Texts: 1 Kings 22:29-45 and 2 Kings 1:2-17
The history books have this snarky line – “Now the rest of the acts of [King’s Name], and his might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel/Judah.” At the death of each king that line appears. (If anyone is a Lord of the Rings fan you hear the echo in the Return of the King when Gandalf overdubs the guy jumping off the cliff -“And so was the reign of elsinore, Steward of Gondor”.) The biblical Chronicler, set against his time and place is unique. In no other documents would you get a King being made to look like the fool. If you want Pravda – go read the other Chronicles – aren’t all of the exploits recorded? But here, we have recorded the Word. And you can hear some of the playfulness of the Holy Spirit. Are not all those great exploits written elsewhere? Go read them if you want. Of course today and probably not long after each king died those exploits were lost, but the Word remains. These things are recorded for your instruction – said with snark.
And Ahab killed in battle and his end pictured as the remains of his life blood washed out of the more valuable Chariot and given to the dogs gives way to his son who falls through the floor of his palace. But within that is part of the story of Elijah. Elijah was just a blunt guy. After falling through the floor, Ahab son sends people to Baalzebub – a Philistine God – at Ekron to discern if he will live. Elijah meets them on the road and asks – “It is because there is no God in Israel?” The answer is of course no – it is because we don’t like that God of Israel’s answers. For Ahab’s son the answer is you’re a goner. But for us isn’t it the same. We can send messengers to this Baal or that Baal – our work or our sports team or our house – won’t you keep me safe? To which we always get a positive reply…until we don’t.
Ahab’s son doesn’t like the message and sends a captain and 50 soldiers to take care of Elijah the messenger. Some fire gets in the way. It also gets in the way of the second cohort. That third captain though is a little brighter. This one can see who is the bigger dog in this fight. Instead of “taking care of Elijah” he and his men become Elijah’s bodyguard. And Elijah delivers the same message in person. As long as we think we are the kings or that the Baals will save us that is the message. The message of the biblical chronicler is exposing the lie, stripping down the kings. And that is the message of the law. It strips us down until we are able to say – where should I go, you have the words of eternal life – until we can enter the Kingdom not as kings but as children.
Text: 1 Kings 22:1-28
The books of the history of Judah and Israel (1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles) are some of my favorites to read. If you’ve got small males running around the house these are some good bedtime stories – the Arch books like this one or the Brick Testament (the bible amazingly staged out and told with legos). The books are also suitable for girls, but the mayhem and conflict at the center of many of them keeps the boy’s attention.
The text today finds the King of Israel (Ahab) plotting to steal a city from Syria and bringing the king of Judah with him. And the company of prophets does what they typically do in corrupt Israel – they tell the king what he wants to hear. “Go up! for the Lord will give the city into you hands.” The King of Judah is a little swifter and asks – “do you have any non-sychophantic prophets in this place?” And Ahab says yes, but all this one ever does is tell me I’m doomed. Jehoshaphat says bring that guy – Micaiah. Micaiah comes and delivering a line dripping with sacasm – “go and triumph.” The king presses him and Micaiah reveals the true Word.
And here is the surpising scene. The LORD in heaven asking the gathered host, “Who will entice Ahab that he will fall trying to take this city?” And one after another of what must be angels come forward and say various things – none of which seems to catch the attention of the LORD. Until another comes forward and and says, “I’ll put a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets.” And God tells this spirit to go do that.
In many ways this parallels the scene in Job. It also is somewhat uncomfortable from a ‘problem of evil’ standpoint. Isn’t God in this case the author of an evil? It is a rare glimpse, a moving back of the veil, of the spiritual reality behind events. The fact is that Ahab still can choose not to go to war. In fact he has now been told what the effects of the war would be and that his company of prophets is a bunch of liars. Is that not God’s way? He tells us what the effects of sin will be – death. He warns us that false Christs will be around and not to run to them. He tells us that there will be prophets who tell us what our itching ears want to hear. And he gives us the freedom. And without the intervention of the Holy Spirit – we charge headlong the wrong way. Macaiah ends with the call – Hear! Just as Jesus would often say – “those who have ears let them hear.” God constantly calls us to Hear the way. If we are saved – it only through God’s effort. If we are not – we chose not to hear.
The Lutheran doctrinal statement is the Formula of Concord article XI on Election with special attention to thesis 11 found here.
That is the start of a pithy saying of Jesus. So pithy it found its way into the Synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark and Luke) in at least four places – Matt 13:11-12, Matt 25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 19:26. And those 4 places represent at least 3.5 stories: the explanation to the parable of the sower, the parable of the talents, the lamp on a stand and Luke’s version of the talents which is sufficiently different that Matthew’s to at least rate half a story. The full saying is roughly: those who have, more will be given; those who don’t, even what they do will be taken away.
Andrew Sullivan records an interesting physical aspect of this here. From a sports analogy, the more we practice shooting baskets the better we get – its called muscle memory. It is also why if we practice the wrong motion it takes a bunch of time to fix it. Spelling teachers new this when every spelling word you missed on a test had to be written correctly 50 times.
I’m usually sceptical or at least hesitent to point at things like this because it can either reduce the Spirit to a material effect or it just smells like a “just so story”. But this one brings together a few strands of thought that I’ve been pondering together. First and anyone who reads or listens to my sermons has heard – prayer, study and trial being the Christian life. Break the cycle, stop praying, don’t be in the Word, avoid living the faith – and the faith stops building. Second, read Hebrews 6:1-6. If you break the cycle when do vs 4-6 come into play? We talk about being in an unchurched society. Really instead of unchurched is it not a society that has rejected the Gospel? At least portions of that society? There are younger generations now that may have never heard the gospel, but would some portion of the society not be more like that generation in the Exodus that would wander 40 years and not enter the land? Even what they had will be taken away?
The biggest one that stood out is empathy. As society has become more secular, has it not also become harder? Are we not hardening our hearts? The language of Christianity has its own vocabulary formed by the Scriptures and 2000 years of living the faith. That language can sometimes be an impediment to teaching or understanding, but it gets it right. It describes our experience and our reality better than anything else. And if the strict materialists were right, that language would have no right to be right. You can’t build a sturdy building on sand so to say…
This sermons subject – sexuality and specifically divorce – is a hard word in our culture. Jesus doesn’t allow it – divorce that is. Divorce is not in God’s plan. And we can’t keep that – neither in what our society formally calls marriage, nor in our sexuality that assumes marriage rights without the committment. And it is a standing judgment against us – sexual sins are those we can’t fix, are those we commit against our own bodies. Wouldn’t it be easier if Jesus was just more laid back about divorce? Go that way if you want to lose the Gospel. Marriage is how God describes his relationship with His people – and he took reconciliation all the way to the cross – no divorce indeed. We are sinners, but our God’s grace and mercy are much larger than our ability to mess it up. Trust in that faithful relationship sealed on the cross made sure at the resurrection.