Thursday, January 25, 2018

Solomon so what?

John’s Gospel depicts Jesus in the area within the temple complex known as Solomon’s Portico (John 10:22-39). Luke records that in the earliest days of the church, the apostles taught, healed the sick and delivered the oppressed in the same place (Acts 3:11-26; 5:12-16). If Jesus is the Solomonic Son of David, what implications might that have for the local church? What might it mean to be a Solomonic community? Here are some suggestions.

We should seek to be a community of wisdom-learning. Solomon is associated with the Book of Proverbs, a compilation of instruction relating to how to live alongside our neighbours. Written in a vastly different world, among other things the proverbs address civil discourse—something that appears to have been swept-away in a Twitter-storm in our time—and meet romanticism head-on with realism—again, something we have lost in our neo-liberal society. Solomon is also associated with Ecclesiastes, the work par excellence that addresses the fleeting nature of life, how little we can control, ultimately advising balance (or moderation: do not give yourself too much to work, or pleasure; do not be overly devout) and contentment. This, too, has much to offer our own times, our addictions and delusions.

We should seek to be a community of honest-brokering and conflict-resolution. A resource to a wider community that finds itself increasingly polarised along racial, political, and a host of other lines. It strikes me as noteworthy that the local Church of England congregation is perhaps one of the view contexts in England where people who vote Green, Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative, and UKIP might be found seeking to work constructively together. We are also engaged in inter-faith forums. Regarding honest-brokering and conflict-resolution, we have a long way to go; but we should recognise what already is.

We should seek to be a community of celebration. Solomon is the royal bridegroom, and in the new Testament the Church is depicted as the bride of Christ. In both Old and New Testaments, ‘the Age to Come’ begins with a celebration, a wedding banquet. We are a party people, and we should party more. Solomon is identified with the Song of Songs, an erotic love poem. Our celebrating should be more than but not less than a celebration of sexuality. And that celebration should include throwing the best weddings, while not being limited to a vision that only affirms wedding couples.

We should seek to be a community marked by the divine presence found in place. Yes, you don’t have to be in a church building to encounter God, but you should encounter God if you are in a church building. That happens when the church community share an attitude of reverence towards the spaces they steward, and towards all who come in. It happens when we are expectant that we will meet with God, in the music, in the reading of scripture, in the distribution of bread and wine, in the play of light through stained-glass windows, in the collection-bin for the foodbank, in the insight of a small child or the warmth of a sleeping baby or the gnarled fingers of a pensioner, in the sharing of a cup of tea, in wood and tile worn to a polish, in the crocuses pushing through the lawn in the spring…

Of course, while Jesus was the fullness of Solomon, or the best Solomon that Solomon could be, the history of King Solomon records a certain number of pitfalls. How might these, too, be instructive to the Church?

Solomon finds himself drawn away from his distinctive relationship with the God of Israel through the making of political alliances with the surrounding nations, whose values were very different. There is a warning here against the temptation to political power, and the uncritical aligning of the Church to any given political identity. We see this in the overwhelming support of white, evangelical Americans for the Republican party; and the fanatical support of white, evangelical American church leaders for Donald Trump. As already noted, I genuinely don’t think we have such block-voting or soul-selling in the UK; but nonetheless we may see it at the individual level, and the potential is always there.

Solomon finds himself drawn away from his distinctive relationship with the God of Israel through his participation in a cultural milieu where powerful men exercised control over the bodies of women. Even if accounts of the number of his wives and concubines is exaggerated for symbolic effect, this itself speaks of that milieu. Sadly, this feels all too current. The Church has been complicit in just such a wider culture, not held out a clear alternative counter-culture. We are seeking to own and address our sins. Jesus, the fullness of Solomon, the fulfilling of Solomon, both demonstrates and empowers a way of living in community that is marked by purity of motive and self-sacrificial service of others, and by forgiveness and restoration for those who fall short and yet truly repent. All this describes something ongoing, both glorious and imperfect. It calls for honesty and humility; and holds out hope.

Solomon finds himself drawn away from his distinctive relationship with the God of Israel through pursuing a lasting reputation by other means. Perhaps the greatest irony of Solomon’s reign—the reason why his own son would go on to lose half of his territory—is that in conscripting his own people into slave labour to build great palaces and service lavish lifestyles, and in amassing a great military technology, Solomon duplicates the Pharaoh from under whose oppression God had rescued his people. Arguably, the Church of England finds itself captive to a status, albeit diminished in influence, God might not want it to have. Our fixed assets may serve, or be at the cost of, flourishing community. Solomon’s story invites us to honest assessment.

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