Wednesday, October 7, 1987

SOLOMON'S CHOICE: Confidence and Conscience

A Sermon Preached at the Chapel of Trinity School for Ministry
October 7, 1987

Put yourself in Solomon's sandals. Your kingdom has just been consolidated. The false brother Adonijah has been defeated. You have received Pharaoh's daughter as your bride, guaranteeing peace with your one dangerous rival. You have inherited all the legions and wealth and courtly honors of your father David. But above that, you have inherited his love of the Lord and reverance for his law. Since there is no temple (a project for your future) you go down to Gibeon and there host a thanksgiving festival fit for a king - one thousand bulls offered night and day, day after day. On the last day, as you are tired but exultant, one of the priests appears before you and exclaims: Thus saith the LORD: "Ask what I shall give you."

Your mind begins to race through all those fantasies of youth. I will build great works - houses and vineyards, gardens and parks, pools and fountains. I shall have a great household with slaves, and flocks and herds, and concubines. I shall extend my dominion and my glory beyond any of the princes of Israel who have come before or any who come after. I shall deny myself no pleasure and no honor. And I shall die full of days and be laid with my ancestors. Turning from these daydreams, your mind recalls the tensions, yes the horrors of your father's reign. You remember life in the court, with its suspicions and jealousies. You remember the close escape from Absalom's grasp and the death-bed reprieve from Adonijah's plot to be king. And you wonder, will my reign be any better? I am only a youth; how can I govern God's people Israel. I want to walk in God's ways, but how can I ever know right from wrong?

And so, as we know from the outcome, Solomon asked for a wise and discerning heart; and the Lord gave him not only wisdom but all other good things as well. In this story we can see that God gave Solomon the confidence to ask for and the conscience - or spiritual discernment - to know and do his will.

When we turn to our Gospel lesson, we find our Lord teaching a similar pattern of confidence and conscience in prayer. He has just sent out the disciples on mission like lambs in the midst of wolves. They have no special equipment to proclaim the kingdom of God, no equipment save prayer. And in Luke chapter 11, Jesus teaches them how to pray.

"Ask and it shall be given you etc..." What great comfort the disciples received, and we receive, from this promise that the Lord desires us to ask and promises to hear us when we do. Indeed he promises to give us all good things that we need. Who else could be trusted than the heavenly Father, the Lord of all?

When I asked my children last night what they would ask for, they said "five more wishes." And there is an open-ended quality in Jesus' words: What should we ask for? What are we looking for? What or who will stand behind the open door? True, human sons ask their fathers for goodies, things to eat; but what good things will a heavenly Father give?

It is because of the open-endedness of Jesus' promise that Luke adds: "how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. We, being evil, do not often know how to pray. But God who, as the Psalm says, has searched us and known us, gives us his Spirit to know what to pray for. Indeed it is his Spirit who gives us both the confidence to pray and the conscience to know.

One final element: both these words - confidence and conscience - have a "con" in them. This "con" does not mean "against" but rather "common": The confidence to bring our prayers in the Spirit before God and the conscience that we have the mind of Christ come to us, above all, in communion with other believers. Thus our epistle lesson emphasizes that the gift of the Holy Spirit is distributed to the various members of the Body for the upbuilding of all.

This is not just the experience of New Testament Christians; it happens today. When Bishop Festo was here two weeks ago, he told the story of the apparent defeat of the African revival, when the Anglican bishop prohibited him and the other preachers from evangelizing. They returned to their churches and all prayed - silently - for the Lord's wisdom and his will to be done. Then after the Bishop relented and the revival flourished as never before.

I am fearful, my friends, that we face a difficult time ahead both in our culture and in the Church. We do not have the resources to win the victory for the Gospel. But if our lessons teach us anything, it is that God, who knows our need before we ask, would have us ask him for his Spirit - to encourage and empower us and to guide us into all truth.

Let us pray.

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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