Smartest Man In The Room - Scene Two: "The Beginning of Wisdom"
This week I am continuing the sermon series that we started last week entitled, "Smartest Man In The Room: Lessons from the Life of Solomon."
As we established last week, this sermon series draws it's inspiration from the award-winning television show, Mad Men---particularly the character of Don Draper, who has a lot in common with Solomon himself. If you would like to read more about how we made this connection, click HERE.
Solomon was a man for all seasons. A renaissance man before there was a Renaissance. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable. He is credited with writing 3,000 proverbs, which became the source of a great deal of wisdom in the Hebrew tradition for generations to follow him. It is believed that he wrote 1,005 songs and poems. The guy knew everything and had everything. We're going to find out just how much in a little while when we read from the Biblical story of his life.
But he forgot the one thing that he should have remembered.
Let me tell you about the first church that I ever remember attending when I was a boy: The Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. It's still there after all of these years even though they call it something else now. I was there last year and I took this photo:
I think it probably seated a maximum of 150 people on old wooden pews that were impossible to sit on comfortably. I remember that it didn't have air conditioning and you just sort of opened the windows and hoped for the best.
It had this certain smell. Like dust, wood, hymnal paper and old lady perfume.
All of the Sunday school classrooms were in the basement, which was musty and noisy pipes. If you were in the basement all alone, you could hear the sounds of the floorboards above creak as people walked, and with the sound of the pipes expanding and shrinking or whatever pipes do---it was a creepy place to be.
It was in this church that I first heard about Jesus---at least where I remembered hearing it. My Aunt Sylvia was my first Sunday School teacher, and when I got a little older, I graduated into my Grandmother's class.
My mother attended this church when she was teenager, driven there with her brothers and sisters by a neighbor who used to the "lead the singing every morning." His name was Homer Smith, and he couldn't keep time if his life depended upon it, but for years he stood in front of the faithful at Fairfield Road and waved his arms, while singing the morning hymns with gusto.
Whenever I think about what pure faith, pure innocence, pure joy and trust that God is good and Jesus loves me----I always have an image of this little church pop into my head. It's like something deep inside of me, trying to remind me of who I really I am.
It's easy to forget who we really are, isn't it?
There are lots of moments where we forget this in real life. Like those moments where our minds write checks that our bodies can't cash. You know what I am saying, right? We think that we can lift that filing cabinet and move it to the other side of the room---when it's full. Oh yeah. Or we think we can play football with our kids at top speed like we used to when we were 16 when we had all those shifty moves. All it takes is a hernia and a blown ligament in our knee to remind us that there isn't much left in the bank account.
Remember when you stopped coloring outside of the lines in your coloring book? For some of you that was last week, I know. Seriously, when did that happen? It happened when people told you that you shouldn't do such things---even though you thought your picture was beautiful the way it was when there were no boundaries to your art.
And when did we stop laughing when we run? Did you ever stop to think about that? Kids laugh when they run---but at some point they stop laughing when the run. It becomes work, or competition or too hard. I don't laugh when I run anymore, I hurt. At some point the sheer joy of being able to run and feel the wind in your face, and your friends next to you trying to freeze tag you just slip away and we forget...
Sometimes the things we forget can be pretty substantial.
What about when we forget that there's a God who loves us, who wants the best for us and that we once held this God in awe? You might say, "Well, I don't forget that!" But in those moments when you make a mistake, a bad decision, or something unexpected happens to wreck your day---one of the first things you assume is that God is ticked off at you about something, doesn't care about you, doesn't love you and doesn't even know that you are alive and hurting...
I want you to hear something really profound. Since we're talking about remembering things past---remembering things that were from the beginning when we were innocent and filled with the potential for faith and trust that could not be moved.
The first thing you need to know about God is that God wants the best thing for you.
I know that sounds very simple, and sort of like I got it from Joel Osteen's twitter account (he has one). But the fact of the matter is that we all need to hear that God wants the best for us, because, as I mentioned just a second ago, I think that most of us have forgotten this very important, life changing truth. Or we stopped believing it. Or, we say we believe it then we don't live as though we believe it.
We can totally see this very thing playing out in the life of Solomon when we read his story in the Bible. There was definitely something missing from his life. Let's take a look at 1 Kings 10:1-13 as Solomon is paid a visit by the queen of Sheba:
1 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. 2 Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at[a] the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. 6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”10 And she gave the king 120 talents[b] of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 11 (Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir; and from there they brought great cargoes of almugwood[c] and precious stones. 12 The king used the almugwood to make supports[d] for the temple of the Lord and for the royal palace, and to make harps and lyres for the musicians. So much almugwood has never been imported or seen since that day.) 13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.Sheba was a kingdom that is believed to have been located in Ethiopia and what is modern day Yemen. The Queen of Sheba pays Solomon a visit to see for herself what she has been hearing about this dynamic, powerful young ruler in the tiny little kingdom of Israel.
Question. As you read through that passage above, does it look like there is anything missing from Solomon's life? He has everything. He knows everything. The dude had swag. And apparently he had some game, too. Because a lot of people have read way into verse 13 where it says that Solomon gave the queen of Sheba "all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty."
In the 1950's Hollywood read way into this, too:
So back to the question I asked a minute ago. What is missing from Solomon's life? Seemingly nothing, right? He is the man who has everything and then some.
But not once in this passage do we hear from Solomon himself. The queen of Sheba exclaims her praise for him, attributing God's great love for Israel that He would give her people such a great king. "They are so blessed to have you," she essentially tells him. And Solomon just drinks it all in.
But never once does he proclaim to the queen or anyone else at this point the true source of his power, wealth and status. The reason why I chose this passage is because it's sort of the moment before the next moment in Solomon's life. And the next moment is when things start to go wrong. This moment was one in which Solomon could have done something profound that could have changed the very course of his life.
He could have remembered the "first thing."
At one point in his life Solomon knew all about the "first thing." In fact, he wrote about it extensively in the first of the 3,000 proverbs that he is credited with writing. Let's take a look at what he wrote:
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:2 for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight;3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;4 for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. - Proverbs 1:1-7
This short introduction to the proverbs of Solomon ends with a fairly definitive statement. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The key word that most people focus on when they read this passage is fear. So what does this mean? It's a Hebrew word---yirah---that means "fear," but it also means "reverence, awe," or "beginning."
You might say this is the "first thing." An awe of God... Reverence for God... Our first beliefs about God... The beginning of our understanding of God that is unsullied by our own accomplishments, our pride, our over-confidence. The first beliefs that aren't clouded by the consequences of our mistakes or the brokenness of other people.
This thing we translate as "fear" is a simple belief in God and God's good plans for us, his lovingkindness for us that never fades, that never wavers... The kind of belief that takes pure, innocent trust. It's the kind of belief that assures us that above all else, God wants the best thing for us.
When did you lose this?
When were you told that you weren't good enough? Was it when you were small, and colored outside the lines and believed that you were an artist until someone came and told you---"that's not right... it's only beautiful... it's only art... if you follow the rules." And so you did, and you never forgot it.
Ask a bunch of kindergartners how many of them are artists. They will all raise their hands. For now.
What happened to cloud your memory and jade your joy? Was it the hardships of life? The way you came to see yourself in the mirror? The love that was lost? Have you come to a place where you have lost your fear of the Lord---your innocent belief that God wants the best for you?
Since our theme for this series has been the television show Mad Men, I wanted to use an illustration from the show to help us understand this a bit better.
In this scene for the show the writers wanted to imagine that Don Draper and his team are pitching the executives from Kodak an advertising campaign for their newest innovation in slide projectors: The Carousel. Anyone over the age of 35 has some memories of the Kodak Carousel---a round cartridge that fit on the top of a slide projector that enabled you to show more slides at a time.
If you don't know what slides are---you're a young'un, bless your heart.
If you don't know what slides are---you're a young'un, bless your heart.
So in this scene, Don Draper is pitching his idea for what the Kodak guys were calling "The Wheel." He wants to call it "The Carousel" because he wants to evoke nostalgia within the consumer, to remind them of the beauty of memory, to see "The Carousel" as a time machine.
The moment of truth for Draper comes when he starts the slideshow, using photos from his own family.
You can see in his face the pain he feels from the things he has lost and is losing. His marriage is a sham, he drinks too much, cheats on his wife, barely sees his children and takes no pleasure in any of the things in his like that most people would consider "good." Watch the video and see it for yourself:
We know what this feels like. To remember when things were right, when we simply loved God, trusted him and felt actually joy in our lives that wasn't tempered by fear, dread, worry or shame.
To remember the first thing.
What would it look like for us if we reclaimed the first thing. Could it mean more joy, more contentment, more trust in God?
When I was six years old I sat in a pew in the Fairfield Road Baptist Church one Sunday morning and listened to Preacher Swink preach it up. He was a large man, who would grow red-faced and sweaty when he preached. I don't remember anything he said, to be honest. But I can still see in my minds eye how his face looked when he delivered his sermons.
On this particular day, I was taking notes. I wrote down the things he said, and I set up the thoughts in outline form. For some reason I just felt that moment more than most of the hundreds of moments I had felt in that same church. It was like the world slowed down a bit, the air got a bit thicker and my heart was just connected to God. I was so full of love in that moment. I feel it even now. I felt like my heart would burst and all I could was write down what I was hearing.
My parents showed Preacher Swink my notes after church, just to show him how cute I was. Funny thing. He looked at those notes and then looked at his own. Then he told my parents, "That looks almost like my own outline." He said. Then he looked at me in a funny way, and stuck out his big sweaty hand to shake mine---his hand sort of swallowed mine up.
"Dr. Leon," he said to me. "You're going to do something very special one day."
There are days when I feel like I can't get out of my own way. When I feel like the absolute worst sinner on the face of the earth. That I can't possibly be a pastor---that God was mistaken when he called me to do this.
And then I remember that moment. That moment when I just felt so in love with God, and so full of hope for what God wanted me to do and to be.
The first thing.
What would this look like for us if we truly got this, if we fully embraced the fact that God loves us more than we could possibly know? Maybe it would change the way we see ourselves. We would look in the mirror and see a man or woman of God, rather than a loser, or a failure. We would speak of ourselves with words of grace and peace, rather than despair and resignation.
Maybe we would dream more, and live more, and do more to make this world see that Jesus is alive, and still loving on Creation.
And this would be possible because we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that "the first thing" we need to know about God is that God wants the best thing for you.