A Higher Standard

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2018

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14

I went to get a haircut week before last, and the woman cutting my hair said, “it’s a good thing you’re here now, because the week before school is the worst.” Everybody comes in to cut off the summer scruff and get ready for that first big day of school.

So with that new haircut, the new backpack, all the school supplies, the perfectly selected outfit, the first day of school begins. It’s so fun to see pictures on Facebook of all the kids at church going back to school. Most of the kids are happy, some look a little grumpy. Teachers have their classrooms and lesson plans ready. The school bus drivers know their routes. But in all of those people I see a glimmer of the hope for beginning of the new school year. New opportunities. New ideas. New growth. It’s a new beginning all over again.

We see that same glimmer of hope in Solomon. His father, David, has died and Solomon has become king of Israel. Over the course of the summer we’ve read about King Saul, then David, and now Solomon. With this new king, there is a new beginning for the people of Israel. There is a great unrealized promised for the future. Solomon has gone to get his fresh haircut. He’s packed his bag just right. He’s got the perfect outfit for his first day of being king. We read in our Old Testament lesson that he goes to sleep one night at the beginning of his kingship – I would like to imagine Solomon’s night was like that fitful night of sleep before the first day of school. Solomon goes to sleep and the Lord appears to him in a dream.

And the Lord has a pretty good deal for Solomon – “Solomon,” the Lord says, “ask what I should give you.” Whoo, buddy. The Lord God, the creator of the universe and of time itself has just appeared to you in a dream and said you can have whatever you want. Awesome, how many yachts could I possibly use in a lifetime, right? How much money, really, could I burn through? Bring it on God, here’s the routing number to my bank account.

I think that, sadly, many of us approach going back to school that way. I’ve heard it before, they said it to me. “Go to school so you can get a good job and make lots of money.” As if school was some sort of assembly line in which we make students into cogs of a great economic machine. I remember my friends scoffing at me for studying history. “Phhht,” they said, “what kind of money can you make by studying dead people?” Learning, for them, is not about wisdom or knowledge or the pursuit of truth – it’s about pursuit of the dollar. Education is only one rung in the ladder of “success.”

But you know what the old mystic, Thomas Merton, said. “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

And that is what we can learn from the Lord’s offer to Solomon. Solomon does not ask for riches or wealth, he asks only for an understanding mind to govern God’s people. To be able to discern between good and evil. Solomon asks for wisdom, for humility, to be a true public servant. Solomon wants to enrich his people, not himself. That is the wall you ought to put your ladder up against. That is the prayer we ought to pray.

Solomon isn’t trying to blow up his own ego, he’s not trying to make a buck, he’s not climbing the ladder of success – he’s only trying to be a decent leader for his people. From where I stand, we have got a lot to learn from this prayer.

It’s the same lesson we have got to learn from Jesus. Jesus climbed no ladder upward. He was not driven on by success. No, Jesus went down the ladder. Humbling himself, even to the point of death, death on a cross. And if we say that we are his followers, then we, too, have to climb the ladder downwards. We have to follow Jesus down to humility, to wisdom, to public service, to love. We have got a lot to learn.

And my hope, is that for all the kids going back to school – learning is not some means to a financial end. No, I hope that education is the goal itself. And that every student who begins this school year has the potential to flourish, to grow in wisdom, to grow in love.

Like all those kids going back to school, for us here at church, I feel the same way.  The possibilities are endless, the promise and potential is just oozing from this church. I’m sure Solomon woke from that dream and looked at his people in the same way. The potential for holiness and righteousness was everywhere. As we’re going back to Christian Formation, to Sunday School, to Bible Study, I have a glimmer in my eye. Not that we blow up our own ego, not that we accumulate wealth and riches for ourselves, but rather that we serve our community and each other in the name of God. Like Solomon, I pray that our church will be a leader in decency for the community around us. With God’s grace, I pray that we are up for the tasks in front of us.

Because the work before us is great. Just recently a representative from the Diocese of Texas came out to look at our new building. As he stood there, looking upward in awe, he said, “there is a new standard at Holy Comforter.” There is a new standard at Holy Comforter. There is no going back. Every year we expect our students to go to school, to work hard, and to come out on the other end wiser. More mature. I expect the same for us. We are launching into this program year with the expectation that we live into a higher standard. We are going to build off what we already have. Just this week I’ve seen our parishioners serve the homeless, get ready for Sunday School, pray together. It’s a high standard already, yet, this is just the beginning of something new. We will hold ourselves to a higher standard. That we give financially, more than we think we should. That we worship more than we don’t. And that we pray every single day. This is a high standard, but it is the standard we have set for ourselves in our vision statement. It is the standard that Jesus sets for all his disciples. It is the standard at Holy Comforter.

I speak personally here. This is the place in which I have grown closer to Jesus. I don’t lead Bible Studies just because I have something to teach. I also have many things to learn. And it is you who teach me. I do not come to church on Sunday morning because it’s my job. No, I am here because God has blessed me immeasurably and it is here that I give thanks. I do not give my money to the church because I am supposed to. I give my money because I believe in this church. This is how I have learned which wall to put my ladder up against. I have learned that “success” as the world defines it, is worthless compared to the good news of Jesus Christ. In the church, in a life with Jesus, there is no “success” or “failure.” There is only “faithfulness.” And that’s the standard for this church. Faithfulness. That we remain faithful to God, faithful to each other. Faithful to our new standard. In many ways, the Lord has appeared to us, and we will ask only for the faith and courage to follow this high standard.

Just as God has been faithful to this church, I too ask you to be faithful to this church. To give to this place. To serve in this place. To worship week by week. To be part of a small group or bible study. And together, like Solomon, we will be a leader in decency for the Spring community. We are on the cusp of something new, and I want you to be part of it.

In a way, our church is getting its haircut. Getting our backpacks ready. Choosing our outfits for the first, big day of school. The new church is coming right along, it will stand as a reminder to us of our new standard. As a reminder to remain faithful to this new, higher standard.

The standard we must hold ourselves to in this and every year is the cross. I pray that, as a church, we climb down the ladder and climb onto the cross. We will serve in perfect humility. We will gather in perfect love. We will have a new beginning.

I end with a prayer:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

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