Come home to Calvary
Previously in the Narrative Lectionary
At the end of last week’s sermon, Bathsheba had been violated by David and was birthing a baby boy named Solomon. Demonstrating her flawless tact, she makes sure her son will be king and she queen mother. So, after King David’s death, the young man Solomon becomes King of Israel. Solomon—whose name means “peaceful”—proceeds to assassinate his rivals, including his own brother, Adonijah, who lost his bid to become King. After establishing diplomatic relations with Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter, “the kingdom was unshaken in Solomon’s hand.”
Solomon’s Dream of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:4)
In the Abrahamic traditions like ours, God communicates through dreams. Think of Joseph in the coat of many colors, Jacob’s ladder. Today, God comes to Solomon in a dream. Solomon dreams about praying and listening to God’s voice—a powerful sign. In the dream, Solomon reveals his one desire: to rule the people wisely. He asks for what I wish leaders today would ask for: the ability to discern good from evil, truth from lies, fact from fantasy. God is pleased by Solomon’s request and sets in the new king’s heart a crown greater than any throne or worldly treasure, the crown of Wisdom. It’s when we are at that place of overwhelm, when I realize that I alone am not enough to the task at hand, that’s when God will do some might fine work. That’s when I need the Wisdom that exceeds my own. That’s the Wisdom Solomon prayed for. To understand Wisdom well we must appreciate paradox and accept ambiguity. How do you define Wisdom? T.S. Eliot prophesied these words over a century ago.
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Modern humorist Miles Kington is more straightforward.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
The Wisdom of Newman
An episode of Seinfeld reimagines today’s scripture with Newman as King Solomon. Elaine and Kramer come to Newman to determine custody of a bicycle. After hearing their arguments, Newman rules that the bike will be cut down the middle and each gets half. Elaine responds, “This is your solution? To ruin the bike? OK, fine, fine, go ahead, cut the stupid thing in half!” Kramer says, “No, give it to her. I’d rather see it given to another than destroyed. Give it to her, I beg you.” Newman speaks wisdom by saying, “Only the bike’s true owner would rather give it away than see it come to harm.” And as Elaine throws a hissy fit, Kramer rides out of the apartment on a girl’s bike. The Wisdom of Solomon (and Newman) is all about good judgment.
Justice on My Mind
There are many Elaines in the world who, like the lying mother who stands before Solomon, had rather see something destroyed than to share it. When public swimming pools were racially integrated by law in the 60s, many angry racist communities rebelled by filling in their public pools rather than share with those people. In Lynchburg, Virginia there’s an indentation in a city park that stands—or sinks—as a example of how a nation’s collective sin of white supremacy cannot be buried. It must be addressed. Still, there are those who’d rather tear down than share this nation.
Next Sunday, I fly to my home state of Georgia to serve as a poll watcher on November 8th. This is how I am called to worship and serve God, to put legs on prayers. I want to be useful to guarantee every legal vote is cast and counted because I know as a Reformed Christian that God works through the people; let them speak. My more selfish, personal goal is to be able to forgive myself as God freely as forgives me, for all the times I have done nothing in the face of injustice.
The Mothers’ Plight
In today’s reading, Solomon listens deeply to two women who are not attached to any male relative. That’s should be a big deal in itself. What’s more, the text calls these women prostitutes. Even though the acts of eating shellfish or wearing mixed fiber outfits were outlawed by Levitical Law, there were no laws against prostitution. For many unattached women, sex work was the only profession for eking out a living. This allowed ancient sex workers an ironic kind of agency—but at the cost of their future. Think with me. Both women had sons. Those sons could participate in the economy. Their mothers could not. Those sons could one day own some stuff. Their mothers could not. In this passage, those two baby boys hold more potential social power than their mothers. Those infants are literal lifelines out of their abject poverty.
Does this change how we view these so-called prostitutes? Consider them individually. First, the mother who accidentally suffocated her baby during the night, her raw grief now compounded with feverish panic for her future, would they now try her for murder? If she makes it through this day, then what? The mother of the son Solomon threatens to have sliced in half? Can you imagine! No wonder she says to give him to the other woman. She couldn’t bear to lose her son. Maybe later, as he grew, she could work something out with the other woman.
The Justice Mandate
Solomon’s judgment is an example of what biblical interpreter Ken Stone calls the ancient Near East mandate that “wise and good king[s] must ensure justice for those who occupy marginal social positions.” Later, this same mandate fuels the ministry of Jesus: who demonstrates God’s partiality for the poor and vulnerable. “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” Jesus tells the sad rich man. Sacrificing for the poor, justice for the those who live on the edges—this is the call for every follower of Jesus.
Last Monday night, Reza Aslan stood here and told us about a Presbyterian missionary to Iran, Howard Baskerville, a 22-year-old, about the same age of Solomon in today’s reading. In 1909, after getting to know the people of Tehran, Baskerville could just stay out of their suffering. He was expected to. The church and the government wanted him to stick to the plan: teach them about Jesus and keep his hands inside the ride at all times. How can anybody know Jesus and stay quiet in the face of injustice? Baskerville martyred himself for the freedom to honor his deep faith in Jesus and for the poor people of Tehran. Hear me: I’m not trying to inspire any martyrs today!
What I pray to inspire is selfless agape love, Christlike love that moves beyond reading good books and posting great articles. Love that must be acted upon. Love that makes sacrifices for the poor and vulnerable. Love that stands up for women to be regarded as full adults capable of making their own decisions. Love that defends trans children from attack and non-conforming children from conversion therapy. Love that shows the world who we are and whose we are through.
Solomon’s Wisdom is inspired by the humanity that poured from a mother’s heart. In Hebrew, that kind of Wisdom is called chochmat. (Say Chochmat.) We love our Jewish neighbors. Jewish artist Michaela Ezra describes Chochmat Wisdom as: the innermost point of inspiration, the first spark of an idea…linked to the energy of the first day of creation. [It orders our chaos.] It is a wisdom that perceives a greater picture; a capsule that holds within it the concept of everything to come. It is connected to the nothingness before it, and also to the ultimate fruition that will spring forth from it. …[It] is not so simply a “wise heart” but it is an inspired heart, an open heart, a heart with space for the possibility of the unknown to unfold within it. 
In chapter 8 of the book of Proverbs we meet Wisdom, the woman just outside the city gate. She has companioned God since “the beginning” working alongside God as a master artist, a gorgeous passage of scripture. The literary form of Wisdom’s monologue is curiously similar to the opening lines of John’s gospel. We read it on Christmas Eve as John’s account of how God was born in Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Likewise, Proverbs 8, Wisdom tells says, “I was with God in the beginning…and I still play in God’s inhabited world, delighting in the human race. Solomon’s Wisdom (chochmat) is adapted by the author of John 1 to describe the Word (logos). Jesus, the Logos, imprinted with the Wisdom handed down through David’s lineage, from Solomon to Jesus.
How many of us look to Jesus for Wisdom in making choices and good judgments? Do we, like Jesus, let our hearts open to inspiration, the unknown unfolding in us? Do we delight in humanity? Are our hearts spacious enough for our God-given potential to be realized?
This week I asked a question on Facebook. How would Jesus vote? Some days I’m shocked how I invite irritation into my life. “How would Jesus vote?” A clear question. Didn’t Marci ask us that in a sermon recently? Well. I was stunned at the answers. Does nobody read the actual Bible anymore? Even a seminary student assured me that Jesus would not vote. Well, that’s not the question. Now, I don’t presume to know if Jesus would actually vote, but we will, and I want mine to be wise, like Solomon’s judgment, reflecting my Christian convictions.
We are fond of saying that how we use our money is an expression of faith. We call the church budget a theological document. Yes, absolutely, but it doesn’t end there, not if we’re following somebody who sacrificed his life for us on a cross. On this Reformation Sunday, we remember how Martin Luther put the Bible into the hands of the people, how his doctrine—“the priesthood of all believers”—democratizes salvation (small case d, democratized.) No longer do the faithful need to depend on somebody else to read the scripture to us and interpret it for us. Luther’s printed Bible de-privatizes Christianity and lets God speak directly to us, making Wisdom a crown suitable for monarchs and mothers alike. Calvary, as an expression of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is Reformed and always reforming, trusting Wisdom, doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with our God.
 The last line of 1 Kings, Chapter 2
 paraphrasing Luther
 from “The Rock” by T.S. Eliot, complete poem at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/fond-farewell-to-the-genius-of-miles-kington-781024.html (October 23, 2022)
 Andy McSmith, “Fond farewell to the genius.” The Independent, February 12, 2008, accessed online at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/fond-farewell-to-the-genius-of-miles-kington-781024.html (October 22, 2022)
 Season 7, Episode 3, 1996, called “Seven” accessed online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven (October 26, 2022)
 The scene is viewable at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsbgwNe4Rv4 (October 26, 2022)
 The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, Abindgon Press, 2003), 488.
 Ken Stone, The Queer Bible Commentary Second Edition (London: SCM Press, 2022) 201)
 Explained beautifully here https://socialconcerns.nd.edu/content/4-preferential-option-poor-and-vulnerable (October 20, 2022)
 Reza Aslan, An American in Persia (New York: Norton, 2022), https://wwnorton.com/books/9781324004479
 Micaela Ezra, “Wisdom of the Heart” March 22, 2017, accessed online at https://ahyinjudaica.com/blog/2017/3/22/wisdom-of-the-heart (October 20, 2022)
 John 1:1
 Proverbs 8:31
1 Kings 3:4-9; 10-15; 16-28
4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.
He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.
16 Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
22 The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”
24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
26 The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”
But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.