1 Kings 3:5-12
by Silvia Purdie, A Rocha Aotearoa, New Zealand
NOTES ON THE READINGS
1 Kings 3:5-12 – Solomon and the ethics of sustainability
Solomon’s dream conversation with God is beautiful. It reveals how God works; like Jesus asking sick people what they would like him to do for them. Here God invites Solomon to ask for what he most desires. God does that for us, too. What do you wish to ask for? What matters most to you? Not what you think you ought to want, but what bubbles up from your heart. Our calling as Christians is forged at the point of connection between our deepest desires and God’s best purpose for us.
Solomon answers by sharing with God his own sense of inadequacy as he faces the enormous challenge and complex expectations of leadership. “How will I know?” he cries out to God, “What is right and what is wrong?” And God affirms this, naming it the desire for justice and discernment, and blesses Solomon with wisdom.
Knowing what is right and what is wrong we name the principles of ethics. This includes the rightness and wrongness of how people treat each other, which we name social justice. And the rightness and wrongness of how people treat the planet we name ecology and environmental justice.
The church used to represent moral and ethical ‘good’ in our society. Now the word ‘good’ increasingly refers to what is good for our planet. You can buy ‘For the Better Good’ recycled plastic bottles, or ‘All Good’ soaps. In western societies there is an emerging ethic of sustainability & moral imperative. The church might not be leading this, but it has an important role to play. Ruth Valero’s book ‘L is for Lifestyle’ provides an ‘A-Z’ of practical steps for “Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth.” The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand recently reaffimed its commitment to being responsible stewards of God’s creation and asked all parishes to stop using disposable single use items such as styrofoam cups, switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products, and have recycling bins readily available. These are about wisdom and ethics, discernment of what is right and wrong in our time and place.
Psalm 119:129-136 – Environmental Law
“Your statutes are wonderful”. Unless you work as a lawyer you are unlikely to feel quite so positive about the law. But law can be a powerful tool for good. We have seen this in the development of international environmental law, which is a vital tool in protecting natural spaces and protecting vulnerable communities from getting pollution dumped in their home. There are 5 principles of environmental law acknowledged by the EU, UK and other nations.
- The precautionary principle: protective measures should be taken without having to wait until the harm materialises.
- The prevention principle: we should anticipate and avoid environmental damage before it happens.
- Environmental damage should be rectified at source: pollution is dealt with where it occurs.
- The polluter pays principle: the person who causes pollution should bear the costs of the damage caused and any remedy required.
- The integration principle: environmental protection is integrated into all other areas of policy and governance, in line with promoting sustainable development.
For more information:
Brittanica website: www.britannica.com/topic/environmental-law/Principles-of-environmental-law
Client Earth website: www.clientearth.org/what-are-environmental-principles-brexit/
What is God’s law? We typically think of the 10 Commandments, and rightly so. But most Christians do not uphold all Old Testament rules as God’s law for us in 2020. Reading Psalm 119 with environmental law in mind could be a helpful way to think about the statutes and decrees that God has given to protect his people and his creation. All talk of law, however, must stand under the greatest commandment of all: Love (John 13:34).
Romans 8:26-39 – Wordless Groans
Romans Chapter 8 stands among the greatest texts of all time, and has a special place in Christian faith. A vast amount that has been, and could be, written on these words. For this brief comment I would like simply to sit with Paul’s description of the Spirit of God interceding for us with wordless emotion. The Greek word ‘groaning’ is also used for the cries of the slaves in Egypt in Acts 7:34, and is similar to word for the pain of childbirth (the King James used ‘travail’, e.g. John 16:21). In Romans 8 Paul tells of creation (v22), “we ourselves” (v23) and the Holy Spirit (v26), all groaning.
Eco Theology draws attention to the nearness of God and invites worship of a God passionate about all created beings, including the human ones. This is an important counterbalance to the dualism that sets the spiritual over and against the tangible. Our Reformed heritage placed the Word in the highest place, elevating logic expressed verbally, and devaluing the body and the earth. Paul’s theology of groaning is a window into God’s heart which is so very with us, so very present in our pain and our wordless cries. This is where “deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7). This affirms the prayer of whales and sparrows, oak trees and lava. This affirms the prayer of infants (Ps 8:2), the disabled, and the forgetful who no longer make much sense when they talk; God still knows and God still hears, even without our words.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 – Kingdom Stories, Kingdom Secrets
In the middle of the Gospel of Matthew is Chapter 13 which is a ‘storehouse’ of Jesus wisdom. It tells and reflects on eight stories. It is worth reading the whole chapter, especially Jesus’ explanation of why he spoke in parables. If we are puzzled by his stories, Jesus seems to say – that’s the point! “Looking they do not see, hearing they do not understand” (13:13). I think we do wrong by Jesus when we try to ‘get’ his stories and sum them up in a neat ‘point’. These 8 stories are told to confuse us, to tease us. From the birds nesting in the tree to the weeping and gnashing of teeth they tantalise us with possible meaning.
Today’s reading includes 6 short stories, far more than anyone could possibly cover in one sermon. I’m guessing that when Jesus told them he filled them out as a master story teller would, and all Matthew gives us is the ‘potted summary’. Do they have anything in common? Taken together as a group of stories, what do we notice?
They’re a bit ‘Over The Top’. For goodness sake, no woman would make 50 pounds of bread, that’s outrageous! No one would sell everything just for a pearl, no matter how pretty it is.
They contradict each other. The fish in the net story seems to say that God only wants some people and throws the rest away, while the storehouse story seems to say that everything is a treasure, old or new.
There’s a theme bubbling away about little and big; the seed, the yeast, the pearl are tiny things with a big impact. Which is perhaps our point of connection back to Solomon. Perhaps the little thing with the big impact is wisdom.
Some ‘eco’ questions to engage these stories:
- What kind of wisdom do we need in 2020 to care for the planet?
- What is Jesus inviting us to ‘see and hear’ in the world around us?
- What are the small actions that have a big impact?
- Each story describes a dynamic ecosystem: a tree with birds nesting, a fizzing batch of yeast, fish and fishers. Where is God in the system? Explore an ecosystem approach to faith.
- Jesus describes the stories as expressing the “secrets of the kingdom” (13:11). In our care for the environment, what are the ‘kingdom secrets’ that the Spirit uncovers for us?
‘Little can be huge’
Focus Bible verses:
a) the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, Matthew 13:31-33, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”
b) Solomon’s request for “a discerning heart”, 1 Kings 3:9
c) Psalm 119: 130, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple”
a) Little things can have a big impact, such as seeds and yeast
b) The biggest little thing is wisdom.
Tell a story of a local group or from your own experience of doing something small for the environment which has had a larger impact, e.g. an enviro school project, or a tree you planted, or a conversation you had.
How would you describe this in terms of wisdom? You might not describe yourself as wise, but how can you articulate the practical ‘common sense’ or ‘discernment’ that guides you? What kind of wisdom is needed in the world today?
- A children’s talk with yeast and making bread
- A children’s talk with seeds and plants (e.g. photos to match the plant with the seed it grew from)
- Invite the congregation to discussion and/or write down a commitment to one action to care for the environment, e.g. writing a letter to their local supermarket asking about their policies to reduce plastic
“What do you want?” – Prayer, from 1 Kings 3:5-12
Could be used as a prayer of approach, confession, offering, or intercession.
Could be read by different people, a child and an adult, or with congregational responses.
3,000 years ago God asked Solomon,
“What do you want me to give you?”
“I don’t know how to do what is asked of me.
What is right and what is wrong? Give me a wise heart.”
Here and now God asks us,
“What do you want me to give you?”
And we answer:
O God, we do not know how to do what is asked of us.
The problems of the world seem so big.
What can we do? What is right and what is wrong?
Give us, we pray, wisdom for our day,
a heart for the poor, a heart for justice.
Give us wisdom for our planet,
a heart for all living things.
Thank you for your great kindness to us!
Thank you for every gift.
Psalm 119: The Longest Psalm
How I love your law!
Psalm 119 goes on and on –
176 verses full of desire to keep the law of God.
With my whole heart I seek you, teach me your ways.
I treasure your word, stop me from doing wrong.
I trust your commandments, I will always keep them.
But our faith is not about keeping rules
or staying out of trouble.
It’s good to be good, but that’s not what Jesus asked of us.
Jesus got most angry with those who kept all the rules
but missed the point.
“This is my commandment” said Jesus, “Love each other”
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path
… not the rules, but Jesus himself,
the living Word, light of the world.
(John 13:34. Also read Romans 13:8-10)
Prayer of confession – from Romans 8: 26-28
Spirit of God, help us in our weakness.
We confess that we do not know how to pray.
Spirit of God, pray for us.
Groan for us when words run out,
sigh for us when words are not enough.
In this time of silence we let go of our words,
for you hear our heart.
Spirit of Jesus, you know us.
Deep calls to deep in your love.
Bring us into the mind of God
until we rest, forgiven, in God’s great purpose.
Friends, we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him.
The Smallest Seed
A litany for children and all ages.
Should include actions.
Read it twice, so that people are confident with the actions the 2nd time.
The smallest seed, the mustard seed,
a tiny dot, it’s nothing much!
Can God use this, this tiny speck?
What could God do with nothing much?
Cup your hands, hold it tight.
Dig a hole, plant it well.
Give it love, give it light.
What will grow? Do you know?
Day by day, week by week
month by month, year by year.
Watch it grow, green and strong,
up and up, out and out.
God at work, God at play!
A bush, a tree, a home.
Come, birds! Make your nest.
Come, people! Sit and rest.
God is good! God is great!
A Children’s Talk on the Storehouse Parable
Prepare: You need a box with something old (a rock, or a fossil if you have one), and something new (e.g. a flower bud)
Talk about how old things are: ask the children how old they are, their parents are, and to guess how old you are! Ask the congregation how old the church is.
Tell the Jesus story:
You are learning. I am learning. Everyone here in the church is learning. We are learning the ways of God. Jesus called God’s ways the Kingdom of Heaven. And he told lots of stories to help people learn the ways of God. And he said that as we learn to live the Kingdom we are like someone who has a storeroom with cool things inside. Some of the things in the storeroom are really old. And some things are really new.
Bring out the box and get the children to open it and take out what’s inside. Discuss.
God’s incredible world is a treasure house. There are things that God made long, long ago, that are very old (you could name the oldest person in your church as an example!) and there are some things which are brand new. This rock is enormously old, millions and millions of years old. This flower is so new that it has not even been opened yet. What will it look like inside? We don’t know, it’s that new!
God is like that. God is older than the universe, and God is new every morning. And living in God’s ways means honouring the treasures that have been passed down through many generations, as well as the things that are bursting out brand new.
What new idea will you have today?
What new thing will you create today that has never existed before?
Pray for the children.
by Silvia Purdie, New Zealand