1 Kings 3:3-15

Times of transition can terrify, particularly if you are the person called to lead people through them. Greatness also can arise from such times, however.

In today’s story we see Solomon as a young king, ascending to the throne following the death of his father, King David. Solomon was far from perfect, and would remain that way throughout his rule, with a particular tendency to make sacrifices in various places and eventually even allow other gods to compete with the one true God.

And yet, he made one brilliant decision early in his kingship, even though he was in the midst of doing what God really did not want him to do, worshiping away from Jerusalem. As he sacrificed at the most prominent “high place,” Gibeon, God came to Solomon in a dream and opened the door for the young king to request anything.

Oh, the possibilities! Military might could always be useful to a king. Or even better, a great treasury would put anything within reach: armies, the best weapons, the finest cities, the most comfortable life imaginable. What to request? What to seek directly from the hand of God?

Instead of relying on external signs of support, however, Solomon sought something internal, a gift to keep him in constant alignment with God’s will. He asked for what we traditionally describe as “wisdom,” the ability to discern good from evil so God’s people would always be led in the right direction.

Discernment of God’s will is the starting point for all of us. Solomon shouldered the burden of leadership mostly alone; we are blessed in that we can function as a community, seeking God’s guidance via the Holy Spirit as we come together as a church.

You may or may not be aware that Luminary has been experimenting with a new leadership structure this year. Twelve members and the church staff work together to replace the traditional Methodist system of multiple scattered committees. The primary role of the Church Leadership Council is discernment, the seeking of God’s guidance for the direction of Luminary UMC.

We have had monthly meetings and a day-long retreat in search of guidance from God about where we go next as a church. Eight months into this experiment, we have a few suggestions. And they are suggestions, not mandates. If the whole church cannot share a common vision for where we are going, then these suggestions will all be pointless.

Suggestion No. 1: We need to simplify our vision and mission statements. One thing we discovered early on was that no one could remember the current vision for the church. Instead, try this:

Our Vision: A world conformed to Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11)

Our Mission: To draw people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20)

If we can agree on those as biblically inspired, what comes next is a refined understanding of how we execute our mission. We need to focus our energy like a laser, trying to do a few specific activities very well. This understanding leads to two more suggestions:

Suggestion No. 2: Establish a system of small groups. Your CLC wrestled with this because we know it will be hard to do. We’re talking about a specific kind of small group, where about eight people pursue mission or discipleship together while also sharing mutual, loving accountability. Because this involves a change in church culture, we know the risk of failure is fairly high.

If we are successful, however, we would begin to function in a biblical, healthy way. Churches who make this transition successfully begin to reach the unchurched with the message of Christ at an astounding pace, doing great work for the kingdom. The small groups over time would become the basis for all our mission and evangelism efforts.

Suggestion No. 3: Establish an outreach ministry aimed at local children in need, and ultimately, their entire families. We can see from our demographic study of our parish that the need in this area is high. We already have a small team working on a pilot project for this fall, and we hope that pilot will turn into a big program for next summer. If you want to involve yourself in this effort, let me know.

We as a church have to talk about all of this quite a bit more. You’re also going to hear your CLC making suggestions in areas that are more administrative in nature, with subjects like debt reduction and a plan to develop the second floor to support the execution of our mission. Next week, after the 11 a.m. worship service and a brief lunch, we’re going to reconvene in the sanctuary to talk about these suggestions in more detail.

As a church, let’s remember that Solomon’s choice to first and foremost seek God’s will pleased God. Because Solomon first sought discernment, God also granted him the riches and honor most people would tend to seek. May we as Luminary United Methodist Church also be blessed in surprising ways as we first seek God’s will for all we do.

A Most Dangerous Sermon

In the seventh chapter of Acts, we hear the kind of sermon that can get a preacher killed.

A little background on the first Christian martyr: Stephen’s job was to handle more mundane tasks so others would have time to preach. His job was to ensure food was distributed fairly among the church’s needy. And yet, the Holy Spirit had a firm grip on him, working “wonders and signs among the people” as Stephen went about his tasks. In Christ’s kingdom, there are no small jobs.

Despite being primarily a broker of bread, Stephen quickly ended up before a council of Jewish synagogue leaders to answer for his miracles and his declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. When asked by the high priest, “Are these things so,” Stephen seized the moment.

I would encourage you to read Acts 7 in its entirety. It is a powerful sermon, one in which the preacher is fully aware of his listeners and their blind spots. In short, Stephen:

  • Started with the story of Abraham, reminding these Jews of how their history was rooted in great faithfulness, a long-term trust that God keeps his promises.
  • Moved on to how the Israelites ended up in Egypt, rescued there from hunger by God’s servant Joseph and slavery by God’s servant Moses, with God’s faithfulness demonstrated across the centuries.
  • Continued with how unfaithful the Israelites were in the desert, causing them to wander for 40 years, until finally a new generation was able to enter the Holy Land and take it from unholy people. Stephen then reminded these Jews of how the Israelites became a great nation, this part of his sermon seeming to peak with Solomon’s construction of a “dwelling place” for God, the temple in Jerusalem.

Throughout this sermon, a man in charge of a first-century Meals on Wheels program kept reminding powerful leaders that their history taught them one was to come who would bring all of God’s promises to fruition. Then the sermon got personal.

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do,” Stephen said. “Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.”

Talk about getting right to the point, a point the Jews were not willing to accept. The Jews rushed Stephen and stoned him to death, but not before he declared a vision of heaven, one in which Jesus stood at the right hand of God.

One would almost think Stephen was suicidal, except for a fact Scripture makes clear. Stephen was in full communion with God’s Spirit, letting God guide him every step of the way and word-by-word in his sermon. Because of that, I also have to assume there was a genuine opportunity for this audience to understand Jesus to be their messiah.

I’m left a little disturbed by this story. How can so many American Christians be hesitant to speak openly of our faith? Any repercussions we may face are, at worst, mild in comparison to being stoned to death. Are we really that disconnected from the Spirit?

And at the same time, I’m encouraged. In Stephen’s story, we see that a deep relationship with God can give us the strength to do remarkable work, even while executing church tasks that may seem incredibly mundane. Somebody’s got to cook and deliver the food; somebody’s got to drive the bus; somebody’s got to trim the hedges; somebody’s got to clear the septic lines when they clog. The key is to be alert for opportunities to declare Jesus Christ Lord and Savior when doing these things.

Walk with God. Be ready, be willing, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.