Reading: 1 Kings 11:4-13
If I were to ask you to describe Henry VIII how would you describe him?
Would you describe him as a king of virtue? Would you describe him as a deeply dedicated Christian?
Well if you look at the title our Kings and Queens have in this country one of them is ‘defender of the faith’, which would you believe Henry VIII was given by the pope.
You see as a younger monarch, Henry had written a Theological book defending the traditional catholic view of the seven sacraments and the supremacy of the Pope. Quite ironic given later history and Henry breaking the Church of England away from the catholic church. But in reality, despite how we might view him in popular culture, Henry was not an idiot. Henry wrote an academic theological book in Latin for goodness sake. This wasn’t a simple man, driven by lust, but rather an intelligent one.
In many ways Henry is a more recent reflection of Solomon. Solomon, as we know, was the most wise man to ever live, and one need only read some of the wisdom literature attributed to him, to see that wisdom. But in our reading today, right at the end of his life we see the folly of Solomon. We hear how his many foreign wives turned him from worshipping the true God to their own gods like Ashtoreth, Chemosh and Molek. We know from the archaeological record that worship of some of these gods included human sacrifice, although there is no suggestion that Solomon did that. Nonetheless, not good. God understandably became angry with Solomon – he had failed to stay his greed as king, he had failed to be faithful as a husband and here he had failed to worship God. God even appeared to Solomon twice and still it was not enough. So in the end God says he will take away most of the kingdom from Solomon, but not all and not within his lifetime, for sake of His servant David.
So what has happened here? How can it be, that the person given the most wisdom ever, could fail so hard, the person who had even had God appear to him twice, still didn’t stop?
At the heart of this story is the reality that our human predisposition to sin is so much stronger than anything else that we possess. We can have all the wisdom in the world and still sin, we can have all the wealth in the world and still want for more, we can live a life that others would call righteous and still not be righteous enough. Solomon found as our King Henry VIII did, that wisdom was not enough, that sin, knocking on the door of our heart, is too strong for any of us to truly defeat by ourselves.
This is why we need salvation; this is why we need grace. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us from ourselves. Jesus didn’t die on a cross to save the weak because the strong or the religious were okay. Rather Jesus died on a cross because none of us, from the wisest professor to the village idiot are unable to save ourselves from our own sin. Sobering, isn’t it? Even the wisest man to live failed miserably.
This should, I think lead us on a journey to humility and prayer. As I have shared with you before, the ordination prayer has this wonderful line, after listing all the impossible things as a priest you swear to do it says, ‘You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God’. This is a prayer not just for priests, but I think for the whole people of God. None of us can bear in our own strength our own calling to be a Christian. Anyone who thinks they can, is either too proud or too stubborn to really worship Christ. We can only be different from Solomon or Henry VIII by a deep reliance on salvation won by Jesus at the cross. But the joy of that is the realisation that our salvation does not depend on us, but on Him. Our job is to, often on our knees, seek God’s forgiveness, to give ourselves to Him as He gives Himself to us, so that it His righteousness and not our own that shines through. We can take no credit; we can only give great thanks to the one who saved us.
Listen to the cautionary tale from these two kings. Let us commit ourselves to let go of our own wisdom and allow Gods wisdom and salvation to live in our hearts by the Holy Spirit because then we will see blessings of God lay heavily upon us. Amen