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I have to say, I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed last month. The series on vocation was fun. I loved watching the video testimonies, browsing through the art show, listening to the special music, and celebrating how our vocation, our calling from God, is to live out God’s love for our neighbor in everyday life. The highlight for me was Octoberfest. That was really fun. And the icing on the cake was to see Pastor Mark in lederhosen. Oh yeah!
Today we begin a new month and a new series. It is a special day that we call All Saints Day. It is a moment when we pause to remember the saints that have gone before us in death. We will take a special moment later in the service to honor those saints.
As we launch this new series for November, I want to connect us, again, to the larger theme for the year. Do remember what it is? This year our key word is CULTIVATE: Making room for God’s promise. We are centering on Jesus’ parable of the four soils where he taught us that the promise of God, the Word of God, is like a seed that fell on four soils. The hard soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the fertile soil. The promise of God can only grow and multiply in fertile soil.
Our story today, as we continue our journey through the story of Abraham’s family in the Hebrew Scripture, gives us an powerful example of what happens when the thorny soil takes over someone’s heart. And, hopefully, we’ll see a way to avoid this tragic story.
Previously on the Narrative Lectionary…
Last week pastor Mark told us the story of how David unified the tribes of Israel. We shouted out with David as he bust the move down the isle. Do remember? Yeah, that was one of the high points in my pastoral career.
Look at this picture. The circles represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The object in the middle is the ark of the Covenant. It is the box in which the stone tablets were placed. Do you notice something about the ark? Where is it? It is inside a tent. This is very important. The original structure for the ark was called the Tabernacle. It was literally a tent that the people could set up and tear down, so that it could move with the people. God is dynamic and moving, and could lead the people. It represents the very presence of God, the creative Word of God. Notice how the nation is configured. They were centered on the Word, the dynamic presence, of God.
The story we skip this week is about David’s son, Solomon. Look at this picture. We have the same elements. There are the twelve tribes and there is the ark of the covenant. But, notice the what’s different. There are two significant differences. First, the ark is in a new kind of structure. Solomon replaced the tabernacle with a big, fancy building covered in gold. This is called the temple. Here’s the problem with building projects like this. They cost money. How does the king get money? He taxes the people.
I would like you to turn in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 17:16. This is on page 173 if you are using the pew Bibles. These are words that Moses spoke to the people just before they were going to enter to the Promised Land. He knew they would eventually want a king, so he gave them three specific guidelines for what a king should never do. Look in verse 16. First, he must never acquire many horses. Horses were used for war. That meant he should not build up a strong military force. Second, in verse 17, he should not acquire many wives. Why? Because those marriages would be political alliances with foreign gods, and they would pull his allegiance away from God. Third, silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.
Don’t build a big army. Don’t marry into foreign nations. Don’t horde wealth.
What did Solomon do? Just the opposite. Solomon’s kingdom was, from a human perspective, one of the most powerful, politically connected, and wealthy kingdoms the world has ever seen.
He had a vast army, he had 700 wives, and he was extremely wealthy. He was so wealthy that he built himself a grand palace, and he built God a grand palace as well.
But, how did he do it?
He taxed the people and treated them like slaves.
That’s what brings us to our story today.
Solomon’s son was named Rehoboam. When we try to imagine Rehoboam, think Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Think silver spoon. This is a young man who has grown up in a world where his father was the most powerful man around, he had all the luxuries life could afford, and there was no war or famine in his experience.
And now, he has been handed the throne and all the power that comes with it.
Look at this picture. Rehoboam is given advice from two different groups of people. On the one side are the older men. Some of them may even remember what the Kingdom was like when David unified them and brought the ark to the center. They watched what happened as Solomon amassed his wealth and power and what it did to the people.
Look again at our text for today in 1 Kings 12. Look what they said in verse 4. 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.
Skip down to verse 7. 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.”
What is the key word in this advice? Serve.
This is an interesting word. In the Hebrew, it is the same word that is also translated worship. By the way, that’s why we call it a worship service. It’s redundant. To worship is to serve, and to serve is to worship. It means to give worth to something by paying it honor and supporting it.
You see, service is the antidote for greed. If Rehoboam wants to be a godly king, a leader worthy of being followed, then he needs to treat his people as if they are worthy of honor and respect as well.
This is what Jesus taught us in the Gospel lesson. Turn to that passage again. Mark 10:41. This is on page 922 in your pew Bible. Some of the disciples had been arguing about who would be the more powerful when Jesus takes the throne. Then Jesus said, “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 o 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, he’s referring to himself there, came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Do you remember a few weeks ago when we talked about the Key of our calling when Moses gave the law? The heart of God’s law is the love for your neighbor. The very heart of God is to fulfill God’s promise to redeem this world. To rescue us from the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Even to the point of destroying Godself on the cross. That is how much God loves you, and your neighbor.
And for a leader of God’s people to think that it is all about him is the opposite of what God is all about.
So, there’s Rehoboam. He hears this advice. Then he is surrounded by his peers. These are the young men who grew up with him in the palace. It’s like the cast of Gossip Girl, or the royal families in Downton Abbey. They have no clue what these old men are talking about. They scoff them.
What does Rehoboam do?
He crushes them. He makes junior jokes about his manliness, mocks his father and the elders, and increases the taxes and the oppression of the people.
Well, that was too much for the people. There was a rebel waiting in the wings, named Jeroboam. He led ten of the twelve tribes to rebel against Rehoboam and form a new kingdom.
The only problem with this, was that the presence of God and the proper worship of God was in the temple in Jerusalem, centered on the ark of the covenant. Jeroboam wasn’t about to let the people go back there, so he constructs two statues of golden calves and puts one in the north of the country and one in the south. Two convenient locations for your easy worship. Then he declares to the people, “see, these are the gods who brought you up out of Egypt.”
And from that point on, the Kingdom is Divided, never to be restored.
This is a tragic tale.
There are two simple lessons for us to take away from this story.
The first is that the antidote to the greed that Rehoboam had is service. The spiritual habit that will pull the weeds and thorns from the soil of our hearts is to serve others. To worship well. To give of ourselves to God and others to show how worthy God and our neighbor is of love and respect.
That is our theme for the whole month of November. Pastor Mark’s article set the tone for us. We are going to have opportunities to serve through Feed My Starving Children, the food drive, our ongoing relationship with the people in Haiti and in Rakai, Uganda. We will be receiving little plastic M&M containers that we can fill up with quarters as a way to raise funds for those in need.
I hope that this month will give you a very practical way to cultivate this important spiritual discipline.
There is a second lesson as well. I want us to see the Gospel in this story as well. God made a promise to Abraham’s family. God made a promise to David. God would bless the nations through David’s line. So, even thought Rehoboam made a terrible choice that irreparably fractured the nation and caused great suffering, God remains true to the promise. God preserves the tribe of Judah, and God will make a way for the salvation of the world.
As we come to the table today, let us give thanks for God’s enduring promise. That is why we can freely serve God, because God gave everything for us.