Sunday, June 12, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "Given For Water"

1 Kings 5:1-12

Because King Hiram of Tyre was loyal to David throughout his rule, Hiram sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that Solomon had become king after his father. 2 Solomon sent the following message to Hiram: 3 “You know that my father David wasn’t able to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God. This was because of the enemies that fought him on all sides until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. 4 Now the Lord my God has given me peace on every side, without enemies or misfortune. 5 So I’m planning to build a temple for the name of the Lord my God, just as the Lord indicated to my father David, ‘I will give you a son to follow you on your throne. He will build the temple for my name.’ 6 Now give the order and have the cedars of Lebanon cut down for me. My servants will work with your servants. I’ll pay your servants whatever price you set, because you know we have no one here who is skilled in cutting wood like the Sidonians.” 

7 Hiram was thrilled when he heard Solomon’s message. He said, “Today the Lord is blessed because he has given David a wise son who is in charge of this great people.” 8 Hiram sent word back to Solomon: “I have heard your message to me. I will do as you wish with the cedar and pinewood. 9 My servants will bring the wood down the Lebanon Mountains to the sea. I’ll make rafts out of them and float them on the sea to the place you specify. There I’ll dismantle them, and you can carry them away. Now, as for what you must do for me in return, I ask you to provide for my royal house.”

10 So Hiram gave Solomon all the cedar and pinewood that he wanted. 11 In return, Solomon gave an annual gift to Hiram of twenty thousand kors of wheat to eat, and twenty thousand kors of pure oil for his palace use. 12 Now the Lord made Solomon wise, just as he had promised. Solomon and Hiram made a covenant and had peace. (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel” Week Three

It might be the most lopsided trade I’ve ever seen, and yet, it cost neither party in the grand scheme of things a great deal. And that’s saying something.

Diana Hussein, a Dearborn, Michigan communications worker about my age, had, many years ago, named her Twitter account @DietDrDepper, after the pop she happened to be drinking the day she logged onto Twitter for the first time. This was years ago, before Twitter had gotten the audience it has now, but still, it’s surprising that the suits over at Dr. Pepper didn’t snap that screenname up.

Diana kept her carbonation-infused screen name until this past year, when she reachedout to Dr. Pepper because, as a beverage company that sells bottled water under the brand name Deja Blue (get it? Yuk yuk yuk), she thought that they might be in a position to help her beloved neighbor to the north: Flint, Michigan.

So she struck a deal with the Texas-based beverage company: she’d hand over the keys to her Twitter screenname if they’d send Flint some water to help them through the horrific leaded water crisis that was imposed upon them by the leaders of their town and state.

It was a trade in which neither side had to give up much, but that ended up making a big difference for hundreds of people. Diana gave up a Twitter account and just as easily started another. For a conglomerate the size of Dr. Pepper, 40,000 bottles of water was a good deed they could easily afford to do. But for hundreds of people in Flint, those bottles of water meant another day of life.

Rarely, though, are compromises and trades so easily admired. For one to be of any real consequence, both of the sides involved have to give up something of real value, which means that there are those who will miss that which is traded or given away in exchange for something else.

So we instead hype up our end of the deal, to say that the other party is getting more than what they may in fact be getting. You see this phenomenon all the time in sports, where, as Jonathan Rand, a former Kansas City columnist put it, “(There is) the kind of deal you hear fans suggest on call-in shows. They suggest taking three guys who have become expendable and putting them in a sack to obtain a premier player. You chuckle because the suggestion assumes the other team’s front office just fell off a potato truck.”

Put a different way, it’d be if my Kansas City Royals called up your Mariners and offered to trade y’all Drew Butera, Brian Flynn, and Scott Alexander for King Felix. And if you’re hearing that and asking, “Who?” then that demonstrates my point.

Trade—real trade—is sacrificial by definition. And it is a lesson that Solomon has to execute most harshly when it comes to, at long last, building his temple in Jerusalem for God.

This is a new sermon series for a new season in the church—spring is moving into summer, and just like a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we’ll once again take on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative will be the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ll get a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem to his eventual downfall. We began by spending two weeks with the story of how Solomon comes by his divinely-bestowed wisdom for which he is eternally famous and then with Solomon applying that wisdom in this well-known story of two mothers, and today, we move forward to begin the story of how Solomon went about building the Jerusalem Temple.

And really, that building of the temple begins with a truly awful trade to imagine once you really begin contemplating the nuts-and-bolts of it: eventually, in 1 Kings 9, Solomon will hand twenty cities over to King Hiram’s rule, except that those cities are so dilapidated that Hiram objects to being given them saying to Solomon, “Are these towns you’ve given me good for anything?”

The fact that Solomon is giving land for goods puts to lie some of the hyperbolic descriptions of his wealth in the first place, and the apparently shabby state of those lands further puts said hyperbole to the test, but it is the larger issue of exchanging land for goods—as opposed to, say, for peace, which Israel has successfully done in the present day with both Egypt and Jordan—that is troubling.

After all, we’ve done the whole exchange-land-for-goods rigamarole here in the States with the Louisiana Purchase, and it was a precursor to all sorts of violence against the American Indians who inhabited those lands. Who knows what Hiram’s plans were for these twenty cities?

I would like to think that those plans would not be quite so bloodsoaked, because Hiram is described first and foremost as a righteous man, but that is no vaccination against bloodshed—just look at the staggering amounts of violence that Joshua committed to achieve his goals, or Samson.

Here, though, four chapters earlier in 1 Kings 5, Hiram’s price is not quite so steep, though still epic to behold: he asks Solomon to provide for his (Hiram’s) royal court in exchange for the prized cedar and pine wood that will constitute the temple. This ends up being the equivalent of one million gallons of wheat and one million gallons of pure (not watered down, as was sometimes the case) olive oil.

The price of Hiram’s resources and aid is high, but it is a price that Solomon is prepared to pay, and setting aside the more disturbing price of the cities and their inhabitants for a moment, as that is another passage altogether, it begs the question for us: just how much are we willing to trade, to exchange, to give up in our own spiritual life to demonstrate, as Solomon will in the building of the temple, our own devotion and fidelity to God? How much is too much for us to giving up? Or, how little is what we are comfortable with giving up?

Because before you say “Someone as rich as Solomon could have easily paid Hiram’s price,” remember what I just said about the 1 Kings 9 story—that it in all likelihood actually demonstrates that there were very real limits on Solomon’s wealth and splendor. So it really is quite probable that this massive expenditure of wheat and oil is in fact a very real strain on Solomon’s billfold.

Yet he spends it anyways. And not as a fool who spends their bonus responding to an email from a Nigerian prince, for it has been established by now that Solomon’s gray matter was hardly lacking to say the least, but as someone who, at least now (though certainly not later in life) is genuinely concerned for following in God’s footsteps.

We can be as concerned as Solomon is, but often our own sacrifices do not measure up. We are not willing to turn over to God everything in our lives, but rather, only that which we can do without. God demands our whole selves, not scraps from the table, but it is those gamey, unattractive scraps that we may be wont to offer because, well, we won’t miss them.

Think about it: how often do you rush through your prayers, or neglect them altogether? How often have you tried to start a devotional or prayer practice, only to give it up a few weeks in? I’m just as guilty of this behavior as you might well be, and it’s because even giving up that little bit of time to God when we could be doing something else, that takes a surrender of self that can be extremely difficult for our selfish souls.

A compassionate woman gives up something entirely nominal—a Twitter account—and for recompense, asks that a stricken city be given water. Would you have taken payment instead? And would you have used that payment towards something you wanted or needed? That’s the sort of difference we are talking about here.

God wants true surrender of us, not a halfhearted giving up of the fewer, smaller things just so we might hope to retain control over the bigger things, no, if anything, that needs to be reversed. We, in our frail, finite, and sinful shells, probably only should be trusted with the fewer and smaller things, and trust God with those far bigger things.

We are so stingy sometimes with how we give of ourselves. And that simply is not what God’s intent for us to be really is.

So give more of yourselves. And give that extra portion not simply freely, but reluctantly if you must. Resentfully, even, if you need to. At least that way, your sacrifice will be real and authentic.

Because God asks us to give of our whole selves. After all, God did not make us only partially. No, God made us in our totality.

Let us surrender back to God in equal measure.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
June 12, 2016

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