If you’d like to hear this sermon, as it was preached, hit play below!
Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
August 19th, 2018
1 Kings 3:5-12 | An Excerpt from “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach” by Anthony Bourdain
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Uncertainty in Paradise
The morning of August 12th began as all the others do, in Indonesia — with the insistent crowing of roosters.
But there was something else in the air too.
The low buzz of uncertainty.
Traveling with our young boys in tow, Cary and I had exercised the power of the Internet to reserve places to stay on each night of our trip —
Before we even left the safe confines of 7 Greenfield Road, we’d already planned it all out…
All of it, that is, except August 12th.
The night of August 12th had eluded my Airbnb searches, escaped the nets of Expedia and Bookings.com.
Or perhaps August 12th was something else.
Perhaps it was that one lingering remnant of the way both Cary I used to travel back in the day — on a shoestring — moving from here to there according to the caprices of youth.
Frustrated google searches or the unconscious re-emergence of youth… either way, one thing was for sure…
Our fate, on the 12th, was an unknown.
And today was the 12th.
To say we were enamored with the beach resort where we’d stayed on the 10th and the 11th, would be an understatement. The Waecicu Eden Beach Resort is a series of private bungalows perched, like tree houses, in the crook of a hillside that overlooked a placid inlet. From the porch of these secluded bungalows, each lucky guest could peek out through a frame of languid palms, at a long view of the island’s coastline, dotted, here and there, with precipitous islands. In the evening, when the sun dropped into the ocean, the water of the inlet was a shallow rippling mirror of gold, darkening away to purple.
Horse tail clouds.
Let’s just stay here for another night.
The Waececu Eden is presided over by a benevolent young manager, with a gentle smile who navigated the desperately confusing Indonesian tourist culture with a ready smile and a steady omniscience.
This impression was heightened by the fact that his name was “Yuno.”
If you wanted to know something you could ask Yuno.
“Yunow will know.”
Your now what I mean?
“Yuno? Have there been any cancellations for the 12th? Can we please stay another night?”
“No, sir, I’m sorry,” he said, “but I can ask my friend next door. Maybe he will have a room.”
In today’s reading from the first book of Kings, we are told about King Solomon.
If you’ve spent even a few days in Sunday School you may know a thing or two this guy Solomon.
You may know that he was the son of King David.
You may know that he was the king who built the first temple in Jerusalem.
But even if you haven’t spent anytime in Sunday school, you would probably know one thing about Solomon.
Solomon has a reputation.
He is known for being wise.
And this passage, that Deb just read for us, tells us how Solomon became wise. The text says that
…the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”
To his credit, Solomon immediately recognizes that he is in a remarkable situation.
There are some interesting things to consider about his response to God.
The first thing he does is acknowledge his place in this relationship.
He acknowledges that this remarkable moment when he, Solomon, is being granted a gift, is the result of a long relationship between his father David, and God.
Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
That was wise.
After that, Solomon acknowledges his own position:
And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…
I do not know how to go out or come in.
I am quite taken with this phrase. Solomon says, quite openly, that he does not know how to go out or come in.
Was that wise?
In this extraordinary moment of unparalleled opportunity, Solomon does not highlight the strongest bullet points on his resumé.
He does not say: “I have previous work experience as a ruler of a great nation.”
He does not say: “You can trust me, Boss — I’m your man!”
He says: I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…
If Solomon was talking to one of his generals, or to another King, I’m not sure this tactic would be very wise.
A cunning and ambitious human being would be tempted to advantage of such honesty from the youthful king.
But Solomon was talking to God.
And in this instance, I believe, the young child King Solomon was wise.
Most people, in his situation, would be overcome with possibilities offered by God’s power.
They would be tempted to treat God like a Genie in a bottle.
But Solomon recognized something else.
He knew that God knew him better then he knew himself, so he might as well be brutally honest.
He didn’t ask for money or power because he didn’t need those things.
To find his need, he had to to be brutally honest and acknowledge his own weakness:
I do not know how to go out or come in…
And asked God for help
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…
Into the Island
At breakfast, we asked Yunow what he’d found out from his “friend” next door.
Yunow had “asked his friend” and, as it turned out, there was a room available…
For a price.
A significant price.
To his credit, I don’t think Yunow was trying to gouge us. This was the only moment, in all our time at the Waecicu, that there was even a whiff of such a possibility… and there was that “friend” involved this time.
We adjourned to our guide books, and our various internet surfing devices, and, at length, came up with an alternate plan that involved hiring a car to drive us up into the mountainous interior of the island.
There was a room in a little hotel up in Ruteng — at the FX72 Hotel.
In this scenario too, Yunow came to rescue, connecting us with a cousin who had a car that could pick us up at noon.
Why we weren’t fully aware of, when we made this plan, was the personality of the road up to Ruteng — a narrow road without shoulders or guard rails; a never-ending series of gut-wrenching hairpin turns, with cliffs on either side.
What we weren’t fully aware of, when we made this plan, was the personality of Yunow’s cousin — a wiry old man with a led foot and a steel gut whose favorite pastime seemed to be playing chicken with oncoming trucks while hacking up his lungs.
If we’d known these things, I think we would have paid the extra dough to stay on the beach.
My daughter, Isabel, who had been in country for a year by this time, knew all about such characters. She sat in the passenger seat, as cool as a cucumber and chatted with the cousin as if they were going for a stroll through a Parisian rose garden.
Somewhere, in the middle of that perilous gauntlet, I spoke up from the backseat, where I was squashed up against the cliff-side window:
“What does Hati Hati! mean?”
I seen the sign over and over on the road. A sign with the words HATI HATI! Followed by an exclamation point.
“It means, “Be careful” she explained.
We all shared a ironic, rather spiritless laugh over that.
“Hati Hati!” I said to the led footed driver, and somewhat miraculously, he slowed down a bit.
Sensing this change, Isabel remarked: “The literal translation of Hati is “heart.” When you repeat the word “heart” it means “be careful.”
I love that!
Later, Isabel told me that this trick of taking a single word with one meaning and repeating it to get another meaning, is a frequent device used in the language of Bahasa Indonesia.
Jalan means walk. Jalan Jalan means “looking around.”
Mata means eyes. Mata-mata means Spy.
Gula means sugar. Gula gula means “sweets.”
Langit means sky. Langit langit means “ceiling.”
Hati means heart. Hati Hati means “be careful”
I love this linguistic notion, and I suggest that it has theological resonance with the story we have heard about Solomon this morning.
I suggest that we learn from Solomon’s child-like wisdom — his intuition to speak honestly to God.
How about this:
Honest means to be truly vulnerable.
Honest-honest means to talking to God.