15 August 2021

“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 1 Kings 3:5

Whoever has pulled weeds this summer or ever knows how much of a tedious task it is, but also how necessary it is.  Our community garden is now bearing its fruit (or more literally, vegetables), but it is easy for it to be overcome by weeds.  When there are weeds around a plant, it has to compete for water, soil, and sunlight.  If you saw the garden at one point in July, you would have not been able to tell plant from weed.  I know that I could not.  But after some hard work pulling all the weeds, we could start to tell the difference.  Ask yourself now, have you ever taken the time to weed your own garden?  No, not at your house, but in your soul.  If you let your spiritual life alone for weeks, months, or even years, you are going to gather more and more weeds that clutter your mind and your focus on God.  Together, we can pray to God: “Loving God, when you show me my personal sin, point me to your plan to pull those weeds.”

We are not quite ready to start thinking about school yet, although already there are only nine days left of summer vacation in Bellevue, as school starts next Tuesday.  In school, we get corrected nearly every day, if not every day.  I remember that some teachers corrected my work with red pen.  My English teacher, however, preferred to use a green pen, which seemed friendlier than red.  The objective of correcting was to make something better, perhaps point out a better way of saying something or to make something clearer.  It was not merely to mark something as wrong.  Seeing green comments were always far more encouraging to me as a less confident student than red corrections were.

Proverbs 15:31 tells us, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”  None of us are perfect, and it is certain that we do not walk perfectly in line with God’s will.  We all have weeds, and we all need correction.  Cindy Kasper notes, “When Jesus corrected people, He did so in love.  In some circumstances – such as when He was confronted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt. 23) – He rebuked them harshly, yet still for their benefit.  But in the case of his friend Martha, a gentle correction was all that was needed (Luke 10:38-42).  … God’s loving correction helps us to adjust our direction and to follow God more closely.  Those who refuse it are sternly warned, but those who respond to it through the power of the Holy Spirit will gain wisdom and understanding” (Our Daily Bread 3.20.21).

We have been following the story of King David, though we have focused on some of the most difficult moments of his reign rather than the glorious battle victories that are sandwiched between.  As we have said, he could have given up in those difficult moments, saying that he would never be close in his walk with God, but he didn’t.  He could have stopped trying to seek God, but he kept at it.  This is why he is one of the greatest kings of Israel; not because he made mistakes, but because he did not let those mistakes defeat him.  He inspired others to do the same, which is crucial because no one is without mistakes.  When his son Solomon began to reign, he worshipped God, and God asks Solomon what he wants from God.

What would you ask God for?  Would you ask for money to pay the bills or maybe a bigger house?  Would you ask for more friends or maybe for that annoying friend to stop calling you every day?  Would you ask for more diligence in your prayer life?  Perhaps the ability to hear God better?  In our book group, we are asking ourselves how we can hear God’s voice better.  Solomon has this same idea in mind, also admitting his humility before God: “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in unrightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.  And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go our or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:6-9).  Solomon gives us many great examples to follow in his response to God.  First, he recognizes the love that God has shown in the past.  If you ask something of God today – right now – or in your prayer time when you ask God for your greatest need which I try to do every week – are you doing in the context of what God has already done for you, or have you forgotten in the immediacy of your current need?  We are always to remind ourselves when we pray of what God has already done.  Praying God’s victories assures us that God is capable of anything, and it gives us more faith to pray our need.  Second, Solomon recognizes that God shows steadfast love – that is, God has loved, does love, and will never stop loving God’s servants.  There is no love that can be more steadfast than God.  Because God loves us, God wants to be close to us.  God wants us to turn to God.  God whispers to us so that we have to lean in to hear.  God wants to help us because God loves us.  Knowing that God wants to help us gives us more faith as well because it is easy to convince ourselves that God just stands back and laughs as we try to tackle life on our own.  When you pray, begin by centering yourselves on what God has done and on what God wants.  Admit, as Solomon did, that you do not know the way of the Lord unless God helps you through it.

Some of us may ask for gentler speech.  How many of you have had harsh words directed at you?  Proverbs tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1).  When one reader sent the author an angry email, instead of deleting it or retorting back, the author responded back, “I think you’ve used the anonymity of the internet to say something you probably wouldn’t say to my face.  Please reconsider your unkind words!”  The reader emailed back, apologizing and vowing never to send anyone such an email again (Our Daily Bread 4.21.21).  A gentle answer invites more of what we want to see in this world.  We can show that example when anyone else would expect us to respond harshly.  When have you last become defensive with someone?  Why do you think you reacted that way?  How can you ask God to help you respond next time with patient and gentle words?

We can keep living the way of the world, or we can live the way of the Lord.  The way of the Lord has a few key differences.  First, when you find it, you will never grow hungry or thirsty again.  In the way of the world, we are always hungry and thirsty for more glory, more power, and more fame.  Second, the world traps you in disappointment, anger, and fear.  The way of the Lord is love, rejoicing, and peace.  If you feel like you are outside this way and are ensnared in the way of the world, but want to be free, lean in to God.  Listen to God.  Pray to God like Solomon did.  First, praise God.  God has done so much for us already.  Second, know God.  God loves us and always will.  Third, know ourselves.  We are weak without God’s help.  Fourth, see God.  See where God is, where God is needed, and what you must do to fulfill that need.  Solomon knew that he needed to understand the people, but also understand God’s will.  He wanted to understand the difference between good and evil.  He wanted to know what God’s will was and what it wasn’t.  Who doesn’t want to know this?  Who doesn’t want to be better at leading people closer to God?  Some of the kings that we read about in the Bible could care less.  But David cared, Solomon cared, and we care too.  We are given a great example of how to ask God for help in this; let us not ignore this lesson today.  We are not the first ones trying to lead God’s people.

We worship in much the same way.  We start by praising God.  We sing a song of praise to begin each service.  We recognize that God is here in this space and surely loves us.  Then we come to God knowing ourselves and freely sharing our shortcomings with each other and with God.  You also have your own to come to God with.  But then, and only then, after we hear the assurance of forgiveness, we are able to hear God’s new words fall on our fresh ears and listen to God’s message asking us to try a new thing, to lean in to God, to hear God.  We see God, we pray for God’s mission in the world, and we respond by rejoicing.

In knowing ourselves, we all know that we have weeds.  And like our community garden, once we pull the weeds once, they won’t stop growing back.  But don’t hate the job.  Love it.  As Christians, we should love correction.  Now, it is important to be able to discern that the correction is from God and not from the world or someone who is attached to the world somehow.  We must lean on prayer for this.  We must lean on Scripture.  But when God corrects us, helps us to pull weeds in our life that are choking our God-given qualities and traits – some of which we did not even realize were weeds – we will actually feel freer.  When we are corrected by the loving words and the chance to rethink and change angry words that we may have sent off to someone, we actually are freer.  Challenge yourself this week to not retort in anger to someone who is unfair to you.  Instead, kindly reply, noting the insensitive behavior but giving them another chance to say something different and apologize.  Do you feel any different?  That is what it feels like to have an understanding mind, able to hear the will of God between what is evil and what is good.  Will you help spread this glory – the way of the Lord – rather than the way of the world?  Will you love to be corrected by God?  This is God’s will for your life – to be willing to admit where you have fallen short, open to hearing the voice of God, and resolving to make a difference in the place that we call home.  Next time you come to God, begin with praise.  Then ask God for what you need.  Let us pray this prayer that we often sing together: “Shine, Jesus, shine – Fill this land with the Father’s glory; Blaze, Spirit, blaze –  Set our hearts on fire; Flow, river, flow; Flood the nations with grace and mercy – Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light!”  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
2:10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David.
2:11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
2:12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.
3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.
3:4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”
3:6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
3:7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
3:8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.
3:9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
3:10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
3:11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,
3:12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
3:13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
3:14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Ephesians 5:15-20
5:15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,
5:16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
5:17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
5:18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
5:19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.
5:20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 6:51-58
6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
6:54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
6:55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

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