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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Proper 15 - Year B
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14,16-28; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-59
'Shock and Awe'
So the king said, "Bring me a sword," and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, "Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one and half to the other." One of the more twisted arguments of proponents of the British-American invasion of Iraq has been that somebody had to put an end to a brutal regime of fear. Of course, Saddam Hussein has been a ruthless tyrant. Of course, he has no humanitarian authority to rule the Iraqi people. But, how easily we ignore our own easy complicities with the tyrant of fearsomeness. How easily, in other words, we refuse to acknowledge the log in our own eye. Fear gives us pleasure. That may be unpalatable to admit, but necessary. The documented cases of torture the world over by Amnesty International attest not only to the universality of human depravity but to the universal pleasure of arousing fear. Men and women frighten and torture other men, women, children, animals and things as part of their everyday life every hour of every day in every city and town in every part of the globe. Drill sergeants and teachers and prison guards and professional athletes and managers and corporations and religious superiors and doctors and parents and teenagers all attempt, sooner or later, to cow the opposition. Can you imagine a family anywhere in which structure has not been maintained or enforced at some point, somehow by its most fearsome member? Look at the movies we watch. Horror and crime films are the most obvious examples. We like to be scared and like to see other people being scared. Furthermore, we respect somebody who exercises power by fear, whether it is the raised voice, the menacing look, the glinting gun or the Karate chop. We find few things more mesmerizing, tantalizing or fascinating than the one who exercises masterful authority on the basis of just plain fear. In 'The Unforgiven', for instance, named as one of the twenty best films ever, two portraits of fear are stood side by side. Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman are both ruthless killers. Hackman wears the badge of office but commands respect by means of sheer fearsomeness: he is willing to be more brutal than anyone else in town. Eastwood casts himself as a broken-down pig farmer, a former gunfighter who used to be even more fearsome and even more brutal than Hackman. Now, of course, he is a single dad who simply wants to ensure some kind of security for his two children. All he has to do is to murder two cowboys to do it. We want to like this guy. We want to believe that he is the hero who has come to defend the honour of the town's feisty prostitutes. But what it comes down to is this. We are led to want to believe that the only way this good man can accomplish his good goal is to indulge his brutal past and become even more fearsome than his fearsome opponents. "And if any of you (S.O.B.'s) try to take a shot at me, I'll kill you. And then I'll kill your wife and your children and all your relatives and your friends, too!" + There are times when we need our wits about us when reading the Bible. It is just not enough to use the old Sunday School mentality, however ingrained it has become and no matter how successfully it has turned our intelligence to mush. Take the story of Solomon, for instance. It is not a nice little folk tale about how to be wise. The latter may be what the Deuteronomic writer wants us to believe about Solomon, but, in the final analysis even he could not cover up the plain facts of history. And the plain fact is that Solomon was the child of that scandalous liaison between King David and Uriah's wife Bathsheba. Not a terribly auspicious beginning even if it wasn't Solomon's fault. More to the point, Solomon was brought up in that hot-bed of oriental intrigue and ostentation that was his father's court. Not the most conducive environment for the development of solid, moral character. To make matters worse, he spent his formative years under the thumb of his beautiful but conniving mother Bathsheba. And when Bathsheba wasn't telling him what career move to make, the prophet Nathan, who by this time had become as devious and deceitful as the royal crowd he hung around with, was instigating royal plots of his own to make sure Solomon - and only Solomon - ended up in the Oval Office. No sooner was the crown placed on his pampered little head than Solomon was settling scores for his dear-departed dad. They were called "blood feuds" in those days, the thought being that if you didn't get even with an enemy before he died, a curse would reign down on you and your family for generations. David issued the orders to Solomon on his death-bed, and the younger "Don" carried them out with brutal efficiency until there was nobody left to give him a hard time, not even his older brother Adonijah. And that was how... the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon the author tells us. That was how "the Lord God of Israel... granted one of" David's "offspring to sit" on the throne of Israel. Well, maybe. But my vote says that the good old human power of "fearsomeness" had a lot more to do with it than "fear of the Lord." Which brings us to this week's text, that nice story about Solomon paying homage to one of the many cultic shrines in Israel, high up in the mountains (3.3) where most of the pagan cults did their business, a habit Solomon seemed to have a hard time breaking during his reign in spite of his touted devotion to the law of Yahweh (11.7-11). At face value, it looks like Solomon is the model of piety and humility when, instead of asking for three wishes from the genie, he asks for one: "... Give to your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil . . ." It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this, the storyteller tells us. Like being conned into wanting to believe that the retired gunslinger is not the brutal killer he used to be, we are led to believe that Solomon has suddenly had a change of heart, that he now wants to become a wise (translate that "peaceful and compassionate" monarch) who really cares about people. Well, let's see. Now, why the Lectionary chooses to exclude that famous passage most of us heard in Sunday School, the tale about the two prostitutes who come before Solomon with an apparently unsolvable dilemma, is anybody's guess. Mine is that it is just a bit too revealing in this day and age. We are asked to believe that a king who gives the order for a baby to be sliced in half with a sword is an act of inspired genius. Purportedly to discover the identity of the real mother, although we are never told this for sure, Solomon proposes that the child be carved up so that one half can be given to one woman and one half to the other. The real mother (or perhaps the only woman of the two who was fit to be a mother) speaks up at the last minute in order to spare the child. Proving that there was at least one person with an ounce of sense in the story and maybe only one. What it would have proved about Solomon if neither woman had spoken up is something you and I don't want to think about. What it proved about Solomon we are led to believe was that he was wise beyond compare. I would suggest that all it proved was just how ruthless he was prepared to be to prove a point. The Chief Executive Officer who could make the big decision - like Kennedy before the Bay of Pigs, like Eisenhower alone before D-Day - deciding to give the go ahead order despite what may lay ahead. No matter what the cost. The man or woman at whose feet the buck stops is always the one who is prepared to bring death on the scene. It is a fearsome act and one filled with the kind of authority that enthralls people by the thousands. All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice. Lest we forget, "good king Solomon", for all his vaunted wisdom and fidelity to the Lord, went on to become one of the most profligate and promiscuous kings who ever ruled Israel, having a taste for foreign gods and foreign women, some seven hundred wives and three hundred lady friends to be exact, that got him into more trouble than just financial. True, he ran the country for forty years and conducted the most ambitious building campaign in Israel's history. He also bled his people white with taxes in order to do it, forcibly conscripted his people to serve on labour gangs and abused them whenever it served his advantage. He became such a king, not because he was wise, but fearsome. + It is not just the Bush administration and other such despots that are hooked on the power of fearsomeness. We are hooked on it. We have all but convinced ourselves that it is the only way to stabilize things, the only way to enforce peace, the only way to establish right - by driving out evil with evil, by shooting the bad guys before they shoot us. Shock and Awe. The problem with such an addiction is that it really is. Fearsomeness only begets more fearsomeness, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, which only leads, as Gandhi once said, "to a world full of blind people with no teeth." We who haven't completely forgotten what it means to be human know a different way. We know that there is only one thing that casts out fear; and that is not fearsomeness but a thing called love (1 Jn. 4.18). + 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14,16-28 - This week's text begins with the final chapter of the Succession Document, reporting that Solomon has become king of Israel and what kind of king he strove to become. There are a number of contradictions in the text. In spite of the fact that the historian claims that Yahweh approved of his leadership, Solomon's appointment came as the result of conniving and deceit. It was consolidated by the deliberate murder of political appointments. And if we read the additional chapters relating to Solomon's reign, we read how Solomon became, not just a successful king renowned for his wisdom, but a fearsome, brutal dictator. 1. What do you make of the author's claim that God granted the throne to Solomon? 2. What does the story of Solomon's handling of the two prostitutes indicate to you about his character? 3. What kind of politicians do people generally revere today? Why? Ephesians 5:15-20 - Apparently some of the Christians addressed in Ephesus were imbibing wine as a way to get the body to join more fully in the joyous expressions of the Spirit-filled life. Paul responds by commending a counteractive behaviour: wisdom, the kind that comes from appreciating the gift of life and living in grateful respect. This is the kind of Spirit in which Christians should worship, for this, more than anything else, reveals the glory of God's gracious gift in Jesus Christ. 1. What various spiritual sensitivities constitute the life of a wise person? 2. Why is alcoholic inebriation a sign of contradiction in a Christian's life? 3. What does Paul mean by spiritual intoxication? John 6:1-58 - If, as many scholars believe, John's Gospel went through several "editions" in the sense of modifications to meet the theological needs of a changing Christian community, it is more than likely that the sixth chapter of John, the received tradition of Jesus feeding the multitudes, at some point took on eucharistic implications. That is, the one meal, the last one, by which Jesus was remembered, affected the way all meals were understood and described. Even though we do not live by bread alone, eating and drinking are the very epitome of the kind of intimacy and union we share with Jesus. What we have is a Passover story, told in retrospect, to explore the meaning and depth of Jesus' life and death. 1. In what real sense do we "have" the life Jesus is by eating and drinking his flesh and blood? 2. What are the implications that Jesus said these things in a synagogue (v. 59)? 3. Is participating in the eucharist more a comfort or a shock to the system? A PRAYER FOR THE SAINTS - Grant me not, Lord, the brutality of Solomon in all his fearsomeness, but the wisdom of the child who knows that worlds change, not with the stamp of military prowess but with the quiet courage that confronts evil, embraces gentleness, insists upon integrity and honours humanity, both our own and that of the enemy. Amen! HYMN: O Day of Peace (Voices United 682)
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