This morning, I am starting a new tradition of foregoing a sermon on the Sunday after Christmas in favor of a story. Although, really, we read a story every week when we read our Scripture. The genre of our sacred texts include poetry, origin story, philosophy, personal letters, spiritual biography, and others. It includes a little persuasive rhetoric, but much more narrative. And all together, the Bible is one big story. Stories reminds us that truth is more than hard facts. Many stories are true, even if they aren't factual.
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This morning we turn a page in our reading from the Old Testament to the New Testament so I want to set the stage for you. (Much of this little intro comes verbatim from this book, which I love and would heartily recommend if you want an interesting and helpful way to frame the Scriptures.) We have spent the fall in the Old Testament, journeying with the ancient people of God through creation and crisis, their calling of "blessed to be a blessing," their cycles of following that calling then drifting and rebelling.
Before we hear our text this morning, I'd like to drop back for a minute and think again about what the Bible is and why we bother reading it together. This is the holy record of one particular people's experience of God in their individual and corporate lives, as they interpret and reinterpret God's presence and actions in their situations. Over the course of thousands of years, Christians have accepted it as an authority for our individual and corporate life.
This morning we have another reading from the prophets, this time the prophet Isaiah, first a story and then a prophecy. In order for it to make sense, let me give you a little background. After the kingdom split into north Israel and south Judah, things continue to degrade until 721 BC when Assyria invades the northern kingdom of Israel and destroys it. After that the southern kingdom of Judah pays tribute to Assyria so they don't get invaded. Eventually they get tired of that and make a pact with their old enemy Egypt and rebel against Assyria.
For the next four weeks we will be reading from the prophets. Prophets in the ancient Afro-Asiatic world were messengers, delivering words from God to the people. Sometimes these are words of warning, sometimes they are words of comfort, usually they are a combination of both. The prophets we are reading from are referred to as the classical prophets. They aren't miracle workers and they speak mainly to the common people, instead of to the king and the power brokers. Sometimes they do strange things, called prophetic acts, to make a point.
Our Scripture reading for this morning might not be very familiar to you. It's a rather obscure story and has several parts to it. We are only going to read a small portion of it. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom he ruled split into south and north. The southern portion is called Judah, and the northern portion retains the name Israel. The main action of today's story takes place in Israel. But it starts in far away. It starts in the country of Aram, the city of Damascus, which is modern-day Syria. Because this story is backwards from what we think should happen.
Last week we heard a story from the life of Israel's great King David, a story both disturbing and redemptive, about how King David and Queen Bathsheba came to be married. This morning we hear the story of their second son, King Solomon. Solomon is the end of the golden age of ancient Israel. After he dies, the kingdom splits into north and south and descends into chaos and infighting and eventually both kingdoms are invaded and conquered, and the people carried into exile. This didn't happen for no reason.
Twelve years ago a bunch of Lutherans in Minnesota got together and created a preaching plan called the Narrative Lectionary. It's a four year cycle of preaching through the Bible. And because I chose to follow it when I became your pastor last year, this week we read the story of David and Bathsheba. This week, in the wake of a new Supreme Court Justice and rallies protesting rape culture on college campuses and the body of a homeless woman being set on fire in a public park, we read a story about lust, and coveting and lying and murder. Coincidence or God? You decide.
A couple of years ago, a mother shared this with me: “My husband and I are members of a very large [deleted denomination] church…going on 8 years. After 5 years of not missing a Sunday or Wednesday, our infant son was diagnosed w/autism and a few other physical problems. Attendance started to dwindle as he was not enjoying all of the over-stimulation. One of us always ended up taking him out to the car and getting his stroller and pushing him around the large parking lot.
We are almost at the end of our Romans series; next week is the final week, so this week we are going to hear some of chapters 7 and 8. Before we hear the text this morning, I want to say a couple things about definitions. Remember how I have told you in the past that every translation of the Bible does interpretation simply through the words the translators choose? That's VERY true in this passage. Now sometimes what we need is some good interpretive translation. A word-for-word translation doesn't always give us the clearest meaning because there's a big difference between ancient Greek and modern English. But since it's easy to get confused, here are a few definitions that I would like you to keep in mind as you listen.