October 27, 2019
1 Kings 12:1-17, Mark 10:35-45
One of my guilty pleasures is reading compilations of stories centered around the premise of individuals who are in places of power or just assume they are better than others, who then treat others with disrespect and there is some turn of events that results in the offending party being shamed. Part of me justifies this guilty pleasure in the reminder how important it is to be humble and treat others with respect, instead of finding joy in the shame of those that thought themselves to be better than others. However, I know the joy comes in hearing stories where rude and inconsiderate behavior isn’t rewarded. Where power and status don’t win the day.
There is something about these stories that we find relatable. Stories where customers are incredibly rude to employees, or where a neighbor is caught up in their own assumptions that they forget that they do not live in a neighborhood all alone. We relate because we may have been in a similar situation, or been called out when we acted rudely to another.
Stories like these can serve as a reminder of the shame we can expect when we constantly put our desires first and foremost above the needs and humanity of others. A lesson that the disciples needed to hear, and Rehoboam ignored to the downfall of the kingdom. James and John decided that they wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom of God, but did not understand what would be required of them to deserve such an honor. They didn’t understand that in order to find such an honor that they had to first humble themselves completely.
The lesson that continues to remind us that the ministry that we are called into, the ministry that declares good news to the poor, the captive, the outcast, the oppressed, requires its followers to follow a humble path, rather seeking one’s own glory. The ministry that Jesus Christ started, was leading to the cross. It pushed back against the systems of power and oppression. It called out the hypocrisy of the leaders. And it declared God’s kingdom above and beyond any earthly kingdom.
The ministry through which we find salvation, lead Jesus to the cross, because it endangered the status quo of those who benefited from the systems of oppression. But that ministry did not end at the cross but continues through the resurrection and the moving of the spirit. Even though those that wished to end the movement tried to end it through the cross, the Kingdom of God is greater.
In the case of Rehoboam, he is tasked with a choice. To ease the suffering of his people or not. To lessen the hardships that the throne has put onto the people or not. He hears the cries of the people and takes the time to make a decision. His first steps are to seek the counsel of the seasoned advisers who tell him to do what the people ask. They tell him that if he serves the people they shall be his servants in return. If he seeks to tend to the people they will return the favor. But not being happy with their answer Rehoboam turn to his friends who tell him to make the oppression even worse.
Once again we can relate to this story. The story of a young guy who all of a sudden is given great power without much wisdom and experience to help him. So, he is faced with the first of many hard decisions and seeks out the wisdom of others. The first answer he gets isn’t what he wants so he turns to his peers who gives him the answer he really wants.
We like to claim that this is the downfall of youth, who fail to listen to the wisdom of their elders. But I would push back on this as people of any age can be caught up in moments where they ignore the wisdom of those with experience and knowledge. Instead I would name that in this text there is immaturity at work that continues to lead Rehoboam down a path seeking his own power, and ignoring the cries of his people.
A warning from 1 Samuel 8 that becomes fully realized. A warning that was made after the people of Israel demanded a king like all the other nations, forgetting that the Lord is the true king. A warning that human kings will forget their responsibility to the people and lust after their own power and authority.
As I look back on my life, I recognize those places where my head got too big for my britches. Those moments where I did not listen to the advice of those with wisdom to offer. Those times where I absolutely knew what was best, and in each of those times where my own pride and ego drove me, I found shame.
So, how do these texts come together for us today? We have people that are coming up as leaders, those who are supposed to serve as an example for others. Those that are to put God’s people and truth above their own interests, but they show their selfishness and ego, to the point that they experience shame and downfall.
Who we are called to be is a shining light on the hill. A beacon of hope for those who look on. But if we find our egos getting too big, or our lust for power too much, then that light house on a hill becomes a Las Vegas Marquee sign. From a light declaring hope, to a shinny thing boasting about what is inside.
We are called to serve the people as we declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. We are called to listen to the wisdom of those who have come before us, as we continue to pioneer a path forward seeking after God’s kingdom.
Yesterday, as the Northwest Region gathered in Yakima to remember and Re-member the regional body, Sandy brought us a message out of Isaiah, that reminds us that God is always doing a new thing. That the ways in which God acted in the world wasn’t repetitive time and time again. But rather God acted in new and different ways throughout the history of God’s people. In the same way God continues to work in and through us in new and exciting ways each and every, day, week, month, and year.
So, even as we are called to listen to the wisdom of our elders, and serve as humble leaders to God’s people, we are called into new and different ministries by God.
Let us not be consumed by our egos, by our selfish desires for fame, glory, or fancy new things, as we instead seek to declare the good news of Jesus Christ, each and every day as we humbly serve our community. Let us hear the stories of those who have come before us, whose egos got too big for their britches, and let us learn from them.