Reflection 2nd June: 1 Kings 10:23-11:10, 41-43

Let us begin with two stories, by Debie Thomas,

 

Once upon a time, there lived a good King. His father was also a king and when his father died, he assumed his divinely appointed throne, married a beautiful princess from a neighbouring kingdom, and settled down to govern his people.  Soon afterwards, God appeared to him in a dream, and promised to grant the young royal whatever his heart desired. And the new king asked for wisdom, an understanding mind to govern God’s people, and to discern between good and evil.”

 

God was so pleased with the king’s request, he promised to make the king the wisest human being in history.

 

In time, the king’s reputation spread across the land.  Many people travelled from distant shores seeking his advice and he shared his wisdom with them.

 

And God blessed the wise king with wealth and power beyond measure.  He made strategic political and economic alliances; maintained fleets of ships; built gorgeous temples and palaces; traded in luxuries; penned the greatest wisdom literature of his time; presided over the Golden Age of his kingdom; and finally when he died he handed his throne onto his son after a peaceable reign of forty years.

 

And now story two.

 

Once upon a time, there lived a bad king.  When his father died, he ordered the murder of his older brother and took over the kingdom by stealth and bloodshed.  After spending the early days of his reign carrying out the vengeance killings his father had requested, he set out to build the kingdom of his dreams — a kingdom of wealth, prestige, and power.

 

The king’s appetites were beyond excessive.  To support his extravagant lifestyle, he levied taxes his subjects couldn’t bear.  To complete his lavish building projects, he drafted thousands of people into forced labour.  To satisfy his lusts, he assembled a harem of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.  To quell his spiritual restlessness, he constructed pagan shrines and offered worship to gods who demanded child sacrifice.

 

The results of his choices were dire.  By the end of his reign, his people could no longer bear the crushing burdens of taxation and slavery he had placed upon them. In the wake of his paganism, they could no longer differentiate between idolatry and worship.

 

The king soon found himself confronted by enemies.  After his untimely death, his son tried to force the disgruntled masses back into servitude, but when they resisted, a civil war broke out across the land.  The kingdom split in two, and the famed king’s once-golden dreams dissolved into chaos.

 

Two stories about two seemingly different kings. Except in fact they are not. They are about the same king. King Solomon. His story takes up the first 11 chapters of kings. The two stories I told are a summary of these 11 chapter and his successes as well as his errors.  He died in chapter 11 as we read about today.

 

It is hard to know how to reconcile these two stories into the one person.

 

I now want to tell you two other stories about a man who lived more recently.

 

He was born in 1880 in Victoria. Overcoming much loss in his childhood he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1910. He, was a man of great faith and innovation and he was dedicated to outback Australia. He was pivotal to the founding of the much loved Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Australian Inland Mission now the Uniting Church’s Frontier Services. During his impressive 39 years with the A.I.M he established 15 hospitals and placed patrol padres’ across the Outback. These ministers travelled vast distances to bring practical, pastoral and spiritual support to inland pioneers.  In his final years he established Old Timer’s. Just one of these would be an achievement for most people but this man was determined to create “a mantle of safety” over all of inland Australia and he worked tirelessly to achieve this. He believed in living out the gospel not just preaching it. His ecumenical spirit and work paved the way for our Uniting Church.

 

His legacy continues. The RFDS now provides 24/7 emergency care across 80 per cent of Australia, which includes many remote Aboriginal communities. Frontier Services currently has 14 bush chaplains (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) providing pastoral and practical support to people doing it tough across rural and remote Australia. These bush chaplains are some of the most extraordinary ministers I know. If it were not for people like this man, opening up this continent most of us might not live in Central Australia today.

 

And yet the opening up of this country was not good for everyone. For first nations people the coming of the settlers and their cattle meant the desecration of waterholes, food sources and sacred sites needed for survival and the transfer of culture and ancient knowledge.  This forced them off their ancestral lands. And 21 massacres across the Northern Australia occurred during this time.

 

1910 also marked the beginning of the stolen generations. Most of the children who were removed were so called “half caste” children, deserted by their pioneer fathers, the living evidence of the exploitation of Aboriginal women across the Frontier. To be very clear this man was not involved in this but for someone whose stated aim was to raise awareness of the challenges facing the people of the Outback and make it safer for them his silence and inaction on these issues is deafening. When he did use his significant influence to speak of Aboriginal people his writing could be called paternalistic at best, malicious at worst.

 

He was a man of his time perhaps and yet it was his own contemporaries in the church who sought to hold him accountable for his silence and the misappropriation of money meant for Aboriginal people.

 

And yet his hospitals and in particular some of the brave nurses who staffed them did at times provide medical support for first nations people.

 

This is a complex story. If you have not already worked it out this man’s name is John Flynn. He is the man on the $20 dollar note after whom this church is named-3. And as many of you know I, and this church, are trying to work out how we tell this story, how we live this story, like the bible tells the story of Solomon. In a way that honours him and his significant legacy as well as names and learns from some of the hard truths of that legacy.

 

Again hard to reconcile.

 

I can tell you two stories about myself as well.

 

I am the minister of this growing church, this beautiful community but I am under no illusions I am only here by the grace of God, shown to me by his people. If history were to ever look at me in the same way it has looked at Flynn (though seems unlikely) I acknowledge I too have mistakes, prejudices and silences that I would need to answer to.

 

I have some beautiful memories of my childhood but there was a lot of brokenness as well. I was well loved but addiction and financial hardship shaped our family life. As a younger woman, I found myself in some pretty dark places. It has left its scars. I am riddled with anxiety and have my own struggles to stave off addiction, pride and greed. I too pray for wisdom and kindness but sometimes hope for material blessings instead.

 

I have a beautiful family for whom I give thanks. But it often feels incomplete now that one of our children has left. He was not (as most of you know) a biological child but still some days the grief of that loss, that failure, threatens to overwhelm me.

 

You could probably tell me two stories about your own ancestors, your own childhood and family and yourself as well.

 

And there are two stories most of us would tell about the world. Its breath taking beauty, the joy of family and friendship, the wonder of music, grace and healing, the gift of falling in love. And yet in this world you people also take their lives or die in car accidents far too young, women are being murdered across this country every couple of days, wars rage on and the poor hunger for food, housing, freedom and justice I could go on and on. No doubt this generation will be called to answer to our silences and inactions on some of these things.

 

Last week David Young and I went to the prison. When one enters the prison it is very evident, very quickly how broken and discriminatory our justice system is. Despite the name correctional centre we know that jails mostly lead people to more crime not less. And yet as our town continues to buckle under the weight of so much crime and women, in particular live in fear of violence, they do offer something of a sense of safety and that justice is being done for victims of crime.

 

We sang with them, not particularly well, but they were very gracious to us. I reflected on this story of Solomon. I never feel like I have anything particularly helpful to say but I think this story of this paradoxical king resonated. Despite his deep failures he was still able to do some good. They asked us to pray for their families, their court dates, that they could sleep at night and that God would be gracious to even them and lead them on right paths.

 

What do we do with this? Judge all these people for their failures? Cancel them? Ostracise them? Or do we make no judgements at all? Just be loving and kind and only say the nice things even if it might make others unsafe? Neither of these options seem ideal.

 

Perhaps the Bible and the story of Solomon offer another way.

 

Let’s tell the story of one more time:  Once upon a time there lived a king.  He had big dreams, as most of us do.  He had great faults, as most of us do.  He yearned at times for the best of things — wisdom, discernment, and a sound mind — and lusted at other times for the worst.  He lived a life marked by success and failure, nobility and disgrace.  He loved God and he didn’t.  He pleased God and he didn’t.  He left a legacy that was neither perfect nor wretched, as most of us will.  But he was loved by God throughout — even when his foolish wisdom shattered God’s heart.  So are we.

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Reflection 9th June: 1 Kings 17

Today is the third week of our series on Kings. Today we are reading from chapter 17 so we have skipped over a fair bit