Have you ever seen a house built so quickly that you worry about the safety of the inhabitants? Pretty much all the time, right? Construction didn’t used to be so fast. In fact, some of the most magnificent structures, such as Medieval cathedrals, took longer than a generation to complete. That meant that if you were one of the workers you would not live to see the fruit of your labor. Imagine the frustration of seeing an artist’s rendering of the project that might provide a hopeful vision and then be confronted with the harsh reality of blue prints making clear the overwhelming task. A kind architect might spare you the pain by showing you just the part you need to see.
According to my Mormon colleagues here in my new setting for ministry, Kirtland, Ohio, the first Mormon Temple (which still stands here in the city and is where I will have the privilege of preaching at the Community Thanksgiving Service in a few weeks) was built entirely without written plans solely on visions received by Joseph Smith. The people made great sacrifices from their meager resources and labored hard during a time when they were already working hard to make lives for themselves on what was then the frontier. If they had known that in a few short years most of them would be leaving to head west, eventually to build another, grander temple I wonder how many would have continued to work on this building?
Solomon was smart enough to know that grand temple that he had in mind would take more effort than the Israelites might give willingly so he chose to bring in foreign slaves and even conscript some of his own people! At that point it is hard to maintain that Solomon was actually the wisest king of Israel. Realistically the message is that the wise are sometimes as foolish as the rest of us.
Perhaps Solomon’s wisest moment was the one when he requested wisdom. I don’t know about you, but if God were to ask me what gift l wanted from God my response would be “um” followed by “how should I know?” Which actually is not all that different from Solomon’s answer. Before asking for wisdom he refers to himself as a small child. As king he was hardly small or weak, but he was clear about his position before God. In the words attributed to him in Proverbs, Solomon says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. That might better be translated as wisdom begins when you stand in awestruck before God. Any of us who would be wise must first be humble. Then we must be clear about our plans after we receive God’s gift, because the expectation will be that it be used for the sake of others. That is at least where Solomon started on his journey regardless of where he ended up. When he did justice it came from a place of loving mercy and walking humbly with God and it was for the benefit of the community. When he evoked motherly love from the true mother of the child in dispute he was using wisdom that began in love in order to make a judgment that was loving.That is the gift of wisdom practiced in and on behalf of community.
We can know glimpses of this sort of wisdom when we invite God to dwell among us. And God is like that kind architect who chooses to show us just as much of the plans that will give us inspiration to carry on. In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as Sophia, which many would say is a form of the spirit of God. So it is like that old bluegrass song, “Working on a Building.” The singer proclaims, “I’m working on a Holy Ghost building for my Lord.” We should all seek to live in that sort of Holy Ghost building where our lives are the dwelling which welcomes the indwelling of God’s Sophia Spirit. And even though we are only ever able to build a small part of that dwelling, God knows that in time and in community the whole temple will be built.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of Old South UCC in Kirtland, Ohio, where Darkwood Brew is used as a tool for ministry as church beyond walls. He has a YouTube channel called Bible Bytes, short video commentaries on the scripture lesson for the week.