Today's Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12 & 3:3-14
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eleven years since I made a shift in my career path. For those of you who might not remember, that shift involved a move from politics to ministry.
When I made that shift, a whole lot of my friends were confused. They thought I was making the move from one field to a totally unrelated field. Listening to them shake their heads and talk, you would have thought I was going from being a hair dresser to being a lion tamer. They acted as if there was no overlap whatsoever between the two fields.
At the time, however, I lacked the words to explain the similarities between the two – so I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “You’ll just have to trust that I know what I’m doing.”
Well the last few months I’ve finally able to articulate the overlap: and that overlap has to do with three things both fields share in common.
First, the field of politics and ministry both deal with resources. Second, they both touch on some of our deepest emotions; and third, they encourage us to use the grey matter found between our ears. Those are the areas of similarity.
But you know what?
As I explored those similarities, I realized that each field comes at each of these areas from completely opposite perspectives.
Take the issue of resources, for example. Those engaged in the field of politics look at the resources available to us and come to one conclusion: those resources are scarce. So much of their careers are spent trying to decide who is worthy of those scarce resources. Next time you listen to a political debate on issues ranging from human rights to immigration to health care reform – listen carefully and you’ll hear folks say, “If we give other folks some resources, you’ll lose you’re your resources because there’s only so much to go around!”
Those of us engaged in ministry, however, look at resources and focus on their abundance. While you may get us to begrudgingly admit there’s a limited amount of physical resources (especially around the time the church adopts its annual budget), we’ll be just as quick to point to the story of the fishes and loaves and conclude that no matter how limited those resources might initially appear, we’ll always have enough to see us through!
Let’s move on to the second area of commonality - emotions. While there are dozens of emotions that human beings are capable of experiencing, those engaged in the practice of politics hone in on one – and ride it as far as it will take them. That emotion is fear. They work folks up in a frenzy pitting one group against another. You don’t have to listen long before you’ll hear most politicians speak in terms of “Republican vs. Democrat”, “immigrants vs. citizens”, “insured vs. uninsured”, and “straight vs. gay”. Whatever group or groups you belong to, they’ll tell you, “Look out. Be afraid of the other. If you vote for me, I’ll protect you.”
Those engaged in the ethical practice of ministry – please note I said the word ethical – will appeal to another emotion: hope. While we’re aware of the fears out there that often show up in the form of the crosses we have to bear, any good minister won’t let you stay focused only on the cross. They’ll point you toward the empty tomb and expose the pathetic limitations of fear.
And that takes me to the third and final point of similarity between the two fields: the grey matter between our ears. Those engaged in the field of politics will point to that grey matter and say its highest form of use is to create this thing called intelligence. They’ll tell you that if you read enough of the right materials, study enough, and accumulate enough statistics, that you’ll be able to build an airtight case to support your cause – whatever that cause might be.
Folks engaged in the practice of ministry, however, don’t see intelligence as the ultimate goal. In fact, many of us find it interesting that one politician - British Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali - said there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
So if intelligence isn’t the highest form of use of that grey matter between your ears for religious folks, what is?
Well, we get that answer from today’s sacred reading from 1 Kings. In that passage, God gave the new king of Israel – Solomon – the chance to ask for anything.
And guess what he asked for?
That – my friends –is the highest use for the grey matter between our ears.
“Wisdom?” you might be thinking to yourself. “Isn’t that a fancy word that means the same thing as intelligence?”
In fact, this week I stumbled upon a wonderful resource that can help us understand that difference.
Intelligence, theologian Tremper Longman III notes, is primarily about facts, figures, and statistics. Things that we can accumulate on our own – by ourself – in a vacuum.
Wisdom, he goes on to say, is about something else – it’s about relationship. While wisdom can be informed by things like facts, figures, and statistics – it can never be wholly acquired by oneself. It is something that must – I repeat MUST – be rooted in one’s relationship with another.
Of course as people of faith, the first and foremost relationship wisdom must be grounded in is in our relationship with God. And in Solomon’s case, his wisdom was. Solomon was in such intimate relationship with God that Solomon’s information was even gleaned in a non-conscious state when he was asleep in Gibeon. And the wisdom culled from that connection spilled over to Solomon’s waking life as well.
Now Solomon may not have had things to worry about like we do, but he did have other challenges. And one of the greatest displays of wisdom in our entire tradition came just one chapter after today’s reading – when two women approached him with one baby. Both women claimed to be the mother of the child. Now, Solomon didn’t have the fancy DNA or paternity tests that we have today. So in order to settle the paternity suit, Solomon used his grey matter and turned to one thing to settle the case: relationship.
In order to do that, Solomon facetiously proposed that the two women have the baby cut in half so that each could receive one half of the disputed baby. He knew that the real mother would put her relationship with her baby first, and refuse to allow the child to be harmed. The wisdom Solomon employed worked beautifully!
Friends, I know that each of us here this morning has many challenges before us. Some of those challenges are political, some are personal, and some are spiritual. And one of the first responses you’ll likely have is to follow the values of our society and retreat inward – to the grey matter – as you attempt to settle matters in your own time, in your own space, and in a vacuum.
Resist those urges.
Instead, use that grey matter in the way as it was intended: as a bridge to help you cross over into deeper relationship - first with your God, and then with those around you. If you do that, at each of these critical stages of your life you’ll make decisions that aren’t smart – you’ll make decision that are wise.