Scripture: 1 Kings 3:1–15
Solomon lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling. It was not the bed that he was used to, but instead the guest chambers at the shrine at Gibeon. He was there in order to impress the local officials, to keep the peace. As king, he believed that his job was to keep everyone happy. So in his worship practices, and his governing style, and even in his marriages, he tried to keep everyone happy, mostly so they wouldn’t notice that he had no idea what he was doing.
As he lay there in a borrowed bed, in these borrowed chambers, he couldn’t help but conclude that perhaps he wore a borrowed crown. Solomon was the son of his father, the great King David. But he was not the firstborn, or the strongest son, or the great military leader that his father and brothers were. The short version of the story was that the crown came to him because everyone else was dead. His life was a series of traumatic events, watching his siblings rape and murder each other until no one was left to reign but him. But he always felt like an imposter on the throne. His father had been anointed by a man of God, as had his predecessor Saul. But Solomon was just kind of the only guy left. He was too young, too inexperienced, too afraid, too green on the battlefield, and too clueless in the ways of political power. He was convinced that one day, someone else would expose him, or challenge him, or simply ask him why he should be king, and it would all be over. So he did his best to keep everyone happy, mostly to distract them from his own failures.
But Solomon at least had one thing going for him. He knew what he didn’t know. Some people know that they know…conscious wisdom. Some people don’t know that they don’t know…unconscious ignorance. But in the middle is an interesting group: those that possess conscious ignorance. They know that they don’t know. Later, Solomon would be credited with the proverb, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It implies that for humans to wise, they have to know that they aren’t in charge. That they are not in control. It’s what wisdom and worship have in common. They have to place themselves in a position of submission. Of learning. Of trust in One wiser and greater than they. There is something about wisdom that requires us acknowledging what we don’t know.
As Solomon drifted off to sleep that night, he had no trouble knowing what he didn’t know. It would fill the Dead Sea. But God had something more in store for him. He had been taught from the time he was a child about how God would come to those who were at their lowest, and give them dreams and visions of power and glory. Jacob fell asleep, knowing that his brother might be at his throat at any given moment. But God showed him the glory of angels ascending and descending from heaven, a glory that would one day reach him. Joseph fell asleep, knowing he was hated and annoying to his whole family. But God showed him in a dream that they would one day bow down to him. Gideon hid in a winepress, trying to make enough bread to keep his family alive. But God showed him a vision of greatness, calling him a “mighty warrior.” God took those who were lacking and used their little bit of something, turning it into greatness and holiness. So, when Solomon fell asleep with the seed of wisdom of knowing that there was much that he did not know, God gave him a vision of becoming a great and wise and discerning leader. Of using that humility to grow in wisdom. Instead of becoming a great king by way of force, or military knowledge, or political dexterity, he would reign in wisdom.
When he awoke, he had a new understanding of who he was called to be. With a trusting heart, he would lead with discernment and wisdom from God. As a symbol of that trust and that wisdom, Solomon jumped out of bed, packed up his things, and traveled back to Jerusalem. Back to the Ark of the Covenant. Back to the heart of worship of Yahweh. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Solomon had a heart of worship, and a heart of wisdom. As he bowed his knee before the Ark, he humbled himself at the feet of the Source of All Wisdom, never to reign the same again.
Julian lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. In the distance, she could hear the screams…the pleading for mercy. They called it the Black Death. It was a virus that likely began in Asia and spread like wildfire through Julian’s Europe with devastating results. Victims would go to bed seemingly healthy, and never wake up. Julian’s entire life she had heard those screams, known all too well what they meant. She was five when the first cases were discovered on trading ships in Europe, and spent her entire life in a pandemic. And now, at 31 years old, she had finally succumbed to its destructive power. She lay in her bed, waiting for death. Doctors had given up hope. The priest came to give her last rites. Her mother reached over and closed her eyes, anticipating her passing.
But what she experienced at the edge of death was nothing short of the very power and presence of God. She would later write that in the midst of her illness, Julian had sixteen visions of God’s presence. She did not pray for God to miraculously heal her, or take away her all pain. But instead asked for God to reveal truth to her. She prayed for a discerning heart to know God’s love, and in her deepest moment, felt awash with that love.
In one of those discerning revelations, Julian said that God showed her a tiny little thing, “no bigger than a hazelnut,” she wrote. Tiny. Round. Barely a thing in the palm of her hand. Surely this tiny hazelnut could be smashed and destroyed in an instant. Like her, on the edge of death, feeling crushed and abandoned. Yet, in her revelation, she understood. She later wrote: “It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.” If God would care for something as small and inconsequential as a hazelnut, perhaps God is caring for her.
It has been said that God takes the tiny nugget of our abilities or strengths, our personality or talents, and grows them into a mighty tree. Like the tiny hazelnut that grows and grows and grows. God took the willing and contrite heart of Julian and drew great and amazing things from it. She survived the plague and eventually wrote out the stories of her revelations from God. Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, is known as the first book written in the English language by a woman. She is known today as Julian of Norwich, and is a spiritual giant who has influenced and inspired generations.
In her life, we see the twin powers of wisdom and worship, for in her prayer for revelation, she demonstrated amazing trust. In her final years, she lived in a tiny cell with two windows. One window was attached to the church, so that she could worship and receive communion. But the other window faced the street, where scores of faithful would come to see her and receive her wisdom. A heart of worship, and a heart of wisdom. “Everything has being through the love of God.” Over and again, throughout her marvelous life, God proved this to be truth.
Sal lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. Her phone alarm clock was going to go off in the next few minutes, but she had been awake for hours. There were two things that kept her awake through the night…
The first was coming the next few hours. Their church was set to celebrate what they called “Gifts Day.” It was a day to celebrate the many gifts that members of the congregation could bring. But Sal knew that she had nothing of worth to bring. A poor college student, and not even a theology student, but a graphic arts major. What gift could she bring like the CEOs and amazingly talented singers? The committed servants and the gifted teachers? She compared herself to those with real gifts and wondered if she would get laughed out of the building. She had half a mind to turn off her alarm and skip the whole thing.
But then came the second thing keeping her awake all night. Plink. Plink. Plunk. Acorns. All night long. All day long. Nothing but acorns. She had a huge oak tree by her townhouse and this time of year all it did was drop acorns…all…the…time. They hit her car. She crunched on them when she walked on the sidewalk. And all night long, she could hear them hitting the roof. Even when she closed her eyes, she could see the phantom of acorns in her mind’s eye.
But there, in the place between being asleep and being awake, something struck her. Acorns. The thought occurred to her how amazing it was that something as tiny as those little acorns could grow up into a huge tree that reached high beyond her second floor. Something as tiny and inconsequential as an acorn, which could fit into the palm of her hand. What struck her is that that is how God worked. The little boy who brought a few scraps of food that fed thousands. The old widow that brought a couple of coins that became a teaching lesson for the rich and powerful. Those who have the piles and piles of gifts aren’t the ones that God uses in the Bible…it’s those who are just about as inconsequential as an acorn, which God grows into something mighty and amazing.
Perhaps she did have something to share. She jumped out of bed and onto the church website to print off the Gifts Day form. She noticed that the website could use a little redesign, and she thought she could help them figure it out. As she began to prepare for worship that morning, she had a new sense of how God might use her gifts, a new revelation that the God of love could use even her.