Sunday, October 29, 2023

Phil Kniss: Insecuritocracy

Power and servanthood
AND GOD SAW... stories of God seeing and acting in Hebrew Scripture
1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29; Mark 10:42-45

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I rarely have to think too hard
to find a way to let the scriptures of the week,
speak to the issues of the day.
This Sunday was no exception,
as we come to another story
in our narrative journey through the Hebrew Bible.

Here in 1 Kings 12 we have two rulers vying for power,
seeking to strengthen their influence,
consolidate their power,
and maximize their ability to control outcomes—
for themselves and the people they rule over.

Hmmm. Wonder if there’s anything like that,
going on in the world today?
Anything in our U.S. House of Representatives, for instance?
Or anything in the various divided branches
of our Federal Government?
Or anything in the Middle East?
Or in Eastern Europe?
Or in Asia?
Or . . . in our local communities, our churches,
our families,
our personal relationships?

Now, before I go further,
some of you may be skeptical about my one-word sermon title.
I know my spell-checker didn’t like it.
Because I completely made up the word.
Sometimes, when the right word doesn’t exist,
you just have to create one.

You’ve heard of other “ocracies.”
The Latin ending, C-R-A-C-Y, means “rule.”
A democracy is rule by the people.
An aristocracy is rule by the elite.
An autocracy is rule by a self-absorbed dictator.
A plutocracy is rule by those with wealth.
A bureaucracy is rule by a bureau, or office, or agency.
A theocracy is rule by a divine being.

So, naturally, an insecuritocracy
is when someone rules by their own insecurities.

That’s my new word. Start using it.
Spread it around on the internet.
Google will learn it.
The Oxford English Dictionary will pick it up,
and I will be remembered and significant!
I will have left a linguistic legacy.
Now, what I just did, was demonstrate
the anxious mindset of an insecuritocracy,
the fear of being insignificant, or of being forgotten,
or of losing power and influence.

At first, after I read through
this story about King Rehoboam,
and his new rival in the north, Jeroboam,
I asked myself,
what in the world is there to say, today,
about this messed up biblical monarchy?

And then I began noticing things that looked all too familiar.
The continual insecurity of people in power.
And I began to think, maybe that’s what God saw,
when God looked on these beloved people,
these people who begged God for a King,
and to whom God finally relented, and gave a king,
despite the dire warnings God gave them.

God looked on God’s people,
and God saw a people who had not yet learned to trust,
and to rest in God’s provisions.
Most of all, God saw kings who did not know how to trust,
how to be humble, how to be open and receptive,
how to believe God would provide all that is needed.

And as I saw what God saw,
I started seeing this same tendency in me,
and in just about every human being I know.
And I saw it in just about every politician,
and head of state,
in our world today.

No matter what the form of government,
insecuritocracy finds a foothold,
and begins to take over the decision-making process.
Instead of leading as servants of the people,
as servants of the health and well-being of all people,
they lead as protectors of their power and influence,
they lead out of fear of losing their next election,
or losing whatever gave them power to begin with.

So before we look at this story of Rehoboam and Jeroboam,
Let’s look at the back-story just a bit.

Who were Rehoboam and Jeroboam?

Rehoboam was the son of King Solomon.
Solomon was the son of King David,
the Giving and Grasping King,
that we heard about last Sunday from Lynn Jost.
Solomon turned out to also be a grasping King—
even more so than his father David.

Now, Jeroboam was a servant of Solomon,
not a son or heir to the throne.
But late in Solomon’s reign, things went off the rails.
Solomon was worshiping foreign gods,
he was cruel to his subjects,
and Yahweh was not pleased.
So a prophet met the servant Jeroboam on the road,
claiming to be a prophet of Yahweh,
told Jeroboam he would be given
10 of tribes of Israel to rule over as king.
While Rehoboam, would get only one—Judah,
the region of Jerusalem,
and that was only so God could keep a promise
to the descendants of David.
Word got back to Solomon about this,
so he tried to kill Jeroboam, and squash this rebellion.
So Jeroboam fled to Egypt for safety.

So, Solomon dies. And then today’s story.

Rehoboam sets up his throne in Judah, to rule all of Israel.
But people friendly to Jeroboam fetch him in Egypt.
Jeroboam and company show up on Rehoboam’s doorstep,
and beg Rehoboam to shift course,
to not rule Israel with the heavy hand of his father Solomon.
They promise, in exchange for his kindness,
that they will serve him loyally.

Rehoboam takes three days to think about it,
consulting with his young advisors,
who told him, don’t lighten the load, make it heavier.
And since Rehoboam was ruling by his own insecurity,
and apparently also had insecure advisors,
he took their advice to clamp down even harder.

Jeroboam’s group returned for their answer, and Rehoboam said,
I’m going to make my father’s yoke heavier than it was.
He disciplined you with whips.
I’ll use scorpions.

So Jeroboam and his followers basically checked out.
They said, we don’t need any part of David and his clan.
So they scattered around the north region,
and lived as an independent nation,
with Jeroboam as king,
ignoring Judah and the house of David.

But as time went on, Jeroboam’s own insecurity got the best of him.
He was afraid that the people of his ten small tribes,
would start drifting down toward the big and powerful Judah,
that Jerusalem and the Temple there would be a magnet,
and they would forsake him and be loyal to Rehoboam.
So, ruling by insecuritocracy,
he set up rival places of worship,
and put up golden calves in Dan and Bethel,
built little temples around them,
established festivals, appointed priests.

Our story ends there, for today.
But follow the stories of both these kingdoms—
North and South—
and you’ll see the same pattern repeat itself.
Worried and anxious about losing their power,
they fail to trust in Yahweh,
and instead put their trust in wealth,
in military strength,
in unholy alliances,
and they continue to live out their destiny
to be insecuritocracies,
continually grasping for control.

Today, we may feel quite justified, and actually, we are,
when we point fingers at political dysfunction in our own country,
and at the unnecessary wars all over the world,
between people who should act like kin to each other,
but instead are trying to establish control
by killing their adversaries.
It is senseless. It is tragic.
And we are rightly enraged.

And . . . not BUT . . . AND . . .
we have within us the very same seeds of insecurity,
which cause us, when push comes to shove,
to not trust in God’s love and provision,
and instead try to coerce others to bend to our will and way.

Sure, within us, it seems like small potatoes,
when compared against the likes of Rehoboam and Jeroboam,
and the 200 years of an international family feud they started,
or when compared to the horrific violence perpetrated
by modern nation-states motivated by anxiety and insecurity.

But let’s be honest about ourselves.
We will make better war resisters—
we will make better, and more ethical and more human
advocates for justice and peace,
if we, first of all, steadfastly refuse to dehumanize any
of today’s perpetrators of injustice and violence,
and secondly, recognize and confess the seeds of violence
that lie within us all.
Like us, these kings and princes and presidents and prime ministers
are anxious about losing control.
They are fearful of being insignificant or forgotten.

Let us turn toward God and toward each other,
in a renewal of mutual trust,
in mutual respect,
and in shared risk.
By confessing our inadequacy, our need, our sin,
we may yet make this world a better place,
as we follow the God we have learned to know in Jesus.

Join with me, please, in this prayer of confession

one God of all nations, God of all rulers of nations,
We acknowledge your providence over all people and creation.
all Our lives are in your hands. We are called to rest in you.
one Yet we often find ourselves anxious and insecure.
We use the power we have to shore up our own interests.
We defend ourselves against insignificance, 
against loss of status, wealth, or position.
all And in so doing, 
we betray our mistrust in You, God of Enough,
who loves and provides for all people and creation.
one We see this, 
not only in the manner by which many of our leaders
wield their power in high places. We see this in ourselves.
all Forgive us.
one God receives our prayers. Loves us unconditionally. 
Invites us to a new way of being together in mutual love, trust, and freedom.

—Phil Kniss, October 29, 2023

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