A Kingdom Divided or History Repeats Itself or This Looks Familiar

1 Kings 12:1-19 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
12 Rehoboam, son of Solomon, went to Shechem where everyone was waiting to crown him king.
2 Jeroboam son of Nebat heard what was happening, and he stayed in Egypt, where he had gone to hide from Solomon. 3 But the people from the northern tribes of Israel sent for him. Then together they went to Rehoboam and said, 4 “Your father Solomon forced us to work very hard. But if you make our work easier, we will serve you and do whatever you ask.”
5 “Give me three days to think about it,” Rehoboam replied, “then come back for my answer.” So the people left.
6 Rehoboam went to some leaders who had been his father’s senior officials, and he asked them, “What should I tell these people?”
7 They answered, “If you want them to serve and obey you, then you should do what they ask today. Tell them you will make their work easier.”
8 But Rehoboam refused their advice and went to the younger men who had grown up with him and were now his officials. 9 He asked, “What do you think I should say to these people who asked me to make their work easier?”
10 His younger advisors said:
Here’s what we think you should say to them: “Compared to me, my father was weak. 11 He made you work hard, but I’ll make you work even harder. He punished you with whips, but I’ll use whips with pieces of sharp metal!”
12 Three days later, Jeroboam and the others came back. 13 Rehoboam ignored the advice of the older advisors. 14 He spoke bluntly and told them exactly what his own advisors had suggested: “My father made you work hard, but I’ll make you work even harder. He punished you with whips, but I’ll use whips with pieces of sharp metal!”
15-19 When the people realized that Rehoboam would not listen to them, they shouted: “We don’t have to be loyal to David’s family. We can do what we want. Come on, people of Israel, let’s go home! Rehoboam can rule his own people.”
Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor, and Rehoboam sent him to talk to the people. But they stoned him to death. Then Rehoboam ran to his chariot and hurried back to Jerusalem.
So the people from the northern tribes of Israel went home, leaving Rehoboam to rule only the people from the towns in Judah. Ever since that day, the people of Israel have opposed David’s family in Judah. All of this happened just as the Lord’s prophet Ahijah had told Jeroboam.
1 Kings 12:25-30 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
25 Jeroboam rebuilt Shechem in Ephraim and made it a stronger town, then he moved there. He also fortified the town of Penuel.
26-27 One day, Jeroboam started thinking, “Everyone in Israel still goes to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord. What if they become loyal to David’s family again? They will kill me and accept Rehoboam as their king.”
28 Jeroboam asked for advice and then made two gold statues of calves. He showed them to the people and said, “Listen everyone! You won’t have to go to Jerusalem to worship anymore. Here are your gods who rescued you from Egypt.” 29-30 Then he put one of the gold calves in the town of Bethel. He put the other one in the town of Dan, and the crowd walked out in front as the calf was taken there. What Jeroboam did was a terrible sin.
John 8:31-36 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
31 Jesus told the people who had faith in him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 They answered, “We are Abraham’s children! We have never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say we will be set free?”
34 Jesus replied:
I tell you for certain that anyone who sins is a slave of sin! 35 And slaves don’t stay in the family forever, though the Son will always remain in the family. 36 If the Son gives you freedom, you are free!

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Civil war. What is civil about civil war? I guess we call it civil because it is civilians turning against each other. People who have heretofore shared common beliefs and loyalties and rulers grow apart based on issues that are life-sustaining or life-threatening.
Today’s scripture is the story of the division of Israel. David had united the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but by the end of Solomon’s reign, some of the citizens wanted to split the kingdom.
King Solomon’s reputation in our time is positive. He is lauded for his wisdom. But in his time, he was feared and hated for his harsh treatment of the citizens of Israel. You may remember that God had chosen Solomon to build a temple in God’s honor. Solomon built a temple whose reputation still stands today. According to descriptions in 1 Kings: 6-8, the interior of the temple was lined with cedar and olive wood. The floors were covered with gold and all the furnishings were made of gold. As is often the case, all this beauty was created by back-breaking labor. This treatment of his own people was the reason for the some of Solomon’s people seeking for a regime change.
When it was time for Rehoboam, son of Solomon, to be crowned, some the citizens of the kingdom asked Rehoboam if he would be as harsh as his father. To his credit, he asked advice, first of older friends, his fathers advisors, then of younger friends, his own advisors. The older friends advised him to listen to the people and be a kinder ruler. The younger friends told him to be even meaner to his people. He listened to his younger friends and lost a large part of the kingdom. Another man, Jeroboam, son of Nebat, was waiting in the wings. The people of the northern tribes chose to crown him. That left Rehoboam, son of Solomon, with just the smaller country of Judah. The united kingdom lasted through only two reigns. The united kingdom lasted under only the reigns of David and Solomon.
Our own country did not make it a hundred years without a civil war. The causes were complex and are still debated. Our own president has tweeted about the possibility of civil war if he is impeached.
I just finished reading a novel, American War by , which is based on a possible second American civil war, beginning in 2074. The main issue in this fictional account is fossil fuels, but the results read like any war: distrust, misunderstanding, fear, breakdowns in communication and relationships, followed by fighting and killing.
Today is Reformation Sunday. We observe Reformation Sunday because we claim the period of the German Reformation as the recovery and reconstruction of Christianity according to Scripture.
Ironically, the Reformation contributed to civil war, first between Martin Luther and the Pope and their supporters, then between countries under the rule of the Holy Roman Church.
Martin Luther was the most devout Christian on the planet, according to what I learned in confirmation class. He was so devout that other priests found him annoying. He was afraid not to confess every single sin because he was afraid of God’s wrath and judgement. He confessed sins so often and for so long that one of the priests suggested that he spend his time instead reading the Bible. That is where Luther discovered God’s grace. That is where Luther discovered God’s unending, unlimited love. By reading the Bible instead of focusing on his own weakness, Luther came to know that Jesus had died to forgive all sins, once and for all. Luther discovered that when we are baptized, we are forgiven, once and for all.
This should have been good news for the entire Christian church, but instead, it threatened those in power, from Pope to priest, their source of power over the people was revealed to be false. Up to now, the Church had grown rich on forgiving sins by charging a fee for forgiveness. The Church had grown powerful by holding the ordinary citizen in the clutches of the fear of hell. Imagine if you wanted forgiveness and it cost you out of your own pocket. Imagine that Jesus death was not enough to save you from everlasting torment. Imagine that you’re own accounting of your sins was the only way to protect you from everlasting damnation.
You don’t have to imagine that because you have faith in a God who is merciful, in a Jesus who has endured hell in your place.
Our gospel lesson today talks about truth. “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. 32 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This truth is the truth that Luther discovered. This truth is the truth that sets us free from fear. This truth is the truth that frees us to live lives pleasing to God, to live lives that reflect not hatred and fear, but love and generosity and hope.
Indeed, we can put fear aside as we trust that God will provide, that God will strengthen us to minister to those who are fearful. Our faith builds courage within us to follow the ways of Jesus, even as we walk through conflict, even as we face people who ridicule us, who mock us for our Christian beliefs.
I want to add a word of caution here. Do not confuse faith in God with loyalty to other ideas or institutions. Do not confuse nationalism with Christianity. Do not confuse patriotism with faith. Religious faith can be disguised as the handmaiden of patriotism or nationalism. Do not confuse your loyalty as a citizen with your faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus. It is up to you to decide which should take precedence.
Martin Luther chose faithfulness to Jesus over the authorities and power of the Holy Roman Church and Empire. May we be strengthened in our own faith to know where our true allegiance lies. Amen.

David the Peacemaker

6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill.
Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

2 Sam 5:1 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.
2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.”
3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

This passage describes a pivotal point in the history of Israel. The first king of Israel, Saul, has died and his supporters are fighting David for control of the throne. After much fighting, killing, pillaging, Saul’s commanders meet with David and ask him to be their king. David accepts and thus begins one of the longest-reigning dynasties in history.
The path to David’s coronation is violent. As I read though the first six chapters of 2 Samuel, it was like an ancient version of our evening news.

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But like our evening news, sometimes people quit fighting and agree to live in peace with each other. The followers of Saul knew David and knew that they were all cousins going way back, so they met at Hebron and all agreed that David would be king of Israel and Judah. David wisely moved the capital of the kingdom to Jerusalem—which meant more war because the Jebusites occupied those sites. But David and the united armies drove them out and Jerusalem remains the capital of Israel to this day. And to this day, that space is contested by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The fighting, the painful fruits of war, the bloodshed, the conflict, never stop.

In Chapter 1—Saul, in despair, fell on his own sword, in an effort to end his life. He didn’t die and was stuck on his sword. One of Saul’s soldiers came by and when Saul begged him to finish the job, he did. This soldier then reported to David that Saul was dead. David had the soldier killed, out of respect for Saul. In Chapter 2, two generals challenge each other by suggesting that each army send out their twelve best men to fight. Twenty-four dead. Then the battle continued. The total count for Chapter 2 is 404 dead. Chapters 3,4,5,6 continue with the members of two families getting revenge on each other. Total: 5 dead. And so it goes. None of these people died a natural death; they died as a dagger or a sword entered their bodies and drained out their blood.

It is painful for me to read the Bible because while we tell each other God is love, the Bible reminds me that love does not conquer all. Knowing that people cannot keep from breaking the commandments is no comfort. From what I can tell, the ninth commandment is the key to conflict: do not covet your neighbor’s house. or land. or natural resources. Yes, there are other causes to war. Syria suffered severe drought form 2007-2010—only three years, but it caused a 8% drop in agricultural output, which meant that a percentage of the population lost it’s ability to produce anything or make a living. Today, food production is at a record low and around half the population remaining in Syria are unable to meet their daily food needs. Previously, 25% of Syria’s gross domestic product was based on agriculture. Unlike our farm crises of the 80’s, which did not take any land out of production, Syria’s drought diminished production. One of the results of this diminished production was civil unrest, which led to civil war.

There are always reasons for war. History has taught us that the reasons change depending on who is analyzing cause and effect. Think of our Civil War. We Northerners call it the Civil War or the War Between the States. Those living south of the Mason Dixon line think of it as the War of Northern Aggression and teach it that way to their children.

The causes of war don’t matter to the dead, to the widows, to the orphans. The effects are what people have to live with.

The followers of Saul and the followers of David decided that they did not have to continually live in fear of battle, of raids, of pillaging. They decided that they could live at peace with each other. Just a few tribes making peace with each other. A few lives saved. A few less widows, fewer orphans, a safer place to live, to work.

Isn’t that all we need? A safe place and someone to love? We, in our community, have that. When I watch the news, I am reminded that I can walk down the street, that I can drive down the road, anytime of day or night and not have to worry about being stopped. I was thinking of that as I drove home from the Dixon Fish Fry the other night. The only thing I had to watch for was deer. I didn’t have to watch for robbers or soldiers setting up a road block. I didn’t have to dodge bomb craters. I wasn’t a target for snipers. Am I exaggerating? No. Because there are people who have to watch out for robbers and roadblocks. There are people who have to drive on roads that are not maintained by the county (which is why I’m happy to pay my taxes).

As Christians, we tell each other that every person on this earth is loved by God. We tell each other that, through Jesus Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. Is that some BS that nobody really believes or is that true? If we are all brothers and sisters, where does our responsibility lie?

But we are in a position to lessen fear, to increase safety, to provide peace in the places where we live. Wherever we find ourselves, at home, at card club, at the grocery store, at the ball game, we are in a position to maintain peace, to provide safety. One of the easiest ways to make someone feel safe is to smile at them. Anyone. My siblings and I used to be a little bit uncomfortable with how my Dad would strike up a conversation with people in hospital waiting rooms, which was the only place he encountered strangers. You know how waiting rooms are in hospitals. Everyone is trying to mind their own business, trying to ignore the fact that there are thirty other people in the room, ignore the fact that there are thirty different life stories bottled up in those people. My Dad would always find a way to talk with someone and genuinely enjoy not only the conversation, but the person. I have learned to do that, too. My brother has, too. He has traveled all over the world with his work. He doesn’t get lonesome. Sometimes he hangs out in hotel lobbies with his backgammon game set up. Or at a restaurant, he strikes up a conversation with whomever is nearby. That is world peace, my friends. Talking to strangers, making friends. These are simply pages in the chapters of ours lives, but they are the pages that show us practicing our Jesus moves.

David knew his responsibility and he was able to unite people who had been going after each other with swords and daggers. None of us is in the same position as David was. None of us can call a meeting and stop a war.

A smile. Opening a door. Picking up something someone dropped. Honestly, I have found that smiles can do amazing things. People on the street, in the grocery store, walk around with various expressions on their faces. If they happen to glance at you, do you look away? I have found that my smile is met by a smile, 99% of the time. What does a smile say? It says, “You;re a good person.” It says, “I like you.” It says, “You’re in a safe place.

David decided that he could bring Israel and Judah together to make a safe place. In the second part of our scripture today, everybody is dancing, singing, smiling, laughing, because the Ark of the Covenant is being brought to the capital where it can be put in a place of honor. There is no fighting. There is no dying.

What do we have to laugh about? What do we have to dance about? What do we have to sing about? Plenty. We are safe. We are loved. Does that mean we should forget about those who aren’t safe, who aren’t loved? By no means. We share in their fear by praying, by working for justice, just like Jesus did. Our words, our smiles, our actions can spread not only the Good News of the Kingdom, but the coming of the Kingdom itself. We have the power, through our God, to be an agent for goodness and justice in this world. We start small.

Carson King only wanted beer money. He provided healing for thousands of children and turned other people’s heads in the same direction.

David brought joy and peace to Israel. It didn’t last forever. But there were moments…and we have the same power to provide those moments of peace and joy. Amen