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"An Understanding Mind"
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
                 In preparing this sermon it occurred to me that we might label sermons on David and Solomon, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," which was a television program I never watched,  but my guess is that the program focussed mostly on how the rich and famous spend their time and money. 
    And exploring the lives of David and Solomon, I would hope, might yield more substantial returns that simply viewing how others experience the material world.
    But if you want the fun and games of celebrity events--and you can still find plenty of that in various publications and television programs--you might enjoy following celebrity marriages. 
    But you might notice in the coverage of these events, how little we find out about celebrities as PEOPLE.  Because they are very rich, and because many celebrity marriages tend to be rather short-term affairs--if you'll pardon the pun--the pre-nuptial agreements, which cover all the legal rights to the property holdings, receive more publicity than anything else that might be said about the supposedly happy couple. 
    Indeed, we do live in a material world.
    But let's return to the more interesting world, in my opinion, of David and Solomon.  Early in the first book of Kings, David's life, and his rule, end. 
    And in the tenth verse of the second chapter, we read, "Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David."
    And notice how differently the writer views death in the time of David than it will be viewed after a descendant of David's, Jesus of Nazareth, has come into the world.  In David's time death was a backward-looking event.  For us, as Christians, it is a forward-looking event.
    "The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem."
    Now, as you already know, David's reign is also covered in second Samuel.  And First and Second Chronicles also tell about the reign of David.  After Saul's death, the tribes of Israel gathered together under David and declared him king. 
    They defeated the Philistines, who'd been giving them trouble for years.  It was while David was king that Jerusalem was made the political and spiritual center of life in Israel.
    It was while David was king, while he was leading the armies of Israel, that the territory of Israel grew to its greatest size.  And during this time, Israel was THE greatest power in that part of the world.
    But David has now gone to sleep with his ancestors, and another takes his place.
    "So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established."
    Now, be careful how you read that.  It might be more accurate to say, "his kingdom HAD BEEN firmly established."  Because David did all the work.  Solomon merely inherited it from David. 
    And remember that David had been on the throne for forty years, which is a lot of time to "establish" a kingdom.
    But forty years isn’t necessarily all that long.  Many times people create businesses or farming or ranching operations very early in life and build and build on them across their lifetime, indeed for fifty and sixty years and more, to finally turn them over to others, often their children.  And, like David they must eventually die and go to sleep with their ancestors.  Nothing earthly is forever. 
    The time must always come when those who have established a position, whether a kingdom or a business or a farm, must turn it over to someone else.
    In the third verse of the third chapter of first Kings, we read that "Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places." 
    And we learn the reason for this in the preceding verse:  "The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD."
    "The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar."
    So what were these HIGH PLACES?  Well, actually, they were a throwback to other religions, pagan religions.  Since worshipers weren't sure WHERE their gods were, they chose places where their gods were most likely to see them worship. 
    And indeed, the symbol of the high place continued into the time of Jesus:  the sermon on the mount, the mount of the transfiguration, the mount of olives.  And we know that Moses met God on Mount Sinai, and Elijah talked to God on the mountain. 
    The writer Gore Vidal has referred, cynically, I might add, to the God of Judaism and Christianity and Islam as the "sky-God."  And although all of this may seem a bit primitive to us, I think that it is altogether appropriate for us to think of God as transcendant, and, in many respects, BEYOND us.
    Well, it is at a high place that a significant event occurs for Solomon.
    "At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."
    Now, this may seem unusual to us.  We're usually so busy asking that God doesn't have time to get a word in edgewise.  We don't hear God ASK us for our list.  We give it to him WITHOUT his asking for it.  But I suspect that God was worried about Solomon. 
    A new king was on the throne of Israel, and God suspected that Solomon needed some help.
    "And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today."
    And Solomon is recounting the relationship of God with David.  God responds to David's faithfulness, righteousness, and uprightness with a great and steadfast love.  And the sign that that love continues is evident in Solomon, a son, an heir, to sit on the throne.      And the irony here is that in response to God asking Solomon, "Tell me what you want," Solomon is THANKING God for what God has already given.  Could WE do that?  Could we begin our prayers of "please" with a prayer of "thank you"?
    But Solomon continues, "And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in."
    But let's not take this literally.  Solomon was not an actual "little child" in chronological years.  But he WAS a little child when it came to knowing how to handle a kingdom. 
    When he says, "I do not know how to go out or come in," he's telling God, "I'm not sure I know what I'm doing."  And I suspect that ALL of us, at one time or another, are in that situation.  We're lost.  We want somebody to tell us what to do.
    And Solomon continues, "And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted."
    This should remind us of the covenant with Abraham.  In the fifth verse of the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, "God brought Abraham outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." 
    Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
    Well, God seems to be keeping the promise.  But having kept the promise has created a problem for Solomon.  An embarrassment of riches.  I once read, and I believed it then and I continue to believe it, that every solution creates new problems. 
    Every answer raises new questions.     
    But Solomon does, finally, have something to ask of God:
    "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?"
    How many times have you thought to yourself, or even told your children as they were growing up, that they should know the difference between right and wrong?  It's EASY, right?  Nothing to it! 
    So here is Solomon, King of Israel, asking God for the ability to discern between good and evil.  Maybe it isn't as easy as we think.
    Well, God liked what he heard.  "It pleased the LORD that Solomon had asked this."
    Now, what does this tell us about the mind of God?  What IS it about what God hears that pleases God?  Now, some might say that Solomon isn't asking for much.  But on the contrary, I think that Solomon is asking for a LOT!  Isn't he asking God, "Help me make it through this LIFE, in my every thought, in every decision I make.  Always be there when I need you."  Can it be that God is pleased when we make the heaviest demands on God?  Yes, I think so!  Put quite simply, God wants our FAITHFULNESS! 
    God WANTS to be with us at all times, and wants US to be with him.  God WANTS to show God's steadfast love.
    "God said to Solomon, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word."
    And this should give us a pretty good idea of God's sense of values, of what God thinks is important.  God noticed that Solomon did not ask for a long life.  God noticed that Solomon did not ask for wealth.  God noticed that Solomon did not ask for military power.  Now the question is, Was God quick to respond because of what Solomon did NOT ask for or because of what he DID ask for?  I suspect a bit of both.      And I also suspect that God is telling us what is pleasing to him when we ask something of him.
    "Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you."
    Wow!  What a gift!  Obviously, if we follow Solomon's example, we can't receive the same thing.  We've already been excluded.  But I don't think that's the point. 
    Rather, the point is that to the extent that we are pleasing to God in what we seek from God, God will abundantly bestow upon us even MORE than we ask. 
    I have never wanted to be rich.  Rich people don't strike me as being any happier than I am; they just have more stuff.  But I have noticed that when I want something from God, and it is pleasing to God to let me have it, I receive it in abundance. 
    God really worked miracles getting me through seminary.  But that's another story.
    God goes on to tell Solomon in a surprise ending to this story, "I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you."      And didn't Jesus tell us, in the thirty-third verse of the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, "...strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
    So Solomon is given wealth and power without asking for it!  But one final touch:
    "If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life."
    And all because Solomon asked, "Give your servant an understanding mind."  May our prayers be likewise.

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