“And The Point Is….” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on Reformation Sunday 2023 — October 29th. The text upon which it was/is based is 1 Kings 12:1-17. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20231029
And the Point Is ….
Sunday of the Reformation (NL2) John B. Valentine
1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29 October 29, 2023
“AND THE POINT IS ......”
THIS is going to make for an interesting sermon!
I’ve got to tell you ... the only time I have EVER heard this text read in the context of worship was four years ago on the Sunday of the Reformation ...
• And it had me scratching my head four years ago ...
• And it has me scratching my head now!
You see ... NEVER ... in the context of worship ... do we read a text as sophomoric ... as obscene ... as awkward ... as this one!
I mean ... I KNOW that Saint Paul says “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” ...
But I’m not quite sure he had THIS text in mind when he said that!
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You see ... this morning’s scripture lesson is from the book of 1st Kings ... and it tells the story of two fellows named Rehoboam and Jeroboam.
Not that I’d expect you to know this ... but ....
• The first king of the united tribes of Israel was .... Saul ... and
• The second king of the united tribes of Israel was ... David ... the golden child ... the shepherd-king ... and
• The third king of the united tribes of Israel was David’s son ... Solomon ... the wise guy ... and
• The fourth ... and last ... king of the united tribes of Israel was Solomon’s son ... David’s grandson ... Rehoboam ... and
• The first king of the Northern Tribes of Israel ... Rehoboam’s sworn archenemy ... was another guy ... NOT a member of the David / Solomon family ... named Jeroboam.
And the only people in this room that have reason to know anything about Rehoboam and Jeroboam are those wine-snobs who know that Jeroboams and Rehoboams are the names of really BIG bottles of wine.
Seriously ... just as the lesson for LAST Sunday was about how the leaders of the people got things right ...
And how David danced before the Lord with all his might ... and a nation came together ...
THIS Sunday’s lesson is about what happens when the leaders ... the political leaders in this case ... get things wrong ...
And who it is that suffers whenever the leaders get things wrong ...
And just how it is that a nation falls apart whenever the leaders get things wrong.
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Anyhow ... did you catch the gist of the story that Donald read for us???
Solomon ... King Solomon ... has died ... and his son Rehoboam ascends to the throne.
And when Jeroboam ... who spent much of his life protesting against the governance of Rehoboam’s dad Solomon ... finds out Solomon has died ... he takes the opportunity to redirect his frustration from the dad to the son.
Now ... can you guess what kind of protest Jeroboam was orchestrating???
Not too much different that the sorts of protests that folks lodge across our planet nowadays when the government is too authoritarian:
• too many taxes ...
• not enough freedom ...
• too much government intrusion ...
• stuff like that.
And so Jeroboam goes to Rehoboam ... trying to make peace ... and says: “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.”
To which King Rehoboam says “Give me three days to think about it and I will get back to you.”
So Rehoboam consults with the Deep State ... errr ... those trusted and long-serving Senior Advisers who had served his father faithfully over the years and asks them: “How should I respond??”
And they unanimously reply ... “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 Rehoboam wants a second opinion ... and so who does he go to talk to?
None other than his fraternity brothers ... the ones from Delta Tau Chi with whom he went to Faber College back in the day ... to what THEY think he should do.
And their response??? “Stick it to ‘em!”
Seriously ... with what are probably the most obscenely graphic passage in the whole of the Bible ... Rehoboam’s fraternity brothers advise him to ratchet up the pressure ... tighten the screws ... increase the tax rate and just generally stick it to them.
Now ... given the choice between ....
• Trusting the advice of those senior advisers who had served his dad so long and faithfully ... and
• Trusting the advice of his fraternity brothers ...
Which path does the king choose???
“He disregards the wisdom of the elders ... and speaks according to the advice of the hotheads” ... and ... in so doing ... divides he Kingdom of the People of God ... and the nation-state of the twelve tribes of Israel is thus no more.
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But now what are WE supposed to make of those words??
What about THAT story that is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” ???
In other words ... what would God have US learn from that sordid page from the history of the people of God???
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Actually ... one thing we probably ought glean from it is that that story in some ways parallels our own.
Today is Reformation Sunday around here ... right???
That means today is a day set aside to remember ... and even celebrate ... how Martin Luther ... like Jeroboam ... stood up to the bluster of the authorities.
But did you know that the whole Reformation thing really started as a protest movement against leaders who had turned the power of the church against the people who it was supposed to be working for the good of???
Sure ... we as Lutherans like to make our recollections of the Reformation all about theology and theologizing ... but it was also about economics and politics and education and social change ...
It was about cleaning up a system that was rotten to the core.
You see ... back in the early sixteenth century ... many of the primary political players in society were members of the clergy ...
And something like a quarter of all the land in Western Europe was owned by the Church.
So there were these bishops and archbishops who controlled whole cities and regions of the country.
And this power ... doing what it is that power does best ... had corrupted those within it absolutely.
In fact ... it got so bad that the wealthy would pay huge sums of money to the Pope to have their kids appointed bishop of this, that or the other area ... so that they could then turn around and impose taxes and other fees on the citizens of those areas ... and make life miserable for those who were so governed.
And when Luther spoke up and called out this misbehavior ... rather than relenting ... the Pope’s minions tightened the screws and demanded more ... not less ... and it was Rehoboam and Jeroboam all over again.
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Then again ... something else that the Spirit might be trying to teach us in these words may have something to do with the state of politics in this nation in which we live!
After all ... there’s been some pretty sophomoric behavior that has gone down in our nation’s capital over the course of the past couple of decades ... and a whole lot of politicians listening to the hotheads rather than to seasoned and trustworthy advisors ... has there not???
But what advice was it that the elder statesmen offered to Rehoboam that he tossed in the trash????
“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.”
Interestingly enough ... those are among the first recorded words in the whole of human history that speak of the idea of what we nowadays call ‘servant leadership’.
Actually ... there’s a whole number of business gurus over the years that have claimed to be the originator of the idea of ‘servant leadership’ ... but I suspect most of them have never much taken the time to read the Bible!
Anyhow ... servant leadership is all about the primary task of the leader being that of serving.
It’s Jesus’ words about how he “came not to be served but to serve”.
It’s this idea that ... instead of people working to serve the leader ... the leader exists to serve the people.
• Servant leaders listen.
• Servant leaders share power.
• Servant leaders build community.
• Servant leaders support those beneath them on the org chart.
And while it may well be that many in our society talk a good game about servant leadership ... be it in the halls of government or the walls of corporations or even in the context of church ...
True servant-leaders aren’t the sorts of people we tend to come across all that often ... because ... as the saying goes ... power corrupts ... and absolute power corrupts absolutely!
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Speaking of servant-leadership ... one of my own favorite mentors as to the hows and whys of what that actually means was a fellow named Elijah Cummings.
Congressman Elijah Cummings grew up near Baltimore ... the child of sharecroppers ... who embraced his place in the struggle for Civil Rights while he was still in elementary school.
From his lowly beginnings he rose to prominence as a lawyer ... and then as a member of our nation’s House of Representatives for just over twenty-five years.
But when Elijah Cummings passed away ... four or five years ago now ... of all the many eulogies which we voiced on his behalf ...
I somehow felt that the ones that were most poignant were those uttered by then- Representative Mark Meadows ... the same Mark Meadows who has been in the news this week regarding his confessions of complicity in the January 6th mess.
You see ...
Whereas Elijah Cummings was as Democratic a Democrat as there is ...
Mark Meadows was Republican a Republican.
Whereas Elijah Cummings was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus ...
Mark Meadows was a member of the Freedom Caucus.
Whereas Elijah Cummings represented the inner-city streets of Baltimore, Maryland ...
Mark Meadows represented the Hill Country of western North Carolina.
Whereas Elijah Cummings was among President Trump’s sharpest critics ...
Mark Meadows was ... until earlier this week ... President Trump’s staunchest defender.
But what fascinated me was that these two fellows ... Elijah Cummings and Mark Meadows ... were best friends!
• Best friends who ... by their own admissions ... confided in one another things that they would never confide in anyone else.
• Best friends who disagreed about a whole lot ... but who found unity and friendship in their faith in God.
And ... at the end of the day ... when Mark Meadows was asked to eulogize Elijah Cummings ... he said of his that he was truly a servant leader ... a man committed to serving not his own interests ... but the interests of those whom he represented ...
That Elijah Cummings was a man who’d taken to heart the words of those wise but neglected elder-statesmen ... “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.”
Maybe Rehoboam could have learned something from Elijah Cummings.
Who knows ... maybe we can too!