Sunday’s sermon: Divided We Fall

divided united

Text used – 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • Okay, all … pop quiz this morning. Let me know if you can tell where these statements come from.
    • When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
    • It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
    • The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
    • Give up? Those statements are four of the 95 theses that Martin Luther nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on Oct. 31, 1517. Friends, today is Reformation Sunday.
      • Quick church history lesson
        • Luther = German priest turned theology professor → grew to reject a number of Roman Catholic teachings of the day[1]
          • Salvation through grace, not salvation through works
          • Importance of making Scripture accessible to regular people → translated the Bible into German (only in Latin up to that point = only priests could read it)
          • Flat out rejection of selling of indulgences – practice of people basically buying their deceased loved ones’ way into heaven (skip the punishment and postponement of Purgatory)
          • Wrote 95 theses (vast majority of which were counterpoints against indulgences) in 1517 → refused to renounce that and all the rest of his writings/views despite the demands of both Pope Leo X and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor → both excommunicated and declared an outlaw in 1521
        • Luther’s actions that day were the flashpoint for what we call the Great Reformation → spurned the development of a number of different theologies and Protestant traditions
          • Today: upwards of 200 different Protestant denominations just in the United States … and that doesn’t include all the individual churches that designate themselves as “non-denomination” or “Bible churches”[2] → dividing lines between those denominations are many and varied
            • Divided along cultural/heritage lines (e.g. –German Lutheran vs. Norwegian Lutheran)
            • Divided along polity lines (episcopal vs. congregational vs. presbyterian)
            • Divided along theological lines
              • What’s a sacrament and what’s not?
              • Who can participate at the Table and who can’t?
              • Baptism – age? dunking or sprinkling? efficacy of rebaptism or “once baptized, always baptized”?
              • Probably most recent split happened in the Presbyterian Church (USA) = development of ECO (Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians) → splintered along lines pertaining to LGBTQ issues among others
    • As we well know, the Church is no stranger to division, is it? By this point, our shared Family Tree as Christians is a pretty gnarled, complicated, crazy-looking mess. But this division is far from the exception in the history of faith as well.
      • Phyllis Tickle: church “cleans out its attic and has a rummage sale” every 500 yrs.[3] → massive shift in the life and structure and theology of the Church every 500 yrs.
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after Jesus = era of the councils (Council of Nicaea, Council of Constantinople, etc.) → set what books would be considered Scripture and what wouldn’t, set what was acceptable (orthodox) theology and what wasn’t (heresy), laid out some of the creeds we use even today (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed)
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the council = the Great Schism → divided the Western Church (Roman Catholicism) with the Eastern Church (today: various Orthodox traditions – Russian, Greek, etc.)
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the Great Schism = the Reformation with Luther and all those who came after him
        • Roughly 500 yrs. after the Reformation … TODAY → We are indeed overdue for another vast and sweeping change in the way and life of the Church. Or maybe we’re in the midst of it.
  • Going back even further = division in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Some explanation
      • Rehoboam = son of King Solomon, grandson of King David
      • Jeroboam = placed in position of regional power by King Solomon → led a revolt (hence the reason our text said he “returned from Egypt where he had fled from King Solomon”[4]
      • Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about the rise of first King Saul and then King David as the monarchy of Israel and how the establishment of that monarchy was against God’s wishes and counsel for the people of Israel. Through the reign of Saul, David, and David’s son, Solomon, the people of Israel remained a single kingdom – the 12 tribes (descended from the 12 sons of Jacob excluding Joseph) all united today. Today’s Scripture is the end of that union. → today’s Scripture = the division of the kingdom into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 tribes)
    • Sub-title of today’s section: “How Rehoboam lost the kingdom” → And what does that loss boil down to today? How did Rehoboam lose the kingdom that his father and grandfather had worked so hard to build up and maintain? Through division.
      • Story breakdown
        • People (along with Jeroboam) come to King Rehoboam and say, “Your father made our workload very hard for us. If you will lessen the demands your father made of us and lighten the heavy workload he demanded from us, then we will serve you.”[5]
        • King Rehoboam unsure of what to do → tells the people to come back in 3 days and consults his advisors
          • 2 sets of advisors: the older ones who served his father, Solomon, before him VS. the younger ones (King Rehoboam’s contemporaries)
          • Older advisors: “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.”[6]
            • Response born out of experience
            • Response born of out wisdom
            • Response born out of respect for the people
          • Younger advisors: “If my father made your workload heavy, I’ll make it even heavier! If my father disciplined you with whips, I’ll do it with scorpions!”[7]
            • Response born out of ambition
            • Response born out of pride
            • Response born out of elitism
        • King Rehoboam decides to listen to his younger advisors → text: The king then answered the people harshly. … When all Israel saw that the king wouldn’t listen to them, the people answered the king: “Why should we care about David? We have no stake in Jesse’s son! Go back to your homes, Israel! You better look after your own house now, David!” Then the Israelites went back to their homes, and Rehoboam ruled over only the Israelites who lived in the cities of Judah.[8]
          • The rest of the Israelites turn to Jeroboam to rule them → Jeroboam, in fear that their allegiance will once again flip and they will return to King Rehoboam, sets up golden calves for them to worship in Bethel and in Dan (foreshadowing for more trouble to come!)
        • Division, plain and simple, right?
  • But I want to go back to the middle of the story today and focus on the advice of King Rehoboam’s older advisors. – older advisors in the text: “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.”[9] → “If you will be a servant to this people … If you will be a servant.” This, friends, is the key.
    • Outright divisiveness we’re facing in America today
      • Neighbor against neighbor
      • Friend against friend
      • Family against family
      • Divisiveness born of intolerance and an unwillingness to listen – truly listen! – to the “other side”
        • Not half-listen while I try to think of the next thing to say
        • Not pretend-listen so they think I’m listening and will, in turn, listen to me
        • Not ambush-listen so I can pounce on something they say and demolish it with my clearly superior argument/talking point
    • Certainly not the first time we’ve faced strong, deep divisions as a country
      • Just a couple examples:
        • 1960s & 1970s → Civil Rights, Vietnam War, McCarthyism and communism
        • Civil War and the decades that surrounded it
    • But it cannot be denied that we are living in a highly contentious, combative, and toxically polarized time. “If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today, then they will be your servants forever.” Jesus talked a lot about what it meant to be a servant.
      • John: This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved one. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.[10]
      • Mark: Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the servant of all.[11]
      • Luke: But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.[12]
      • Matthew: You should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you.[13]
    • Archibald Macleish (American poet and former Librarian of Congress): Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worse when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answer for everybody else. → Friends, let us take the hard questions from Scripture this morning – the questions about how we divide amongst ourselves and what that division is doing to our souls as individuals and as the church, as the human race and as Americans. Let us take those hard questions and sit with them, wrestle with them, ask them of ourselves. We have seen what division brings time and time again. Maybe it’s time to give a servant’s heart a try. Amen.[14]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther.

[2] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/sbeale/just-how-many-protestant-denominations-are-there.

[3] Phyllis Tickle. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), 2008.

[4] 1 Kgs 12:2.

[5] 1 Kgs 12:4.

[6] 1 Kgs 12:7.

[7] 1 Kgs 12:11.

[8] 1 Kgs 12:13a, 16-17.

[9] 1 Kgs 12:7.

[10] Jn 15:12-13.

[11] Mk 10:43-44.

[12] Lk 6:27-28.

[13] Mt 7:12.

[14]

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Divided We Fall

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Big Love | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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