The Rev. Brad Sullivan
Lord of the Streets
July 30, 2023
Proper 12, Year A
1 Kings 3:5-12
So, there’s an addendum to the story about Solomon we heard today in which God granted him long life and riches. Solomon didn’t ask for long life and riches, he asked for the wisdom to lead the people of Israel well. So, God was pleased with Solomon, and after agreeing and grant Solomon wisdom, God also granted him the long life and riches that he didn’t ask for.
When I was a kid, reading that story, the sneaky little part of my brain thought, “Well that’s cool. All I need to ask for something unselfish and then maybe God will make me hugely rich as well.”
Now, I knew God wasn’t stupid. Having just read that story about Solomon, I couldn’t just say, “God make me wise,” and expect to become rich. No, I had to try to fool God into thinking I really meant it. So my prayer was something more like, “God just make me wise. I’m not going for riches, just the wisdom part, so please help me out with that. Oh, and if you do make me rich, I’ll use like the hugely vast majority to give away to others.”
I’m not sure God said “yes” to either part of that prayer, but I’ve since realized what I pretty well expected back then, which is that God doesn’t work like that, at least not for me.
Far from the almighty golden gumball machine of a young boy’s fantasy, God seems more concerned with teaching us God’s ways of love and living out God’s kingdom here on earth than with granting the get rich quick prayer scheme of a teenage boy.
In one of Jesus’ parables that we heard today, the kingdom of God was kind of compared to a get rich scheme involving a merchant and a really big pearl. In the story, the merchant finds a huge pearl and sells everything in order to acquire it. Going back again to my teenage boy self, I didn’t find this story of God’s kingdom all that compelling. I mean, I got that the story was a metaphor, but the thought of a big pearl just didn’t interest me. What would I do with it, put it on a shelf and not really look at it all that much? If it was a life-size, working Millennium Falcon, then I could see the appeal, but the pearl just wasn’t doing it for me.
I wonder if sometimes my teenage take on the story rings true for many of us, meaning that I wonder if we hear about living God’s kingdom here on earth and find that it’s just not that appealing, like hearing about Solomon and thinking, “Yeah, yeah, wisdom’s great, but what about the money?” I wonder if we hear about God’s kingdom and think, “Yeah, that sounds lovely, but like a big pearl, I think I’m just going to put it on a shelf and not look at it all that often.”
God’s kingdom often sounds like a pretty good idea in church, and then it’s back to the rest of life. Fears and stresses of life hit us, and we take that pearl and put it back up on the shelf. The challenges of life make Jesus’ kingdom seem less appealing than the protection and numbing that often comes with just getting through the day. Even in those times when we really do want to live God’s kingdom, we really do want the pearl, but what the heck are we supposed to do with it? It’s pretty, and a lovely idea. Now what?
Well, what’d the merchant do? He sold all that he had to get it. For us, that means seeking God’s help to live out God’s kingdom here on earth. That means changing our lives to follow the ways of Jesus and giving up anything that gets in the way of us living Jesus’ way. The merchant sold all that he had to get the pearl, because living God’s kingdom was absolutely worth the price.
Following the ways of Jesus, we’re supposed to love our enemies. There’s a cost there, and a giving up of some of who and how we are. Letting go our fear, our anger, our desires to force our way in the world. We’re going to risk ourselves for the sake of others. We’re going to spend large amounts of time in prayer and seek peace with others. We’re going to give up selfish ways, and we’re going to join with others in helping to make the lives of those around us a little bit brighter.
That’s a lot. The merchant sold everything he had. Jesus said that we should lose our lives for his sake and the sake of the kingdom of God. Of course, Jesus also said that if we lose our lives for his sake, we would find our lives. Think about this not just as physical death, but also as losing the lives we have, giving up all of the ways which keep us from God’s kingdom. The merchant selling everything.
Then realize, the guy was a merchant. He didn’t sell everything and buy the pearl to put it on a shelf. He was buying the pearl to sell it again. He was going to make back all that he had given up for the pearl and then some. Jesus said, “those who lose their lives…will find them.”
When we give up all of the ways which keep us from living God’s kingdom, we aren’t left empty, with nothing. We gain back so much more. Now, I don’t mean wealth. Unlike my teenage boy self, we’re not trying to trick God into a get rich quick scheme. Also, giving up all that we have is not a simple, one-time prayer or declaration. Giving up all that we have is an ongoing process as we, over time, bit by bit, realize the parts of ourselves that aren’t living God’s kingdom, and we, over time, bit by bit, give those ways over to God. We let those parts of us die, and we begin to see what’s being reborn.
As we are reborn over time, bit by bit, here are some things that we gain as we give up all that we have. We gain peace, no longer struggling with everything and everyone around us. We gain acceptance that life is not all as we wish it was, and we find beauty in the life we have. We gain community, joining with others in living God’s kingdom and offering it to others.
The merchant didn’t force the pearl on anyone, telling them angrily or at knife point, “You have to take this pearl or else.” He offered the pearl to those who were willing to buy it. As we live into God’s kingdom, we can offer it to others, not with threats, not because they have to. We offer what we’ve found in God’s kingdom because we have been healed by it. As we are healed in God’s kingdom, we offer that healing to others, and joining with others, we see the healing of God’s kingdom grow. We see the lives of the people around us change for the better.
This isn’t a sudden get rich quick scheme. It happens over time, bit by bit. God’s kingdom grows, and the world is healed.