This summer we are exploring dreams and visions of the bible. Last week we spent some time with Jacob, who had a dream of God’s abundant blessing as he set out on the trip of a lifetime. Today it is Solomon who receives an extraordinary message from God in a dream.
You may remember Solomon as the third king of Israel, the son of the great king David. Solomon is not David’s oldest son, and yet he receives David’s blessing to succeed him on the throne. David says to Solomon: ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways and keeping God’s statutes… so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” After a brief succession dispute, Solomon takes over David’s reign. Then he makes a thousand burnt offerings to God at the altar at Gideon.
It is at Gideon that God appears to Solomon in a dream, saying, “Ask what I should give you.” God is offering to give Solomon anything! I wonder what each of us would ask for. Solomon responds very carefully, very diplomatically. He praises God’s steadfast love and proclaims his own humility before finally saying: “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”
It takes a lot to impress God; but Solomon does it. When he could ask for anything, Solomon asks for wisdom! God promises to delivery not only the wisdom Solomon has asked for, but also wealth and honor and a long life.
We could have ended the reading there. But I could not resist continuing to the next part of the story, where we get to observe Solomon’s newfound wisdom in action. This part of the story has become famous, though I had forgotten some of the details.
Two women come to Solomon with a terrible situation. Both gave birth to a child, and one of the children has died. Now both claim that the living child belongs to them. How could even a wise King decide who is right? All Solomon has to go on is the witness of two people who disagree.
Solomon gets creative. He calls for a sword and declares that they will divide the living child in half to solve the argument. We have to hope, here, that Solomon is bluffing. Thankfully, his threat works. One of the women protests, saying she would rather have the other woman take the child, than see him perish. That woman who protests, Solomon says, is the true mother of the child: the one who could not bear to see him harmed. And the people stood in awe of Solomon, the scriptures say: “because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.”
In the past few weeks the attention of our country has turned again to the plight of people seeking refuge within our borders. Leaders in our government – many of them claiming a Christian faith – have failed to show compassion for those who travel here. Security is being tightened against people who are desperate for bread or safety. Water is being denied to people who are thirsty in the desert; providing water has even become a crime. Medical care is being withheld from people in need of it. Children are being separated from their parents. People of all ages are being detained, imprisoned, held in inhumane conditions.
How would an understanding mind govern such a situation? How would a discerning heart measure the good and evil at work? What might the wisdom of God lead us to, in this instance?
In some cases, it is difficult to find guidance on modern issues in our ancient scriptures. This is not one of those cases. I have mentioned before the unequivocal biblical witness on this issue: how Moses and Jesus speak with one voice about our responsibility to those who are travelers, strangers, refugees. And these teachings are simply an expansion of the most central guidelines of our faith: to love God, and our neighbor as ourselves.
What’s more, how can we, as a people, as a nation, take any child that is not ours, and then offer them callous disregard; emotional and physical abuse? Children belong where and with whom they will be cherished. Children of God of all ages must have at least their basic needs met, if we desire to honor God and one another.
Most of us have not been promised a special gift of wisdom from the Holy One, as Solomon was. But all of us have the capacity to seek God’s wisdom: from the scriptures, from discernment in faithful community, from searching deep inside ourselves. Unfortunately, this discernment is not always a top priority.
It is so much easier and more socially acceptable to ask what is expedient, what is pleasurable, what is profitable, what protects us, what brings us power. And yet, for big decisions: personal and political: perhaps the first question we should always ask is: What would God’s wisdom be about this? When we ask this question, we may not come up with a clear answer, or with God’s answer; our discernment is imperfect. Still, just asking the question can change everything.
I am deeply grateful for all the faithful and skilled people already doing their very best for those children of God on our borders, and within our facilities. If you feel moved to offer support, there are many avenues for that, including donations for bail money or humanitarian relief, local demonstrations at detainment facilities, volunteering with the Metrowest Immigrant Solidarity Network, or contacting your elected officials. I have a handout here this morning with some resources and ideas of how we can support and amplify what is already in process.
For now, please pray with me: Holy God, you have shown steadfast love to our ancestors, and to us. In the face of our weighty responsibilities, and our complicated world, we still often feel that we are like small children, uncertain how to go out or come in. Grant us, your servants, the humility to ask in all difficulties what you would desire; what you would do; how you would decide. May a sense of your wisdom guide us, and all your people, that your justice may be done in our nation, and throughout creation. Amen.