Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflections on Ends and Beginnings– I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

We have come to the end of the story of David.  One might have expected David’s story to end in glory, but rather it ends with a bitter old man being manipulated by one political faction; and with David giving Solomon instructions for taking revenge on everyone who David considers an enemy.  It is not a very glorious end, David seems simply bitter and petty.  And for his part, Solomon’s start is not so glorious either. Solomon has to secure a lot of support in order to succeed to the throne, for he is not the next in line – his older brother Adonijah is the next in line.  So much of the text that surrounds today’s text is telling the story of how Solomon manages to outmaneuver Adonijah and then how Solomon eliminates all of his political opponents.  This part of the story is somewhat unpleasant and certainly is not very spiritually enlightening – or is it?  The fact is that God is still present with David as he ends his days and with Solomon as he begins his rule.  Both of these men are very flawed rulers; both of these men break the Law of Moses when it suits them; both of these men are very adept at playing politics.  But at the same time both father and son are sincerely committed to YHWH.
It is tempting for some believers to want to escape from the sinfulness of the world.  We have seen this down through the ages going all the way back even to the time of Jesus. Some have both believed and proclaimed that God is not to be found in the messiness of every day life; in the dirty processes of human life and interactions such as politics and interpersonal relations of all sorts; or in business or recreation.  So many people have attempted in escape this dirty world to a safe and secure and holy place like desert refuges or monasteries or enclosed communities of like believers.  And in these places people hope to find God.  The problem is that all too often the messiness of human life invades the holy places, and political intrigue, sinfulness and difficult interpersonal relations are just as prevalent in these escaped places. 
The modern version of this for a lot of us is to compartmentalize our lives – our work is there, our family is over there, our hobbies and sports go there and then in the corner we put God and church.  The difficulty with this compartmentalization is that it assumes that church and God are just one activity among others that we can pull down from the shelf when we need it.  Otherwise we try to keep the religious stuff from interfering too much with our lives, and we certainly try to keep our faith convictions apart from other activities.  At the root of all of this is the assumption that God is not interested in the human experience of life in all of its good and bad.  Like the people of old we want to relegate God to a special “holy” location and then lock God in there so God cannot interfere with our lives.
Every year at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the savior of the world whom we proclaim to be God incarnate.  For Luther the doctrine of incarnation is a foundational for it teaches us that God cannot be relegated to “holy” places.  In fact, God is not interested in “holy” places.  God is interested in the dirty, messy and wonderful ups and downs and struggles and celebrations of human life.  In Jesus, God enters into human life in a profound way.  Of course, God has always been interested in the human experience as we have seen in our series on David. But in Jesus God enters into our world in a different way – through human birth.  And, not only that, in order to make the point even more obvious the Gospel of Mark has two important events which frame the Gospel story: 1:10 (pew bibles – NT pg. 27) and 15:38 (pew bibles – NT pg. 41).  In the first passage Jesus comes up from the water after his Baptism by John and the heavens are ripped apart;  in the 2nd passage Jesus breaths his last breath on the cross and at that very moment the curtain of the temple, which separates the holy of holies from the dirtyness of the world, is ripped apart!*  God is interested; God is involved; God is present in every dimension of human life. God is interested, involved and present in every dimension of your lives!  You cannot put God up on a shelf and bring God down when it is convenient.  God is calling you to embrace the fact that God is a part of every aspect of your lives; that God knows you better than you know yourself and that God loves you, cares for you, is committed to you and will never abandon you.
There is another part to the lesson for today.  It is, I’m afraid a whole other sermon.  But let me just point out that Solomon’s sincere prayer for wisdom is a prayer which acknowledges that God is a part of life and that the wisdom for which Solomon prays is not something he wants for himself – it is something he asks God to provide him for the sake of the people.  The gifts that God gives to us are not for me alone.  Whether your gift is leadership, wealth, insight, musical or artistic, teaching, care-giving and on and on – these are gifts you have been given to give to others. 
The people who were part of the church in Corinth did not understand this.  They thought that whatever was theirs was theirs and they felt no obligation to anyone else.  Paul writes a strong letter making it clear in no uncertain terms that we, who are members of the body of Christ, are all a part of one another and that the gifts that God has given to us individually are given to the community through us.  This is what stewardship is all about!  Solomon’s prayer is a prayer of stewardship.  It is not just about money – though money is a part of it – it is about all of the gifts which God has given to us and how we use those gifts for the community; and how we give them away in our life in the church and in our daily lives.  As we move closer to the fall, which is the traditional “stewardship” time, I leave you with this question to ponder – what gifts have you been given by God?  And how are you giving them away and using them for the benefit of others in your family, your church and your community? 
* Mark is not alone in framing his telling the Gospel story with the Incarnation and the promise of God’s never-failing presence.  Matthew begins his Gospel with announcing the name of the child to be born as “Immanuel – God with us” and he ends with the great Commission promise – “lo, I am with you always.”  Both Luke and John, in different ways, proclaim the Incarnation at the beginning of their Gospels and conclude with resurrection appearances that make it clear that Jesus is still with us.
 Thanks to Peace Lutheran Church is Sioux Falls, South Dakota for these wonderful graphics and permission to use them.

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