Scripture: 1 Kings2:10-12, 3:3-14 & Proverbs 9:1-6
A box arrived in the mail, heavy and full of small purple parts. It was supposed to be a bike, at least that’s what was ordered. But looking at the jumble of purple metal shapes, it sure didn’t look like one. Now you’d think that this would be the point where I say, luckily, there was a lovely instruction sheet showing just how to turn those pieces into the desired bike. But it’s not because there was indeed an instruction sheet, but it was not in English, and from the pictures it contained, seemed to be for a completely different bike with little metal pieces shaped in very different ways.
It had totally been the smart move to buy this bike with “some assembly required.” It saved a good chunk of money, and online descriptions were so reassuring that assembly would be a breeze. There would be that pride that comes from making something with your own hands. That extra love included in the present. And okay, maybe some bragging rights too, because come on- making a bike. And beyond all that, I am a fairly smart person- no comments from anyone who disagrees here- and if Joe C. from Oregon can put this bike together in under a half hour, as the review claimed, then it should be no problem for me.
But looking at those little purple parts, confused as all get out, only now remembering that my crowning achievement in handiness at this point was that one time in junior high shop class I made a clip board that is still functioning, I realized that all my smarts were not going to save me now. And so, much like Solomon, I prayed a devout and lovely prayer for God’s wisdom. No, just kidding about that, I got frustrated, put the box in a closet, shut the door, and walked away. BUT, Solomon, on the other hand, when facing an overwhelming and complicated situation, did actually pray that prayer.
You’ll hopefully remember that we’ve been following the story of David most of the summer. And at the very beginning of the first scripture reading we hear in just a few words the end of it. David died. The NRSV says he went down and slept with his ancestors- a euphemism for death there, nothing else- in a very matter of fact, undetailed and undramatic way. Both the story bible we read and the actual lectionary scripture skip what happens next, partially because it makes the story incredibly long, partially because it’s unpleasant.
But since we’ve been following the story it’s important for us to know it all, so here’s a quick summary. Solomon doesn’t just become king quickly and easily as the verse left after the cutting out would have us think. What is left out is the section headed “Solomon consolidates his reign,” and it deserves the Godfather soundtrack playing behind it for proper effect. Solomon schemes, has his brother killed, and slaughters all of his enemies just to make sure that no one challenges the legitimacy of his reign as king. He marries the Pharaoh’s daughter- which he is not supposed to do, and he sacrifices at the high places- shrines of other religions, which again, he is not supposed to do. It’s not a pretty start to his leadership of the Israelites.
And you can also see, maybe, hopefully, now that you’ve gotten a bit more detail, that when God comes to Solomon in a dream and compliments him for not asking for wealth of the vanquishing of enemies- both of which Solomon has forcefully taken for himself or done already- God’s compliment might be a little tongue in cheek. Something like “Wow- shocker that you didn’t ask me for that stuff you did and I did see, Solomon.” There’s a bit of chastisement there, too, if you didn’t catch it.
And I hope you see already too, how much Solomon is like his father- both good and bad, righteous and ruthless, devoted to God yet deeply flawed. Just ascended to the throne he already has hands covered in blood. And yes, he makes the very good move of asking for wisdom when he could have asked for anything.
He was young- just a boy in his own words, probably around 20 years old and he found himself in charge of a whole country, 12 tribes a lot of whom didn’t really like the other tribes, who were often quarreling with each other, and who were constantly being threatened by larger, more powerful nations outside Israel. He had established his legitimacy, but he had a long way to go in figuring out the day to day complexities of being in charge of such a small, fractured, and often endangered nation. And yes, he was smart, clearly knowing how power works, at the very least. But his smarts weren’t going to be enough. He needed something more. He was looking at the box of little purple bike parts and realizing if he didn’t figure out what to do with them, how to put them together, how they could work together, he was just going to be left with a bunch of junk, not a functioning bike, or nation as the case may be.
He asks for wisdom, and I’m sure you all know by know many of the quippy ways wisdom can be defined- smart is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in your fruit salad, for example. But we’re actually going to look at our second scripture reading- remember that one?- for a more biblically sound definition of just what Solomon is asking for when he asks for wisdom, and just what we might hope to achieve if we too,
Because as our Proverbs reading reminds us, God wants to grant us wisdom too. In fact, God wants to grant us wisdom so much that wisdom personified as a woman here- is throwing a wisdom party and calling out in the streets to invite everyone to it. And besides food and drink she’s inviting everyone to share in herself, to share in wisdom. And her definition of wisdom breaks the word down for us a bit- insight and understanding. Both of those are words that imply something deeper than knowing- going beyond the facts, the jumble of bike pieces in the box or jumble of tribes making up Israel. Insight and understanding both go deeper to find what something really is, how it can be used, and work together with other things.
So, for example, smart is knowing the rectangular piece is a pedal, wisdom is knowing it’s the pedal can be part of a bike, and how a pedal works, and what other pieces need to be attached to it for all the pieces to work together in harmony. Smart is Solomon knowing he has to be accepted as legitimate for his power as king to be effective. Wisdom is knowing how to use that acceptance and power to build up God’s people into an enduring nation.
Smart for this congregation might be recognizing we have a lot of space to spare most days. Wisdom would be figuring out how that extra space can serve our community- like housing through room at the inn, or simple sharing of parking lot space to support the Mehlville high school cheerleaders. Smart is knowing what the average age of this congregation is. Wisdom is knowing the years of experience and expertise behind those numbers, and figuring out how that can be harnessed and used to help our neighbors- through gardening, tutoring, or feeding. Or in our lives outside this congregation, smart is knowing your neighbor’s names, wisdom is knowing and tending to their needs- maybe watering their plants when they’re away, being a listening ear when they have a loved one die, bringing them a meal when they’ve been ill. You see where I’m going here. You’re all smart people of course. And you all, and we all, would be wise if like Solomon, we prayed for God’s wisdom too.
Our lives are a lot like a box of purple bicycle parts.
They can be lovely, exciting, but we need wisdom to put them together and take shape towards God’s wise goal for us. And we need God’s wisdom, because without it we’re just sticking random pieces together and hoping they become something good. Or getting frustrated and quitting before we really even get going. But with God’s wisdom? We can really take shape, get moving, become who God intends us to be.
So use this opportunity to take stock of the pieces of you and your life- your talents, resources, passions, all you have and who you are. And follow Solomon’s wisdom in getting some help in learning how to use you. Ask for wisdom, ask how to be put together and be of best use to God. Our own individual and collective intelligence won’t be enough.
I never figured out how to put the bike together. I had and still have no idea how to make those pieces go together usefully. But I was smart enough to ask for help, from someone who did have that wisdom. And that bike is now together and loved. It brings joy and it really works and moves and everything.
*sorry all- the end of the sermon wasn't written! The general idea was to ask for God's wisdom , then go and do, sharing God's love with your community and the world. So, go and do!*