1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘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.’ He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’ They answered him, ‘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 for ever.’ But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” ’
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.
When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,
‘What share do we have in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Look now to your own house, O David.’
So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah.
Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and resided there; he went out from there and built Penuel. Then Jeroboam said to himself, ‘Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.’ So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a church that got a new pastor, whom the pianist immediately disliked. Eventually, their conflict spilled out into the Sunday services. The first week, the pastor preached about commitment and how we should dedicate our lives to serving one another. The pianist led the song, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” The second week, the pastor preached about tithing and how important it was for the congregation to contributed to the church. The pianist led the song, “Jesus Paid it All.” The third week, the pastor preached about gossiping and how we should all watch what we say about one another. The pianist led the song, “I Love to Tell the Story.” At this point, the pastor caught on. Embarrassed over how the pianist’s feud with him was disrupting their services, he told the congregation the next week that he was thinking about resigning. The pianist led the song, “Oh, Why Not Tonight?” And sure enough, the pastor did resign. In his farewell sermon the next week, he told the congregation that, as Jesus had called him to their church, Jesus was now calling him away from their church. Naturally, the pianist led the song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Now don’t get any ideas, Johanna or Brad! If you don’t like my preaching, please come to me either before or after service and I’ll listen to your complaints. Won’t guarantee I’ll change my messages but hey, I’m always open to feedback and criticism when I’ve strayed from the heart of Scripture. Heaven knows Scripture is a living word, meaning it speaks different things to different people. What one person hears from Scripture may be completely different than what another person hears. With that said, I have a pretty discerning ear for Scripture. I always hold Scripture up against Jesus’ commands to love God above all else and to love each other as he loves us. If Scripture is heard without love, then I tend to believe that it has been misheard. Using Scripture to judge and condemn is not the purpose of Scripture. Scripture ought to be used to share the love of God, plain and simple. It reveals God’s love so that we might share that love with the world. Nothing that pastor preached on went against the heart of Scripture so really the pianist was wrong in being so antagonistic and should have resigned. Passive aggressive behavior can be funny to witness though…
Today we again celebrate a time in the Christian church’s history when there was great conflict and great change that came out of it. 500 years ago, the Church and its leaders had pulled away from the heart of Scripture and had misheard its wisdom. The Church had used Scripture to judge and condemn and far too many abuses had resulted. Along came Luther and a handful of others who rightly heard Scripture, the heart of Scripture. They pushed back against the Church and its leaders and reformed it to accurately reflect the heart of Scripture. The resulting “Reformation” is what we celebrate each year on the last Sunday of October. It’s no doubt our Church was made stronger by the efforts of Luther and his contemporaries. The Church needed to get back to serving and loving people rather than itself. The Church’s whole purpose is to love and serve people in this world and for whatever reason it had pulled away from this purpose. The Church needed a re-formation, a realigning, a revisioning. Church historians have noted that in the 2,000 years that the Church has been around, it appears that it has gone through these great re-formations every 500 years or so and we are currently at the beginning of another great re-formation. Who knows what the Church will look like 50, 100, 150 years from now but it’s exciting to consider we are living in a time of re-formation. Exciting and anxious at the same time!
But isn’t that exactly what times of conflict produce both excitement and anxiety at the same time? We ought not be afraid of conflict but rather consider it as a birthing process. Conflict invariably produces change, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. It’s interesting that our lectionary creators chose to lift up this passage from 1 Kings to exemplify a time of conflict in Christian history. Rehoboam and Jeroboam were living in a time of conflict and they themselves were agents of change. Rehoboam had inherited a kingdom from his father, Solomon. Well, Solomon hadn’t ruled the kingdom wisely for quite some time despite having been gifted with great wisdom by God. Solomon had been hard on his people and had enjoyed the many luxuries of his reign at their expense. Rehoboam knew this about the kingdom which he had inherited and like any good successor he sought advice on how to lead it from those around him. First, he sought the advice of the elders who advised him to go easier on the people. Then he sought the advice of the youth who advised him to go harder on the people. For whatever reason, Rehoboam acted on the advice of the youth and went harder on the people. Along came Jeroboam who saw how displeased the people were and led them in creating a different kingdom. Mind you, Jeroboam wasn’t that much better than Rehoboam in that he convinced the people to worship multiple gods instead of our God as they had under Rehoboam’s reign. But still, they were no longer treated harshly and that was enough for their allegiance.
Now then, is this the best witness of conflict for encouragement? When conflict arises are we simply to run away from our brothers and sisters and create a new kingdom consisting of like-minded people? Does this accurately reflect the heart of Scripture? By no means! God doesn’t want us to avoid conflict! God wants us to use conflict as an agent for change. Remember our God is a God of freedom and He highly values freedom from oppression. In this situation with Rehoboam and Jeroboam, God ignored the unfaithful worship of Jeroboam’s people in favor of freedom from Rehoboam’s oppression. Yes, God has priorities and freedom is pretty high on his list of priorities! But in general, God wants us to hold together even in times of conflict. As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, we are to “put away from [us] all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:31-32) And again in his letter to the Colossians, he tells us to “bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (3:13) Friends, Paul’s words more accurately reflect the heart of Scripture than does the division of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Hold together, forgive each other, be kind to each other, these are words of our loving God. Sure, there are times when division must occur, but God is in control of those situations. We have far more control over situations when we are kind and forgiving. Leave divisive situations to the wisdom and mercy of God. Be kind and forgiving to those you find yourself in conflict with. After all, there is great blessing in such kindness and forgiveness as we hear from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9) Who among us wouldn’t want to be considered of child of God?!
Conflict is inevitable with so many people in this world. Sometimes separation is the only reasonable product of conflict. God has his purposes for such separation, and we ought to pray for his mercy. When we find ourselves in conflict, let us show kindness and forgiveness first and foremost. Let us hold together and be a united body of Christ. And let us give thanks for God’s continuous grace upon us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.