Daniel P. Strandlund
St. John’s Episcopal Church
November 25, 2015
The Logic of Glory
And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these (6:28-29)
Solomon, in all his glory.
Solomon is the heir of King David. Solomon builds the Temple, the House of the Lord, and under Solomon’s reign Israel reaches the height of its wealth and renown. To get an idea of just what Jesus means by saying Solomon, in all his glory, we have to go back to the first book of the kings, chapters 8-11 specifically.
When Solomon went to church, in all his glory, he offered twenty-two thousand oxen and one-hundred twenty thousand sheep as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord (1Kings 8:62-63). That much wealth offered to God is astounding. It might be like dropping a few million dollars into the offering plate.
When Solomon sat on his throne, in all his glory, it was a throne six steps high, made entirely of ivory, and the ivory was overlaid with gold (1 Kings 10:18-20). The armrests of his throne are carved ivory lions covered in gold, and at the ends of each of the six steps leading up to his throne there stands another ivory lion, covered in gold.
When Solomon had guests over to dinner, in all his glory, they were monarchs from exotic countries. The Queen of Sheba proclaims that Solomon is even more glorious in person than he is in reputation, and she is so amazed at Solomon’s wealth that she gives him several thousand pounds of gold (1 Kings 10:10). The Queen of Sheba sees all Solomon’s wealth, and seems to think that her own wealth more properly belongs with Solomon. It’s like when your computer is on the fritz, and since you don’t know anything about computers, you take it into Anne Tippett’s office for her to fix it, because computers more properly belong to people who know how to work them.
Solomon, in all of his glory, didn’t just have a lake house and a boat, he had a whole fleet of ships from Tarshish, and every three years his ships brought him presents of gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks (1 Kings 10:22). Tarshish is such a fancy place that archaeologists aren’t even entirely sure where it is. Maybe it’s like the top floor of a ritzy hotel, the floor you can’t get to unless you have a special key. That’s where Solomon got his apes and peacocks. You might also be wondering why someone would want apes and peacocks for pets. I don’t know, but I imagine it’s the same reason Mike Tyson is rumored to have a pet tiger on a gold leash.
When Solomon wanted to go for a ride, in all of his glory, he had to pick between all 1,400 of his chariots and all 12,000 of his horses (1 Kings 10:24). That’s enough horses to have over 650 Kentucky Derbies. And if chariots were racecars, Solomon had enough chariots for 32 NASCAR races.
When Solomon got a paycheck, in all his glory, it came in solid gold. 666 talents of gold annually, to be exact. Now since in those days a talent was about 75 pounds, each year Solomon’s income was just under 50,000 pounds of gold. Nearly 25 tons of gold, annually. And when you’re king, that’s all tax-free. (1 Kings 10:14-15). Solomon had so much gold that silver was considered worthless all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 10:21).
Finally, when Solomon went to a ball, in all of his glory, he didn’t have only one date, but instead danced with all 700 of his wives, each of whom was a princess (1 Kings 11:3).
All of this Jesus weighs unfavorably against a single lily. Not even an exotic, imported lily one might find behind glass in a florist’s climate-controlled case. Jesus gestures instead towards wildflowers growing by a hillside. All Solomon’s far-reaching merchant ships, his ivory throne, his eternally un-rusting hoard of gold”all of it inferior to a few petals which bloom for a day and then are swept into the compost heap.
Solomon was a great king, there’s no denying it. Yet like a lot of us he was prone to vanity, greed, lust. His pursuit of vice occluded his God-given greatness, his wisdom and zeal for the Lord eclipsed by infidelity, power, vainglory. He goes the way of the Pharaohs and commands the Israelites into forced labor to perpetuate his self-expansion (1 Kings 11:28, etc).
But God does not remove his covenant from Solomon (1 Kings 11:32-34). Solomon is still the heir of King David. Solomon is still King of God’s chosen people. His wisdom is still there, the kernel of his true self under layers of rind and bruised pulp. God still sees Solomon as he really is, without all the layers of rotting husk. Even when Solomon himself can no longer feel his own God-given fecundity, God continues to nurture what little true glory Solomon has left.
It’s different with flowers. There’s a nakedness to flowers unknown to Solomon, or at least forgotten by him. Flowers turn their bright faces right up to the sun. They’re not hiding anything behind a grand faÃ§ade, or trying to compensate for feelings of failure or paranoia or insufficiency. Flowers bloom by being known by the daylight of heaven. The more the sunlight falls on them the more open to the sun’s gaze they are. The glory of wildflowers is given to them by the sun which always looks upon them. Glory exists in receiving the loving gaze of the One who takes delight in you. There’s a simplicity to this, a fittingness that’s so familiar we rarely think to notice it. The urgency with which the lilies of the field open for the sun: Dylan Thomas called it, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. That same force animates us, if we are attentive.
One of Lucy’s favorite flowers is the Cosmos. The cosmos flowers I’ve seen are purple and pink with soft yellow centers. There’s a stretch of highway in north Georgia, right as you’re crossing into North Carolina, where the median is full of cosmos flowers. We’ve driven that stretch of highway couple times on our way to the mountains. Once in October the cosmos were out in full bloom. We pulled over to the side of the road and got out, and we walked around in the midst of all these pink and purple flowers looking up at us with their bright yellow pupils.
I don’t know much about flowers. The cosmos flowers were pretty to me, but they weren’t significantly different to me than most other flowers I’d seen. But Lucy was in heaven. She was walking slowly through them, smiling, not saying much, just absentmindedly reaching out to touch the heads of the ones closest to her hip, the way she does when our nieces are around. Lucy knew these flowers, somehow. There was a specific’ness to her pleasure in them, an affection reserved only for cosmos flowers, not because they are better than other kinds, but because these flowers were somehow her flowers, as though they had been waiting for her to come along and see them, as though these flowers knew that they weren’t really cosmos flowers at all until they could look up and see Lucy’s face looking back at them, pleased. These were Lucy’s flowers because they knew that all their glory lay only in being known by her, in their willingness to receive her glance and the blessing of her hands.
That’s how God walks through the cosmos: slowly, smiling, offering particular affection to each particular creature, reaching out a hand in blessing. Our glory exists not in gold or in renown or in having lots of important relations with people in high public standing. Our glory exists only in receiving the loving gaze of the One Who takes delight in us. God considers you, always, a lily in His field.
Happy Thanksgiving, Amen.
Jesus said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?’ or `What will we drink?’ or `What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”