Wisdom

Transitions

1 Kings 3:3-15

Times of transition can terrify, particularly if you are the person called to lead people through them. Greatness also can arise from such times, however.

In today’s story we see Solomon as a young king, ascending to the throne following the death of his father, King David. Solomon was far from perfect, and would remain that way throughout his rule, with a particular tendency to make sacrifices in various places and eventually even allow other gods to compete with the one true God.

And yet, he made one brilliant decision early in his kingship, even though he was in the midst of doing what God really did not want him to do, worshiping away from Jerusalem. As he sacrificed at the most prominent “high place,” Gibeon, God came to Solomon in a dream and opened the door for the young king to request anything.

Oh, the possibilities! Military might could always be useful to a king. Or even better, a great treasury would put anything within reach: armies, the best weapons, the finest cities, the most comfortable life imaginable. What to request? What to seek directly from the hand of God?

Instead of relying on external signs of support, however, Solomon sought something internal, a gift to keep him in constant alignment with God’s will. He asked for what we traditionally describe as “wisdom,” the ability to discern good from evil so God’s people would always be led in the right direction.

Discernment of God’s will is the starting point for all of us. Solomon shouldered the burden of leadership mostly alone; we are blessed in that we can function as a community, seeking God’s guidance via the Holy Spirit as we come together as a church.

You may or may not be aware that Luminary has been experimenting with a new leadership structure this year. Twelve members and the church staff work together to replace the traditional Methodist system of multiple scattered committees. The primary role of the Church Leadership Council is discernment, the seeking of God’s guidance for the direction of Luminary UMC.

We have had monthly meetings and a day-long retreat in search of guidance from God about where we go next as a church. Eight months into this experiment, we have a few suggestions. And they are suggestions, not mandates. If the whole church cannot share a common vision for where we are going, then these suggestions will all be pointless.

Suggestion No. 1: We need to simplify our vision and mission statements. One thing we discovered early on was that no one could remember the current vision for the church. Instead, try this:

Our Vision: A world conformed to Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11)

Our Mission: To draw people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20)

If we can agree on those as biblically inspired, what comes next is a refined understanding of how we execute our mission. We need to focus our energy like a laser, trying to do a few specific activities very well. This understanding leads to two more suggestions:

Suggestion No. 2: Establish a system of small groups. Your CLC wrestled with this because we know it will be hard to do. We’re talking about a specific kind of small group, where about eight people pursue mission or discipleship together while also sharing mutual, loving accountability. Because this involves a change in church culture, we know the risk of failure is fairly high.

If we are successful, however, we would begin to function in a biblical, healthy way. Churches who make this transition successfully begin to reach the unchurched with the message of Christ at an astounding pace, doing great work for the kingdom. The small groups over time would become the basis for all our mission and evangelism efforts.

Suggestion No. 3: Establish an outreach ministry aimed at local children in need, and ultimately, their entire families. We can see from our demographic study of our parish that the need in this area is high. We already have a small team working on a pilot project for this fall, and we hope that pilot will turn into a big program for next summer. If you want to involve yourself in this effort, let me know.

We as a church have to talk about all of this quite a bit more. You’re also going to hear your CLC making suggestions in areas that are more administrative in nature, with subjects like debt reduction and a plan to develop the second floor to support the execution of our mission. Next week, after the 11 a.m. worship service and a brief lunch, we’re going to reconvene in the sanctuary to talk about these suggestions in more detail.

As a church, let’s remember that Solomon’s choice to first and foremost seek God’s will pleased God. Because Solomon first sought discernment, God also granted him the riches and honor most people would tend to seek. May we as Luminary United Methodist Church also be blessed in surprising ways as we first seek God’s will for all we do.

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Shrewd Living

Third in a Sermon Series

Third in a Sermon Series

Can following God make you a more shrewd person in this life, helping you succeed?

Proverbs 2:1-15 would seem to promise just such a result. It says God is the source of wisdom and knowledge, and that he grants these gifts to those who earnestly seek them. God wants you to want them; certainly, prayer and study are two ways to seek what you desire.

I am convinced that growing in wisdom and knowledge through a relationship with God is largely dependent on knowing the stories in which God reveals himself to us. People may get tired of preachers saying it, but there’s tremendous value in studying your Bible. There is more there than can be learned in a lifetime, a wealth of wisdom applicable to everyday life.

All I have time to do today is share one example of shrewd thinking in the Bible. I’m going to use a Bible story that may be less familiar than some, a story found in 1 Sam. 25:1-42.

The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are full of strategy and politics, their focus being the rise of David as the great king of Israel. At this point in the 1 Samuel story, David, accompanied by about 600 soldiers, is fleeing King Saul, who pursues David with as many as 3,000 men. At the same time, David is trying to protect the Israelites from Philistine incursions and other threats.

Feeding a small army is, of course, a constant problem, but David thinks he sees an opportunity. He has protected the shepherds of a wealthy man named Nabal, who is of a tribe not Israelite but aligned with the Israelites. He sends word to Nabal reminding him of how he recently has helped Nabal’s shepherds and requests food.

We quickly come to understand that despite his large collection of livestock, Nabal is not shrewd. Hearing David’s request, Nabal is faced with either an opportunity or a threat, depending on how he chooses to view it. He foolishly treats David’s request as neither.

He does not curry favor with David by offering food; likewise, he fails to prepare a defense as the story unfolds. He simply insults the already famous warrior and his small army. Later in the story, it will be noted that to Israelites’ ears, “Nabal” sounds like a description of a crude or base person.

It’s also clear that Nabal has long ago lost the respect of his servants, household, and even his wife, Abigail. One of the young men runs to her for help, knowing this insult will not go unanswered.

David, the product of a culture based on honor and patronage, is furious, of course. Most English translations don’t fully capture just how angry he is, saying that David mutters he will kill Nabal and all of his “men.” The Hebrew term is far more crude, however; Hebrew expert Robert Alter translates David’s words as a desire to kill every “pisser against the wall.” These are no longer people to David, just creatures about to die on the edges of swords.

This is the moment in the story where we discover why the young man in Nabal’s camp went to Abigail. Her husband may be a dullard, but she is shrewd. In addition to sending the food David needs, she approaches him with a clear strategy in mind. First, she deflects David’s anger by placing the blame on herself, words that clearly cause David to pause a moment.

She then launches into a plea with three clear messages embedded in it: David, remember your past, your present and your future.

She artfully reminds him of his past with a veiled reference to his enemies being flung from “the hollow of the sling.” David has to hear in this a reminder of the day God was with him as he killed Goliath.

She also acknowledges that he is at this moment the anointed one of God and that he will be king, and that it would be inappropriate for such a holy person to take on the sin of bloodguilt, a burden Israelites believed they bore when they killed wrongfully, in anger.

Her strategy works, perhaps even better than she imagined. David relents. Later, when she tells Nabal what almost happened, he becomes “like a stone,” most likely, a description of Nabal having a stroke. Ten days later, he is dead. Upon hearing all of this, David sends for the woman who has impressed him so greatly and asks her to be his wife.

Certainly, there is strategy in Abigail’s actions, but it’s also important to remember that all of her cleverness is rooted in a wise understanding of God’s nature, how God expects us to behave, and how David would understand his role in these relationships.

So, are we supposed to behave similarly today? As people in church, should we be equipping ourselves as disciples who think shrewdly?

Jesus said we should. Jesus wanted us to be thinkers and strategists. My favorite example is in Matthew 10:16. Jesus had sent his disciples out to tell the good news of the arrival of the kingdom, but he noted: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Wisdom, strategy and thoughtfulness are important, Jesus was saying. Just be sure to root them in his message of love and peace.

As a people who believe God reveals himself to us in Scripture and prayer, we’re left with a question: Are we seeking these gifts earnestly, in a way that they can impact our lives now?

If not, you’re leaving some of the benefits of church involvement on the table.

You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape

Proverbs 1:20-33

Our verses in Proverbs today depict wisdom in a way you might not expect, as a woman wandering the streets, calling out warnings of doom to those who ignore her.

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” she asks. “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

Some read these lines as a warning to the young. And there’s probably some validity to that idea. Most of us do recognize that basic wisdom—an understanding of how life works, and how we should navigate that life—develops with age.

It’s the kind of wisdom you’ll find in a Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.”

We’re talking about wisdom that keeps you alive, the kind of wisdom we often call common sense. It’s good to have.

There’s more going on in the Proverbs text than just a call to earthly survival, however. Wisdom points her audience to the source of her existence, the knowledge and fear of the Lord. And that’s not necessarily the kind of wisdom where age has to be a factor. We all know some very young people who seem to have knowledge and fear of the Lord, and some very old people who don’t.

There also is the issue of which understanding of God is wise and which is unwise. All this week in the Middle East, people have been debating this topic with fire bombs and bullets.

As a Christian pastor, all I can do is remind us once again of what it means to define God through the lens of Jesus as Christ, Son of God, God Among Us in Flesh. Our version of godly wisdom makes us different from all other versions.

Let’s pause a minute and look at another text, Mark 8:27-38. It’s one of those places in the New Testament where it becomes abundantly clear who Jesus claimed to be and what it means to accept his claim. There are four parts to this text.

First, there’s the debate about Jesus’ identity. Peter made a startling assertion: Jesus is the Messiah, the savior promised by God.

Second, there is Jesus’ explanation of how the Messiah would go about doing his saving work. He had to suffer, die and rise from the dead. At this point, Peter didn’t do so well because Jesus’ explanation of the Messiah’s work didn’t match Peter’s worldly expectations for a warrior king. Peter rebuked Jesus for all that suffering and death talk.

“Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Tough words from Jesus, but he was right, of course. Satan does like to keep our minds on our immediate, earthly concerns. He knows that if we glimpse the divine, he’ll lose his unholy grip on us.

Third, there is the demand made on us if we are to follow Christ. We are to deny ourselves. We are to burden ourselves with the cross, the symbol of the story of sacrifice we are to tell and incorporate into our own lives. We are to give up earthly wants and earthly ways to pursue strange, divine activities that don’t fit into this world.

The only reason that Jesus is able to say in Matthew 11:30 that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” is that he knows his true followers will receive special power from the Holy Spirit to do what they are called to do.

Fourth, there are repercussions if we do not take up that cross, if we act like we’re ashamed of its startling message. They are essentially the same repercussions Lady Wisdom speaks of in Proverbs, a separation from God that has the potential to last for eternity.

And yes, Jesus is speaking to people who call themselves Christians, who say “I’m with you Jesus” in baptism and church membership but then fail to follow through. You have to own something to be ashamed of it.

It is here I get a little uncomfortable—I’m happier speaking of God’s infinite grace and love, and God’s willingness to save us through simple belief. But both our texts today speak of responsibilities and repercussions, and if I’m going to be true to the text, I have to point the repercussions out to you, too.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. And you definitely, definitely don’t thumb your nose at God’s call on your life, a call to sacrifice and ministry. It could very well be a matter of eternal survival.

As I bring all this up, are you a little uncomfortable, too? Who’s winning in your life, the one who is of this world, or God? As a believer, are you making a difference that matters in a divine way?

Your church, your local gathering of Christians, is the best place to start if you want to live the life divine.