Welcome to the Church
The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. (John 4:23)
So we come together, as the people of God, wherever we are, in spirit and truth, to worship God,
To read the scriptures; to seek his word; to pray for the world and all its people, and to sing songs of praise.
But today we do so with heavy hearts; we have lost our brother in Christ, John Norris this week, and while we trust in God’s unfailing love and the hope that we have in Jesus, we feel sadness that he is gone from us.
We thank God for John and his part in the life of his church in Carlingford, and we uphold Ena, Warren and Janelle to God, asking for his comfort and peace for them.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Our prayer of adoration is from Psalm 105 (v1-5):
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
Make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
Tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
Seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
His miracles, and the judgements he has uttered.
As we praise you Lord, we realise how much we fall short, how much we fall short of all we could be and all you desire us to be.
We fall short because we are selfish,
We fall short because we are lazy,
We fall short because we are ignorant.
We fall short because we are greedy.
We fall short because we think we know best.
We fall short because we fail to listen to your word.
…and so we pray:
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name.
God proves his love for us
in that while we still were sinners,
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Hear anew Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven’.
Thanks be to God
A significant birthday
Had we been gathering together today in normal circumstances; it would have been a special celebration – there would have been singing and cake to celebrate Jean Churchward’s 90th birthday this past week. Sadly, we cannot meet or sing or share in cake, but we do share in celebrating Jean’s significant birthday, and in thanking God for Jean’s contribution to the life and witness of God’s church in Carlingford.
Happy birthday, Jean – and we look forward to sharing a birthday cake with you when we can. May God bless you and keep you for many more birthdays to come.
Hymn: Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Bible Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Matthew 6:25-34
1 Kings 3:5-12
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Before we start looking at today’s Old Testament reading, think for a moment about what wise choices you’ve made. Maybe they’ve been big choices – who to marry, where to live, what to study. And maybe they’ve been not so big. What brand of coffee to buy. Whether to roll over that term deposit for twelve months or eighteen months. Whether to wear a mask when you go to the shops.
And as you think about those choices, think about what makes them wise choices. I think it’s probably a good outcome, but I think there’s something more to a genuinely wise choice than just a good outcome. Perhaps is the best outcome or the ideal outcome? Perhaps it’s the best choice you would have made if you had perfect knowledge?
Of course, Solomon is famous for his wisdom – for making wise choices, and in today’s Old Testament reading we learn the source of his wisdom.
In the lead up to today’s reading from 1 Kings, in verses 1-4 of Chapter 3, we learn how Solomon married the Pharaoh’s daughter to cement an alliance with Egypt, and went to the city of David until he’d finished major constructions in Jerusalem – the temple, the palace and the wall around the city.
And while all this construction going on people were offering their sacrifices to God on the hilltops, the “high places”.
Verse three tells us that Solomon loved the Lord, and followed his father King David. Solomon went to one of those high places, the hilltop at Gibeon, about ten kilometres from Jerusalem to offer his own sacrifices, and his sacrifices were very generous – verse four tells us it was a thousand burnt offerings.
That means there would have been a day – at least – of sacrifices and worship with crowds of attendants and followers, with priests assisting, and likely drummers and trumpeters too. But after that, things quietened down, they would have all gone back to their tents. And finally Solomon went to sleep.
And we read that the Lord came to Solomon in a dream. And God said to the new king “Ask what I should give you”. God is saying to him “What is it you wish for?”
That’s a staple of fairy tales and fantasy fiction, isn’t it? The granting of wishes. Whether it’s by a fairy Godmother, or a genie appearing from a lamp, or even from the devil himself.
It’s a great plot device. We can all relate to it! I think most people have thought about it from time to time. If you could have anything, what would it be?
Of course, one of the common features of stories around the granting of wishes is that the wishes are often twisted around to the detriment of the wisher. So we need to be careful in what we wish for.
But here in 1 Kings, God himself offers to grant Solomon’s wish. Now Solomon was a young king. A young king of a small and fragile nation. A king of a court that had a track record of intrigue and infighting and betrayal. A king of a nation with some fairly powerful – and not always friendly - neighbours.
So, for a king in such a position, there are an awful lot of things he might have wished for: security in its various forms – a mighty army, strong walls. Or the defeat of the neighbouring nations. Or the death of all his foes in his own nation!
He might have wished for wealth. Or health and long life for himself.
But Solomon didn’t wish for any of those things.
When God says “Ask what I should give you.” Solomon responds first by letting God know the connection he has:
“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.”
God was faithful to David - and we can remember that David wasn’t always a model king, but God was faithful to him regardless. And God’s faithfulness to David extended to having his heir, Solomon, become king in turn.
And then in this dream, Solomon admits his own frailty.
“And now, O Lord my God,” he says, “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. 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.”
Being king of Israel is going to be a tough job - and there’s only been two kings before him, David and Saul. So being a kingdom, and having a king, is quite new to the Israelites as well
And then comes Solomon’s request. His wish. The thing the Solomon wants more from God than anything else – verse 9: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil;”
Or in the Good News translation “Give me the wisdom I need to rule your people”.
He doesn’t want wealth or power – although to some extent, as king of Israel, he has those things already. But instead of asking for wealth or power, he asks God for wisdom, for understanding, for discernment. The ability, I guess, to do his job well. To fulfil his calling as king of Israel, and as a servant of God.
It was a good answer. It was the right answer. It was the best answer. And it pleased God: Verses 11-12 “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, 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.”
His wish was granted. Solomon would have a wise and discerning mind. He would be a great and understanding and discerning king. And there would be no one like him again.
But I’ve been pondering how much wisdom Solomon had to start with. His request was wise and discerning. In asking God for wisdom, perhaps Solomon was making the wisest choice of his life.
So maybe God had already granted his request?
Sometimes I think our prayers are answered even before we pray them.
As a result of Solomon making this wise choice, his reward is even more than expected.
God says to Solomon “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.”
In Jesus’ time, Solomon was still the example of worldly glory and wealth and splendour. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says “And why do you worry about the clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Not even Solomon. To Jesus’ listeners, Solomon was unimaginably wealthy, unimaginably grand.
But in thinking about Solomon’s wise choice, and God’s great reward, we can often miss the proviso that God added: “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
We often think that Solomon asked for wisdom, but got wealth and power and health and long life as well. But that last one, that long life is conditional: God says “If you will walk in my ways, and keep my commandments, then I will give you long life.”
As the story of Solomon unfolds in 1 Kings, we see all of God’s promises being fulfilled. We see his wisdom in action. We see his wealth and power increasing to levels never seen before – or seen again throughout the history of Israel
But things fall apart. If you flip forward a few pages in the bible, you get to chapter 11, and the NRSV translators have simply headed the section “Solomon’s errors”. Verses 9 and 10 tell us “Then the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord […] and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded.”
And things went bad.
It seems that the wealth and power had gone to his head – and it was wealth and power on a truly epic scale: He had 700 wives and 300 concubines – and 2 Chronicles (9:13-21) tells us that among other things “Every year King Solomon received over twenty-five tons of gold, in addition to the taxes paid by the traders and merchants. The kings of Arabia and the governors of the Israelite districts also brought him silver and gold…
All of King Solomon's drinking cups were made of gold, and all the utensils in the Hall of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold…”
King Solomon was richer and wiser than any other king in the world.
But the wealth and power had pushed aside the wisdom for which Solomon had originally asked.
Wisdom might be knowing the right thing to do, but it takes more than simply wisdom to do it.
The example I always come back to is cigarette smoking. For more than fifty years we’ve been teaching kids that smoking is unhealthy. Every ten year old has known for years and years that they shouldn’t smoke… so why does anyone ever start smoking?
We all need wisdom to discern the right way… and then we need the strength, the determination, the resolve, to follow it.
We’re faced with choices in all sorts of things every day. Some are frivolous. Some are critical.
If we were confronted by God’s offer today, “Ask what I should give you” how would we respond? As individuals?
He has, of course, given us the sure and certain hope of life in him through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it’s easy to forget that and to come up with lists of things we’d like. We’d like financial security. We’d like good health and long life. We’d like our children, our families to be happy. We’d like them to be successful.
Or as a congregation, what would we like? Our church to reopen for face to face worship on Sunday mornings? And more people in church on those Sunday mornings? More money in the offertory? More or less traditional worship?
Would we ask for those things? Or do you think we would we ask God for wisdom?
As Solomon put it “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil;”
Would we make the same wise choice?
I suspect that we won’t be confronted by God in a dream with the offer “Ask what I should give you”, but that doesn’t mean the offer isn’t there. What is it that we should pray for?
Do we pray for things we’d like? Or do we pray for God’s wisdom?
As Jesus said (Matt 6:33, NKJV) “… seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Does God always answer our prayers? Well, I heard someone suggest that God always answers prayer…. But that sometimes the answer is “No”.
During the American civil war, a soldier whose identity is unknown wrote the following:
I asked for strength that I might achieve; but I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things; but I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy; but I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men; but I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; but I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered; I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
So in closing, what is it that we ask God for today? Do we seek first the kingdom of God? Do we ask God for wisdom? Will we make wise choices?
Hymn: Seek ye first
Eternal and loving God,
Thank you for your mercies and goodness which we experience in our lives every day.
Thank you for your constant presence through the Holy Spirit which comforts, encourages, and sustains us in all the matters of our lives, grounding us in your love.
Thank you for the gift of Jesus, your Son, whose teaching calls us to live life fully in relationship with you and whose life and death and resurrection cleared the way for us to come into your presence with no barriers.
We bring you now the matters that are on our hearts.
As we pray please guide our thoughts and bring to mind the situations where your presence and action can transform and bring peace, healing and restoration.
Our Father we thank you for John Norris’s life and for who he was within this church community and within his precious family and wider groups. Please comfort and strengthen Ena, and their children Warren and Janelle, and families. Surround them with kindness and bless them in their love and communication together as they attend all that needs doing.
We pray for Brian and Bronwyn as they manage the complexities of health challenges amongst the concerns of this time of COVID. We pray for your healing light to be on them both.
Please bless our dear friends who now live in care. We pray for your loving presence to rest on Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila - and on those others in care who we also know. Be with all staff working in residential care. Help them to observe and manage all the extra protocols needed at this time of worldwide pandemic. Give strength and refresh love, respect and compassion on a daily basis.
For all health workers, policy makers, support staff and emergency workers we pray, whether here in Australia or abroad - we pray Almighty God for wise management, refreshment of energy and perspective, protection from harm, and sufficient supplies of needed resources and staff to continue the fight against the virus. Please guide researchers everywhere in their thinking. Bring the best of minds and hearts to the fore. Lead decision makers and governments to act for the common good.
Our loving LORD we pray for all those of us, and those we know, who are under increased strain and feeling the anxieties of this time. For families who are separated from each other, for those whose mental health is precarious, for the financial worries of those who are unemployed, for relationships that are fragile and under extra pressure: We pray for your mercy and blessing on each one. Help us to cast out cares on you, and discover your compassion and strength right where we need it, and right where we can bless others.
Help us to see where you want us to act and give us courage to live wholly for you - in this pandemic emergency, in this climate emergency, in this addressing of inequality and abuse of power regarding race and money resources, in every day.
As Jesus taught us, so we pray:
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.
Hymn: Be thou my vision
Let your light so shine among others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
We offer our gifts, Lord,
for the work of your Church
and the welfare of your people;
acknowledging with gratitude that you have given us all we have.
Help us to use our gifts in accordance with your good will,
and for the glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
May the Wisdom of God
who teaches us all things
lead us in the ways of peace,
so that we may be numbered
among those whom God has chosen;
through Christ our Lord. (UiW2)
And as we finish our time together, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us now and always.
Looking Out: Our Only Hope
Next week (2nd August):
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Genesis 32:22-31 or Isaiah 55:1-5
Isaiah 55:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
Theme: “The best for free”