A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Nov 1, 2015
1 Kings 12:1-17
Remember how God warned the people that they didn’t want a king?
Remember how they didn’t listen to God and insisted on a king?
They’ve gone through King Saul, King David, and David’s son, King Solomon. Solomon was known for his wisdom. And things started out going pretty well for him. And then he started worshipping the idols of some of his wives. And he conscripted his own people, and pretty much everyone else he could find, to build a Temple for God, even though we call it “Solomon’s Temple”.
And so now we have a story of his son, Rehoboam. And of Solomon’s former advisor, Jeroboam. Jeroboam had supervised many of Solomon’s building projects. He knew the people were unhappy with the labor they were forced to do. And he figured his management skills qualified him to be king. Until Solomon found out and Jeroboam skedaddled to Egypt, hiding there until Solomon’s death. His name means “he pleads the people’s case”.
Rehoboam, which means, “he enlarges the people” starts out inheriting the throne of his father Solomon.
And quickly we see the problem.
He asks his father’s friends from the country club for advice, which they freely give.
And then he asks his frat brothers for their advice, which they freely give. Their advice is not just bad, it is crude. Biblical translators tame the story a bit for our delicate ears, hiding the insult.
Rehoboam passes on the insult to the people, choosing the crude and horrific advice of making life even harder on the people than even his father had done. Eventually, the people decide they’ve had enough of that nonsense and they dispose of Rehoboam, choosing Jeroboam as king instead. He will be different, but not really be any better, but that’s a story for another day.
At Bible Study this week with my friend Ken, we were struggling to find the Good News in this text. Where’s the gospel in a story of unfaithful kings and oppressed people?
And I think it is in the advice of Solomon’s men. They were closer to that generation who first wanted a king. They saw the effect of Solomon’s levies, building projects, and labor on the people. They knew they had gotten just what they had asked for and had not gotten what they needed.
And so they provide advice that they had never seen lived out. They had never seen a servant king. They had never seen a king who listened to the cries of the people and worked to make everyone succeed. They had never seen a king who put the flourishing of his people ahead of his own success.
And yet, when offered the chance to give advice to a new generation of leader, they dream big. They don’t tell him, “well, back in my day, we walked to the palace, uphill, both ways, with no shoes….and we liked it!”
They throw out completely everything they had experienced and offered a better vision for what could be. They recognized that their experience should not be duplicated for another generation.
The friends of Rehoboam, on the other hand, see the power that Solomon wielded, and they decide that MORE of that is the answer.
It’s easy for us to see this in a story of people that does not include us. And we know the ending, so obviously, Rehoboam should have listened to the advice about servanthood and not listened to the power hungry jerks.
Do we see it as well in our own lives, before we can turn the page and now how it will turn out?
Are we able to offer counsel that acknowledges the ways we made mistakes in the past?
Are we able to get our ego out of the way enough to not think that we had all the answers?
Are we able to learn from the mistakes of others, or do we have to always make our own?
The language of being a servant to all is heard in good terms by us because we know the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as a suffering servant. We remember Jesus speaking of the first being last and the servant of all.
How do you know that’s good news when you’ve never seen it play out before? Servants? Who wants to be a servant?
I think the church, not Southminster particularly, but the church broadly speaking, is at such a moment in history. Churches can keep doing what they have always done even as people are leaving in droves and crying out for a faith they seem unable to find in many churches. We can keep taking the advice that if something worked well 40 years ago, then MORE of it will be better now. All while the people cry out for relief.
Churches can listen to the voices that give counsel that seems absurd and they could live into a new way of faithfully living out God’s call. I think of the stories of churches that have turned their gothic sanctuaries into food distribution centers for the hungry in their neighborhoods. Or the churches who have welcomed in communities of refugees, willing to let different traditions and practices mix in with “the way we’ve always done it”. I think the elders’ advice to live servant lives is a call to expand the circle of who we care about, of who’s health and safety and flourishing matter to us.
Ultimately both Jeroboam and Rehoboam were horrible kings because, like the kings before them, they had a hard time thinking of anything other than their own power. God, if you noticed, was not very present in either of their plans.
After these stories of the Kings, the Narrative Lectionary will move on to the prophets. Remember the experiences with the Kings as you listen to the call of the Prophets for the people to return to God.
We will come to the Table in a few minutes, a place where we remember how God became a servant of all and offered his own life on behalf of God’s people. Today is also All Saints Day. If you would like to light a candle in memory of one of your saints, you’re invited to do so when you come forward for communion. Often, our society refers to saints as perfect people, when in fact, saints are all of us—people who are made holy, hallowed, by God’s grace.
Even Jeroboam and Rehoboam and Darth Vader are saints in our family tree, with all of their imperfections. And we recall them with a love that allows us to see them as they really were.
Soren Kierkegaard said (in Fear and Trembling):
“No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. For he who loved himself became great by himself, and he who loved other men became great by his selfless devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all.”
Maybe the lesson of Rehoboam and Jeroboam is not to be too narrow with the scope of our love. If it remains personal, concerned with our own power and wealth, and does not extend to the saints around us and to God, it misses the opportunity to change the world for good