Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (RCL Proper 12, Year A)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
God's One Thing

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

In the 1991 movie City Slickers the cowboy Curly gives city slicker Mitch some life advice. They are riding horses along the prairie to move the herd from here to there.  In this scene, Curly says to Mitch, “Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.” Mitch replies, “Your finger?” Curly scans the horizon, ignoring Mitch, and then explains, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [nothin’].” (expletive deleted)

Mitch thinks for just a moment and replies, “But, what is the "one thing?" As they ramble along, the hot sun shines on Curly’s face and with a raised eyebrow, Curly replies, “That's what you have to find out.” For Mitch, whose was about to turn 40 his One Thing was buried deep in his heart.  His work was to sort out his One Thing in the midst of complicated life.

Of all the “things” for which Solomon could have asked (in today’s first reading), when God showed up… of all the riches, or long life, or victory over his enemies, the One Thing Solomon wanted was an understanding mind. Solomon’s motivation to understand, however, was not as simple as this appears. This little bit of text from our lectionary compilers does not tell the whole story.

See, Solomon was a complicated character and scripture more complicated than it appears. The text prior to today’s reading offers background.  The first verses describe Solomon as having married the daughter of Pharaoh. What does that imply? Well, one commentator explained, that, “political exigencies are one thing, but it is hard to justify kinship ties with Egypt the great oppressor of Israel.”[1] Further, this marriage violated the Israelite covenant to “not have relations with foreign people.” Subsequent verses describe Solomon as faithful and devoted, loving the Lord and walking in the statutes of his father David,[2] but worshipping by sacrificing and offering incense at high places.[3] Those “high places” were almost always strongly condemned when mentioned in the OT.

Yes, Solomon was a complicated character. And, the original Hebrew of this conversation between Solomon and God unveils the complications, too.

First, do you see (in that first line?) how The Lord appeared to Solomon, and God said?  Two names being used. Here, The Lord and God. See, the English use of The Lord is usually from the Hebrew Yahweh, from the four letters YHWH. Yahweh is the only proper name for God in Hebrew, arising from the pronunciation of YH-WH, the sound of breathing. (yah…breathing in, weh…breathing out. That’s a great spiritual practice on which to meditate - another sermon for another time). This name means something like, “immediacy, a presence,” or “God is with us.”[4]

The English use of God, in this case, is from the Hebrew Elohim, the subject of the Bible’s first sentence, the Creator God. Elohim means God in the highest and widest sense, with the fullness of divine power and expansiveness of the heavenly host. This name means God beyond our imagination BIG.

Now, see how Solomon addresses God, “O Lord my God”? That double name emphasizes the majesty of Elohim found in the immediacy of Yahweh. That double name is commonly known in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is One” and emphasizes the paradoxical intimacy and immensity of the Divine.

So, when Solomon addresses God with his desire, he says something like: You, who are so close to me as my breath and so pervasive and expansive I can’t comprehend, You are the only one to whom I can ask, from my depth, for an understanding mind.

But wait! There’s more!  For Solomon asks for understanding with the Hebrew word “shama,” meaning discerning: to hear, to listen to, to obey.  And Solomon asks for a mind with the Hebrew word “leb” meaning the heart: the feelings, the will and the intellect.

Our complicated Solomon is asking from this paradoxical God for a listening heart.

It’s complicated and it’s simple. Can you relate?  People are always a mix of complex motives and it is dangerous to romanticize anyone.  All lives have back stories, and all language used to describe them is insufficient because our feelings cloud the seemingly simple view of our lives.

Maybe our grief surrounding the death of our best friend is fraught with the time we were angry at her for something that we never got to resolve while she was alive. 

Maybe our trust in a friend is frayed because he did not reply to our call for help when we really needed him. 

Maybe our compassion for the woman begging for food is deepened because she looks like our sister who suffers with mental illness.

We, too, are complicated characters with mixed motives. What is our One Thing? Aren’t we, too, asking, from that same paradoxical God for a listening heart? It’s complicated and it’s simple. We wonder with listening hearts: Why am I struggling financially? Why did my friend get cancer?  Why did that transgender teenager take their own life? Why is that person so snarky at me because of the color of my skin or because of the gender of my lover? That One Thing for each of us, is different.

So on that day, to Solomon, who had prayed and walked in the statutes of his father David throughout his complicated, young adult life … to Solomon God appeared. God appeared. Who was this God? This was the God who came to Solomon despite his complicated failures and frailties.  This was the God who wanted to listen with God’s heart to him.

Last week I heard about the nearly-completed development of Nasa’s most powerful telescope ever.  The James Webb Space Telescope, (to be launched in October of 2018)will study, with infrared and other new technologies, every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the evolution of our own Solar System. This telescope is so powerful that it will be able to look at stars before they were born.  Before they were born!  That means exploring the whole of creation and the dynamic processes of stardust.

In November last year, NASA invited creative artists from around the country to visit the telescope, with its gold-coated mirror. Twenty-five selected artists brought art supplies to listen with the ear of their heart and create in front of the telescope, housed inside its massive cleanroom behind a viewing window. The artists used watercolor, 3D printed sculpture, silk screening, acrylics, comics, woodwork, metalwork, fiber art, ink, kite-making, tattooing and other media.

Their One Thing? To create in front of the observation of creation.  To listen with their heart. To consider with awe, up close, the expansiveness of our universe.

See, this desire to understand, this desire to be known, is not only what we, humanity, seek, it is also the desire of the God who seeks us, the God who appears to us every moment. This is the God who initiates contact with us, despite our complicated lives and frailties. This is the God who makes the first move and keeps yearning to know us, to discern our hearts. This is the God of Love who meets us with a powerful, mysterious yearning and an intimacy so near as the breath passing over our lips.

This is the God whose “one thing” is to Love and be loved.

Amen


[1] Brent Strawn commentary on 1 Kings found here.

[2] Verse 3a

[3] Verse 3b

[4] Names of God research found here on July 25, 2017