Weekly Preaching: August 15, 2021

August 11th, 2021

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 is just a laugh-out-loud text – and preachable. We want to call BS on the writer. But he knew. Isn’t he winking at us with all this? Solomon has the numbers, uber-impressive – but somehow he’s a bore. And theologically, he’s a fake. “He loved the Lord. But, he sacrificed at the high places.” Anything to get ahead. A very modern kind of guy. And leader. I guess you could say we are all mixed like this. We love God; we fail God. We are holy; we are horrible. So the moral of such a sermon would be… what? Be like good Solomon, not bad Solomon?

Don’t you hear the pretend humility in verse 7? “I’m only a child.” Precocious child, that is. He asks not for riches but “an understanding mind.” God is tickled! And gifts him not only with wisdom but, oh, as a bonus, riches and honor. The sermon should explain, in case you have Prosperity Gospel peeps, that God doesn’t really operate this way, rewarding those eager for wisdom with wealth.

It’s wise for the preacher to contemplate the clever approach of Stefan Heym’s amazing The King David Report – a novel about Ethan, a court historian, who was instructed by Solomon to write “The One and Only True and Authoritative, Historically Correct and Officially Approved Report on the Amazing Rise, God-fearing Life, Heroic Deeds and Wonderful Achievements of David.” The deeper, cynical purpose of crafting such a slanted tale is to vindicate Solomon and justify his reign.

Clearly, 1 Kings is kin to Heym’s novel, and most good scholars (with Brueggemann leading the way, I suppose) see the vested regal interests dominating Solomon’s story. And yet the real story, the theologically sound angle on the story, wasn’t totally suppressed. There is a condemnation of all that is Solomon’s impressive but theologically troubled reign. I’ll never forget a short period of time in seminary when a huge light bulb popped in my head when I heard about “hermeneutics of suspicion.” We peek behind the official, sanctioned curtain of the text and ask what was going on that got hushed up; and our suspicion is that power trumped, that God got domesticated, that the story got tailored for public consumption to the advantage of the winners, the powerful, those who manipulated the system to their advantage.

I will try to talk about this, and about what goes on in our culture. The preacher must be equal-opportunity and bipartisan on this – which isn’t difficult. Politicians put forward their preferred story. They vainly mix their thin and usually faked piety into the official narrative – but we who know the heart of God are rightly suspicious, and even subversive. All the more reason to warn our people not to bow down to the great idolatry of our day, which is political ideology.

Ephesians 5:15-20. I preached on this during our series last Fall. “Be wise” – but not like smart-alecky Solomon! “Make the most of the time” intrigues. The culture might say that – meaning grab the gusto, cram your time full, stay busy, maximize your life… but making the most of the time might mean being still, ‘wasting’ time in prayer and worship, etc. The Greek exgorazo, as spun by Frank Thielman, implies buy, or buy up, or even buy something to gain its release from where it is. He envisions the phrase implying “buy the time away from what has a grip on it.” What has its grips on time? Corporate life? The entertainment/diversions world? Fears and anxieties (which are entirely fixated on time)? Paul says “the days are evil,” well worth exploring in the context of how our time gets strangled, and how it needs liberation.

Careful attention is required to parse “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” It’s not, Don’t do this, but do this other thing. The two are interrelated. People drink to achieve what the Holy Spirit is supposed to provide, what only the Holy Spirit can provide: we seek joy, we want good company with others, we need recovery from a bad day, we want to celebrate a good day. Alcohol plays an outsized role in life, and so much of it is destructive – and for our purposes today, it’s not just destructive, but actually subs in and blocks our way to the Holy Spirit.

It’s part of “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time” (v. 15). I think I’ll explain this by sharing that when my wife and I go hiking, we have to be careful where we walk. A rock here, a root there, a slippery place, a muddy patch. You can’t just saunter along. You have to slow down and be deliberate. Paul would say our journey as Christians is like that. Take your time, don’t take stuff for granted, beware of all that would trip you up.

"Making the most of the time," or maybe it's "Redeem the time." How do we help our people (and ourselves) to see time as a rich gift from God, and for God? Kathleen Norris (in The Cloister Walk): "Gradually my perspective on time has changed. In our culture, time seems like an enemy: it chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease. But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use, rather than allowing us to be used up by it... Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than pushing to get the job done."

“Do not be foolish” suggests that foolishness is precisely the opposite of knowing the Lord’s will (v. 17). Hard not to be foolish in our culture – complicated by the original, hardly acknowledged sins like racism or vaunting our political ideology. We become, literally sophomores, “wise fools,” fools who think they are being wise. Preaching strives to expose this without lambasting people. Delicate, always.

Finally, Paul urges us to sing to one another. Not hard to explore in preaching… I’m reminded of a story Tom Long told in a sermon I was lucky enough to be present to see and hear. He told about visiting an older person in the hospital, fairly unresponsive until his family gathered around the bedside and began singing old hymns. The man’s eyes flew open, he smiled, and sang along as best he was able – and then died not long afterward. Tom said he left the hospital, and phoned his non-church-going son and said, “You’ve got to learn these songs” – anticipating the day he would long to hear them in his own hospital bed.

John 6:51-58 is covered in my previous blog post on the entirety of chapter 6, and what intrigues in this particular section.


This post originally appeared at James Howell's Weekly Preaching Notions. Reprinted with permission.

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