Integrating New Wisdom - Message from Sunday, July 18, 2021
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
I’d like to ask you to take a minute now and close your eyes. Imagine yourself as a young person, late teens or early twenties. For some of you, that moment is now. For others, this moment was some time ago. Now imagine God coming to you in a dream and saying, Ask me for anything. Anything at all. Anything you ask for to navigate the journey and challenges of your life, I will give to you.
Ok, now open your eyes. What came to mind when you imagined this scene? What did you ask for? Was it a loving relationship with a wonderful partner? Was it long life and health? Was it financial security? Was it a spiritual community to journey with through life’s ups and downs? There are so many things we could ask for in that situation.
Well, this is the situation that is playing out in our scripture for today. You remember in last week’s scripture, David was seen dancing as he returned the longed for ark to the midst of the people, ending a period of trauma. But as this period of a sense of absence from God ended, not everyone responded with the desire to dance. David’s reign continued, then he came to the end of his life.
As our scripture for today opens, Solomon, the son of David, has become king over all of Israel. He is young, some scholars think he was around 15 or 16, but perhaps he was in his mid-twenties. Though this passage suggests that the transfer of power was a peaceful one, it was not. On his deathbed, King David orders the murder of several rivals, who are relatives of Solomon’s. It is ironic that Solomon gives thanks to God for giving David a son to sit upon his throne in 1 Kings chapter 3, verse 6, because one of David’s main problems is that he had too many sons who wanted the throne — Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah and Solomon. One by one they are murdered, some by Solomon himself, until only Solomon is left.
Solomon’s path to the kingship of Israel is a path of trauma and violence. In this short time of the transfer of power, he learns many lessons the hard way. And while some historians may say that Solomon displayed a steely resolve and keen sense of political strategy in this transfer of power, it seems that Solomon himself is aware that this bloody leadership is something he does not want to perpetuate. He wants to hold onto the hard-won insights he’s gained through this period of trauma, while also moving beyond the period of upheaval and violence. And so when God comes to him in a dream and asks what gift Solomon would like to receive from God, Solomon asks for wisdom.
Wisdom becomes a thru-line in Solomon’s reign. He values it, explores it in writing, prays for it. Throughout his reign, Solomon demonstrates himself to be thoughtful, empathetic, and collaborative in building alliances rather than engaging in military conquest. He’s not a perfect person but he’s perpetually seeking for understanding of how to be a faithful servant of God. When we look at Solomon, a picture of what wisdom is emerges. We see that it’s not a one-time gift bestowed on a young man, but a perpetual quest, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing to understand how to act according to God’s purpose. Solomon’s wisdom is tested through his experience of service and faith, as he sees what leads to peace and adherence to the law of love and justice, and what does not.
As we emerge from our own periods of trauma, we, too, are emerging with new insights. These are insights that came from time spent alone, or in small groups. This is clarity that has come from the reality of a global pandemic that has put into sharp relief what is life-giving and what is not. This is truth found in the experience of relying on the hope and transcendence we find through faith when the rest of the ground falls away. In some ways it can feel like this experience brought us to the core of life’s meaning and purpose.
Research on wisdom suggests that there are three types of wisdom:
General wisdom that understands the “fundamental pragmatics of life” and the human condition.
Personal wisdom in which the individual has perspective on themself and develops coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult circumstances, as well as understanding and empathizing with the circumstances of others.
Self-transcendence, which develops in people who are deeply spiritual and have a deep connection to past and future generations. [Homiletics, July/August 2021]
I submit to you this morning a fourth type of wisdom, Faithful Wisdom. Faithful wisdom is this kind of wisdom that combines the pragmatism and care of general wisdom, the resilience and empathy of personal wisdom, and the big-picture humility of self-transcendence. It is wisdom often honed through a traumatic experience, but not a wisdom that expects that there will never be another challenge, another hardship. It is wisdom that marvels in and is grateful for what is.
The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron tells a story of a meeting she had with a well-known leader in the Shambala tradition. It was at a time when her life was falling apart. Though she was also a well-respected leader in their tradition at the time, she felt like a failure. So she went in to see the master. He said to her, “How is your meditation practice?” “Fine,” she answered.
Then the conversation proceeded with superficial chatter. After a short time, the master stood up and said, “It was nice to meet you.” At that moment, Chodron realized she would have to expose herself or lose the opportunity to hear the wisdom of the master. And so she let it all out. “My life is over. I have hit bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.” And here is the advice Trungpa Rinpoche gave her. He said, “Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there. And you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and keep walking.
“So, you stand up, because the ‘lying there’ choice equals dying. But you can choose to stand up and start walking, and after a while another big wave comes and knocks you down.
“You find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with sand in your nose and sand in your mouth, and again you have the choice to lie there or to stand up and start walking forward.
“So the waves keep coming,” he said. “And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward. After a while, it will begin to seem to you that the waves are getting smaller and smaller. And they won’t knock you over anymore.”
“That is good life advice,” Chodron says. It isn’t that the waves stop coming; it’s that because you train in holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart, and you accept that each moment is a new moment, the waves appear to be getting smaller and smaller, and they don’t knock you over anymore.” [Adapted from Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chodron. Copyright © 2015 by Pema Chodron. To be published by Sounds True in September 2015.]
What is interesting about Solomon’s reign is that though he was considered a paragon of wisdom, he still faced challenges in his lifetime. He still made mistakes. Yahweh gave him the gift of wisdom, and yet there are times when he sacrifices to foreign gods. And there are consequences to this. He has other periods of trauma and endures other moments violence. But he knows that his true north is the God of Israel. He knows that walking in God’s path is what is life-giving. He knows that God’s love enfolding is unconditional. And when he gets knocked over, he gets up, rights himself and turns again toward God.
Wisdom isn’t about getting it right all of the time or being able to give others perfect advice, or even being able to recreate a situation where we discovered an essential piece of our own truth. It’s about knowing that in all situations, through the grace of God, we can keep getting back up. This faith, despite what comes, is the ground of our hope. True wisdom is informed by hope. Faithful wisdom has faced fear and trauma, but keeps getting back up. Waves do come. But in faithful wisdom, it’s not that the waves get smaller, its that God gets bigger. In wisdom, the awareness of God’s presence gets more and more infused with each breath we take.
Just as we are now tentatively emerging, we are facing new concerns about variants. Thankfully, our high vaccination rate in the Bay area is of some comfort. But we know more challenges may come. Faithful wisdom accepts this but keeps walking forward without giving in to cynicism. Sometimes cynicism can masquerade as wisdom, that world weariness that predicts doom. As if we should all know better than to give in to hope. But cynicism is never wisdom because wisdom is full of hope, and cynicism is devoid of hope.
The paradox of trauma is that the vulnerability it engenders makes us more empathetic to others. As we emerge and heal, we can forget what the pain of loss feels like. While this is a relief, it also can make us less empathetic. Our task is to hold the vulnerability and empathy of our past experience while moving forward with hope. Our task is to know that we can God will always pull us back up, and to keep walking in the ways that lead to life, expecting the sands to shift, but knowing that our faith is built on solid ground. This is wisdom. And this is Good News. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - Sunday, July 18, 2021
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
The Community Gathers...
Prelude: "Be Thou My Vision"
Caroline Lee, viola & Aeri Lee, piano
Welcome & The Gathering of Spirits
Rev. Kristin Stoneking & Judy Kriege
Opening Music: "Come Out the Wilderness"
Judy Kriege & Charles Lynch
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Passing the Peace
Leader: The peace of the risen Christ is with you!
People: And also with you! You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "Galileo" by the Indigo Girls
Message: "Emerge: Integrating New Wisdom"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
*Hymn of Response: "I Sing the Almighty Power of God"
Prayers of the People:
Leader: God of wisdom, People: Hear our prayers.
If you have a prayer request or are interested in longer-term spiritual accompaniment from a Stephen Minister, please email email@example.com, or send a text message with the word "Prayer" to: +1-510-588-5055.
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer)
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.
Offertory: "I Know I've Been Changed"
Cathryn Bruno, Judy Cayot, Ron Parker
Praise be to God, who breathes the breath of life. Praise to the Christ who sets us free. Praise the Spirit whose wind and fire give power to move and light to see. As it was before the world began, is here and now and evermore. Alleluia! Praise the three-in-one whom we worship and adore.
Prayer of Dedication
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
*Closing Hymn: "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise "
Postlude: "Toccata from Symphony for Organ #5" comp. Charles-Marie Widor
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks To
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Worship participants: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Cathryn Bruno, Judy Cayot, Susan Jardin, Carole Klokkevold, Judy Kriege, Aeri Lee, Charles Lynch, Caroline Lee, Ron Parker, Kelly Trego
Audio Engineer: Paul Nasman Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey
Prayers © 2021 enfleshed.
Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.