Powers and Principalities
Duration:21 mins 25 secs

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the Old Testament book of 1st Samuel, chapter 8, verses 4-20. Throughout the summer we are following readings suggested by the lectionary from the Old Testament in a series we’ve titled, “Called: Flaws and All.” As we encounter the unique and memorable characters of Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon we pray that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear how God might be calling us as indiviudals and all of us together as the church in new and perhaps surprising ways.

From the time of Moses through the time of Samuel, the people of Israel have been a loose collection of tribes organized by a prophet or judge who speaks the word of the Lord, decides various disputes, and serves as a military leader in times of threat. So Israel is not yet what we would call a “nation.” Yet, in our text for today Samuel has grown old and his successor as prophet and judge is not clear. So the elders approach Samuel with a new idea. Let us hear this Word of God.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me,[a] from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and 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. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! But we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“If all of your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?” Did your mother or father ever ask you that question? Obviously an attempt to persuade you to rethink a potentially bad idea, right?

So if that question ever came your way (and I am sure it did not due to the high morals and great wisdom you exhibited as a teenager), but if it did I hope you never replied, “Well, it depends on how high the bridge is,” or “Is there water underneath this bridge and how deep?” “What about if the bridge is on fire or we are all being chased by a grizzly bear?” Equally unacceptable would be, “Maybe if I had a bungee cord” or “Of course not, we only all jump off bridges on Thursdays.” Yes, kids I do not recommend any of those responses if this particular question comes your way from a well-meaning but exasperated parent, pastor, or other adult.

But I do need to let you in on a little secret. Writer Chris Guillebeau puts it this way:

Then, you grow up and suddenly the tables are turned. People start expecting you to behave exactly as they do. If you don’t conform to their expectations, some of them get confused or even irritated.

It’s almost as if they are asking: “Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?”

The irony of this is lost on everyone who is busy lining up to take the leap. The logic shifts from independent thinking to groupthink. If everyone else is doing it, it must be right.

My friends I ask you to ponder that this morning because I think it is easy to read this text and immediately side with Samuel. After all, two hundred and forty two years ago, we Americans told the world what we think of kings, right? No use for them – democracy and a republic are the way to go. Of course Samuel is right. The people want a king so that “they can be like all the other nations.” Yes, everyone else is doing it, but it is like jumping off a bridge. Having a king in Isreal is like the peer pressure argument of early Middle Eastern nation building, right? Just say no.

But then why does God say yes?

Because God has been pretty consistent from the call to Abraham back in Genesis, chapter 12:

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Yes, the idea from the beginning for these people God has called, is that they shall be a blessing to all the other families and nations of the earth.

Generations later, after years of slavery in Egypt, God rescues the people and brings them through the wilderness of Sinai with a 40 year-long Exodus journey. As they prepare to finally enter the Promised Land, Moses tells the people:

If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God.

If they will only obey the Lord their God, they will be lifted high above all the nations of the earth. Everyone will be looking to Israel for wisdom and guidance and inspiration about how a nation might best be governed. Yes, God is clear that if all is well; if the people of Israel are who they are called to be; then all the nations of the earth will seek to be like them! And yet, here the elders come and ask for a king “so that we might be like all the other nations.”

And God says yes?

Again, it is easy for us to judge the people of Israel with this request. We like to think that the question of our mothers and fathers about not jumping off a bridge with all of our friends somehow still guides our actions today. But the power of “groupthink” is so strong. If everyone else is doing it, it must be right. Whether it is the kind of house we buy or the neighborhood we “have” to live in. Whether we have to send our kids to private schools or public schools. Whether we rent our houses for Masters or not. Whether we like or forward that off-color joke or questionable picture on Facebook. Whether we support this political candidate or that one. Whether we spend our weekends in the mountains or at the beach. It does not matter if we are called to it, if it matches our gifts or interests, or if it is going to stretch us too far financially. No, if everybody is doing it, it must be right.

We face the same temptation as the church. Sometimes we call it “parking lot theology.” We look around our city and find whichever church has the fullest parking lot. People are going to those churches so they must be doing something right. Therefore, we should do the same thing. Whether it is a new worship style or type of music, a different kind of preaching, a particular moral or political stance, a new building for children or youth or senior adults, adding small groups or large groups or mission trips or local partnerships. Whatever that church is doing, we need to do it too because we want our parking lot to be full just like all the other churches. It does not matter if we are called to it, if it matches our gifts or interests, or if it is going to stretch us too far financially. If everybody is doing it, it must be right.

And not just our church here in Augusta, but the church in general struggles with this temptation. German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

It is so easy for the church, just as it was for Israel so many years ago, to put its faith in the nation instead in the Lord, to serve the interests of the powerful instead of the weak.

And God says yes?

The people of Israel want a king. They want to be like other nations. God correctly recognizes that this behavior is nothing new. The people have been seeking after idols and placing their trust in other gods ever since God brought them up out of Egypt. And we have not changed a bit. We are willing to find our guidance in our political leaders rather than in God. We are willing to put our trust in the market as opposed to the Lord. After all, everyone else is doing it. Even when Samuel warns the people, even when we hear today, that we are denying our call to be a light to the nations, that we are treating our citizens and our guests worse than our enemies, that we are making ourselves slaves to our leaders, the people say, “Sure, let’s do it.”

And God says, yes.

From the beginning it has been pretty clear: The people of Israel are called to trust in the Lord, but they fail to do so. They want a king to fight their battles for them, so they are willing to put their trust in a king instead of God. Always a bad idea.

But they are not alone in this call to trust in the Lord. Samuel knows that asking for a king is a horrible idea. It is a denial of the people’s fundamental identity and a return to slavery. Samuel must have been shocked when God said, “Listen to the voice of the people and give them a king.” So, Samuel presents about the possibly worse case senario of what it will be like to have a king and still both the people and God are steadfast. They want a king and God says give them one. So the real challenge in this text is that Samuel must now live into his own convinctions. He too must trust and obey the Lord.

For what Samuel and we so often forget is that God has a larger view of history than we do.

Perhaps God says yes because God knows that while the first king, Saul, will be a disaster, that a king after God’s own heart, David, will follow.

Perhaps God says yes because God knows that while the kings following David will lead to destruction and exile and despair, there will one day be a king born in the city of David, who will save us all from our sins. As author Doug Bratt writes:

Of course, God’s will alone is good.  God knew what was best for Israel, just as God’s knows what’s best for all of God’s adopted sons and daughters.  God knew that it would be best for Israel if he alone were her king.  Yet God told Samuel to give Israel the king she wanted anyway.

Those kings, of course, help lead Israel’s downhill charge toward ungodliness that ends up in her near-obliteration.  However, the Lord graciously used even Israel’s deeply flawed and disobedient desire for a monarch to work out the Lord’s own will.  After all, who turns out to be not just Israel’s, but also the whole world’s King?  Jesus Christ … a great, great, great grandson of one of Israel’s kings, David.

My friends, do not jump off that bridge. It is always a bad idea. Trust in the Lord. For if we obey the Lord, if we are a light to the nations, if we are a church embracing our unique and wonderful call for this time and this place, then all of Augusta will be blessed through us.

And yet, even when we fall short, even when we fail, even when we call for a king of our own, we still must trust in the Lord. For even our greatest failures, might be the opportunity for God’s greatest triumph.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: