A prayer for the World by Rabbi Harold Kushner
Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations. Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect. Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows. Let the warmth of the sun heal
us wherever we are broken. Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly. So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color. Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness. So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors. And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all people as our neighbors. Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty. And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven. Amen.
1 Kings 3:5-12 New Century Version (NCV)
5 While Solomon was at Gibeon, the LORD appeared to him in a dream during the night. God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you."
6 Solomon answered, "You were very kind to your servant, my father David. He obeyed you, and he was honest and lived right. You showed great kindness to him when you allowed his son to be king after him.7 LORD my God, now you have made me, your servant, king in my father's place. But I am like a little child; I don't know how to do what must be done.8 I, your servant, am here among your chosen people, and there are too many of them to count. 9 I ask that you give me a heart that understands, so I can rule the people in the right way and will know the difference between right and wrong. Otherwise, it is impossible to rule this great people of yours."
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked this.11 So God said to him, "You did not ask for a long life, or riches for yourself, or the death of your enemies. Since you asked for wisdom to make the right decisions,12 I will do what you asked. I will give you wisdom and understanding that is greater than anyone has had in the past or will have in the future.
God has come to you in a dream and given you a pass card. Better than a “get out of jail” card. Better than the winning lotto numbers. God has said to you, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” What would you ask of God? How would you respond to this opportunity?
As a lad I was fascinated by the thought of three wishes. Fairy tales and fantasies frequently find forlorn fairies or fantastic frogs featuring these fascinating fake facts that we can have those three wishes. I covered my bets and thought I’d better be ready for such an opportunity.
Over time I developed a foolproof strategy and can remember boasting about it to primary school friends in the play year around 3rd grade.
“I know what I’d wish for, “I boasted to chums. “First I’d ask for wishes until I died, and secondly I’d wish never to die. Then I could have all the wishes I ever wanted.
Bring altruistic I remember that my third wish would be for my family to also live forever. Wish four was for them to have eternal wishes, and then I dealt with world hunger, injustice and poverty. With a horse, a chimpanzee and a house of my own closely following.
Then I was challenged around the 6th grade. We were playing the three wishes game and a dangerous interloper, an true enemy and dreaded persona non grata pulled some stunt that derailed my answer of almost three years running – he told us, “And you can’t pull any of that sissy stuff like wishing for wishes until you die and then wishing you’ll never die. Oh I hated him! Imagine eliminating my two first wishes. I didn’t even take his bait and just wandered away.
A couple of years later I was watching an old Twilight Zone episode, in which a terrible criminal and gangster is featured. He was a despicable man, a crime boss and doing many illegal and immoral things. He knows he is headed for hell, but he doesn’t waiver. And then one day, he is killed.
And he wakes up in a grand bedroom, with lavish decorations and attendants and girls and all the things he loved as a criminal boss. He had fine clothes and ate great meals, and when he gambled, he never lost. Life was as he loved it and he found that every wish was always granted in one way or another.
There was another person around him much of the time, and this other man was checking in on the gangster. Was everything fine? Were all of his wishes coming true? Was he happy? And to these questions the crook answered that everything was better than he ever thought he would receive after death. The other man just laughed.
And it went on – day in and day out. The parties, the ladies, the gambling, the fun, fun, fun. And often the man mused that this was not what he thought Hell would be like. How did he ever make it to Heaven? He was happy, but he never imagined Heaven like this. Getting whatever he wanted all the time. Actually, it was kind of boring. In truth – it was real boring. And when he thought about it – it was boring him to death.
And when he next sees the person who is always inquiring about his good fortune, he asks him, “With the life that I led before I died, with all the killing and the cheating and the crime, it was more exciting than now when every wish is fulfilled. But it’s getting boring. There is no challenge. Don’t get me wrong, Mac, I ain’t complaining. But it ain’t so much like I imagined Heaven – it seems more like the other place.”
And quietly, the mysterious man replied, “Who said anything about this being Heaven and not being the other place?”
The music swells and the camera moves in to the guys face and he realizes that Hell is getting all of your wishes fulfilled forever.
Now that shook my personal world view quite a bit. Not that the Twilight Zone was gospel or anything, but the thought was very troubling – what if we received everything we wished for? What if we never had any challenges or disappointments in life?
I quite my wishing game.
And Solomon faces the same dilemma. We have the story, but we don’t have the internal conversation he may have had. What should I ask for? What opportunities might this bring me? I am sure he thought of wealth, of health, maybe like me he would wish for wishes until he died. But Solomon showed what he was made of in his decision. He revealed his true heart to God and asked for something that would be of value to him, but essential to his people.
My wife and I spent an evening this week discussing this story. Kathy noted that Solomon did not request something of a worldly value, which is kind of church talk for the current cultural position or trend. In other words, Solomon did not quickly scan the polls or the trends or the current understanding of life – rather, he sought, as Kathy put it, the higher value over what culture may have suggested or even dictated.
However, and this is the essential part for me, Kathy also noted that this is Solomon’s story – not necessarily our own. We should not assume that God will ask us what our wish might be in our dreams, or even in our lives. The intention of this remarkable story of such a significant Jewish King is that God indeed bless Solomon with the wish of his heart, and for a long time he ruled as God led him to rule and served God and the people faithfully. As we read further into Solomon’s story, we find he strayed greatly from God, and again, he provides us with lessons for our own times when we lead our faith, rather than letting our faith lead us. We don’t mock Solomon for his indiscretions. We learn from this marvelous king.
Further, and I think I should have made my wife preach today because really, she had the good stuff – I just gave you a Twilight Zone episode. Kathy also noted that we, as Christians, Jews or any people of faith, might see this story and look for ways to manipulate God or try to second guess God. This is a complete misreading of God’s Word. We do not absorb the stories of the Bible for our own gain. We let them soak in that we might have answer as to why we believe in God. And, as Christians, why we believe in a unsuccessful Jewish carpenter who became a very successful preacher.
I do think it is a story to ponder for our own lives. Not to seek gain, as Solomon could have but did not. We should consider this story as a means of ferreting out from within our hearts and minds what our answer would be – for we are not Solomon. We are not the king of the Jews of his era. We are women and men who live and walk and work and play in the systems of this world. We are people who go shopping and eat in lots of restaurants and buy music and dance, sadly, most of us poorly. We are humans. Yet, we have a dual citizenship with a Kingdom, a Dominion that God promised to all people of faith.
So what would you answer if God offered you the opportunity and asked what you wished for?
Perhaps it would be a wish for peace, or for kindness. For me, it would surely be a wish for true justice. Maybe your heart is touched by aiding charity, or helping those who are ill, or being at the side of a dying friend.
Actually, there is a secret here. For if you do have these kinds of values. If you are well meaning people of spiritual convictions – then you realize that God has already asked you, and your answer is what God expects of you – NOW.
A college student came to visit me last week. She is wondering if she is called by God into the ministry. We went to coffee (any guesses as to where?) and I listened to her proudly as she shared. My advice was, “Until you know what God’s individual will for your life is, show faithfulness in fulfilling God’s universal will.”
In other words, as we seek God for personal things, be sure to honor and obey God by doing the other parts of God’s will. Love one another, honor your father and mother, give thanks in everything, have no other God, do not harm, and many, many more.
This is a difficult sermon to end. I can either go on with more points, as the story obviously suggests, or I can leave it to you to be your own interpretation. And I chose the latter.
Let the word of your mouth and the meditations of your heart be acceptable in God’s sight-