Service on Facebook (with a few technical difficulties…no camera) https://www.facebook.com/seeyouonsunday/videos/24002812732700439
Today’s theme is “division”—things that don’t go well together, like oil and water, fire and gasoline, peanut butter and bar-b-que sauce, and all too often, my family. My father was the youngest of twelve, so I have scads of cousins, and there is at least one branch of the family that was looked down on—though I was never really sure why. Maybe it was Hatfields and McCoy thing. I hate that it was somehow instilled in me at an early age that those cousins were somehow not good enough. I suspect—actually I know–that they’re all really wonderful people—beloved children of God.
I think I’ve mentioned previously that I look down—just a bit—on people who prefer Pepsi over Coke. I must feel threatened by Pepsi drinkers at some level—which reminds me of the story of why I drink my coffee black. When I got two college roommates, one drank her coffee with sugar and the other gal drank hers black. In my family, we always used cream and sugar, so for immature, naive me, this was a true dilemma. To this day I drink my coffee black because I was more intimidated by the second roommate. Oh, what we do to fit it!
In some ways, that’s today’s story in first Kings—how we respond to the powerful. Or maybe it’s more a story of the conflict that results from divisions among us. It’s really too bad that there’s a noon kick-off for today’s Packer game, because there’s so much packed into today’s Scripture that we might be here until halftime. Just kidding—sort of. Having spent many weeks trying to understand this text, I think I finally have a handle on who’s who and where they are in this story. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version as I understand them. But for clarity’s sake, let’s call Rehoboam Ray and Jeroboam, Jerry.
Now, King Solomon, for all his wisdom, was not a benevolent ruler. He had enslaved and taxed the Israelites to secure his power and build the temple in Jerusalem. After his death, his son, Ray, ascended the throne. Seeking to influence this new monarch, Jerry returned from Egypt—where he had fled from Solomon—and implored Ray to make the people’s load lighter.
Ray sought counsel first from the elders, who advised against continuing Solomon’s cruelty, and then from Ray’s much younger contemporaries, who advocated for even harsher treatment of the Israelites. When Ray sided with the later group, Jerry and his followers split from Ray, leaving Ray to reign over those left in the southern kingdom of Judah while Jerry and his followers formed the northern kingdom of Israel. Then, fearing those followers might return to worshiping in Jerusalem, and wanting to secure his own power over the Israelites, King Jerry crafted two golden calves—indicating that these were now their gods.
Feel free to speculate on the symbolism of the two gold cows. I conger up images of Moses’ brother Aaron forging the golden calf in the desert, but otherwise I’m a bit perplexed with the idea—other than that was a time in history when many things were idolized—unlike today when we only idolize things like fame, a thin body, and the Green Bay Packers. But I digress.
Getting back to the text, this was the division of the 12 tribes of Israel and the end of David and Solomon’s dreams of a unified nation. Those who followed Jeroboam and made him their king became the Samaritans. You might remember that when Jesus was talking to the woman at the well, He referenced the two temples where the Jewish peoples worshiped—as the Samaritans were still actually Jewish, despite their separation from Jerusalem and the hatred directed toward them.
So, with that brief summation, let’s look at the questions raised by Scripture today. I suggest three.
First question. To whom do we turn for direction in our lives? Do we seek out advice from friends who will tell us what we want to hear? Do we try to emulate those who seem to possess what we hunger for in this life? Or do we seek to know and do God’s will for us? I love the line from Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which says, “The will of God is my hiding place, for there I shall be safe.” To know God’s will for me, however, implies that I’m willing to take the time to prayerfully ask God daily—or actually throughout the day—to show me God’s will. “Not my will, but Thine be done” is a crucial mantra—at least for me.
Second question. What does Jesus offer as an alternative to crushing power? Over and over again we see this acted out in the New Testament. In the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read:
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
This passage comes in response to several of the disciples vying for recognition and status among the others. Jesus says, in essence, that it doesn’t work like that in God’s kingdom. Noting the beginning of Samaria in today’s Scripture, I’m reminded here of the Good Samaritan from the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel and all that that story implies about serving others in spite of all our differences.
We might feel overwhelmed with today’s problems and not know how to even begin to address them. Again, praying for a knowledge of God’s will is essential here. And I read this recently—probably on FaceBook—“If you want to understand how to fix a problem in the world, you have to ask who is profiting from the problem, not who is suffering from it.” What a good lens through which to analyze a problem, and to ask myself if I’m part of the problem or part of the solution. Asking God to show me how to serve those in need is always a safe bet—providing I’m willing to take the necessary actions to bring about justice and peace—if only in my little corner of the world!
So, my third question is one for which we are only beginning to write answers. It stems from the horrible news in today’s world—the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Israeli/Hamas war, and last week’s mass shooting in Maine, to name just a few. Simply asked, in light of the myriad of problems we currently face in our own country and around the world, how should we respond in a way that might lessen the divisions among us and bring about peace and justice for all? I do not have an adequate answer, but I hope we can journey together as a living faith community as we face the issues before us.
I love the question that Eleanor Roosevelt asked, which is, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” Perhaps that question should have been asked by Ray and Jerry; things might have turned out so much better! Rehoboam and Jeroboam reigned over 900 years before Christ was born, so it’s been well over 3,000 years that God’s people have struggled to overcome their divisions. And still the question goes unanswered. I ask, can we move a bit closer to it in our own lives?
There is so much suffering right now and seemingly so little we can do to help. Let me offer a reminder from the Talmud that I find quite helpful. “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” These words, echoed in Michah 8, do, I believe, point us in the right direction.
And finally, backing off a bit from the seriousness of the issues I’ve raised, and offering a lighter sentiment along these same lines, let me end with this quote from Steve Garnass Holmes: “Halloween is a day when we get it right. Strangers come to us, beautiful, ugly, odd, or scary, and we accept them all without question, compliment them, treat them kindly, and give them good things. Why don’t we live like that?”
Indeed, why don’t we? Amen.