A sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom.
King David has died, but Solomon was actually not the next in line for the throne. Even before David was dead, Israel was plunged into a power struggle. The various sons of David were in a pitched battle to replace him. We heard two weeks ago how Absalom, the first to rebel against his father, came to a quick end in the boughs of an oak tree, hung by his hair. These other sons of David each fell victim to their own thirst for power, blinded by their own sense of entitlement. In the end, none of them would rule Israel. Solomon, the unlikely son, came out on top.
Solomon was different from his brothers and the scripture takes pains to point that out. Solomon was a devout man, who loved the Lord as much as his father, David. Solomon worshiped the Lord. When the time came and Solomon was to be made king, we hear God asking Solomon what he wanted from the Lord.
Solomon did not ask for fame or power, wealth or success. Solomon asked for wisdom, for understanding. If he had to ask for wisdom, he was admitting he didn’t have it. Not only was Solomon not ambitious or power-hungry, but he was also humble.
Did he know how power so easily corrupts? Surely he had seen his brothers die for the sake of power and learned from their bad examples. Did he have any idea how difficult it would be to rule the nation of Israel?
Regardless of his motivation, Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom. All too often we confuse wisdom with knowledge. Knowledge is simply gaining more information. Wisdom is not about gaining information – it is knowing what to do with the information you already have. Wisdom is more about the alignment of your spirit and your mind with God’s spirit and mind than it is about impressing people with how smart you are. In the end, wisdom is about making choices. It is about discernment.
So it was with Solomon. Consider the most famous example of his wise governance of the people of Israel – the women who are fighting over the infant. Solomon has been immortalized by this moment in time – the ability to see what is right, even if there wasn’t an easy solution. Solomon’s choices, guided by his faith in God, show his wisdom.
Solomon gained fame and power and long-life. These truths serve as testimony to his wisdom. Even today in middle-eastern and other cultures those who are long lived are revered as very wise. Cultures look to their elders when decisions need to be made. It makes sense—the more life you have lived, the more life experience you’ve had, and the wiser you become. Sadly in our culture we often think of seniors as those “past their prime,” and are somehow worth less. But not so in these cultures that value the wisdom that life experience brings. Solomon would later write in Proverbs, “A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.”
So what does that mean for those of us who don’t yet have gray hair – at least none that can be seen? Are the young always to be considered foolish, always make bad choices?
This week, the Episcopal Church will mark a very important anniversary. We already know that it was 50 years ago that the famous march from Selma to Montgomery rocked not just the state of Alabama, but the nation as well. In March of 1965, several seminarians at Episcopal Theology School in Boston chose to answer the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join in the marches and the peaceful demonstrations all over the south, but especially in Selma. It was important that those opposing the right of racial minorities to vote see not just white faces among the protesters, but Christian faces! One of these seminarians was named Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan chose to spend his entire spring semester of seminary in Alabama, living with local families, hearing their stories, and encouraging them in the struggle.
On August 14th, Jonathan chose to participate in picketing whites-only stores in nearby Hayneville. He and 29 others were arrested. On August 20th, they were finally released. After their release Jonathan accompanied Father Richard F. Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest, and two young black women activists, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a local store to try to buy something cold to drink. As they approached the grocery store, a local man, who had volunteered to protect the store against protesters, pointed a shotgun at the group. Jonathan was standing behind Ruby Sales, who was 17 at the time. In a split-second, he made his choice, he pulled Ruby to the ground and was shot instead of her. They say he died instantly. He was 26.
Jonathan Daniels’ life was one of choices, as all our lives are. He chose to leave his comfortable life of academia and travel to a very different America. He chose, despite the threat of violence to stand up against injustice and discrimination. In the end he chose to give his life so that another might live.
And Ruby Sales did live. In fact, she’s alive today. In fact, she’s one of my Facebook friends if you want to look her up. She posted a gripping account of the shootings on her page (pictured below). This week, Ruby has been participating in a march retracing the journey of Jonathan Daniels from Boston, to Selma, to Hayneville. Jonathan’s sacrifice changed Ruby profoundly. She attended Episcopal Theology School. She went on to become a very outspoken voice in the civil rights movement, and The Spirit House Project, a non-profit organization and inner-city mission dedicated to Jonathan’s memory.
She wrote on her Facebook wall just yesterday, “Yesterday many of you wrote saying that you wept at my account of the brutal murder of Jonathan Daniels fifty years ago by Tom Coleman. My sisters and brothers, I too weep today.
I weep because of the depths of racism that we allow 21st century White supremacists ideologues and culture warriors to take the nation and how so many decent people permit this downslide. I weep not for Jonathan because he answered the call of love and justice and was willing to go all the way to the cross. Rather, I weep for 2000 plus Black bodies whom the police have shot in cold blood since 2007. I weep that the hate and greed for White power that fueled Tom Coleman’s shotgun still run deep in cities and towns throughout America. I weep because we have settled to be much less than what we are. I weep because I hear Jonathan crying out in his grave asking what happened to the dream Ruby? I ask you what happened to the dream, and what is it that you celebrate today as you gather in Lowndes County to mark the 50th anniversary of The murder of Jonathan Daniels? What do you think he was up against when he went to Alabama?”
Upon learning of Daniels’ murder, Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels”.
Jonathan, as young as he was, made a profound and costly choice. He chose to answer God’s call, and it ultimately cost him his life. Wisdom is being able to choose between right and wrong, no matter how much it may cost us. Wisdom is far more valuable than simple knowledge. The very same wisdom that God granted Solomon is offered to us. We must learn to listen and obey.
I want to close today with the collect written for Jonathan’s feast day, as a martyr for God’s kingdom,
O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.