While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Wisdom Going Forward
The wisdom of Solomon is legendary. It has influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Our reading from 1 Kings today is where it all began.
There’s an order here: King David was faithful, mostly, and loved God passionately. Solomon started there, with deep commitment to God and when he became king he demonstrated his character by asking God for the gift of wisdom.
He had seen his father David divide his own kingdom by following his whims and appetites, by being self-serving over and over. So, Solomon asked for the ability to rule wisely; to serve the kingdom well; to do what was best for others.
That request suggests he had a good basis for wisdom already. He understood the relationship between a ruler and the people; that the ruler is there to help the nation; that the nation isn’t there to take care of the ruler.
The end result, we are told, was the beginning of a golden age. Solomon expanded the kingdom of Israel to the largest extent it ever achieved. He was revered by other rulers for his wisdom; he had treaties with a record number of other rulers which is why he had so many wives. (That was how you did treaties in those days: you connected your households by marriage and hoped your in-laws wouldn’t invade.)
It may not have been perfect. When Solomon died the people wanted his son to reduce taxes and he refused, which led to the dividing of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. But while Solomon was alive, things ran well.
Solomon’s wisdom included the ability to think ahead, to plan for the long-term benefit of his people. That’s why he was able to build up his kingdom into a small economic powerhouse. It took years but he was granted a long life, so that worked out well.
Maybe we could do with some long-term wisdom today.
This past week has seen two significant things: the publication of a report on climate change that warns us that it’s too late for many things and that we have to work really hard just to slow down the results of the things we have done in the past; and the serious threat of a federal election for September 20th.
The climate change issue calls for wisdom: long term thinking and planning for decades ahead – the kind of profound understanding that made Solomon legendary.
Our democracy creates a fertile ground for short-term thinking, for the kind of ideas that get politicians elected for a short four-year term, where decades long plans are hard to sell, so most don’t even try.
This doesn’t mean that we should ditch democracy and install a king or tyrant instead.
It does mean that we need to take our own role in this seriously. The call for wisdom is landing on our shoulders. People are supposed to be at the heart of a democracy, not any particular party or ruler. So, it falls to us to develop the wisdom we need to rescue the future for the generations who will inherit the Earth.
That suggests to me that this upcoming election is an opportunity to let every candidate running in every riding know what we think needs to be done: what steps are required for the future.
As Christians, we have always expressed the belief that this is God’s world and depending on which parable we read, we may end up in the role of the bad tenants if we’re not careful. You remember: the ones the king evicts “with extreme prejudice”; the ones who treated the property as if it were their own and who were utterly selfish and greedy.
Wisdom, in scripture, is often portrayed as having a life of its own: setting feasts, being utterly equipped to run things smoothly and generously.
Wisdom always reminds us that God is at the heart of things, that we can’t make ourselves the focus of life. Solomon knew that right from the beginning of his rule and he was an exceptional ruler as a result.
If we want our rulers to show wisdom then we have to show them the way; we have to demonstrate our commitment to long-term care of God’s earth.
We have to call leaders to long-term thinking and planning however much it is against the nature of the system we have created. And we have to inspire them to work cooperatively, however much it is against the nature of our adversarial system.
For quite some time now we have lived in a society where excessive consumption has been celebrated; where we are encouraged to be selfish. And we are reaping the results, as the weather changes and as our world suffers around us: as more of God’s wonderful creatures are threatened or become extinct.
It may feel overwhelming when we hear these reports, but we are not powerless.
We can learn about things we can do personally. That is one part of the process that makes sense to many people: the changes we can make to our homes and vehicles; to our life choices.
But we can also learn about bigger things – the issues we normally consider beyond our reach. Because they AREN’T!
We get to choose the government and we get to tell them what the priorities should be. They’re not all-powerful, of course, but they can do a lot as our representatives. If enough of us “ordinary citizens”
tell them what we consider important, we can inspire them to stretch outside their comfort zones, we can inspire them to wisdom: to be good rulers; to make long-term plans; to consider the needs of the next generations, maybe even seven generations, if we wish to borrow Indigenous wisdom.
If we become cynical; if we simply accept that the system we have will always lead to short-term results, then we will change nothing.
But as people of faith, people who believe in a higher perspective, a perspective that sees whole centuries and makes deep, long-lasting plans . . .
As people of faith we have a call to hope; a call to seek wisdom and to bring it to whatever we do, even to the job of governing ourselves. We don’t have to accept a future of gloom and disaster. We can require our leaders to work for a better future regardless of political stripe.
Solomon was wise enough to ask for wisdom to help all his people; not just his friends or favourites; not just his family or tribe.
We can ask our leaders to be wise, to help all the people and the planet just as Solomon did. And an election is the perfect time to do that.