Sunday, August 21, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "Jeroboam's Kingdom"

1 Kings 11:26-43

Now Nebat’s son Jeroboam was an Ephraimite from Zeredah. His mother’s name was Zeruah; she was a widow. Although he was one of Solomon’s own officials, Jeroboam fought against the king. 27 This is the story of why Jeroboam fought against the king: Solomon had built the stepped structure and repaired the broken wall in his father David’s City. 28 Now Jeroboam was a strong and honorable man. Solomon saw how well this youth did his work. So he appointed him over all the work gang of Joseph’s house. 

 29 At that time, when Jeroboam left Jerusalem, Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him along the way. Ahijah was wearing a new garment. The two of them were alone in the country. 30 Ahijah tore his new garment into twelve pieces. 31 He said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces, because Israel’s God, the Lord, has said, ‘Look, I am about to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hand. I will give you ten tribes. 32 But I will leave him one tribe on account of my servant David and on account of Jerusalem, the city I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel. 33 I am doing this because they have abandoned me and worshipped the Sidonian goddess Astarte, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god Milcom. They haven’t walked in my ways by doing what is right in my eyes—keeping my laws and judgments—as Solomon’s father David did. 34 But I won’t take the whole kingdom from his hand. I will keep him as ruler throughout his lifetime on account of my servant David, who did keep my commands and my laws. 35 I will take the kingdom from the hand of Solomon’s son, and I will give you ten tribes. 36 I will give his son a single tribe so that my servant David will always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city that I chose for myself to place my name. 37 But I will accept you, and you will rule over all that you could desire. You will be king of Israel. 38 If you listen to all that I command and walk in my ways, if you do what is right in my eyes, keeping my laws and my commands just as my servant David did, then I will be with you and I will build you a lasting dynasty just as I did for David. I will give you Israel. 39 I will humble David’s descendants by means of all this, though not forever.’” 40 Then Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam fled to Egypt and its king Shishak. Jeroboam remained in Egypt until Solomon died.

41 The rest of Solomon’s deeds, including all that he did and all his wisdom, aren’t they written in the official records of Solomon? 42 The amount of time Solomon ruled over all Israel in Jerusalem was forty years. 43 Then Solomon lay down with his ancestors. He was buried in his father David’s City, and Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king. (Common English Bible)

The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel,” Week Ten

It is an image that for me may well go down in my mind as one of the iconic images of my time on earth, the way that, say, the face of Omayra Sanchez Garzon was in the 1980s, or the John Filo photograph of a dying Jeffrey Miller at the Kent State University shooting in the 1970s was.

This time, it is a young African-American woman, later discovered to be Ieshia Evans, a nurse and mother from New York City, standing peacefully, serenely, and utterly alone in a long, flowing dress as in front of her stands a long line of police officers dressed to the nines in SWAT team gear. Two of those officers rush forward to arrest her at a protest in Louisiana.

And she stands there. Simply. Elegantly. Gracefully. Proudly.

It is what she said afterwards, though, that must be shared and repeated today, just four days after an African-American man was shot and killed by a Kelso police officer after the man apparently physically attacked the officer with a hefty walking stick. Evans said: “I just need you people to know, I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I’m glad I’m alive and safe and that there were no casualties that I have witnessed firsthand.”

She also went out of her way to publicly thank a kind officer at the county jail where she was kept saw to it that all of the protesters were treated well.

And that is what we can be capable of, when we want to be: a kindness and fundamental compassion that sees the humanity in the other, even when we protest, even when we rebel. Part of the reason why it was so heartbreaking that the shooting of the five police officers took place in Dallas is because the Dallas police department has become a truly excellent police force over the past several years and had a strong working relationship, built on mutual respect, with its protesters.

So when our own sheriff, Mark Nelson, says at a press conference earlier this week, “I think if people want to come and express their thoughts and their feelings about things that have gone on here, they can do that, I’m not really worried about it,” I give thanks for that humanity in law enforcement officers and protesters alike, because when we have faith in the good willing out, like Sheriff Nelson has, like Ieshia Evans has, then maybe we can still reach for faith, rather than for outrage like we are wont to do, and like Jeroboam is wont to do here in the final part of 1 Kings 11.

This is the final installment of a summer sermon series in the mold of one, stylistically, just like it a couple of years ago in 2014, when, if you’ll remember, we spent most of the summer reading verse-by-verse through the beginning of Acts, we have once more taken on one big narrative in Scripture.

Only this time, that narrative has been the life and reign of King Solomon, a fascinating figure in Israelite history who has probably been somewhat mythologized and made into a King Arthur-esque national legend over the years, but who nonetheless represents an epoch centered around a singular truth that was not achieved again for hundreds of years, and then again for thousands: ruling over Israel as a unified and independent kingdom.

Believe it or not, a unified and independent Israel is a rarity in history. After Solomon, an independent and unified Israel would only really exist twice: during the short reign of the Maccabees (of whom you have probably heard via the Hanukkah story), and during present history since 1946.

So Solomon’s reign—and his father David’s before him—is unique. How Solomon is remembered matters because of it. And we’ve gotten a chance to read this dreaming architect’s story from his building of the original temple in Jerusalem after receiving divine wisdom from the Lord in the dream all the way up to today’s story of the visit from the queen of Sheba, which represented in many ways the absolute pinnacle for Solomon and his reign, to today’s story just one chapter later, in which we continue to see how the seeds of Solomon’s spiritual and political downfall were sown after the story two weeks ago of God telling Solomon basically as such. Last week, we met two other agents of that downfall—the external enemies to Solomon named Hadad and Rezon, and today, we meet Jeroboam, the internal enemy of Solomon who rebels, first unsuccessfully, but later, once Solomon has died, successfully against the new king, Rehoboam.

It is easy at first glance to sympathize with Jeroboam—the text calls him a “strong and honorable man,” and the prophet Ahijah charges Jeroboam with reigning over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel because Solomon has, as we’ve talked about over the past two weeks, drifted away from the Lord.

But that is the exact route that Jeroboam will go down as well (spoiler alert). His portion of the kingdom will not include Jerusalem and, by extension, Solomon’s temple, meaning Jeroboam has to come up with a different way for his brand-new constituents to worship God. So he crafts two golden calves for them (where have we heard this story before?), tells the people “Here are your gods” (where have we heard this before?) and another prophet of God appears and curses Jeroboam, not blesses him.

And the sad thing is, hindsight is 20/20 and all, but you really probably could have seen this coming from another detail in this passage: Solomon put Jeroboam in charge of the—what the texts says, but is really a euphemism—“work crews,” basically, the kingdom’s slaves. Jeroboam’s job is to be the chief slave driver for Solomon. So “strong and honorable” he likely, in all truth, was really not.

Which is a tough thing to have to cope with, when your leaders or the people in your everyday life are not always so strong and honorable. That, I don’t think, has happened here this week, at least not by our leaders. Like I said, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Nelson has done good work with the unenviable job of reviewing the death of another person and managing potential fallout. And the Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter has been similarly very measured—like BLM as a whole, it encouraged engagement with law enforcement and elected leaders this week, and has maintained BLM’s blanket policy of rejecting all forms of violent protest.

No, what needs to be discussed—and I hope you won’t immediately put your guard up to me when I say this—is the immediate reaction to the news when it broke on Wednesday morning. And that reaction on social media was, basically, “The Daily News is being race-baiting and divisive by reporting the victim’s race.” (I’m paraphrasing and removing significant amounts of vulgarity.)

Now, let’s stop for a moment and consider: Cowlitz County is less than 1% African-American, and nearly 89% white. If TDN hadn’t reported any information on the person’s race at all, what race would we most likely assume he was? Probably white. So by deliberately omitting a salient detail, TDN would be misleading you, which is the exact opposite job of print media and its entire mission.

Nor were many of the comments directed towards uplifting the officer, who was beaten badly enough—and you can see part of it, the footage from CCTV has been made available by the sheriff online—that he had to be taken to St. John Hospital. But for all of the rhetoric of #BlueLivesMatter that is out there, that was clearly not the foremost concern on display by the commenters in our community—it was erasing this victim’s blackness.

And that matters, because there is so little color and diversity that does exist within our community. We can say that our leaders divide us by race, but we have largely done that to ourselves over centuries and centuries of both legal and de facto segregation. How many of us have a significant number of friends of color in our community? I know I don’t—the vast majority of my friends of other ethnic and racial backgrounds come from my time in the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle.

What does any of this have to do with this week’s story of Jeroboam? Jeroboam, as Ahijaah prophesies, will reign over a kingdom divided over tribal lines, as opposed to a kingdom divided along any other lines at all, like what job a person might have or what clothing they may wear.

A kingdom divided on the basis of tribe and background is a kingdom that we are living in now, not just a kingdom that Jeroboam reigned over nearly three thousand years ago. The divided kingdom of Jeroboam is still very much alive and well, and it is a kingdom that we still live in today.

Yet on the surface, this ought not be so. The world is more connected than ever—the news travels quicker, social media keeps us in touch with people literally around the entire world, and the capacity to reach out to anyone at any time is literally just a phone call or a text message or an email away from happening. The iconic image and story of Ieshia Evans traveled across the country instantly!

But here we are, still living and dying within Jeroboam’s divided kingdom.

So try to leave that kingdom behind. Venture outside of it, even if—especially if—it is your comfort zone. Reach out to someone not in your normal circle of contacts. Give an ear to someone with a vastly different background or identity from yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but do try to understand them. It is what Jesus did when assembling the Twelve—He reached for tax collectors and zealots alike, and Judean disciples alongside the majority Galilean disciples—and it is what we should do as well.

Because if we are going to say that #AllLivesMatter, then we cannot continue to be in the business of insisting that our leaders, our media, and ourselves be in the business of sweeping the identity of some lives under the rug.

We can start to reverse that by being able to see the other, someone who may look very, very different from us, as being as fearfully and wonderfully made by God. I don’t have all the answers, but this is, I think, the first answer, and may the rest come from that one.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
August 21, 2016

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