THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
Walk This Way
“Walk This Way” August 19th – St. Andrew’s Saskatoon
1 Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14
Ephesians 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58
This past week, increased attention has been paid to Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald.
Until quite recently, MacDonald occupied more or less the same station in Canadian culture as he had in the 125 years since his death; a figure of interest in Canadian History classrooms and the answer to the question: “Who’s that guy on the $10 bill?”
That all changed in recent months when John A. MacDonald became the focus of intense debate about Canada’s colonial history; a conversation fraught with difficult questions and difficult answers.
However, in the last week, two similar news stories, both about statues and both about vandalism have summarized the debate around MacDonald.
I’ll begin with the more recent story:
On Thursday night in Montreal a statue of MacDonald was dowsed in red paint, from head to toe, by a group of self-described “anti-colonial” and “anti-racist” activists, who claimed responsibility for the act. By covering the statue in red paint, the group symbolically placed blood on MacDonald’s hands for his dealings with Canada’s First Nations.
The other story occurred in Victoria BC…a city which had already taken the step of removing their John A. MacDonald statue. This city awoke Tuesday morning to find that someone had vandalized the small plaque where the statue once stood. The date “1984” was scrawled on this plaque – in reference to the George Orwell book of the same name. Running opposite to the motivation of the Montreal vandals, the Victoria vandal claimed that removing or redacting history after the fact was a dangerous move with potentially dangerous consequences for the future.
Where Montreal’s vandals were motivated by a desire to see MacDonald taken off of his historical pedestal, the Victoria vandal cautioned that making such decisions was a dangerous act of censorship and redaction, similar to acts which take place in Orwell’s novel.
Friends, I hold these two examples up, not in an attempt to argue for one side or the other, but in order to take a page from the great theologian Karl Barth, who instructed preachers to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
Before I dispense with the newspaper and pick up the Bible, I would like to say that the reason I mention John A. MacDonald, his historical legacy, and these modern reactions to it, is because it has bearing on our Old Testament reading from this morning…
One that deals with themes such as politics, leadership, myth-making, myth-breaking, and faithfulness to the one true King and head of history.
This morning we heard in our reading from 1st Kings, the account of Solomon’s early call to Kingship and his faithfulness to God in receiving the call.
1 kings 3: 3
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of his father David…
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said,
“You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
Given no additional information about Solomon, his kingship, and his faithfulness to God, Wise King Solomon lives up to the name:
He is wise.
He is humble.
He is faithful.
He is the ideal of what a good king ought to be.
Solomon, the boy King, found himself at a young age to be suddenly burdened with great responsibility after his father David died. Being a faithful boy, he turned to the Lord God for guidance.
Solomon acknowledged that the greatness his father David achieved in his life was due to the favour he earned by being righteous and faithful to God. Having won God’s ear, Solomon poured out his faithful plea:
Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David…give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…
Of all of the things that the young king could have asked for Solomon had the wisdom to ask for God’s wisdom, for the power to discern wisely and govern justly.
If we closed our Bible after this morning’s reading and read no more of Solomon’s life, we would have no reason to suspect that Solomon would not go on being wise, humble, and faithful the rest of his days.
The Solomon left in our minds would be ideal and mythic; blameless and worthy of boasting over…
But…He would not be complete.
He would not be fully human.
He would be a MYTH and not a MAN.
You see, as good as Solomon starts out, as myth-worthy and statue-worthy as young Solomon is, he does not live up to this standard of perfection his whole life and reign.
No matter how good and pure Solomon starts out, he falls from his pedestal like all earthly leaders eventually do… even biblical ones… maybe especially biblical ones… save one.
But before we get there…before we meet the completed, flawed, and human Solomon, let us spend a bit more time with the mythic Solomon we have met this morning.
Solomon, the boy king, the figure full to bursting with faithfulness and prayer is the kind of leader worth building statues over; he is the kind of king that makes us believe earthly leaders can live in the light of the Lord all their days.
Truly, this pattern of ideal leaders has played out thousands of times since his reign.
Young Solomon is like every young, idealistic, mythic leader we once loved and placed our hopes in.
It’s easy to love a political figure like that. It’s easy to hang our hopes and our dreams on someone who seems young, energetic, and pure enough to handle them.
According to this morning’s Old Testament reading, even God was not immune to Solomon’s purity or his promise; as he responded to Solomon’s prayer…
Because you asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies…I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind…I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life…
Given Solomon’s early faithfulness and promise, we could not be blamed for choosing to close the book on Solomon’s life; to read no more of his kingship…
But the story does go on…
By 1st Kings Chapter 11 we hardly recognize Solomon as the faithful young king he began as…
Here in the 11th chapter, the Lord reads the account of Solomon’s sin; his helplessness to deny his passion for women of other nations, his lapses in wisdom and faithfulness to Israel and to God…
The Lord tells Solomon that he does not deserve to be king, but takes pity on him only because of the righteousness of his father David; the Lord explains that following Solomon’s death he will “tear the kingdom out of the hands of his son” save for one tribe…
Following the destruction of our idealistic, mythic, and statue-worthy image of Solomon-as-King, how are we to go on?
How are we to place faith in the rulers of this world if even the brightest, shining example of faithful leadership could not live up to our expectations?
When it comes to kings, kingdoms, and politics, much has changed since the time of Solomon.
Kings have come and gone.
Empires have risen and fallen.
Nation States have come into existence. Communism came and went. Fascism enjoyed its hey day and went into hibernation.
Regimes have gotten larger, more complicated, and less clear about who is really in charge…and yet one thing has remained.
Throughout all of this time, our ideas and our evaluations of our earthly rulers have remained important.
Whether we live in an ancient Israelite kingdom or a modern democracy, we demand a certain amount of righteousness, promise, and justice from the leaders we place before ourselves.
Despite all of our disappointments, despite the reality that there exists at all times a “bad apple in office” and a “new hope” around the corner; despite the realization that every “bad apple” is yesterday’s “new hope” and every “new hope” is tomorrow’s “bad apple” we persist in our cycles of hope and cynicism.
After all, there has to be somebody out there who can hold the mantle of a young Solomon…doesn’t there?
But maybe we’re just making the same old mistakes again…
Maybe we really haven’t changed that much from the Israelites who demanded that God send them a king…
Years before Solomon prayed for faithful leadership, the people Israel approached their Judge Samuel to send them a King, in order that they would be like other nations.
Samuel prayed to God and told the people that they did not understand what they were asking for…
Samuel pleaded with the people.
This king you want…this king will take your sons and put them in his army and wage war with them…
…this king will take your daughters and make them his servants
…this king will take the best of your vineyards and fields for himself
…this king will bankrupt you and you will become his slaves!
Finally Samuel said: one day…one day you’ll cry out to the Lord because of your mistake in wanting a King and God. Won’t. Listen.
But Israel didn’t listen to Samuel…so they got their king…a whole line of kings. Kings who did as Samuel promised they would.
Kings who all looked righteous and faithful at first but who each fell away into unrighteousness…
In a sense, Solomon is now redeemed. He was no less a fine leader as other kings, it’s only that the responsibility was too great, more than any human being could bare. It wasn’t his fault that generations before his birth, the people of Israel disobeyed God by demanding a king…
And indeed Solomon was wise, because he put his faith in God alone. And for this he is worthy of remembering and celebrating.
Whatever your opinion on John A. MacDonald, I think we can agree that his time as a mythic Canadian figure has come to a close. Following our current debate on colonialism and his place in it, there will be no going back to the way we used to view the man or his legacy… Whether we choose to hold him personally responsible or not, whether we think he was a good man of his time or a villain for all times, our faith requires that we ask ourselves a difficult question:
Why have we placed so much faith in earthly rulers in the first place?
Why have we tried to re-create Solomon in every Prime Minister and President?
Why have we—like the Israelites in Samuel’s time—turned away from God and toward earthly rulers?
Friends, this morning I have spoken (indirectly) about one King who does not fall into these traps, one king whom history cannot judge poorly because he is above and beyond mere history.
This King was, like Solomon, the Son of another King.
But that’s where the similarities end…
This King had no earthly throne
This King had no earthly palace
This King had no earthly riches
This King did wear a crown during his earthly life, but not the kind of crown we would covet for ourselves…
In Jesus Christ God sent us a King who was not a king at all, to show us what true kingship looks like…
To show us what the reign of heaven looks like…
What the Kingdom of heaven looks like…
It doesn’t look like a statue of a proud man.
It doesn’t look like a mythic king on his best day: clean, blameless, wise; regal.
Rather, it looks like a humble man, in humble clothes:
Healing the sick
Touching the unclean
Feeding the hungry
And finally dying – not on some glorious battlefield, not on a white stallion with a sword above his golden crown… but on a crude wooden cross, with a plaque above his crown of thorns: “Here is the King of the Jews.”
This King did not come to win our hearts and our votes
This King did not come to prove his wisdom and faithfulness
This King did not come so that we might make statues of him and glory in his myth
This King came to live that death may die and to offer this salvation to all…
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus made this promise:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
In Jesus Christ, humanity has been offered a true and merciful King
One who is something else entirely from the Kings of this world…even the best ones… even wise King Solomon.
Let us come before this King
Let us follow Him
Let us walk in his ways and not in the ways of this world.
This morning’s text said of Wise King Solomon that
Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statues of his father David…
Friends, in Christ we have been given a new David, a new King, a true and faithful King who will not lead us from righteousness. Let us walk in the ways of Christ.