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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

October 21, 2018

1 Kings 3:1-24

 

What a dramatic scene it was in the king’s throne room! A baby has died. There is a dispute over his parentage. Who is the child’s real mother? The situation is brought to King Solomon for a ruling. A child’s life hangs in the balance.

 

The king makes a quick and dramatic call for a sword and gives the order: "Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other." That gets everyone’s attention! One woman begs for her child’s life saying, “Don’t kill him! Give her the child.” The other woman says, “Divide the child.” It’s obvious who the real mother is. Solomon had the wisdom to know the power of love would reveal truth. Solomon’s wisdom is legendary. This story is offered as proof of that wisdom.

 

It started in a dream. God came to Solomon as he slept and offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for. How would you respond to such an offer? Just imagine: If you could have anything you wished for, what would it be? This is not some hokey cartoon genie asking for 3 wishes; it is God offering to give you whatever you ask for. And God, alone, has the power to do that.

 

The temptation might be to ask for wealth or a long life or a shiny new chariot. But Solomon had the presence of mind to ask for wisdom. Solomon genuinely wanted to be a good king. He asked for an understanding mind, so that he could do a good job governing God’s people. He asked for the ability to discern between good and evil, so he would clearly know the right thing to do. God gave him wisdom and more. God also gave him riches and longevity and unprecedented success.

 

Solomon did a lot of amazing things as king. He built an impressive temple to God. He wrote three books of the Bible – Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. He showed great military shrewdness and made many political alliances. He presided over a time of peace and prosperity for Israel. He was known as the richest and wisest king of Israel.

 

But despite that wisdom, Solomon lacked the faithfulness and righteousness of his father, David. When David screwed up, he was quick to return to God, to confess his sins and repent. But Solomon didn’t inherit his father’s righteousness or faithfulness. He tried to rely too much on his own wisdom and not enough on God. Solomon forgot that God is God and he is not.

 

Solomon also lacked self-control. His appetite for women shows itself in his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of the wives were from foreign countries. The marriages were intended to cement political alliances. These many women in his life came from a wide range of religious backgrounds. They convinced Solomon to build temples to other gods and also to worship these foreign gods. They drew Solomon’s faithfulness away from the one true God and planted the seeds of religious unrest that ended up dividing Israel after Solomon’s death. So, despite Solomon’s promising start and impressive life, his legacy is mixed.

 

The same thing that God offered Solomon, God offers each one of us. God invites us to come to him in prayer and promises that if we abide in him whatever we ask in his name he will give us. Abiding in God is the key. Abiding in God helps us know what to pray for. Abiding in God helps us to live righteous lives. Abiding in God gives us not only the wisdom but also the self-control to seek to know God’s will and do it. Abiding in God makes us remember that God is God and we are not.

 

In contrast to Solomon’s life which strayed from God, let’s consider the life of one whose signature line was “To God alone be the glory.”

 

Johann Sebastian Bach was a child prodigy. He came from a family of musicians and showed great musical promise early in life. By age 10 he was skillfully playing multiple instruments. By age 17 Bach accepted his first position as a church organist and choir director. He wrote many pieces for the choir to perform but he got frustrated because the choir members lacked the skill and technical expertise to perform these complicated pieces well.

 

When Bach moved on to another church he ran into the same issues. The priests asked him to write pieces that were simpler and not so ornate. These struggles followed Bach throughout his life. People loved to hear his playing as he played the intricate toccatas and fugues, but during his lifetime he was not as well respected for his choral music.  It was just too difficult for many church musicians to perform.

 

So, after his death, Bach’s music was set aside and nearly forgotten. But eventually, nearly 100 years later, Felix Mendelssohn resurrected it. And since then Bach’s music has been the most widely performed and recorded of any sacred music.

 

Bach would be shocked to know that his music, written in the 1700s, is still having such an impact on worship in the 21st Century. Bach might also be embarrassed to know what a musical superstar he has become. He never sought such notoriety. Bach composed music solely for the glory of God. He didn’t care if it was too ornate or complicated. He only cared about glorifying God.

 

How do we know that? At the top of each of his manuscripts the first thing he wrote was “J.J.” for Jesus Juva – meaning “Jesus help me.” At the bottom of his manuscripts the last thing he wrote was “S.D.G.” which stands for Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone be the glory.”

 

Bach did not write music to please himself or impress others. He didn’t compose cantatas to gain fame and fortune. Everything he did was done for the glory of God alone. Maybe that is why his music has stood the test of time – it was written to glorify God.

 

Bach had a musical wisdom that set him apart from other musicians, just as Solomon had a political wisdom that set him apart from other rulers. But Bach never forgot his relationship with God. Bach knew that God is God and he is not. Solomon, in all his wisdom, seems to have forgotten that. 

 

What would it be like if we followed Bach’s example, and lived our lives to God’s glory? How might your life be different if you did that? Might it affect how you spend your time? Less time wasted on things that really don’t matter, more time on things that please God? Might you worry less what others think about you? As you are living your life to please God maybe you’re not so concerned about the opinions of others? Might you be more generous, confident that God will give you all you need not only to survive, but to thrive? Might you do more to love and care for the neighbor, as God has commanded us to do? Might you be bolder in your prayer life, daring to pray for big things like Solomon did when he asked God for wisdom? But might you remain humble                                                                       and remember to live each day for God’s glory?

 

Bach is not only an exemplary musician but also a great example of what it can mean to live a life to the glory of God. In contrast, Solomon’s life provides a cautionary tale. Solomon’s story shows us that it is possible to have the best intentions but get off on a wrong track if we let ourselves stray from our relationship with God. We run into trouble when we begin to value the opinions of other people more than we value what God thinks of us. We run into trouble when we forget that God is God and we are not.

 

This tendency to drift away from God as the center of our life is especially worrisome in our world today. We live in a culture that is very “me focused.” We like to think we have control of our lives. We like to think of ourselves as self-made people. We like to think that whatever good things we have in life we have earned by our own hard work. We forget that God gave it all to us. We forget that God is God and we are not.

 

Solomon started out well but when Solomon let the people around him influence him to worship other gods, he went astray. It is easy to do that. In our day it is easy to get pulled away from trusting God and living the righteous life God wants for his people.

 

Take for example, Jim, who was a dock worker. Overall, he was a decent man – a family man who attended church regularly. Yet, he struggled spiritually. Jim worked in a setting where his colleagues had little respect for people of other races or nationalities. Those around him regularly joked about people based on their skin color, nationality, or sexual orientation. Since he was a straight white male, Jim was not the target of these jokes. Nevertheless, the jokes kind of bothered him at first. But to be part of the group, Jim joined in. Eventually, the demeaning attitude so permeated Jim’s thinking that he could not see a Black man or a Hispanic without making some negative comment. This spilled over into his attitude toward Catholics, Baptists, lawyers, salesmen, women, anyone not just like him. If you listened to him very long, you got the impression that there were very few people Jim liked. He had allowed attitudes from the culture around him, to influence his way of seeing the world. The attitudes were against God’s commandment                                to love the neighbor and so they pulled him away from God.

 

It is hard story to hear. We’d like a happier ending for Jim just as we’d like a happier ending for Solomon. Both men, though grounded in faith, let people around them influence them in ways that pulled them away from God. Both men lost track of what it means to live their lives as people of God. Both men valued the opinions of the people around them more than they valued following God’s will. Both men let other things get in the way of abiding in God.

 

I’d like to close with an analogy. In his book, It’s Not About Me, Christian author, Max Lucado provides a memorable image of what it looks like to live our lives abiding in Christ, to live our lives to the glory of God, and to remember that God is God and we are not. That is the image of living like the moon.

 

If you think back to your science classes in school, you may recall that the moon does not generate any light of its own. The glow that we see in the night sky is a reflection of the sun. If there were no sun, the moon would be nothing more than a cold dark rock. And yet God saw that it was good to place the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night. The moon cannot be the sun. The moon is not capable of producing any light of its own. And yet, imagine our world without the moon as a reflector of the sun.

 

According to Lucado, we as Christians, are to be, not like the sun attempting to produce our own light and our own glory. But we are to be like the moon, reflecting the S-O-N in all aspects of our lives. That’s some wisdom we can live by.

 

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory.

 

Amen!