January 8, 2020

January 8, 2020

January 8, 2020

1 Kings 10:14-25 (NRSV)
by Danny Nettleton
Clergy of Bridle Creek Circuit
New River District

Focus Scripture

14 The weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred sixty-six talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the traders and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of beaten gold; six hundred shekels of gold went into each large shield. 17 He made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield; and the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a great ivory throne, and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19 The throne had six steps. The top of the throne was rounded in the back, and on each side of the seat were arm rests and two lions standing beside the arm rests, 20 while twelve lions were standing, one on each end of a step on the six steps. Nothing like it was ever made in any kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver—it was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

23 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24 The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25 Every one of them brought a present, objects of silver and gold, garments, weaponry, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year1 Kings 10:14-25 (NRSV)

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On May 1st, 1989, then Disney CEO Michael Eisner stood in front of a new park in Orlando, Florida that was dedicated to celebrating movie magic: Disney’s MGM Studios. It was a passion project of his and he couldn’t wait to introduce it to the public. Before the gates opened for the first time, he stood on a stage flanked by Mickey and Minnie Mouse and proudly declared: 

"The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.”

Leave it to Disney to describe a half-day theme park coupled with a studio tour in such grand terms. But take a walk around Disney’s Hollywood Studios today and you get what he’s talking about. The whole place is set up to look like old 1940s Hollywood. It’s got the landmarks: the Chinese Theater, Sunset Boulevard, The Brown Derby restaurant… The park is populated by wise guys with pencil mustaches in fedoras and dames with polka dot skirts and platinum blonde wigs. Walking through, you really do feel like you’re in 1940s Hollywood. Except with way more gift shops. But as Eisner admitted in his opening day speech, it’s not the real 1940s Hollywood. It’s the Hollywood of our imaginations. The Hollywood that never was— and always will be… a nostalgic day dream.

When reading our scripture passage, we get that same sense of nostalgia. The Biblical author is living and writing at a very different time. Depending on who you ask, he’s either living during the reign of Josiah, writing a history that will make the case for the King's religious reforms, or he’s living during the second temple period, writing a history designed to make theological sense of the exile to Babylon. In either case, he is living in a much more complicated time, looking backward at the reign of King Solomon with a loving nostalgic gaze. Solomon’s reign... If only we could go back there... That’s when we had it made. Israel was the richest nation on the face of the earth. Kings came from all over the world to listen to our King’s wisdom and bring gifts. You should have seen his palace, too! Everything, I mean everything, was overlayed with gold. Silver had little value then. If you dropped a piece of silver in the street, you wouldn’t even bend to pick it up. Solomon’s reign! Boys were boys and men were men! Everyone worked together on a bipartisan basis and gas only cost a nickel! Anyway, you get the idea. I’ll leave it to people smarter than me to figure out how much of the description in this passage reflects the actual reality of Solomon’s reign and how much of it is “the Israel that never was— and always will be…” But even if you take the above passage as a literal recounting of Solomon’s reign, it is presented in an undeniably nostalgic light. The Biblical author plays up the brightest aspects of the time period and leaves out the messy stuff: all those internal political divisions that will result in civil war a generation later… The human trafficking that went on to keep a King supplied with thousands of slaves and concubines… the unjust policies that forced Israelites into indentured servitude to build all those elaborate architectural wonders… Lived reality under Solomon wasn’t all gold goblets and pet baboons. If the Biblical writer looked closer, he could see all the seeds of his present moment.

In our own time there is a temptation to look back with a loving nostalgic gaze on a time that never was and always will be. Depending on our class and political leaning, we may each point to different times as when we had it all figured out. I won’t beat you over the head with that. Do your own reflection. I do want to point out something, though. Something I believe deep in my bones because it is the very stuff of our shared Christian faith: Our best days are not behind us; they are ahead. 

Reading the Gospels, you don’t get the sense that Jesus is very nostalgic. He describes Biblical times as a time when people’s hearts were hard. He has little patience for talk of the ancestors and how they did things. He’s quick to remind people that the good ol’ days weren’t all that good. After all, it was your beloved ancestors who murdered the prophets. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus wryly states that the simplest lily is clothed in more splendor than Solomon. Jesus doesn’t speak of going back to a simpler time. Jesus speaks of a time that is coming and has already come. Jesus points ever forward to a Kingdom that is beyond anything Solomon could have imagined with a King who is the very wisdom of God made flesh. A Kingdom that is near. A Kingdom we are to fervently pray to come on earth, and are to somehow be a part of building. That’s good news, isn’t it? That’s the Gospel, is it not? That Jesus doesn’t come into our midst to turn back the clock but to make all things new?  Isn’t that the aim of our faith? The reason for our hope? The source of our love? 

But sadly that may not be the message you hear in church on Sunday morning. In many of our churches preachers will step sheepishly up to the pulpit like doctors with heartbreaking results on their clipboards. We will hear all about a time that never really was and how it’s never coming back. We will hear talk about how this country is going to Hell in a handbasket and if Grandma Sue were alive to see it she’d die all over again. Then we will sing all 5 verses of “Gloomy Sunday” while we  scratch our heads and wonder why more young people don’t want to be a part of this. In these churches we will hear the bad news that we are finished instead of the good news that we are being finished. That Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith is still changing us from "glory into glory till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before him, lost in wonder love and praise!" 
I wonder what would happen in our Churches if we began to boldly proclaim the Good News that, "you ain’t seen nothing yet!” 

See, there is no going back to a time that never really was. There is only forward. There is only the hand of our new Moses, not pointing back to Egypt, but ever forward to the Promised Land. There is only the lead of our Good Shepherd who promises the darkness of this present valley gives way to a bright Eternal Banquet. There is only, faithfully: day by day, step by step, breath by breath, following the voice of the one in whom we have put our trust: King Jesus. The Alpha and The Omega. The one who was, and is, and always will be.

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