Year A, Pentecost 8 July 26, 2020
Early in the quarantine, we purchased Disney Plus. Every Friday night is movie night and Joshua gets to pick out the movie. Early on, he got obsessed with Peter Pan and we watched every iteration of Peter Pan you can imagine. I finally got him to watch Aladdin recently. If you haven’t seen it, Aladdin is a poor young man who falls in love with a princess, but can’t marry her because he isn’t a prince. Then he finds this lamp with a genie and gets to make a wish…any wish. He of course wishes to be a prince so that he can marry the princess. Of course, that is not the end of the story, but you get the idea.
There is no genie in any of our readings for today, but God poses a genie like question to King Solomon in our Old Testament reading. God comes to King Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask what I should give you.” It sounds too good to be true. It must be a trick question. God doesn’t usually give people this option. It’s usually him deciding what we need or us asking for something and waiting for an answer.
King Solomon doesn’t seem surprised by the question, maybe because it was a dream. Whenever a weird thing happens in a dream, it always seems totally logical. Solomon started by praising God for his love and the way he treated his father, King David. He praised God for keeping his promise to David and allowing Solomon, his son, to take the throne. Then Solomon admitted that he was inexperienced and didn’t know very much—but he was given this big and important job. It’s a nice little speech, especially for a dream. It almost sounds like he is buttering God up, preparing for a really big and outlandish request. But then he comes out with this, “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?” It’s not just wise, it’s also an extraordinary display of humility.
When most people tell the story of King Solomon and this request, they say that he asked for wisdom. However a better translation of the Hebrew is “a listening heart.” He asked for a listening heart. He could have asked for anything: long life, a strong nation, vanquishing enemies, wealth….. But no, he wanted a listening heart, so he could govern God’s people and know the difference between good and evil. That is amazing, especially given the fact that he was probably 15 or 20 years old at the time. How many of you would ask for a listening heart? You get one request (not 3 like you would a genie). Would you ask for that? I don’t think I would…maybe if I had just preached on this text, but otherwise, probably not.
Yet when I think about it, that would be really helpful. Having an understanding mind or a listening heart means that you are open to God’s divine direction. There have been so many times in my life when if I just listened to God the first time, things would have gone so much more smoothly. And if I had this wisdom, I would never be indecisive. Every decision would be clear…at least that is the Disney version of wisdom. I think in reality, it’s probably a little more complicated.
We get a little more elaboration on this request when God reflects the question back to Solomon. He is of course delighted that Solomon didn’t ask for success or wealth. God responded, “but you have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right…” That is actually slightly different than what Solomon asked for. If you go back to the Hebrew, you will find that the word God used—is justice. God said, “You have asked to hear justice.” I wonder if Solomon got a little more than he bargained for. Wisdom is one thing. Hearing justice, acting justly, is quite another. It’s one thing to be a person who can dispense wisdom. It is quite another to be a person who can hear the cries of the oppressed, hear the cries of the people who are being denied justice and then act on their behalf. That is what God wanted of King Solomon; that is what he wanted of every ruler. Think about it, if you could just pick one description of your perfect leader—what would be better than someone who hears justice, God’s justice?
That was God’s gift to Solomon. Solomon didn’t earn this from years doing the job. It was a gift. Most of us do not have a direct line to God’s justice, although I think there are some who think they do. But honestly, I am not sure any of us really wants that, because that would be a hard life. God’s justice is rarely the popular option. It is not determined by public opinion polls. Even King Solomon, who was given this amazing gift, ended up chasing false idols. Even he failed to live up to God’s view of justice.
Maybe until we are strong enough to be the hearers and carriers of God’s justice, perhaps we can go with that first request that King Solomon made, having a listening heart. That means that we truly listen to God, which isn’t east. Sometimes it is hard to determine if it’s God talking, or me just talking to myself. One way I have discerned God’s voice from my own is that if it’s easy, it’s probably me talking. A good step toward a listening heart, is to listen to one another—specifically to those who disagree with you, or who you disagree with.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of topics out there that people are disagreeing about right now. Masks, schools opening, the protests, the upcoming elections, confederate monuments and memorials…just to name a few. Or if you are not ready to wade into that rather choppy water, watch a different news station than normal. If you usually watch Fox News, watch CNN—for a whole week! If you are devoted to the New York Times, read the National Review….for a whole week! It sounds like a small thing, but it’s a start. When God created us, he didn’t use a mold. God’s intention was never for us to think exactly alike. It seems to me, that the more children of God we listen to, the better we can listen to God, the better we can hear God’s justice.
I have enjoyed watching most of the Disney movies. It’s been a good escape and I think we have all needed a little escapism lately. Yet I often find myself dreading the time when Joshua learns that the world is nothing like Disney. It’s not always Happily Ever After. Yet as Paul reminds us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” That is one thing we have in common at St. John’s. We all love God. We want to work for his purpose. So let’s listen to one another—because that will enable us to do the work God wants us to do. There is a happily ever. It’s not Disney. It’s what Paul tells us, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers…. nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”