Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Todd reminded us last Sunday that we run into a bunch of complicated characters in the Bible. Last week it was Jacob. This week it is Solomon.
Today I’d like us to get better acquainted with Solomon and the complications of his life (of which there were many.) We’ll do this within the framework of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God-with the driving idea being: that we are most attuned to the Kingdom of God when we are living our most cohesive, integrated lives… or as Jesus says: “When we are masters who live from the treasure of our lives, both new and old.” (Mt 13:52, para).
What we are going to see is that the thing, or shall I say the particular gift that is unique to us, is what connects our old to our new. Jesus calls it our pearl of great price. Everyone has one. Solomon certainly did. My hope is that by the end of this sermon you’ll leave here thinking about what that pearl is and how it connects your old to your new.
Solomon will be our guide this morning. We meet him at the beginning of the First Book of Kings. He is young, no more than 20 years old, when he finds himself king of Israel, after his father, David, has died.
It is early in his reign when he has this dream; in it God asks: “What shall I give you?” It is a great question. “What shall I give you?” It is a question we’d all like to be asked… though I maintain we already have been asked. I believe that God asks each one of us…“What shall I give you…” and the answer is: “Whatever that unique pearl of great price is for you.” For Solomon, it was an understanding mind. Wisdom was his pearl of great price.
Now when God asks the question: “What shall I give you?” Solomon doesn’t just blurt out an answer. He first reflects on the blessings of his life. He acknowledges his privileged status as David’s son, and heir to the throne. Then he gives thanks to God for the context of his life. Finally, he looks at himself, and his inexperience, and his limited capacity, and he asks God for a discerning mind, so to better do the job God made for him to do. Wisdom is Solomon’s pearl.
Everyone has one, because we’re like Solomon, and like Solomon God has asked each one of us the question: “What shall I do for you?”
You may be interested to know that the pearl of wisdom given to Solomon had a very particular definition. We find it in chapter four of the First Book of Kings. It reads: “God gave Solomon wisdom, discernment, and breath of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore. He composed 3000 proverbs, and his songs numbered a 1005. He would speak of trees, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the garden wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.” (1 Kings 4:29-33 para)
The wisdom given Solomon by God was to see the fullness of the Kingdom of God and understand how it worked. Solomon’s wisdom illuminated for him how one thing related to another thing. And because he knew how things were in relationship with each other he could then work with them, or, as we shall see, make them work for him.
Now Solomon’s reputation spread as a teacher about the Kingdom of God, and how it works. And in this way, he was sort of holding his pearl of great price out for everyone to see. He was sharing it. He was holding in the palm of his hand. (Now no one can snatch it away. That is the beauty of our individual pearls. They are of great value to the entire world, but, only when they are held in the hand of the person for which they were designed.)
How do we find that pearl designed just for you or me? Like Solomon: Acknowledging our context. Giving thanks to God. Then identifying that unique gift that brings cohesion to and connection between our old and new. And finally, we hold it out here to be shared with the world.
Solomon held his pearl out here and the world was so much better for it, and his fame spread. Solomon realized one day that because of this gift of wisdom, he could achieve his father’s dream of building a Temple to God. In this way he could honor what was old through the expression of his greatest gift in a way that benefited the new kingdom he ruled over. This was the pearl that gave cohesion and integration to his life.
So, he began to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Architecturally it was a feat hither-to-fore never achieved by humanity. But, in addition to his masterful engineering acumen, Solomon also knew how to mine stone from Galilee and move wood from Lebanon. He made friends with craftsmen and inspired them by his vision. He traded with kings, and solicited labor from tribes. Solomon made it all work because he knew how things worked, how they related to each other, and how they were made to move together.
It took Solomon fourteen years to complete this project. And when it was finished did he go back to teaching about the Kingdom of God, the animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish? Did he return to sharing Kingdom observations about Hyssop and Cedar?
No. No, he kept building, because somewhere along the way he began to attribute the abundance in his life, (which always seems to accompany people who hold their pearl out here) to his own industry and competence, and not the blessing of God. Somehow, he lost sight of that pearl as he closed his hand, and with a fist began to defend his pearl rather than share it.
He replaced his wisdom with an illusion that it was by his own prowess that the Temple was built. So, he continued to build- the next, the new, the more. He built a house for his wife, the beautiful daughter of Pharaoh. And since he liked building I guess he needed more wives. So, he married a woman from Sidon and built a temple to her god Aster.Then he married an Ammorite woman, and built a temple to her god Milcom. Then he married a woman from Moab, and built a temple to her god Chemosh. Then he married another Ammorite woman, and built a temple to her god Molech.
I have to stop there because it turns out Solomon married another 696 women, not to mention the 300 concubines. Life got pretty complicated for Solomon. There was always the next, the new, the more. Managing all of this abundance, this wealth, this prestige, this power was a pressure cooker. People got jealous, and life got complicated. Pretty soon enemies were circling around. And Solomon’s fist became tighter around that pearl of great price.
He lost sight of the reality that it all came from God, as he began to imagine that his marvelous abundance was the result of his cultivated wisdom. He started to believe his own press. He built more because “they” said he was a great builder… He built temples and houses and walls. And as he did the cohesiveness of his life began to unravel; the integration became to wash away. Now it became all about the next, and the new, and the more, as Solomon forgot the truth of the old he had once known.
Remember after God asked: “What shall I give you?” Solomon replied, “You have shown great and steadfast love to my father, David, because walked before you in faithfulness, and righteousness, and uprightness of heart.” Solomon knew at one point that his father’s success came not from his father’s capacity in and of itself, but because of his father’s faithfulness to God.
Solomon lost sight of the old, and sought only the next, the new, and the more.
And yet, God is faithful even when we are not. That was the message Todd brought home last week in his sermon about Jacob. God was also faithful to the promise God made to Solomon: that wealth would accumulate, that long life would accrue, and that no enemy would snatch the crown from his head.
And yet, as we know, the sin of the father often blossoms in the lives of his children. And that was the case for Solomon. And after only two generations of kings, David and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel fell apart. As the pearl of great price was reduced to dust in Solomon’s hand.
The story of Solomon is a cautionary tale. Each of us has pearl of great price. It is what brings cohesion and integration to our lives. It is what connects our old to our new, but only when we hold it like this…. (OPEN PALM)
Has God ever asked you: “What shall I give to you?”
If so, what was that like? How did you respond?
If not, how might you go about better listening for this divine question?
What is your pearl of great price?
What tempts you to hold it to tight in your hand?
What inspires you to loose your grip?