Morning Worship for Seventh Sunday after Trinity

26th July 2020

A video of this service (30 mins) is available.

Almighty God, your Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence. Give us new hearts and constant wills to worship you in spirit and in truth. Amen.

Confession

The gospel calls us to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. As we offer ourselves to him in penitence and faith, we renew our confidence and trust in his mercy. We have not always worshipped God our creator. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. We have not always followed Christ our Saviour. Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. We have not always trusted the Holy Spirit. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. May almighty God, who sent his Son into the world to save sinners, bring us his pardon and peace, now and for ever. Amen.

Collect

Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow: though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Old Testament Reading:
1 Kings 3: 5-12
New Testament Reading:
Romans 8: 26-end
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

Reflection by the Revd Ola Franklin

Making wise choices

When you were a child, I’m sure you must have come across a story or two where someone is given 3 wishes, and they waste the first two and then make a better choice third time around.

In this morning’s Old Testament reading, Solomon has a dream where God offers him a blank cheque, so to speak. ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you,’ said the Lord to Solomon. Sounds to me like a loaded question. What on earth would Solomon ask for?

Instead of asking for any selfish thing he might want, Solomon asked God for what he knew he needed: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” The Bible passage is often summed up as “Solomon asks for Wisdom.”

Solomon knew that wisdom, in other words a discerning heart and an understanding mind, are more valuable than traditional signs of kingship. He disregarded the traditional royal culture of material and political favour and asked for goodness over his ruling so that he acknowledged and remembered God’s sovereignty.

God responded to Solomon’s expression of humility by giving him the wisdom necessary to govern the people. In biblical tradition, wisdom and discernment were always gifts from God, not human achievements. Scripture consistently views human abilities and accomplishments in relation to God.

The story tells us that Solomon understood this well. God gave Solomon what he had not asked, expressed both in material and non-material terms (riches and honour). We shouldn’t try to ignore the fact that Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, often equates blessing with material belongings. In our Western, success-driven culture we shouldn’t make too much of it either. The point is that everything comes from God. Any security, any benefit, any happiness, life itself, is a gift from God.

In ancient Israel, riches were a sign of divine blessing, but remember that material riches look very different during the age of Solomon. He ruled an agrarian kingdom. Coinage probably hadn’t yet been invented. Riches for Solomon’s kingdom meant abundant harvest, protection from pestilence and adequate rainfall. All these factors to production are difficult to stockpile. The agrarian life forced year after year dependence of God.

Wealth is not a divine right we can demand. It is always an unexpected gift from God. Paul understood this when he wrote from a Roman prison: " I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be content. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want." (Phil 4:11-12).

Solomon’s future seemed bright in this story, in that God was granting him favour because Solomon had all the right words in all the right places. Did Solomon apply his wisdom? Did his later decisions reflect his desire for God’s will and the flourishing of the Israelites? We can read about Solomon’s later actions such as enslavement of Israelites to build a temple, his vast accrual of foreign wives and concubines. None of these things seem particularly wise.

By the time the history of Solomon is written, most of these things would have been known. We might then wonder why, he is portrayed as asking for and receiving wisdom.

How do we interpret this story today? First, we are reminded of God’s interaction and that God is God and we are not. It is God who chooses, equips, and is with us as we serve and lead. God also asks us to respond to the same sort of question asked of Solomon. What do we want? What will we desire for the Creator of the Universe to give to us? What will our answer be?

Secondly, we can rest assured that God works through a variety of people, all of whom are flawed and imperfect. Even wise people don’t do everything perfectly. Yet still God raises the right people at the right time to do what is right in God’s sight. There is great hope and possibility in this knowledge and much that we can learn from Solomon’s example.

We know that most people are a mix of good and bad motives or intentions. People have the potential to do good, but also much harm. Solomon's request for a "discerning heart” may encourage us to do what is right, to listen to the voice of the voiceless, and to do what we can to help to meet the needs of the helpless.

Second, it is significant to note that it’s exactly within the unresolved tensions of this text, which mirror the messiness of life in which God acts. It is significant that it is God who approaches Solomon in a dream, regardless of his failures and frailties as a human being. God's initiative suggests that his grace breaks into the midst of the everyday realities of life that are by no means straightforward or uncomplicated – and God breaking in with his love and grace is the message we can proclaim as the good news of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Blessing

The glory of God the Creator be with you, the glory of Christ the Redeemer be with you, the glory of the Spirit, the Sanctifier be with you; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Amen. Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.