Aren’t those exciting readings today? I was so pumped to get these to preach about this weekend—NOT!!! We have a story about a Jewish nation with a powerful God clamoring for a king, because other nations all had one; a letter telling the Corinthians to have great faith even though they are wasting away in physical ways but have a great place in heaven waiting for them; and Jesus telling his crowd of listeners that they are his family (a view by some that he is implying his actual family are not!) If anyone here sees a common theme for these readings please let me know—I’ll wait!
In the 1st Samuel story, which is purported to have taken place about 1000+ BC, we have an elderly Samuel--one of the first Jewish prophets, one of their last judges (who were also basically their leaders), and a self-made priest--trying with all he has to convince the people not to ask for their own king. At this time, there was not a real nation of Israel, but a loose collection of the 12 tribes scattered around a lot of what is now Israel and Palestine lands. There were also several different other groups of people around them, many of them warriors and who had different beliefs about one or more Gods. The Philistines had earlier fought and beaten the Jews and taken the Ark of the Covenant, but under Samuel’s leadership and God’s hand, had been soundly defeated back.
In Samuel’s old age he begged to continue with his line of sons as judges, but they were not of Samuel’s quality and wholeness, and the people knew this and demanded a king. Samuel begged them not to do this, but God told Samuel if that is what they want, well then ok. But God had Samuel remind them how things would be like with a king leading them:
--he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;
--he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
--he will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
--he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.
--he will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.
--he will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.
--he will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
One can easily imagine parallels to what some people see is happening in our country today—all under the false promise of cleaning up our government. In our reading the Jewish people demanded this anyway, and they got a king—Saul—who was a very poor leader, and he got the Jews in a lot of new trouble even with some of the other tribes of Israel. Another parallel to today? It took David (eventually yes, that King David!) to straighten a lot of the problems out; he was not perfect in any way, but at least he loved God and meant to follow him, and God seemed to favor him and his people.
The point here is that following an earthly king is not at all like following the heavenly God, and that earthly king might even be a tyrant or horrible dictator who is terrible to those he rules over. For all of the people and especially the church, we as the faithful are called to proclaim the kingdom of God, love God and love our neighbor. That should be our focus, not trying to copy others or be swayed into wrong thinking about who our leaders should be.
In Paul’s 2nd letter (or 3rd, as some have determined, the 2nd one having being destroyed), he is trying to get the Corinthians to stop arguing about who is the real teacher of Christianity, and to focus their faith on Jesus and God. He urges them to believe as they know things to be—not what others may tell them in an effort to sway them to their specific cause or group. And he says that their eternal souls are saved by this faith, and that God has a place for each of the faithful in heaven.
We talked in Bible study about how short the Gospel of Mark is and that it gets right into Jesus’ ministry—no birth or genealogy of Jesus--or anything about his post-resurrection experiences either. It is believed this was the earliest written of the four Gospels—maybe in about 66-70AD.
We read from Chapter 3 and the scribes from Jerusalem are already questioning the words of Jesus, as the utterings of a madman or from the Devil. Jesus comes back at them with this famous line of thinking: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”
Then the story moves to Jesus sitting with the crowd and being told that his family wanted to talk with him. He seemingly brushed it off with this line: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
You know what—there just might be a common theme in these readings—other than the obvious one that references God (like all readings do!) Maybe it has to do with our faithfulness to God the heavenly One, and being actively part of the family of all believers.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (that was the guy who presided over the recent Royal wedding in England, not our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who gave the amazing sermon!)--has spoken of the danger that “fear of the other” poses to “Christian witness and presence”. Speaking to the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches, meeting in Novi Sad, Serbia, he said that churches working together can help to break down the walls that others seek to build. “The Church breaks across boundaries and frontiers as if they did not exist,” he said. “By being in Christ, I am made one by God in a family that stretches around the world and crosses cultural, linguistic and ecumenical frontiers, driven by the Spirit who breaks down all the walls that we seek to erect.”
Our own Stewardship Canon Lance Ousley saw the readings this way: “God's will is that we would live our lives as a proclamation that God is our king through our presence, our abilities, our actions and by contributing to God's kingdom work from the first the fruits of our labors. And the reality is that when we do all these things as part of the Family of God, we live more fully into the life of the Family and cultural allegiances fall away. And then we find ourselves set free from that cultural king described in our 1 Samuel text that slithers like the serpent set to deceive us into destructive allegiance. But God is a gracious king and a loving parent that welcomes all prodigal children into the Divine family as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.”
Nothing more I can think of after those two experts’ thoughts! Amen!
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” (Attributed to Deitrick Bonhoeffer)
“Funny thing that.... If you mindfully do the second you don't have to worry about the first.” (One comment to this posting.)