July 30, 2017

Proper 12 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

I KINGS 3:5-12; PSALM 119:129-136; ROMANS 8:26-39; MATTHEW 13:31-11, 44-52


Discernment is the discipline for a life of truth.

The Very Rev. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, writes, “Human beings take a long time to come to maturity.  We are not made overnight.”

This statement seems to have pertained to Solomon who is said in Chapter 11 of 1 Kings to have “loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh.”  “Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.” The last statement is to say the Solomon, chief sovereign of YHWY’s kingdom – YHWY’s  being the one and only God – was known to worship the gods of his wives and build high places for their worship to boot.

Solomon’s grand foibles are said in the Biblical narrative to have led to the division of the Davidic kingdom.  And yet we have a reading today about his anointing by God to be a leader with a wise and discerning mind.  “No one like you has been before you and no on like you shall arise after you,” says the LORD.

That’s a challenge for a preacher.  Do I invite you into the wisdom tradition and try to say something helpful about the path of discernment, or I can convey the scholarship about how this story is pure political propaganda?  Perhaps instead of an either/or, we might talk about the place where wisdom and frailty intersect.  Perhaps we could call that intersection as the crossroads of truth.

Many of us know from our experience that there is a necessary connection between the ability to tell the truth about ourselves and the ability to discern the truth about what happens around us.  For example, we can blame a child for constantly acting out as though that child is the source of a family’s problems.  But if there is unaddressed issue with one of the parents (addition, protracted absence, etc.), then the child cannot be expected to change until the adult has changed.  Similarly, if work culture is mistrusting of its workers, then worker behavior is always going to reflect a fear which my compromise overall performance or lead to unhealthy acts of undermining the authority of the organization.  Until the truth of the culture of mistrust changes, little different can be expected of those who work therein.

Truth telling is a way to health and wisdom.  And wisdom depends on telling the truth.  Elizabeth Liebert puts it this way, “There is a necessary connection between God-knowledge and self-knowledge.” Self-knowledge involves the kind of truth-telling that clears out the cobwebs of our perspective on life in order to make way for divine intervention.  When we do our spiritual housekeeping, we often reap rewards.  Our intuition gets more pronounced and reliable.  Our dreams become more vivid and interesting.  We receive clarity about a question or problem that previously was unresolved.  Perhaps we need not be perfect in order to get our lives in line with God.  Perhaps we simply have to be honest.

This is where the phrase “Come to Jesus” comes in.  It is a phrase that means ‘truth telling.’ 

Truth telling is not complicated work, but it is hard labor.  It involves attending to every shade of gray in our lives and acknowledging the experiences of others.  The Rev. Eric Law writes about truth telling particularly as it relates to healthy congregations.  He affirms that “The spirit of truth does not see the world in either-or or binary from.”  He also reminds us that, “We do not have the whole truth unless we also listen and understand the experiences of the historically powerless.”

Judeo-Christian history is obsessed with the topic of truth telling and the voice of the voiceless.  The obsession manifests in 1 Kings as a question about Solomon and the integrity of his religious and political leadership.   About our own times Dean Jones writes:

We are in the middle of a world revolution in which old boundaries are breaking down. A New World Order? Or a New World Chaos?

Which is it for you, and where at present do you personally find leadership with integrity?  What truth do you personally need to hear in order to become more mature or wise?

It took Solomon a long time to grow up.  He was both fallible and discerning.  He is one of our many invitations into the truth telling that can make us individually whole and collectively well.