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.
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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.
Even if you didn't grow up in church, our text for this morning is going to be very familiar to you. It's the 10 Commandments. These are the guidelines for life given to the Ancient Hebrews, after they have been liberated from bondage in Egypt. These descendants of Abraham are blessed to be a blessing, but currently find themselves wandering in the wilderness. For four hundred years they have been living outside of the land of their ancestors, trying to keep their traditions alive in a culture determined to squash them.
The Bible is a drama in six phases. Phase 1 is Creation: a good God makes a good world and fills it with good things. Phase 2 is Crisis: the good creatures begin to use their God-given free will to damage themselves and the good world. Phase 3 is Calling: God responds to Crisis by calling a tribe of people to represent God's intention for the world and resist evil, by making a covenant with them. And then in Phase 4, this tribe goes through Cycles of following God's calling, then drifting or rebelling, and then repenting and returning to God's agenda.
The Bible is a drama in six phases. Phase 1 is Creation: a good God makes a good world and fills it with good things. Phase 2 is Crisis: the good creatures begin to use their God-given free will to make not good choices. Not always, but small individual choices turn into big nasty systems of sin and injustice. A few weeks ago we heard the story of the great flood, and the promise God made afterwards to never again destroy the world in a flood. God promised to never again respond to our violence with the same kind of violence.
Last week we started over with our study of the Bible, going all the way back to the book of Genesis and looking at the story of the Flood. We saw that the corruption and violence of humankind had harmed all life on the earth, and that God was brokenhearted over it. In an effort to put a stop to it, God turned the corruption back on people, giving them the full measure of the destruction they were already doing to themselves. After the Flood, people are the same, but God changes. God promises to never again respond to our violence with God's own violence.
This morning we begin a new series. This will be our second year of following a Bible study plan called the Narrative Lectionary. You have a new bulletin insert to help you during the week. From now through the season of Advent, we will be exploring stories from the Old Testament, related to the idea that we are guided by God's promises. Now you might think that if we are going to begin at the beginning, we would start with the one of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 or 2, or the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
This morning we are going to wrap up our series on First John and as we do, I remind you of some of the glorious affirmations we have heard along the way. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light. See what love our Divine Parent has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. Let us not love in word or speech but with actions and in truth. God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Complete love drives out fear. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ...
This morning as we continue through our discussion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we are going to hear to some verses that may get some us in areas where we feel sensitive. They might remind us of harsh things we've heard in church in the past, or times when God has not been presented as loving. But the fact that other people have used these texts poorly is not a reason for us to ignore them. This is our sacred text, and we are not afraid of what's in here. When the Bible gets difficult, it is tempting to pull out all the reasons that it might not speak to our culture. For example, the Bible doesn’t account for the range of gender roles, sexual identity and expression that we now understand exists in the world. Our topics for this morning—adultery, marriage, divorce and making promises—were different in the ancient world. And this is important for us to realize, especially because it can keep us from using the Bible against other people.