Sermon for June 10, 2018
Texts: 1 Samuel 7:15; 8:1-9; Psalm 138; Mark 3:19b-27
Sermon: "Looting the Kingdom"
The old priest Eli has died.
Years have passed.
The boy Samuel who heard God's call in the temple when he was very young now has spent many faithful years as the priest and prophet of the people.
And now the people want a king.
What is Samuel to do?
He goes to God.
And God startles Samuel with the words, "Listen to the voice of the people."
God tells Samuel, "They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting me."
"But this is nothing new; sadly, it is nothing new," God says. "They have done this from the day I saved them, bringing them out of Egypt, out of slavery. They have forsaken me as they chase after other gods."
So give them a king, God tells Samuel.
But first warn them what it will be like to have a king like the other nations.
This is what Samuel tells the people. (See verses 11-17).
"A king will take your sons and make them his chariot drivers and horsemen. He will create an army of thousands. Some will plow the fields and reap the king's harvest. Some will make weapons of war.
"He will take your daughters to make perfumes for him and to be his cooks and bakers. He will take the best of the vineyards and orchards and give them to his favorite minions.
"He will require a tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give that to his officers and favorite minions.
"You will be his slaves and he will take the best of what you have, including what you have made and earned with your own hands and all your livestock."
The people heard Samuel's voice.
But they did not hear the warning.
They continued to cry out for a king.
And God said, "Let it be so."
Samuel sees nothing but doom for the people if they should be ruled by a king.
They have God as their king.
They are God's people, and God has plans for them.
God's answer to Samuel is surprising.
Like Samuel, we would expect God to say,
"Well, of course they should not have a king."
Samuel knows that God has created a nation in Israel that is expected to be the nation that will lead the rest of the world to worship God. God always has expected Israel to be the ideal people who will reflect the love and compassion of God in the way they interact with each other and with the rest of the nations around them.
And God is their King, Samuel is thinking as he ponders God's odd reply.
Notice, however, that God does tell Samuel to warn the people about kings, about what happens when kings rule over people.
"All the other nations have kings. Why shouldn't we?" the people want to know.
In other words, "Everybody else is doing it. Why shouldn't we?"
God says to Samuel, tell them why they shouldn't.
Samuel is a man of God.
He gathers himself together.
He presents a clear picture to the people of what it will be like to have a king.
He tells them what a king will do that will be turn their lives upside down.
"Give us a king," they say. "Give us a king," they insist.
What Samuel predicts on behalf of God comes true during the centuries of the Israelite monarchies. Read about the kingship of Solomon, whose greed bore down harshly on the people. Read about Ahab, who, with his wife, Jezebel, did not mind ravaging the people's land to satisfy his own whims.
The kings in their rule helped to lead the Israelites into idolatry -- a time of deepening separation from the One Almighty God, a time of worshiping other gods, a time of forgetting their covenant with the God who has promised always to care for them, to protect them -- as long as they hold fast to him as their God.
"You shall have no other gods before me," he commanded them.
"You shall have no other king besides me," he might have said.
"You shall worship no other person, thing, lifestyle, or yourself! You shall worship only me. And you shall set aside time to do that, to give thanks and show gratitude for the years I have loved you and the blessings I have showered upon you."
But God laments as he speaks to Samuel:
"They have rejected me, just as they have done from the very beginning."
As God so often does, he uses the flawed thinking of the people and their poor choices to work out their disobedience and ungodliness in the years ahead -- to work out his own will for the future of the world, in other words.
Our bad choices may lead to terrible consequences. But our bad choices and weak human will can also be turned into good through God's divine will and perfect plan. The mystery of that will and plan is far above our human understanding. But we know that God works his will and we believe that God calls us to be a part of it.
Paul writes in Romans 8:28, "In all things God works for the good of those who love him."
Understand that this does not mean that we will not have difficulties.
It does not mean we will not have pain and heartache and sickness.
It does not mean that we will not have upsetting times in our life.
It does not mean that God wants us to suffer in order to end the suffering.
What it does mean is that God created the world in freedom; and that dark powers in the world wield their force upon our lives and upon the world.
It means that divine perfection will come when the time for God's plan for the world finally has been fulfilled.
This is another way of saying that, yes, God alone is king.
How clearly God has shown us this.
In time, after many centuries of kings who could not stop themselves or their people from idolatry; after centuries of God's disappointment in yet another generation who turned away from him, God revealed a stunning and climactic movement in his plan.
God's stunning plan to reclaim his kingship and his people and his house begins with the very Incarnation of God himself in the world, the first phase, you might say, of the fulfillment of Christ's reign as King over all the world.
God in Jesus Christ came to embody the perfect, holy, gracious life of a real king, the only real king -- one who would, did, and does all that God meant a king to be over the world from the beginning of time.
The people said they wanted a king.
They didn't expect Jesus.
They waited for years, crying to God as Samuel the prophet predicted they would do. God had his own plan and his own time.
God had his own way with the world, his own will.
Jesus was a king like no other.
He was not like Saul.
He was not like David (although he was hailed as such).
And he was not like Solomon or Ahab or Hezekiah.
Jesus was a king like no other.
The people in Jerusalem hailed Jesus as a king on the day we call Palm Sunday. They cried out to him as their king. They believed that he would be their long-awaited hero.
They were disappointed.
Jesus came to set the house of the Lord straight.
He came to make God's plan crystal clear.
He had said it from the beginning:
I am your God. You are my people.
God says, I do not want a divided house.
I do not want divided loyalty.
I want you one hundred percent as my people.