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We Want a King

How many times has every parent heard his or her daughter or son claim they just had to have _x____ because everyone else does? In similar fashion the people of Israel, the very same people delivered from Pharoah’s iron grip by the prophet Moses, the same people who received the blessing of a good land of milk and honey, these chosen one’s of God want a king because all the surrounding nations have one.

Samuel does not think it a good idea and warns that kings can abuse their power, but with the persuasion of the crowd Samuel gave in and anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. The story reveals that abuse of power corrupts people and harms community. The king was given many symbols of office: royal robes, a crown, throne, wealth, and was expected to hold fast to the covenant law, personally, as well as enforce it for the people. The king was to be a servant of God, essentially so that God would reign through the king.

Samuel is right to be concerned because no human, other than Jesus, ever clearly and consistently spoke for God. In just three successive kings, Saul, David, and Solomon we see the warning of Samuel very clearly. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, luxury imports, huge building projects, a costly lifestyle for the king: at what cost to the people? Moreover, the kings did not establish peace with the surrounding empires. First the kingdom was split into two parts and ruled by foreign kings.

Israel wanted to be like other nations: who do you want this community to imitate? We may be disappointed when we don’t get what we want. The people ask for a king and Samuel warns them to be careful what they wish for.  The monarchy failed to provide the people what they wanted but God did not abandon them.

Following the history of kings, came the voice of the prophets. Ezekiel prophesied against the corruption of the kings calling out the abuse of the shepherd/kings for “feeding themselves and harvesting the flocks for their own benefit.” But the Lord will step forth and “search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezek 34). The future of God’s people is not closed by the choices we make for God is more faithful than we are.

We stand here today on the cusp of change in leadership in this parish. Samuel speaks to us if we will hear him. Leaders must be able to look for the common good above one’s own wishes or desires. The issue for Israel and perhaps for this community is trusting God.

 Trusting God is often impractical. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture looks carefully and systematically at the relationship between the church and society. How can a person be loyal to church and society?

Mark takes up the issue of discerning between good and evil. Everyone is demanding something of Jesus because he has healed some people and demonstrated power even over ‘demons’ such that his family is concerned for his mental health and the leaders of the Temple are threatened by his words and deeds. Jesus would like time to eat his dinner but the people seeking to be healed, the authorities wanting to protect the status quo and his concerned family all want him to pay attention to them! I don’t see any of those demanding his attention as evil. They simply can’t understand who he is and what he is about. They have seen a tradition of faith controlled by a few leaders who cite scripture and tradition in order to protect their authority. The family is concerned that he will go too far and provoke the authorities who have power to arrest him and worse.  What would we do if a very poor itinerant preacher walked in here and started healing people?

Jesus is a bit angry and frustrated with the hostility to his healing ministry.

There is a lot to consider in this periscope about Christian discipleship. There is the radical declaration that those Jesus considers family are those who do the will of his Father. I do not hear this as a rejection of his family, but a willingness to treat others equal to family, as well as one would treat a member of the family.

In Mark’s account, Jesus is the Christ through word and deed. It is as clear as the evidence before them: he heals the sick, he has authority over the demons, he does the work of God and therefore is of God. Those who think some black magic is being worked are denying the work of the Holy Spirit.

Think not that because Jesus died and rose from the grave that the same work of the Spirit of God is not free to act in our time. Think not that a divided house, even a church, will stand. Think that communities deeply divided still need the healing presence of the Lord.

Being faithful to the leadership and witness of Jesus the Christ means having solidarity with all of humanity. It means weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. It asks us to live with and for others, giving up some of our self-adsorption for the good of all.

Our worldview is shaped by three images inside us. These three images are your image of self, your image of God and your image of the world. The gospel when heard and believed can transform all three images. Consider one example. The Ten Commandments received by Moses and given to the people became the equivalent of our baptismal promises. I suspect that living by the code of conduct specified in the big ten helped align values for relationship with God and neighbor.

Walter Harrelson wrote in his book, The Ten Commandments and Human Rights, a version for modern living: 1. Do not have more than a single ultimate allegiance. 2. Do not give ultimate loyalty to any earthly reality. 3. Do not use the power of religion to harm others. 4. Do not treat with contempt the times set aside for rest. 5. Do not treat with contempt any member of one’s family. 6. Do not do violence against fellow human beings. 7. Do not violate the commitment of spousal love. 8. Do not claim the life or good of others. 9. Do not damage others through misuse of human speech. 10. Do not lust after the life or good of others.

In living into these commandments, Jesus made others uncomfortable. It is now our turn to accept the wisdom of our ancient forefathers and foremothers. God has shown us what is good and what leads to peace and justice. It is good and right that we gather in a common space in common prayer around a common table to remind us we are one in Christ our Lord. 

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