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.
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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.
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 series on the parables of Jesus. Not all of them, because there are a lot. But a few of them. A few parables of grace and a few parables of judgment. Grace first, so we are grounded in the right thing. This is how we are going to spend Lent and wrap up our study of Matthew. Parables are fascinating. Jesus told lots of them; all the gospels record at least some of them. The Greek word for parable simply means comparing one thing with another. But parables are NOT simple. We often assume they are simple because they are stories and they are short. But in truth they are often complicated and confusing once you scratch the surface. They say things we agree with and things we disagree with often in the same parable, which is probably how some of you will feel this morning. So why do we tell them. Well an Episcopal priest named Robert Capon* has written three totally awesome books on parables and he compares them to the art we display in our houses.