for those who fear 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.

 

Ephesians 5:15-20
5:15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,
5:16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil
5:17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
5:18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
5:19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.
5:20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 6:51-58
6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
6:54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
6:55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”