Let me tell you a story that a friend of mine once told me. Once upon a time, there was a wise prince. Following his father’s death, the prince became king, married a beautiful princess from a neighboring kingdom, and began to rule his people in a way that honored God. One night, God came to the king in a dream, and told him he could have anything he wanted. Being a humble man, the king did not ask for money, power, or a long life. Instead, the king asked God to make him wise so that he could care for the people. God was very pleased by this request, and God decided to grant the king wisdom. And, as a reward for being so humble, God said the king could have wealth, honor, and long life too! The king became known all over the land as a wise king. People traveled far and wide to hear the king’s wisdom. The king’s kingdom flourished, his rule becoming a Golden Age for the kingdom. After forty years of peaceful success, the king handed over his throne to his son.[i]
The king in that story is a real king: King Solomon from our Old Testament reading today. As we baptize Kayla today, we wish the same things for her that King Solomon has. We pray that she might be wise in her decisions, that she might have a close relationship with God, and that she might honor others. And to help her become those things, we as a community pledge to support her, and we promise to try to do those things too. On this special day, we look to the future with hope and optimism, praying that God will make Kayla as wise as Solomon.
But, we have to be careful. You see, once upon a time there was also a shrewd prince. When the prince’s father died, the prince ordered that his older brother be killed so that he could become king instead. As he began his rule as king, he killed many more people out of revenge for the way they treated his father. Then he set out to build a kingdom of riches, power, and honor. But this king was greedy. He wanted so many things that he made the people suffer. He made the people pay taxes, and forced them to build lavish homes and temples. He collected 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of the women worshiped foreign gods, and so the king started to worship those gods too. He was not loyal to the God we know. By the time he died, the people were very angry, and they revolted when the king’s son tried to take over. A big war broke out, the kingdom divided in two, and the world fell into chaos.[ii]
Here’s the funny thing about the bad king. That bad king is Solomon too. Isn’t that weird? We often remember all the good stuff about Solomon – and there is a lot of good stuff. But there is a lot of bad stuff about Solomon too.[iii] In fact, we skipped that part in our reading in church today.[iv] The same king who humbly asks for wisdom is the same king who gets greedy when good things happen to him. The same king who wisely rules the land also forgets about loving the people he is ruling.
When we think about Kayla’s journey with God in the years to come, we want her to be like wise Solomon. But the truth is Kayla, and the all the rest of us, are probably a mix of wise Solomon and naughty Solomon. We are a mix of both because we all learn that we can never be perfect. But the good news is that God loves us anyway. When we baptize Kayla today, and we renew our baptismal covenant, we recognize that truth. We pray that we all will be wise, and kind, and blessed. And we recognize that we will have to work really hard to not be greedy, unkind, and separated from God. But we also promise that we will take care of each other on the journey, helping each one of us find our way back to being good servants of God.
So how about we find another way to tell Solomon’s story? “Once upon a time there was a king. He had big dreams, as most of us do. He had great faults, as most of us do. He lived a life marked by success and failure, nobility and disgrace. He loved God and he didn’t. He pleased God and he didn’t. He left a legacy that was neither perfect nor wretched, as most of us will. But he was loved by God throughout, even when his foolish wisdom shattered God’s heart. As we are.”[v] Amen.
[i] Debie Thomas, “A King’s Tale,” Journey with Jesus, August 9, 2015, as found at http://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/324-a-king-s-tale on August 12, 2015.
[iii] Cameron B.R. Howard, “Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14,” August 19, 2012, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1358 on August 12, 2015.
[iv] Andrew Nagy-Benson, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Supplemental Essays Yr. B, Batch 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 2.