Reverend Debra McGuire
October 27, 2019
It's a good thing that real time does not move as fast as biblical events or church lectionary. Although it has only been one week since we read about David being anointed King over the kingdom of Israel for the first time as a united people, already today we are reading about that same kingdom being divided again. In just one week, David has reigned for 33 years, and his son Solomon has reigned for 40 years and at the beginning of this reading, is now dead and Israel is getting ready for another king.
In true biblical form, there are many twists and turns in the lineage presented. For one thing, Solomon was not David's eldest son. He was David and Bathsheba's son and David promised Bathsheba her son would be king. So when David's eldest son Adonijah did declare himself king, David took Solomon to be anointed King while David was still alive. Even before David's death, there was trouble brewing for the next king.
After David's death King Solomon's first opposition was from Adonijah and two of David's closest advisors. Solomon sent a messenger to kill Adonijah and banished one of David's closest advisors and had the other killed. That's one way to be a ruler.
While Solomon was known as a good king, known for his wisdom, his wealth, and his writings. Solomon wrote proverbs, he wrote Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. But he was also known as a difficult king. He built great cities, and he is especially known for the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The work for all of his great cities and buildings was done on the backs of forced labor service on the Israelites and the foreign nations that were under his control. This slave labor as well as the heavy taxes he imposed made his people become bitter. In his old age, having had many foreign wives, he allowed them to worship foreign gods and even built shrines for the sacrifices those wives made to those gods. He gave special privileges to the tribes of Judah. People began to complain and the tension between kingdoms lasted for years.
When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king. That is where our reading begins today. Because of the bitterness the people of Israel were feeling, Jeroboam, initially a respected leader under Solomon, took up their cause and asked Rehoboam to lessen their load or they would secede. Rehoboam was young and inexperienced and asked others for their advice. The older men, the elders in the community told him that he should lead with kindness. “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever."
But the younger men who were the same age as Rehoboam and grew up with him, told him that he should demand their loyalty. He should be harsh. We read
The young men who had grown up with him said to him, "Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, "Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us'; thus you should say to them, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. 11 Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'
And as is often the case with inexperienced, insecure leaders, Rehoboam took the advice of his contemporaries and did not choose a servant leadership model. He chose to lead with condemnation, belittling and bullying, and might.
What happened next was to fulfill words from a prophet of the Lord earlier in 1 Kings 11, who spoke to Jeroboam as he was leaving Jerusalem and told him that Solomon's kingdom would be divided and Jeroboam would be granted 10 of the 12 tribes. In order to fulfill that prophet's words, saying:
"When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king, "What share do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David."
So Israel went away to their tents and Jeroboam became king over ten northern tribes. And Rehoboam reigned over the tribes in Judah.
The physical separation was only part of the division once again of the tribes. Jeroboam didn't want his people to go to Jerusalem anymore to the Temple because he worried they would continue to see King Rehoboam as their king. And because history often repeats itself, the golden calf was back. Jeroboam made two calves of gold and put them in Bethel, and in Dan.
On this Reformation Sunday it's fitting that we should read about God's people hoping to align God's word and the people's praxis. Again and again in both the old testament and the new testament, people praise God, try to do the right thing, often fail, we go sideways and hurt others, and we try again to repair. King David was the first king to be anointed by God.
Today on Reformation Sunday, we celebrate many of our various attempts to repair something that has gone awry in the Church.
Beginning with Martin Luther nailing his 57 theses to the door of the church to protest among other things, the Church selling forgiveness. The Church was looking to complete the building of St. Peters in Rome, and began to find money in the strangest places. Martin Luther never intended to split the church. Today we recognize that we are in a long line of people like Martin Luther who had something to say about their Church. And even now, the Pope and the Lutheran Federation of Churches held a joint service in Sweden, still trying to rejoin parts of the global Church.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a part of the Reformed Tradition of churches. As such, we have two books in our Constitution. One is the Book of Order, about our government, and the other is the Book of Confessions.
To date there are 11 confessions and one brief statement of faith included in our Confessions. The first is the Apostles Creed written to reflect the beliefs of the first century church. Through the years there have been many more and in 1987 A Brief Statement of Faith was written and included, to recognize the joining together of the northern and southern parts of the church only then repairing the split in the church over slavery. It is rare to make a change to our Book of Confessions because of their historical nature. Most recently though, our General Assembly voted to include the Belhar Confession which was written as a statement after the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The Confessions are what roots us in our history.
The Church has never been perfect. But we have always had the grace of God. The Church has unfortunately caused pain, and to some it is irreparable. Do not be discouraged by our history of hurt and upheaval and damage in the name of the church however. Rather be encouraged by our history also of genuine repentance and repair. History is long and we are only one piece. God's grace though, helps us be the exact piece and the right time.