This blog has an unusual source: It is a sermon I preached this morning at First Congregational UCC, in Bloomfield, CT. I reprint it here because: a) It seemed to go well and b) it’s non-partisan, which makes it about right for my friend Sean Murphy, who is trying to find a middle road, I think…
Sermon given at Bloomfield Congregational Church UCC, Bloomfield CT, 10/26/2014
“What Is Wisdom? Who is Wise?”
On Nov. 6th, CT and a lot of other states will vote for their elected representatives, or senators, or governors, or local mayors and dog catchers. There is much at stake in these elections — either we give the President two years of support or undo six years of his laws. Here in CT, we either keep Danel Malloy, who bills himself as a man of the middle class or we replace him with Tom Foley, who bills himself as a man who knows how to bring jobs to this state. But, for all the fuss-and-muss about politics and how important is, we have a real problem in this country: Very few people like anyone who’s elected or running to be elected.
The President’s not popular. The Senate’s not popular. The House of Representatives is not popular. Here and in other states as well, the governor’s not particularly popular and the challenger isn’t particularly loved either. Many of us feel as if we’re voting for the lesser of two evils in the political world today rather than thrilled that we get to vote at all. Why is that?
Let’s contrast those leaders to that to this morning’s Hero of The Bible — King Solomon who, next to his father David, was the most popular king in Israel’s history, perhaps the most beloved king King in all the Bible. (Yes, Jesus is a king, but it’s not the same, and I’m pretty sure none of the candidates out there could compete with him, so let’s make this fair and deal with fully human beings).
Today’s passage gives us some idea why he was so loved. Solomon was popular because he was wise. In fact, he had so much wisdom that there’s a phrase “the wisdom of Solomon” which people will say we need in difficult circumstances. If today’s times are difficult, perhaps it is wisdom, the Wisdom of Solomon, that we need.
But what is wisdom? How do we know it when we see it? “Do we know it when we see it?” might be a better question. And if not, why don’t we as a society? It is because we in the church are looking for something different than society as a whole is looking for. Some people see politics as sport and look for that from our coming election. In general, Science looks for facts and theories, organizations and powerful people look for power. Our society right now seeks, it seems to me, fame for fame’s sake. We in the church look for God, and God’s spirit.
How do we find God’s spirit in a leader? Let’s look at Solomon’s actions as a leader in this morning’s scenario. First off, he is humble and honest about himself. He knows what he’s capable of doing — and most important — he knows what he’s not capable of doing. He knows he has the title of King, due to his father, but inheriting the title and having the ability to rule are different things altogether. Just because someone says something about you (like “you’re king”) doesn’t make it true. So Solomon doesn’t ask for style, he asks for substance. You know when Jesus says, ‘For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’? This is that. God decrees to Solomon that “since you didn’t ask for these things… “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor”. So, the first thing to ask about in a leader is humility.
Next comes the famous tale of the two women fighting over a child. I had never paid attention before, but the text is not about two general “women”. The text is very clear that they are prostitutes fighting over this child. The text may note this, but Solomon doesn’t. Solomon doesn’t say, “you women of ill repute, why are you here?” He doesn’t call them names, he doesn’t argue over whether they deserve to be there, before him. He gives them the time of day and he agrees to hear the matter before him, even if the women were both criminals, both despised by their community, he acts as though they are still subject to, and beneficiaries of, the law. They are people first, and members of the community. The law applies to them and he is willing to administer it no matter who comes in. So, the second thing to look for in a wise leader is the willingness to hear people and consider them part of society the leader is responsible for. “Equal protection under the law” is what we might call this today. Without regard to what we may think of people in advance, they are important enough to be considered part of the community and heard. Does your candidate for governor or representative or school board do that? These are things to consider if we look from God’s eyes and hope to see wisdom.
Finally, Solomon, in today’s reading, discerns between those who love others and those who use others for their own gain. He is sneaky about it, a strategist, and doesn’t seem to be doing what was asked which is saving the boy’s life and figuring out who owns him. Solomon instead figures out who loves the boy and he sides with that person. He connects love with who is in the right.
Are the current crop of leaders able to discern between those who love others and those who care only for themselves? Do they support those who love others and give them justice? Or, alternatively, do they give their support to those who use others and fight only for their own interest.
A friend of mine frequently tells the story of a man who had a good wolf living near him and a evil one there as well. “Which will grow stronger?”, he asks a wise man. the wise one says, “Whichever one you feed”. People who feed the angry or evil wolves of our existence get an angry or evil society. Those who support and feed the loving and good ones will reap a loving and good society. Solomon is wise enough to know the difference and he receives honor from God and his people because he can differentiate and he supports those who love.
What other things do we know about Solomon? He had an artistic temperament. He is an author. He is given credit for writing many of the proverbs in the Bible. He is a songwriter. He is credited with writing many of the Psalms or hymns used in ancient Israel.
What are we to make of this? Wise leaders are artists? Well, ok, maybe or maybe not. Wise leaders are creative, in a variety of ways. They use all of the parts of their brain and are open to new things. This is not the same thing as intelligent, though Solomon was that as well.
According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, The Queen of Sheba wanted to meet Solomon so that could share riddles and puzzles. She was impressed by his intelligence early on. But as she got to know him, according to history, she saw his wisdom in governance. Yes, he was smart, but he was also creative and just and humble.
I would tell you this morning that wisdom from God is all of those things — smart, creative, considerate and just, — and amazingly humble , despite being all those other things. Why? Because God is all of those things and God’s leadership leads us to good places. This is the Spirit that God bestows on humans, because it is the Spirit that God has.
I would also dare to tell you that politicians who want to be popular probably need to be those things and act from those traits. Like Solomon, and each of us, actions, rather than beliefs alone, will determine our reputation in the world. May the Spirit of God be on all our elected leaders this election day and may it challenge them to be their best selves, just as it did Solomon. Amen.