October 21 The Physics of Presence I Kings 3:1-15
An acquaintance of ours in Virginia is a Stone Mason; and if I understand it right, he can charge a good bit more money for his work than a regular mason can, because his skill-set is less common.
It takes more skill to work with stone than it does with brick, because working with stone, you have more issues to contend with. You have to know how to compensate for the irregular shapes and sizes of the stones. It takes more planning and more knowledge to set the different courses of stone as opposed to brick, because stones are shaped in funny ways.
Bricks, on the other hand, are nice and uniform.
Bricks are man-made, and they’re all made the same size and shape. So you can plan for a project, and you’ll know exactly how many you’ll need before you ever get started.
You can work more quickly with bricks, because you don’t have to think about each individual brick and where it will fit best…you can just grab the next one from the pile.
Bricks were one of the earliest technologies that we invented.
(have you ever thought about a brick being ‘invented’?)
Somewhere along the line, our ancestors realized that they could build things a lot more efficiently if we used rocks that were the same shape and size.
So they invented the brick.
And ever since the tower of Babel, we have lived in a world quite literally made of bricks.
-now, when I use the word ‘brick’ this morning, I’m not just talking about the things we find at construction sites or brickyards.
I’m talking about all the technology we use that makes our lives more efficient.
I’m talking about cell phones, and computers, and how we transport ourselves across the country. I’m talking about electricity and gasoline and coal and plastic, and all the ways we use all the combinations of those technologies.
There’s no debate about it; technology has changed the world; and we have benefitted from the technology we embrace.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology in and of itself.
But ever since the tower of Babel, it’s been our temptation to use technology to be like God, instead of serving God. At the very least, we’ve tried to use technology to gain access to God instead of recognizing our place before Him.
In ancient times, they had bricks.
Today we have Google. (who needs to pray when the answer is just a click away?)
And so I chose Solomon this morning, because I think he represents the kind of growth and prosperity that many of us are looking for through our use of technology.
He represents the kind of person many of us long to become.
There’s a reason Jesus refers to “King Solomon in all his glory” in the gospels…because it’s an image that would have carried water in his day, even more than in ours.
So it’s easy to look at Solomonn and see a role-model for how leaders should lead, and how the people of God should be living.
And I think that’s misguided.
I think it’s wrong.
In fact, I think that the harder we pursue the kind of Growth that Solomon pursued…the more we’re going to look like Pharaoh (and you might remember that Pharaoh wasn’t a good guy).
I’ll get into that more in a few minutes.
See, Solomon represents the culmination of a course that was set way back when the peopel asked for a king.
If you remember, God didn’t want his people to have a king.
But they persisted in their longing.
And so God relents and gives them a king.
So Solomon, and David before him, and Saul before him…they were all part of Plan B.
1 Sam. 8 relates the whole episode; where the people want a king and God tells them through the prophet Samuel exactly what will happen when they take one.
They’ll be taxed, they’ll be oppressed, and their children will go to serve him.
They will cry out to God because of this King that they wanted and asked for.
But they want to be like the other nations more than they wanted to
be who God created them to be…and so they take a king.
Saul was anointed as the first king.
David was the most celebrated king after him.
And then Solomon took the throne.
He was the third king of Israel, and the last to rule a united kingdom.
And from the evidence, he did a really good job at ruling the people.
It’s like he was the best king that “kingship” can produce.
…but even the best “king” is still a king. (not God).
So Solomon represents the fullest, most mature expression of what it means to be a ‘king’.
Saul and David set the stage, but Solomon’s kingdom was more or less at peace while he reigned, he was widely respected for his wisdom, and at least to some degree, Israel prospered under his leadership.
What more could we ask of any king?
…except for the slaves that carried out his ambitious building programs.
…except for the cities that we read about in chapter 9…the ones he gave to Hiram the king of Tyre because Solomon couldn’t pay his bills for all the Cedar wood that he imported.
…except for the way the nation was divided at the end of his reign because he was a harsh master and his son promised to be even more harsh.
(so actually, if we’re going by today’s standards of church growth, we can call that a victory! Instead of just one kingdom, when Solomon was finished, there were now two kingdoms!)
Obviously I’m speaking tongue in cheek.
Solomon is like the ripe fruit of this tree called “kingship”
And what we read, right here at the beginning of chapter three in I kings is, that this ripe fruit looks curiously like Pharaoh.
“Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.”
This is the first thing we’re told Solomon does after the kingdom was firmly established in his hands.
Actually, that wasn’t the first thing he did, because we read in the next sentence that he brought her to the city of david, until he finished a couple three building projects that were already underway. His palace, the temple, and the city wall.
These are details that are easy to overlook, but they set the stage for us to feel the full irony of the situation.
Do you remember what the Israelites did in captivity?
Do you remember how they spent their time in the land of captivity?
They were slaves.
They made bricks.
And then they used those bricks to piece together another man’s dream.
See, Kings love bricks…because they love to build things.
Rather, they love to have things built…by a concentrated base of slave labor.
Bricks build kingdoms. and slaves build bricks.
And the first thing Solomon does after becoming king of Israel, is amp up the brickyards.
He starts churning out the bricks, with the daughter of Pharaoh by his side.
I’m not saying he was a bad king.
I’m saying he was really good at doing what kings do.
And we-each of us-are like kings to ourselves.
We each have these similar goals; to build our kingdoms.
But instead of bricks we have boxes made of plastic and glass.
We have cheap chocolate, coffee, and tea (and did you know that October is fair trade month?)
See, the irony of all this, is that the story of God’s people–our story–is a story of Exodus.
Not a story of slavery.
It’s a story Erv is going to get into during a Wednesday night Bible study later in the fall.
But we have been called, like Israel, out of slavery, and into the promised land.
They were called away from the tyranny and the security of pharaoh’s brickyard, towards the risk and the reward of the wilderness, the risk and the reward of life lived in communion with God.
These were the people who had come through the Red Sea. The people who had eaten bread from heaven, who drank water from a rock.
These were the people who were led forth by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
They had witnessed the saving power of God in ways that still give us goosebumps, and they shared those stories from one generation to the next until this story of exodus became their identity.
And still, they turned to what was familiar; which was kingship.
They turned to what was safe, which was kingship.
They turned to what was predictable and easy, which was kingship.
So I guess one thing I’d say this morning is, don’t get too wrapped up in which king we should choose here in a couple of weeks, because even the best king, president, or Pharaoh is still just a king, or a president, or a pharaoh.
We know what to expect from them…Brickyards.
We as leadership in this church…we want to grow in faith, hope, and love. We want everyone connected with this congregation to grow in faith, hope, and love.
And bricks are awful ways of measuring faith, hope, and love.
The bricks of empire are not the tools we use to build the kingdom of God.
Only relationships can do that.
We need each other to build this thing we call the kingdom of God.
We have come to Christ. The invitation is still there; to come to Him, the Living Stone; rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him. And you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).
So let us put away our bricks; the technology that so often serves us at the expense of our neighbor.
And let us turn our eyes again to Jesus, the author and the perfector of our faith.