We live in an age that we sometimes call the information age. We are swimming in a sea of information. It’s been said that there is more information generated in ten minutes than in the whole of human civilization up until this point. Think about the information that we have access to right now, in this very moment.
When I was growing up I remember having these questions that would pop into my mind throughout the course of a day, like:
who was the youngest president to ever be elected?
or what is the distance from the sun to the planet Pluto? (of course when I was a kid Pluto was still a planet)
or what was the biggest comeback of all time in baseball?
I would have these random questions that would arise through the course of my day. I would stop, pause for a moment, wonder what the answer might be and then continue about my day. This was because in order to find out the answer to those questions it took work. It took a lot of work.
It meant turning to the old trust Encyclopedia Britannica which we had on a book shelf. Either that or it meant you had to go down to the public library and seek out that one specific book which may or may not contain the answer to your question. Or, maybe it meant searching your address book for the phone number of that one person in your life who just seemed to know all there is to know about everything you ever wondered about. Then you had to call them on their home telephone and hope that they were at home to answer.
Because it was so much work to get the answer to any of these questions, most of the time what I would do it I would pause and think to myself “what a great question, I wonder what the answer is” and then I’d go on with my day.
Of course this has all changed. I can answer any of those questions in a matter of moments. In fact I decided to do a little experiment. I actually timed myself as I answered all of these questions. Using my trusty iPhone and Google I was able to answer all of these questions in 2 minutes and 11 seconds. Two minutes and eleven seconds to find the answers to all of these random questions that popped into my head.
Now for those of you who are just so curious that you can’t focus on the rest of the sermon until you know the answer to all of these questions here are the answer; youngest president: Teddy Roosevelt he was 42, 3.67 billion miles from the Sun to Pluto and the biggest comeback in baseball history was a 12 run difference, it happened three times in the history of the game: Indians over the Mariners in 2001 and two other times in the early 1900s.
It is a little overwhelming to me when you think about all the information we have access to today. Of course in many ways living in this age is absolutely amazing. We have the ability to share information and knowledge in a way that can make such a deep impact on individuals and communities. That same knowledge which used to be held by a select few powerful and wealthy individuals is now available to the entire world.
There are definitely some positive things about living in the information age. And at the same time it can be overwhelming and anxiety producing. In fact according to the statistics we are more depressed and anxious than any other generation in human history. Now, I have to believe that one of the factors that plays into all of this is the 24/7 news and information that streams right into our pockets, which is just one click away all the time, around the clock, whether we are out buying groceries, or we are at the park with our grand-kids, whether we are cooking dinner or folding laundry.
But as people of faith we know that there is more to life than just digesting all the information we have at our finger tips. We know that there are some questions that Google or Alexa just can’t answer. Big questions like why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the next right action to take in this world? Why do good people suffer? How do I take all that I have and all that I know and all that I am and make an impact on this world? I guarantee no matter how good Google is, I can’t answer those questions in 2 minutes and 11 seconds.
As people of faith we know that there is something else we need to seek and cultivate in order to life a rich and whole life: and that thing is wisdom.
This brings us to our reading for today. Our reading that I’ll be focusing on for the sermon is the story of Solomon, the son of King David. Now if you are not familiar with the story of David it is important to know that David was a great king who united the northern and southern kingdom of ancient Israel. He was a brave warrior and a shrewd and cunning leader.
But one of the things that is so remarkable about the story of David, as it stands in contrast to other stories of kings from the ancient near east, is that the Hebrew people told the stories of David as a great king but they also told stories about his flaws and his character defects. They didn’t shy away from the fact that David was a human being who made some big mistakes.
So David has a son whose name is Solomon and the reading from today relays the story of David’s death and Solomon’s ascension as king.
The passage says that as Solomon became king he went to one of the high places, a place called Gibeon to make a sacrifice to God. After offering his sacrifice he falls asleep and God comes to him in a dream. God says to Solomon, “ask what I should give you.”
And Solomon answers God praising God for all the faithfulness God has shown to Solomon’s father David, and the people of Israel. Then Solomon asks God for the ability to govern the people and to discern between good and evil, or as I like to think about it, the ability to see beyond good and evil.
God is pleased at this request. This request for a discerning and wise mind. God replies to Solomon, I will grant this to you because you didn’t ask for all the riches of the world, you didn’t ask for the death of your enemy or worldly power. You asked for the wisdom to see and to know what is right and true so that you can govern the people and make the world a better place.
Now I don’t want you to get the impression that Solomon is a perfect human being according to our scripture. He is never portrayed in this way at all. He is deeply flawed just like his father King David. But, we do as a people of faith, remember his humble request that God would grant him wisdom to be a good leader to his people.
As people of faith we are called to cultivate wisdom, to grow in our wisdom as we journey through this life with God. What exactly is wisdom? It’s one of those questions that you can ask Google and you will never actually get the right answer. I tried it. I googled what is wisdom and saw a number of different articles and blog posts. They all talked about wisdom and they got pieces of it and portions of it. But no one blog post or article or study can capture all of what wisdom is because to me wisdom is that experiential knowledge we cultivate as we follow in the way of love.
Solomon asked for the wisdom to know the difference between good and evil. He asked to see beyond the information of the situation, to see beyond what was in front of him and to see the truth which lies beyond the facts. To see the spirit of God at work behind the circumstances or the situation and to know what is the next right action he was called to take on behalf of God’s love and justice in the world.
So the question for us as we go about our days and our weeks is how are we do grow in our wisdom as people of faith? How do we to learn from our brother Solomon and ask God humbly to receive the wisdom to know what is the next right action we are called to take?
One of the prayers and practices of our tradition which can help us in our pursuit of cultivating God’s wisdom in our lives is a simple prayer called the Serenity prayer. Now you probably know it or maybe have heard of it. The Serenity prayer is a prayer that has become really well known because of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step groups. It is part of the ritual of a 12 step group to open the meeting with this prayer. But what you may not know is that it is a shorter version of a longer prayer written by a Christian theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr.
The original and longer version of the prayer is this:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
I love this prayer so much as it captures faithful living in the day to day, as we encounter situations and circumstances and we are trying to discern and figure out what we are called to do and how we are called to follow in the way of Jesus. The simple, yet profound brilliance of the prayer is that first portion: God give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Far to often I think we get caught up in trying to change the things that we just cannot change in this world. It becomes an obsession. It causes us undue anxiety and stress and it does spiritual harm to our souls. We become obsessed trying to control other people or to change what others think about us or how others see us, we try to rearrange our external circumstances in just the right way so that we can receive a lasting peace.
Sometimes we do all of this and it eats away at our soul, our spirit because at the end of the day these are the things that we cannot control. If we learn to surrender, learn to accept that we are not in control of our universe, then we can learn to trust and rely more fully on the one whose love and power is greater and bigger than ours.
And at the same time, we sometimes ignore, deny or live in fear of the things within us and around us that we can change. The things within our hearts which need to change. That old hatred we need to let go of, that habit which has grown and grown into a full on addiction, that longed for perfection in our life that we’ve sought in desperation. These are things that we can change if we are willing to step forth in courage.
And at the heart of it all, the thing behind all of it that allows us to move forward in our spiritual journey with God into a full and abundant life, a life of wholeness balance and peace, is the wisdom to know the one from the other. The wisdom to see beyond the circumstance and the facts, beyond the information and the news and to see the spirit of God, the loving spirit of our God who longs for us to live lives of love, who longs for us to live lives of connection, who longs for us to live in hope and to walk humbly in faith all the days of our lives.
So may God give us grace with serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to know the one from the other. Thanks be to God, Amen.