Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12). Based on 1 Kings 3:5-12.
Crown of Life Lutheran Church; Hubertus, WI. Preached on July 23 & 26, 2020.
What Do You Treasure Most?
The situation was as close to the classic “genie in a bottle” story as you could expect. Have you read that story to your children or grandchildren? Have you asked your kids what they would request if they were granted three wishes? Did they ask the same question back to you? What would you ask for? What if you weren’t given three wishes, but just one?
In the First Reading for today’s service, young King Solomon found himself in just that situation. It wasn’t fiction. It was a divinely-directed dream Solomon experienced just as was beginning his reign as king over ancient Israel. But there weren’t three wishes, and there was no genie. Instead, God himself offered Solomon one very big request—a request that would show what Solomon treasured most, and an account that will get us to think about what we treasure the most. Listen to our reading for today from 1 Kings 3:5-12.
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
Most Bible scholars believe that Solomon was not more than 20 years old when he took over the throne in Israel from his late father, King David. A high school senior is running the nation! And to that high school senior, God appears at night in a miraculous way and offers Solomon a blank check: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
What would you ask for? What if this offer from God didn’t happen 3,000 years ago, but tonight in your dreams? What would you use this blank check for? Financial security? Safety? Success? Good health, free from viruses and sicknesses? Peace and stability?
If God actually appeared to you in that way, and made the same offer to you that he made to Solomon, I don’t necessarily think we would default to a “greedy” request—e.g. millions of dollars to accompany a posh lifestyle. But even the things we would likely ask for still fall into the “gimme” category: “Give me money and safety and success and health and peace!” Why would that be? Why is it that if God gave us a blank check, we would look a little bit like lottery winners who drool and lust over what we can get for ourselves now. Why is it that our default response to God’s offer would almost certainly be a “gimme” request?
A few verses before today’s Second Reading (1 Timothy 6:17-21), Saint Paul wrote, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” It is safe to say that God has given us much, much more than only “food and clothing” for our daily existence. Hasn’t God blessed us, especially in this little corner of his world, with far more than enough for body and life? We have so many blessings that people rent storage garages in remote locations to house everything we own! And we would readily acknowledge that we have been richly blessed! Still, if confronted with the same offer God made to Solomon, why is it that we would almost certainly default to another “gimme” request?
Is there a greedy gremlin inside us that is never quite content with what we have because, for whatever reason we can justify to ourselves, we deserve better? Is there a misguided, immature child inside us who wants God to be the giver of every thing I want instead of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17) that he wisely chooses to give? Is there a sinful nature inside our hearts that sees earthly stuff as more valuable than the greater treasures of forgiveness of sin, salvation from death, and reconciliation with God?
If Solomon was in his late teens, we would almost expect an answer that lacked maturity. But by the grace of God, he gave a faith-filled response to God’s offer. “Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.’”
Young King Solomon did not selfishly jump for joy at God’s “blank check” offer. If anything, he marveled that God asked what he did! His first response was to point out just how much God had already given to him and his family:
- His Father David had the undeserved privilege of leading Israel. God was faithful to his promise to David and established his family line on the throne.
- In so many ways, David was a man who had a heart for the Lord, but he was still a sinful and flawed man. In fact, it was David’s own sinful behavior that, in an indirect way, put Solomon on the throne. Decades earlier, David abused his power as king and took a woman for himself who was rightfully married to another man. Solomon was a child of that marriage—and now Solomon was the God-chosen successor to follow David!
- Solomon looked at himself honestly in view of God’s offer. He was young and lacked the wisdom that only comes from experience. He was astounded to be in this position, which was yet another act of God’s faithfulness and grace!
With thanks and humble recognition of who he was—young and relatively insignificant—he turns to God and says, “Give me wisdom!” “‘Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’”
Now look back on the pages of your life. Has God been gracious and merciful to you? Has he given you more than the food, clothing, and shelter you need to survive? Has he blessed you in unimaginable ways that would make your ancestors amazed? Has he provided for you when times were difficult and you couldn’t see a way out? Has he been with you to guide you through life’s challenges and make you stronger through your experiences?
Did the Lord sign your spiritual adoption papers at the baptismal font and bring you into his family? Has God responded to your sins of selfishness and greed not with condemnation, but with his forgiveness and grace? Has he taken you into his Word and shown you how he sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to become just like us and life a life of holiness and selflessness for us? Has he astounded you with the depths of his Son’s sacrifice for sin that paid your penalty in full? Has he amazed you with the height of his Son’s power that defeated sin’s death-grasp for you by his resurrection from the grave? Has he taught you this knowledge that saves from his Word, and fed you with the comforting meal that presents you with the same body and blood of Jesus that won your salvation?
We answer all these (rhetorical) questions with a resounding, grateful, “Yes!” And since that is the case, why wouldn’t we ask God for the same wisdom that Solomon sought? For young Solomon knew that what he needed most was God’s wisdom! And what we need most is not more earthly blessings (valuable though they are), but the spiritual blessings we have in Christ and through God’s Word which are our greatest treasures of all! We need the wisdom of God’s Word, not to rule a nation, but to find our identity in Christ’s wounds, our peace through his empty tomb, and guidance for our daily life in his holy Word.
A humbled Solomon humbly asked for God’s wisdom. How did God evaluate his request? “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”
Solomon passed up many “gimme” requests to ask for wisdom. But wisdom was what he needed for the task before him, and the Lord gladly granted him this gift. And God just as gladly gives us wisdom for today! How glad God us to see us learn from his Word and be willing to set aside every request for earthly treasure for the treasure of his Word!
- Right now, world events distract us daily. But God’s gifts of grace for our soul are more important and valuable than any stimulus check for our bank account, or any vitamin or drug for our body.
- Right now, the world seems to have gone mad, and the headlines can be downright frightening. But God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ blood tells us that we need not fear the future, or his final judgment, or what lies next after this life.
- Right now, the world seeks after wisdom in the latest social theories and cultural gurus of the moment. But God gives you timeless wisdom in his Word with forgiveness new each day and divine guidance for every moment—all of which are more valuable than all the profits and treasures this world claims to offer.
Perhaps we need to take this moment and set everything else in our world aside. Stop staring at whatever this sinful world finds valuable, because the world is turning in on itself before our very eyes! Instead, fix your eyes on Jesus, his perfect footsteps, his tremendous sacrifice, his marvelous resurrection, his faithful promises that he keeps to you each day, and his unending mercy that he grants to you every day. These are treasures that no virus, no riots, no election, and no economic downturn can take away from you!
Yea, whate’er I here must bear,
Thou art still my purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!
(Christian Worship #349, last lines of stanza 5)