Video for May 11th, 2023
Hello & welcome to this week’s video.
As you can see, I am in Westminster Abbey a few days after the coronation, still overcome with the unreality of having participated.
As people around the world reflect on the service, many will say that the music considerably enhanced the ritual. Even the staunchest republican would struggle not to me moved by Handel’s Zadok the priest at the point of anointing. This anthem, composed for George 2nd’s coronation in 1727, refers to the coronation of Solomon in the book of Kings. King David’s son Solomon is remembered for his wisdom, but perhaps the source of that wisdom is forgotten. Soon after his anointing, Solomon makes a pilgrimage to worship The Lord in Gibeon. In an extraordinary encounter in a dream God invites him to, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon’s prayer of response in 1 Kings 3:7-9 is instructive. “But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. So, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The fact he doesn’t ask for wealth, fame and the routing of his enemies is significant. God remarks on it and promises that all these things will be granted him as well because in the prayer God sees, that at least for now, he has the character that can deal with that sort of success. In the same way that Jesus in the sermon on the mount invites us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”
Solomon starts from a position of humility, acknowledging his weakness and inadequacy, but before this he affirms the character of God, reminding himself that God is both kind and faithful. He recalls God’s faithfulness to King David his father. This is the basis of his confidence in God’s future faithfulness to himself.
This pattern presents a distinctive Christian way of maintaining a psychological and emotional equilibrium. Without God such an equilibrium is always a delicate balance between insecurity and pride. Few people will look up on a cloudless night and say, “aren’t I something?” These are legitimate insecurities which we tend to mask with an unhealthy bravado. Our cultures’ anthem is ‘I did it my way’, which if you think about it is plain daft and selfish. Seven billion people can’t get their own way all the time. Solomon’s prayer is an invitation to invert these things to something much more stable. A Christian equilibrium is to be found in the balance of confidence and dependence. Solomon’s prayer asks God to help his insecurity to become confidence in God’s grace and sustaining power. It prays against the dangers of pride and asks God to turn that into dependence: a true confidence in God not our own assets and abilities.
For much of his life Solomon had that latter balance. Towards the end, the accumulation of foreign wives, in part driven by political insecurity to forge unholy alliances, drove him away from God. Cut off from the source of life, he became increasingly politically adrift and unwise. His behaviour ultimately laid the foundations for the destruction of Israel as a nation and the corrupt foolishness of his heirs.
Cultivating humility is the root of wisdom. In the Coronation service, Rishi Sunak read (extremely well I might add), from Colossians, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom.” In order to discern how we are to be Christian in our own contexts, wisdom is a gift to seek. Humility is the attitude of heart by which such a gift is cultivated in our relationship with God and others, with the Lord and others.
The prayer of Solomon is a model of how such a spirituality is to be cultivated.
The Apostle James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”.
May King Charles be granted that gift in his demanding calling, and may we have the humility to receive it too.