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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 20 - 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"
Barry Robinson

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 fernstone@fernstone.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)

Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2003
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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