Friday, August 21, 2009

Seeking a "God Friendly Heart"

Seek A 'God Friendly Heart'

I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
for Aug 16,2009
at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, Seattle,WA
by Rev Steven R. Mitchell

In the Disney version of the story of “Aladdin”, we see a young street beggar who longs to have a live that he thinks would be a better life than what he has had thus far, if only he were living in the Sultan's Palace. Through a series of events he finds in his possession a magic lamp. After rubbing it, out comes the occupant of the lamp, a very jolly and thankful Gene who has been imprisoned and whose job is to grant wishes to whom ever is the owner of the lamp. Every new owner gets only three wishes. To help thicken the plot, the young Aladdin finds out that the only way the Gene can gain his freedom is by having the owner give up one of his/or her wishes and use that one wish to “wish the Gene free.” The Gene's comment to Aladdin was, “and you know how often that happens!”
There is a similar story about a young boy who finds himself in a new situation – as King of a great country after his father’s death. The young man has not had the training to do this job, in fact he actually has an older brother who thought 'he' would become king after their fathers death. So much so that during the last hours of the father’s life, the older son gives a large party to celebrate his new crown, only to find that his father has bequeathed the throne to the younger son. We find this story in the First book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Young Solomon found himself thrust-ed upon the throng of his father David with a sense of little preparation for the job. Some scholars say Solomon may have been as young as twelve years old while others put him at no more than twenty. None the less, Solomon was very young and now King of Israel and in his own word's said, “I don't know how to go out or come in.” Even the very basic's seemed to have escaped his up bringing. After all, how do you rule when you don’t even know how to make an entrance!
Well luckily Solomon has a “Gene” on his side, so to speak. After a rather substantial sacrifice to God, Solomon has a conversation with God in a dream. God comes to Solomon and says, “I will give you what ever you want.” Boy, what a loaded offer to be presented with. In the Disney movie, when Aladdin is presented with the power offered before him, the Gene does this enormous musical number, “you've never had a friend like me”, filled with dancing girls, untold riches, bountiful tables of food and just about anything else you can think of that would relate to “excesses” of basic needs!
How would you answer if you were presented with an opportunity like Solomon was given? Reading from Eugene Peterson's translation “The Message” Solomon responds by saying, “Here's what I want: Give me a God-listening heart, so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?” The story continues with God responding, saying to Solomon, “Because you have asked for this and haven't grasped after a long life, or riches, or the doom of your enemies, but you have asked for the ability to lead and govern well, I'll give you what you've asked for – I'm giving you a wise and mature heart.”
A wise and mature heart! This is the focus of today's readings. So before we answer the question that I posed just a few minutes ago, “What kind of answer would you give if you were presented with the opportunity like Solomon.” we need to understand what was going on in the question that God was posing and in the answer Solomon gave.
The underlying theme in this story; well actually in any story we read from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament Scriptures is about “Relationship.” Solomon recognized that the primary reason for his father’s long and successful reign was largely a result of the close relationship David had with God. From a personal note: out of all the people I read about in the Hebrew Bible, David is one of the dearest to my heart. What attracts me to David is his relationship with God, one that was deeper than the priests of his generation. “If it were burnt offerings and incense that you wanted oh Lord, I would have given them to you, but it is my heart that you desire....” This was the type of relationship that David had with God.
There is only one way to gain the wisdom that scripture speaks about and it only comes through a personal relationship with the Creator of all that is. We live in a world filled with facts and figures, of information, of great literature and recorded history, yet none of these gives us what is called “Wisdom”. I fear that most of the world operates on “intelligence” but with very little “wisdom”. What is the difference between “intelligence” and “Wisdom” and why is “Wisdom” more important than “intelligence” you might be thinking. When it comes to decision making, it may mean the ability to tell the difference between “good and evil” or if you prefer, the difference between choosing the “better over the lesser.” Wisdom means the ability to “discern”.
Our world is besieged with heavy burdens. The leaders of the world are being faced with issues such as Climate change; large scale hunger; pandemic diseases' such as Aid's, or the potential threat of Swine and Bird Flu’s; with energy shortages; the build up of nuclear weaponry; natural disasters to name just a few. How do the leaders of every country deal with the needs of their country in relationship to the global community? Information and intelligence is not going to be enough to address such enormous problems. It will take wisdom, wisdom on the part of all the world leaders. How does this happen? If you look to any religious faith, the basis for wisdom comes in “relationship”, relationship with the One who has created all that is. If we have just one prayer for world issues maybe it should be praying that those in power seek a deepening relationship with God.
Let's bring this back into our own backyard. Quoting from this weeks lectionary commentators, “Today we live in a society that, unlike ancient Israel, claims to be built upon the separation of church and state but often brings religious beliefs and claims of authority into the political arena. For example, we may argue vehemently about putting the Ten Commandments on a courthouse wall as a mark of our faithfulness or expect political candidates to speak fervently of their faith life. Yet so many of us fail to make sure that all of God's children have the basic goods of life – in other words, we neglect “the widow, the poor, and the foreigner in our midst” - those most vulnerable and in need. Wasn't this exactly what God expected in both the Old and New Testaments? Aren't justice and compassion the “gospel” values preached and embodied by Jesus, the one whose wisdom we desire? Would Jesus have much to say about engraving Commandments in stone when the heart of God's law is broken all around us?”
When I read this statement, things like Tent City here in Seattle comes to my mind. Of the lawsuits brought forth by those who have, toward churches who provide a space for those living in that community of poverty. Where are we as faith communities in addressing misdirected statements such as, “these people are living this way because they choose to?” Where are we at in addressing issues at the city level to help the homeless? At a national level, where are we at in the discussion of “health Care”? What a scandal this is and how can we as a nation, one of such abundance give advise to other nations on “human rights” issues when we do not provide basic needs to all our citizens. These were the type of things going throw Solomon's mind when he was questioning, “How do I rule with justice to such a large number of people? So the secret of gaining wisdom is in the seeking a deeper personal relationship with God.
I want to finish up the story of Aladdin. After Aladdin learns that the only way the imprisoned Gene can gain his freedom is by wishing for the Gene's freedom, he makes a covenant with the Gene that after Aladdin receives his two wishes, he will wish for the Gene's freedom as his third wish. Since Aladdin wasn't exactly a Solomon, he wished for a false identity that would allow him to be presented to the girl of his dreams, the Princess. One wish gone. He ended up using his second wish to be saved from drowning in the sea. Then comes the dilemma of giving up his 3rd wish to free the Gene or continue his charade as a prince in order to be able to marry the Princess, for only a Prince could wed a Princess. Will he be a man of his word or will he bend to a lesser good and continue that of self-serving wishes. He realized that with each wish that was self-serving, he was getting himself into deeper trouble and was not achieving his dreams. Once he came clean with who he was to the Princess and her father and became a man of integrity, he makes his third wish, to give freedom to the Gene. As a man who has learned to serve the interests of those in need, he was able to help the Sultan realize that laws can be changed for the betterment of all and was able to marry his love, his Princess!
There is a second part of the lesson in today's reading. When Solomon asked for a “God Friendly Heart”, God was pleased and gave Solomon a wise and mature heart. But God also said, “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” Loose translation, “If you keep your relationship with me, you will live long and prosper!” If we read the entire story of Solomon, over time he left his first love, his relationship with the God of Israel and started worshiping the idols and gods of his many wives. His life was presumably shortened and his kingdom didn't last long after his death.
I bring this piece forward because as a faith community, we, while working with all our best intentions toward doing “justice”, can loose our personal relationship with God. How? We can become so involved in programming, in growing the church, in doing social justice, that we start to neglect our person time with God – that of prayer, meditation, study and renewal. When this happens we have elevated the “programs” to the level of “idol” and have placed their importance in front of God's importance in our heart and have become idolaters in the eyes of the one we were striving to serve.
As in any relationship, we have to work at keeping it active and meaningful; otherwise it drifts away and dies. In any marriage, to keep it fresh and the love growing, we need to set times where we can be with our spouse, where we give total 100% to the moment with that individual. In the same way, we must do this with God. We must be intentional about setting “alone” times with God, where we can talk and meditate; have fun and laugh; where we can cry on God's shoulder when life becomes to hard. Again reading from the Message, in Ephesians it says, “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.” It doesn't matter if you can carry a tune in a bucket or not. Music is the language that speaks and touches our hearts in the most of intimate of ways. This is the reason to sing praises to God; it is one of the most basic ways of opening our hearts to the love, to the relationship, to the joy and wisdom of our God! If this were not so, then the Psalms would not hold such deep meaning to us in worship, for the Psalms are nothing more than thoughts set to music to be communicated between the worshiper and God.
The ultimate relationship that we as Christians practice is that in what we call Communion. Where we celebrate the Eucharist of Christ not individually but corporately. I will close with the reading from John once more: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” The Wisdom of Solomon faded away as he lessened his relationship with God. The wisdom that we seek comes through that of Jesus, for he never lessened his relationship with God but always moved deeper and deeper into relationship with God. The bread of life is represented in his teachings and sayings and the Blood of life comes through the continual relationship with our God. As we come to Christ’s table think upon your relationship with God, think of it as part of seeking a “God Friendly Heart!”