Rehoboam and Real Courage - Pastor April's Sermon - 11/1/15

Rehoboam and Real Courage

1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29

Given by Rev. April S. Blaine on Sunday, November 1, 2015

So, today we continue our series on Re-Reading the Story of God’s Love for all people.  We’ve been journeying through some of the stories in the Old Testament, starting in Genesis.

Last week, we left off with the story of David – who finally has brought the kingdom of Israel together.  All the tribes have become united – they have one King, and they were setting up the Ark of the covenant and preparing to worship and dedicate their lives to God.

But as we fast forward into today’s scripture, we see that things have gone very very wrong with David’s grandson, Rehoboam.

Things had gone relatively well politically during David’s reign as king.  He was succeeded by his son,  Solomon, and it was during Solomon’s reign that Israel as a nation was able to amass a great deal of wealth and power in the region.  As a result, Solomon began a great deal of building projects throughout the region, including the building of a great temple in Jerusalem.  But the great amount of activity began to take a toll on the people.  They were taxed heavily and made to work to construct these great projects.

During this time, there was a prophet, Ahijah, who proclaims that Jeroboam, one of the leaders in the northern part of Israel, will play a role in dividing the kingdom of Israel once again.

So, Solomon, instead of trying to listen to the prophet, and change his ways, sends Jeroboam away in Egypt in exile.

Our story today finds us after Solomon’s death.  Rehoboam is made king and he is immediately tested.  Jeroboam returns from Egypt and asks – will you lighten the load?  Your father was oppressive to us and if you will lighten the load for us – we will be your loyal subjects…

It’s a pivotal moment for Rehoboam.  Because he’s just come into leadership.

Some of you have had these moments in your own lives.  There is a strange thing that happens when we move into a position of power and authority.  We want to establish ourselves, we want people to take us seriously, particularly in comparison to those who came before us.  We want people to see us as strong, brave, and courageous.  The last thing we want people to think is that we are weak or that people can take advantage of us.

Which puts Rehoboam in a bit of a bind.  Because he knows that how he responds to this request will set the tone for how others view him.

So he asks for some counsel.

The elders, those that have gone before him, and advised his father, tell him that lightening the load is the smartest course, for then the people will follow and serve him forever.  Advice, that would have gone against what his father Solomon was doing.

His friends, on the other hand, those who he has known since his youth, advise instead to tighten the grip – to show those people who is boss.  That he is even tougher than his father.  The phrase – that my little finger is bigger than his waist doesn’t quite denote the derogatory nature of what he was really saying.  The real translation should have been – my little thing is thicker than my father’s loins – we’ll let you use your imagination as to what “thing” referred to.

So, Rehoboam has to decide – what kind of leader he will be

One who shows his power and authority through might and muscle and oppression or one who shows mercy and friendship – who is willing to be vulnerable.

We hear this story and to us – the answer seems quite obvious.  We quickly put the fault in Rehoboam and shake our heads and say – Why didn’t he just listen to those elders?  I mean, they clearly have the best advice.

We might even be feeling a bit smug – thinking – now, if I had been him – I would have been listening to my elders.

So, before we get too far in our smugness – I think it’s helpful for us to remember that in general – when you or I are given the choice between putting on a Brave Face before others or choosing to be vulnerable before others – 99/100 – our first inclination will be the brave face.

We will not choose vulnerability – particularly before a large group of people – unless we absolutely have to.

It may surprise some of you to know that I was a quite reluctant preacher.  Preaching was among the many things I told God that I was not planning to do when I entered seminary to just “take a few classes.”

So, when the call became clearer and I knew I was going to have to take a preaching class and begin preaching, one of the things I did to combat my anxiousness and nervousness was to do an extraordinary amount of preparation – time to write and rewrite the sermon and to get my final manuscript exactly the way I wanted.

Over the next year and a half, I preached in class and at the church where I was serving and was surprised to learn that I really loved preaching – and that I was beginning to sense that I was called to do it as a central part of my ministry –

The more I did it – the more I felt this urge to occasionally step away from the podium, to step away from the printed manuscript, but I was terribly afraid.

Because even greater than my fear of preaching was (and is) my fear of embarrassing myself in front of people.  I would have horrible dreams at night about standing before the congregation and having absolutely nothing to say.  It was like the showing up to school naked dream – and so I clung to that manuscript.

During my 4th year of seminary – (I crammed 3 years into 5) – I took my final preaching class.  Our first sermon for class – was one that I was also able to preach at my church – actually before I preached it for class.  And so I started to feel this small amount of courage – maybe, since I preached this one already – maybe I could just preach from an outline this time.  Maybe I could take a leap – so I prepard the outline and I practiced and practiced.  And then I showed up to class.

About 3 minutes before it was my turn, I reached for my outline and couldn’t find it.  I started to panic.  I started to look through every single thing in my bookbag and under every thing.  Nothing.  It was gone.  I am in full on crisis – with sweats and a pulse that was going so fast – and then the professor called my name.

There were some unholy words uttered under my breath as I stood up and preached the sermon.

With no notes.

It wasn’t perfect.  I had to pause a few times to catch my breath.

But about half way through the sermon I began to relax and realize that this was how it was supposed to be all along.

Of course, I found my outline 30 seconds after I sat down.

If we’re honest, we don’t CHOOSE vulnerability unless we have to.

So, in the end Rehoboam chooses to ignore the wise counsel of the elders.  He chooses the brave face instead of the courage to be vulnerable.

The result is that the kingdom becomes divided.  Jeroboam rules the north and Rehoboam is left with only the kingdom of Judah.

As it turns out, Jeroboam, who leads the kingdom to the north, doesn’t fare much better.  Afraid of losing his own power and status, he creates golden calves and walls himself in.

It’s a pivotal moment in the history of Israel – a cautionary tale of sorts – because the choices of these two men have ramifications that continue even today – for the nation of Israel remains divided.  A fate that continues even today.

On this All Saints Day – we have a chance to remember those who have gone before us.  Those who have offered us sage advice – and those, in particular, who in their lives, have exhibited the courage to be honest and even vulnerable.

I can admit that there were times where I listened to the wisdom and when I didn’t.  But as I think about the kind of leader I want to be in the world – it is to be a person of REAL COURAGE.

Real courage to be able to admit when I do not have it all figured out.

To admit when I’ve made a mistake or failed.

And real courage to admit when the bravest course of action is to let down my guard and to be vulnerable.

I wonder where God is extending such an invitation to you today.  Let’s pray.