I Kings 3:4-13
In an hour, some of us will leave here and go to Red Sunset Park. We will gather under the pavilion, enjoying the fresh outdoor air. The children will run and play; adults will visit and play games. Children and adults might compete for the Bocci Ball trophy; others for the White Elephant gift. Some of us will fire up the grill and cook the meat. The aroma from the grilled meat will float through the air, whetting our appetites. Salads and desserts will be arranged on another table. We will sit down to a satisfying picnic lunch, enjoying one another’s company brothers and sisters in Christ.
All of it – the fresh air – the food – the games – the conversation – all of it are things that God in his gracious providence provides for us. Today we will turn to our Old Testament lesson to see how God does that for us.
At the time of our text, David had established the Kingdom of Israel. That is to say, God had given Israel’s enemies into his hands. Once the Kingdom was firmly established in his hands, David moved his royal court. He moved it from a more rural setting to the city of Jerusalem.
To be sure, God had cared for his people through David, but now it was time for David to leave this world. Before he died, though, David handed the throne off to one of his sons. He handed it to Solomon.
One of the first things Solomon did was to invite all Israel to Jerusalem – including the military captains, the judges, the leaders of households. As a result, a vast number of people come to Jerusalem. They came to meet the new king.
After meeting the king, he invited them to go to Gibeon for a sacrificial festival – to acknowledge God’s anointing him as king. Gibeon was just a few miles north of the city. It was a high place – out in the fresh air. Once out there, the place swarmed with thousands of people. On the high place, the priests killed sacrificial animal victim after victim. Each one was offered up on a huge bronze altar. Smoke rose from the altar. The aroma of the animal sacrifices floated through the air.
As Solomon looked over the vast numbers of people, he became painfully aware of a need. He needed to be able to rule wisely over God’s people. He needed wisdom in his vocation as a king to care for so many.
…but, Solomon was young and inexperienced. Bad judgment might have a lasting negative impact. Success might get to his head. With those kinds of thoughts, he laid down to sleep that night.
As he slept God posed a question to Solomon: “Ask! What shall I give you?” Imagine that! It sounds like God was giving Solomon a blank check. Who wouldn’t want a blank check from God? “Write in whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” While it might seem like that, God’s question was really meant to search Solomon’s heart.
It was a question similar to the problem Jesus put before the disciples in today’s gospel. They too had a vast number of people before them. Their food had run out. They needed food to make it back home. Jesus, in so many words, but the question before the disciples: How are you going to care for them?
Humanly speaking, the disciples were at a loss. They did not know how they could care for such a great number of people. There were no quick trips around. There was nowhere to get food. In short, the disciples felt inadequate.
That’s how our fallen human reason thinks. It looks at the responsibility God has given us a vocation and it, too, can feel inadequate.
A new parent has another mouth to feed, a body to cloth, a child to train and he wonders: “Am I prepared for this?”
An employee is given a new responsibility, a bigger job to do, a more intense role to fill; and, wonders: “I don’t know that I can do this!”
A retiree lives on a fixed income, a dollar that does not grow, faces grocery store prices that do increase; and, worries: “Where will I get the money I need?”
A Christian confesses the faith, is pressured not to do so in the future, is felt “silenced”; and, wonders: “Will I fail in my confession?”
Another Christian sees a culture largely out of control and angry at God as evidenced by mass murders yesterday and today; and, the Christian wonders: “Do I have what it takes to confess Christ in an angry culture?”
That is how our fallen human reason thinks. It looks at the responsibility God gives us in vocation – responsibility to care for those in our lives; and, it feels inadequate – at a loss. It is what happens when we rely upon human reason, rather than upon God.
… and when human reason relies upon self to care for others, it ends up being self-seeking. That is to say, it will take matters into its own hands. By taking matters into its own hands, human reason will go its own way, not God’s way. It will make decisions in our vocations that are in conflict with God’s word. That puts us at odds with God, by “present[ing our] members as instruments of sin … and the wages of sin is death.”
…so, let’s return to Solomon and consider how he dealt with the responsibility before him. In Solomon’s case, he thought about the heavy responsibility that had been laid upon his shoulders. He did and he prayed:
“Your servant is in the midst of Your people to great to be counted, but I am a child. I do not know how to go out or come in.”
With these words, Solomon admitted his own weakness and inadequacy. So, he prayed that God “give [him] an understanding heart to judge … that [he] may discern between good and evil…” that he might wisely care for God’s people.
God was pleased with Solomon’s request. He answered: “I have done according to your words. I have given you a wise and understanding heart.”
To be sure, Solomon became known for his wisdom. Just after these words is the well-known account of two mothers who both claimed the same child. Unable to resolve their dispute, Solomon called for a servant to divide the child. It was then that the real mother pleaded: Give the child to the other! Solomon gave the child to the pleading mother. She was the real mother. To be sure, God gave Solomon wisdom in his vocation as a king to care for his people.
The wisdom to care for God’s people looks ahead to Jesus and the question he posed to the disciples – “How will this vast number of people be cared for?” In trying to answer Jesus’ question, the disciples relied on human reason. They turned within.
So Jesus took them outside of themselves and stood before them and the multitude. Before their very eyes, he multiplied the seven loaves of bread in his hands. He gave loaf after loaf to the disciples to hand out to the people. He did the same with the few fish. The vast number of people were satisfied. They were cared for by Jesus.
The miracle said that Jesus was no ordinary human being. He was God in the flesh – who cares for his people. He cares for you and me not because we are worthy. No. Our repeated reliance on human wisdom says were are not. Yet, Jesus in his grace gave his life for those sins. He gave his life to give you and my life. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus gave you that gift of life in your baptism. Because Jesus gave you the gift of life, he calls himself the Bread of Life – the Bread that fills you up for eternity!
…So, Jesus cares for your soul by giving you the Bread of Life – his life for your life. He cares for your body by giving you Daily Bread – all that you need for this body – “food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home”.
Not only that, but Jesus graciously cares for you so that he might care for others through you. You become God’s mask behind which he cares for others. It is your baptismal life in action – no longer “presenting your members as instruments to sin, but presenting yourselves as alive to God and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
To be sure, you and I are alive in Christ; and, in that new life, God calls you to care for others. However, when you and I look at the responsibility God has given us a vocation, we might often feel inadequate for the task. In a small way, we might feel like Solomon felt. When we do, Solomon’s prayer is a good prayer for us to take upon our lips:
“I am a child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Therefore, give me an understanding heart that I may discern between good and evil.”
We can reword Solomon’s prayer to fit our own needs.
As a parent or grandparent, I feel my inadequacies; yet, you have called me to this great work. Give me the wisdom I need to raise the children you put in my care.
As an employee with new challenges, I feel unsure of myself; yet, you have placed me in this role. Give me the wisdom I need to grow and meet the challenge.
As a retiree with a limited income, I wonder how I will pay my bills; yet, you have promised to supply all my need. Give me faith to trust your word.
As a Christian whose faith is often put down and who lives in a culture angry with God, I often feel afraid to confess the faith; yet, you promise that you will never leave me nor forsake me. Give me the words to say at the right time.
To ask God for help in our vocations is to recognize our inadequacies. To ask God for help is to admit that relying on human reason apart from God is foolish. To ask for God’s help is to depend upon God’s grace … and God, in His grace, calls to you through the apostle: “Cast all your care on him – for he cares for you.”
He does – daily giving you what you need for life – what you need to care for others. He does because he cared for you in the greatest of ways. He did at the cross – putting all your sin away from you – giving you heaven. Amen!