Preacher Revd David Gardiner
God asks Solomon what he wants from God.
Solomon says God has been faithful to his Father David, and thanks him for continuing that with him.
But he also says he is just a child – he’s intimidated by the task that he’s been handed as King: he doesn’t even know ‘how to go out or come in’ – his official duties are a mystery to him.
So Solomon asks for understanding and discernment.
God is pleased that Solomon has asked for these things, which will help him be a good King, serving God and his people as best he can. He could have thought about himself and asked for riches or long life, but God was so pleased with his answer that he decided to give Solomon both of those as ell anyway.
The words/commandments/reasoning/wisdom of God gives understanding to those who listen or follow them. They bring light and knowledge. This is very different to the suggestions that religions aim to control or limit knowledge. Human religious organisations may have a history of doing that, but here we see that that is an approach alien to God’s desires.
Paul comments on our lack of knowledge as it pertains to prayer, and introduces the concept that the Holy Spirit is given to us, as the gift was given to Solomon, to to enable us to go beyond what we know how to do.
Paul makes a statement about predestination in positive terms, which causes us to ask ourselves what is meant by the first clause ‘those who [God] foreknew’? Who did God foreknow? Who did he not foreknow? Does this suggest a universal availability of redemption?
Paul, however, asks ‘what are we to say about all this?’ Instead of worrying about questions of who might be included and who some might want to exclude, Paul talks about the kind if God we have, and how much more important he is than any human opinions and theories. ‘If God is for us,’ he asks, ‘who can be against us?’ It’s a fascinating and invigorating passage, possibly my favourite bit of Paul’s writings.
His answers to these questions are confident and absolute: there is nothing in the physical or spiritual realms of creation that can get between us and God’s love.
Jesus tells his disciples a series of parables describing the nature of the Kingdom of God, each of which are in some way counter-cultural.
He first uses the image of mustard-seed, both a weed rather than something to be cultivated, wild, not controlled by humanity; and also a small thing that becomes huge, rather than a standard human expectation of a big strong thing becoming bigger and stronger.
He then likens the kingdom to leaven. Again, this is something that at certain times in Jewish culture, such as around Passover, is actually unclean, something you would carefully remove from your house. It is likened elsewhere to sin, because of its ability to hide and infect. Here the suggestion is that the Kingdom of God will work that way too; that the hope and love Jesus brings is redemptive leaven countering the life-denuding sin of the world.
Once that leaven is in the world, there is nothing that can be done to remove it. It is pervasive, it is enduring, and despite the apparent strength and power of all the evil and darkness and violence in the world, it will infect and change the whole.
He talks about treasure hidden in a field, which is found, re-hidden, and the finder sells everything to afford the field. The treasure is never stated as being dug up. The treasure rather finds its value in the context of the field. The field too, the context in which the treasure is found, itself gains the value of the treasure, and something basic becomes something beautiful. This is the nature of the kingdom and what God has done in making it, bringing sin-infected creation into glory.
He talks of the kingdom being like a merchant, who behaves differently to how any reasonable merchant acts, risking everything on one purchase, which the merchant doesn’t intend to sell. This is the deliberate destruction of a business, not to make a great winning move, but to possess an item that would normally be sold.
Jesus then moves on to describe the kingdom in the last stages of our world, using the image of the fishers and the net filled with all kinds of fish. Instead of sorting the fish in the boat, as most would to avoid the danger of the net splitting, these fishers of the kingdom bring in everything, only to be sorted by the angels on the beach. The message here is that the kingdom on earth is not a judging kingdom: it is not our job to say who is in and who is out; God will judge this on his terms, not ours, at the judging time for all.
The terms used for those to be thrown is ‘evil’, a pretty extreme word, and those to be kept are ‘righteous’, meaning to be in a right way with God.
At the end of all this the disciples are asked ‘do you understand all this?’ They say ‘yes,’ but I’m not convinced they were being entirely truthful!
May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer.