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!
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.