Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

All Bible verses come from the Common English Bible

David is Crowned

2 Samuel 5:1-5

David becomes king of Israel and Judah

5 All the Israelite tribes came to David at Hebron and said, “Listen: We are your very own flesh and bone. 2 In the past, when Saul ruled over us, you were the one who led Israel out to war and back. What’s more, the Lord told you, You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will be Israel’s leader.

3 So all the Israelite elders came to the king at Hebron. King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

4 David was 30 years old when he became king, and he ruled for forty years. 5 He ruled over Judah for seven and a half years in Hebron. He ruled thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 5:9-10

9 David occupied the fortress, so it was renamed David’s City. David built a city around it from the earthen terraces inward. 10 David grew increasingly powerful, and the Lord of heavenly forces was with him.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

There is a moment tt the end of any good epic fantasy movie where the new king is crowned, the queen is restored to her thrown, or the heroes are celebrated and honored. This is the happily ever after moment in a Disney cartoon, where Cinderella marries Prince Charming. In many ways it is the culmination of a long struggle and the while it can feel like a high note, it is really the progression of something much greater, and the real climax likely took place several scenes ago.

The same is true in our story today. This is the moment where David is crowned king of Israel and makes his new home in the fortress of Zion in the city Jerusalem. It seems like a triumphant end, but it some ways it is anticlimactic, the real action happened earlier. After all, this is the crowning of David as king of Israel, but he is already the king of Judah. His miraculous defeat of Goliath is long in the past. He married the princess chapters ago. His main adversary, Saul, has already fallen in the battle. The crowning of David as king of Israel is the final capitulation of the Israelites to a destiny that was foreseen long ago by Samuel when he anointed David as their future king.

If it is so anticlimactic, then why are we focusing on it today? What value can we learn from an event that has been essentially predestined for almost an entire book of the Bible? Certainly, I think there is a lot that can be gained, even as we recognize the place that this story holds in the narrative. We are at a transition point. This is the end of one struggle that ends with David on the throne of Israel and Israel and Judah united again. However, it is also the beginning of a new struggle, the struggle for David to succeed where Saul failed and prove that it is possible to be a ruler of a nation and yet also be subject to God.

I do not think we should make light of this challenge. After all, Saul was a capable ruler and king. If anything, his abilities were his own undoing as he struggled to let go and let God take command. He wanted to be in control and was not willing to let God be. That, more than anything, resulted in his replacement in God’s eyes with David.

Saul is not the only one to struggle to balance the challenges of leading with a life of faithful service to God. For centuries, kings and popes have struggled with this and the history books are replete with tales of their failures. The Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, famously did not get baptized himself until his death bed believing it was impossible to rule the Roman Empire and be a faithful follower of Christ.

This is the new challenge that will face David. He has been crowned king of all of God’s people and has taken on a new role as their leader and a new place as his home. All of this is a part of God’s plan for Israel, but it is also setting the stage for new challenges for David. Will he manage to succeed where Saul failed and be both the king that Israel needs and the king that God wants?

We are only looking at a few verses today and yet these few verses are rich with key details to help us see how this might be possible. First, the people of Israel are willing to claim David as one of their own. The language they use is one of kinship, despite the fact that they are not related. David was of the tribe of Judah, while Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin. Since intermarriages between tribes was not encouraged, any blood relations would have to go back generations and generations. Despite a lack of genetic relation, they hail David as one of their own. Rather than letting his victory rankle, they submit themselves to him, and to the work that God is doing in him. They are willing to see how God is at work in David and in his leadership of Israel.

Not only do the people of Israel help to frame things in a new way, the movement of the capital to a new city does. He takes over a place dedicated to a foreign god. These are humble beginnings that connect with David’s own background. After all, it is fitting that this eighth son, this humble shepherd takes a new home and makes a fresh start in a place that is not given reverence. It is a reminder that God can dwell anywhere.

David is being crowned king and tasked with ruling over all the people of God. It is not an easy role. He will need a great deal of faith and humility to succeed. He will have many temptations to avoid. It can be hard to see how he is like us, and yet in him we are meant to see ourselves. David was the least, and yet given the most. David was an everyday person like you or I, and yet God called him to do extraordinary things.

God has called us to do extraordinary things too. As Christians, we have been given a number of great challenges, and living into them is not easy. We are challenged to give up everything to follow Christ. Are any of us really comfortable with that? We are challenged to love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute us? Is anyone else struggling with that? Being a follower of Christ is not easy.

What we need to remember as we hear this story of David is that it is not a task we are meant to do alone. David is crowned king of Israel, but is not because of what he has done, but because of what God has done. After all, it was God who called and blessed David. It was God who gave him the courage and strength to face Goliath. God has been at work in David’s life from the beginning. Does David face great challenges, yes, but he does not face them alone.

We face great challenges in our lives. Being a disciple of Christ is a great challenge. Dealing with adversity, grief, illness, and loss is a great challenge. Economic hardship can threaten our sense of security, and global events like disasters or acts of terrorism can threaten our sense of safety. In the midst of all these challenges and struggles, we are not alone. We are not called to walk alone either. Through it all God is with us. Through it all God is calling us. Through it all God is forgiving us. Through it all God is loving us. Thanks be to God. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

How have you seen God at work in your life up to this point?

What calling or role do you think God is preparing you for in the future?

How do you experience God helping you to be a faithful follower of Christ?

Prayer:

Great and wondrous God, you bless us and call us into ministry. You anoint us to do your work in the world. Help us to remember that call but also that anointing blessing that comes with it. Help us to remember that through it all, you are with us. Give us the courage and strength to faithful following you in all that we do. Amen

David and Goliath

1 Samuel 17:1

David defeats Goliath

17 The Philistines assembled their troops for war at Socoh of Judah. They camped between Socoh and Azekah at Ephes-dammim.

1 Samuel 17:4-11

4 A champion named Goliath from Gath came out from the Philistine camp. He was more than nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore bronze scale-armor weighing one hundred twenty-five pounds. 6 He had bronze plates on his shins, and a bronze scimitar hung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was as strong as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed fifteen pounds. His shield-bearer walked in front of him.

8 He stopped and shouted to the Israelite troops, “Why have you come and taken up battle formations? I am the Philistine champion, and you are Saul’s servants. Isn’t that right? Select one of your men, and let him come down against me. 9 If he is able to fight me and kill me, then we will become your slaves, but if I overcome him and kill him, then you will become our slaves and you will serve us. 10 I insult Israel’s troops today!” The Philistine continued, “Give me an opponent, and we’ll fight!” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard what the Philistine said, they were distressed and terrified.

1 Samuel 17:19-23

19 They are with Saul and all the Israelite troops fighting the Philistines in the Elah Valley.”

20 So David got up early in the morning, left someone in charge of the flock, and loaded up and left, just as his father Jesse had instructed him. He reached the camp right when the army was taking up their battle formations and shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines took up their battle formations opposite each other. 22 David left his things with an attendant and ran to the front line. When he arrived, he asked how his brothers were doing. 23 Right when David was speaking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came forward from the Philistine ranks and said the same things he had said before. David listened.

1 Samuel 17:32-49

32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”

33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”

34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.

37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”

“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own gear, putting a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David strapped his sword on over the armor, but he couldn’t walk around well because he’d never tried it before. “I can’t walk in this,” David told Saul, “because I’ve never tried it before.” So he took them off. 40 He then grabbed his staff and chose five smooth stones from the streambed. He put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag and with sling in hand went out to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine got closer and closer to David, and his shield-bearer was in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked David over, he sneered at David because he was just a boy; reddish brown and good-looking.

43 The Philistine asked David, “Am I some sort of dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said to David, “and I’ll feed your flesh to the wild birds and the wild animals!”

45 But David told the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army, the one you’ve insulted. 46 Today the Lord will hand you over to me. I will strike you down and cut off your head! Today I will feed your dead body and the dead bodies of the entire Philistine camp to the wild birds and the wild animals. Then the whole world will know that there is a God on Israel’s side. 47 And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”

48 The Philistine got up and moved closer to attack David, and David ran quickly to the front line to face him. 49 David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone. He slung it, and it hit the Philistine on his forehead. The stone penetrated his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

 

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

The tale of David and Goliath is one of the best know stories of the Bible. Not only is it taught in Sunday school, but it is a common cultural reference used as a comparison for sporting events, political campaigns, and business comparisons. With any well-known story there is a danger that story becomes too well-known, that the important details get lost and it gets reduced to a simple message like “good triumphing over evil” or “the little guy defeats the big guy.” The reality is there is so much more to this story than can be capture by just a phrase or two.

The story of David and Goliath is a story of faith. It is about the faith of Goliath in his might. It is about the faithlessness of Saul in God. It is about the trust and faith that David has in our living God. Where each figure in the story places their faith is telling and it offers us a lot to chew on and learn from as we consider this tale.

First let us start with the faith of Goliath. From all the descriptions, Goliath truly is a giant among men. His stature alone is impressive, but it is clearly coupled with great strength. Adding to his formidability is the might of his arms and armor. Goliath is a great warrior and a seemingly unbeatable foe. Challenges to single combat were not uncommon during wars, even if they often did not actually resolve the fight. Certainly, from Goliath’s perspective it seemed like a very low risk proposition. Given his great powers, what chance could any champion of the Israelites have against him. He had a great deal of faith in his own capabilities.

On the other side of the battle field we find Saul, who is clearly struggling to have faith in anything. He does not trust his own might against Goliath, nor does he have a champion he has faith in to send into battle. Perhaps most telling, he does not seem to have much faith in God. Saul was chosen by God to save the people from the Philistines and anointed by Samuel to defend the people of Israel from their enemies. Saul seems to have lost his faith in God and looks not to salvation from God but from those around him.

The contrast to these two men and their faith (or lack thereof) is given to us in David. David has appeared several times already in First Samuel, but this is the first time he is given speech and action (beyond simply playing his lyre). In both his statements to Saul and Goliath, David centers his strength and his confidence in his faith in the living God he services. He has experienced God’s presence in the past and believes that God will continue to be with him. Even in the face of a giant, David continues to have faith in God.

The story of David and Goliath is compelling to all of us because I think we all resonate with the little guy to some extent. Even tall people like me have ways that we feel small or diminished. Even if we are not little in stature, we all have experienced some feeling of insurmountable odds and a longing to believe that it is possible to triumph in the face of such difficulties. The story of David and Goliath is memorable because it runs counter to our experience. There is a reason that the film “Miracle” focuses on the 1980 Olympics and not the ’64, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’84, or ’88 Olympics that were all won by the Soviets, i.e. Goliath. We love to remember those times that the little guy over came the odds, the difficulties, and the seemingly undefeatable opponent to win.

The story of David and Goliath might be memorable because the little guy won, but it is important because of how and why. We talk about this being the story of David and Goliath, but it is really the story of God and Goliath. David makes it clear that this is a struggle between Goliath and the Lord of Hosts, the Living God of Israel, that Goliath has dared to offended with his challenges of strength. Not only is God going to triumph, but God will do so to show that strength does not lie in the sword and the spear, but in faith in God.

When David tells Saul that he will be the champion for the Israelites, Saul outfits David in his own armor. Now that Saul is ready to have faith in David, he is going to do everything he can to help David succeed. Unfortunately, Saul is still not ready to have faith in God. He believes that what is needed to defeat Goliath is to be as big, as strong, and has well armored as Goliath. Like Goliath, Saul is ready to place his faith in military might.

When David is in the armor of Saul, he is unable to move. Anyone who has every looked at armor from ancient times can understand why this might be the case. David is frequently described as still being a boy, small in stature. Not only would the armor of Saul, himself an impressive warrior, not fit him properly, it would have been heavy and cumbersome. If David is going to defeat Goliath it is not by being like Goliath, instead it is by being like David. When David defeated lions and bears it was not with weapons and armor, but with the strength that God gave him. The same will be true with Goliath.

I think we often forget this important lesson of David and Goliath. Success comes by trusting in who God made us to be, not in trying to be someone else. David does not defeat Goliath by being Saul, but by being David. Perhaps if Saul had kept his faith in God, put on his own armor, and gone into battle, he might have defeated Goliath in a different way, but for David, to defeat Goliath he needs to be true to himself.

For churches there is a temptation to look at what larger and growing churches are doing to find a model for success. On its face, this makes sense, after all these churches must be doing something right to have gotten to their current size. By learning from them, wouldn’t it make sense that we also could grow? The problem is that it is easy to go from learning to copying and then we just find ourselves like David, encased in heavy armor that is not made for our frame and unable to move.

I am not saying we cannot learn from other churches, but we need to remember to apply what we learn to who we are. There are certainly technical learnings that can be derived from the success of other churches, or even other organizations. All of that still has to be filtered back to who we are what gifts God has given us. We too can defeat giants, but we do not do it by being like them, even like David, if that means using a sling and some stones. The way that we defeat giants is by trusting in God and believing in the gifts that God has given to each of us.

What are the gifts that God has given to you? What are the ways that God has already been at work in your life? Knowing these things will help equip us for the giants we face in our own lives. Those giants can have many names: cancer, financial hardship, injustice, temptation to sin, evil. We will face them all in different ways, but if we are to defeat them, we need to face them having faith in the living God who loves us and watches over us.

What makes David special is not who he is, but who God is. David defeats Goliath because he has faith in God. Each of us can be like David. We can put our trust in God’s grace and serve God. We can take the gifts and talents God has given us and use them to glorify God. With the help of God, we too can slay giants.

Questions to Ponder:

What giants are you facing in your life?

When have you experienced God’s presence and help in your life?

Who is someone you know who trusts God in their actions?

Prayer:

Ever-loving God, there are times that we are like Saul and forget to put our faith in you. There are times that we face giants and turn away in fear. Give us the faith and the courage to be like David. Help us to know that you have given us all the skills we need to do your work. Help us to know that through you everything is possible. Amen

Anointing David

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah. 35 Samuel never saw Saul again before he died, but he grieved over Saul. However, the Lord regretted making Saul king over Israel.

Samuel anoints David

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”

2 “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it he’ll kill me!”

“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

4 Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

5 “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. Goddoesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Then Samuel left and went to Ramah.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

In 1789, the Constitution of the United States was ratified by the final two original states, and George Washington was sworn in as our first president. Given the importance of that document and the precedent set by Washington during his time in office, it is easy to forget that something came before all of this. Our nation was not born in 1789 but came into being with the creation of the Articles of Confederation years early. Unfortunately, the Articles failed to provide the necessary structure for our new nation to function and a new set of rules was required.

There are some parallels between that and the story of the early nation of Israel. Last week, the people were clamoring for a king to lead them. After much reluctance and prayer, Samuel, with God’s blessing, gave them what they wanted. He set out and found Saul, a heroic young man, to be the first king of Israel. Like our Articles of Confederation, his rulership did not go well, and his own reign was diminished by the reign of David, who came after him.

What happened? What went wrong so that mere chapters after we celebrated Saul’s anointing as the first king of Israel we learn that the Lord is already regretting making him king? During his time as king, Saul struggled to be faithful and follow God. When he was told to wait and trust in God, he fretted and rushed ahead. When given commands about what to do with their enemies, he acted on his own wishes instead of God’s. When Saul rejected God, God in turn rejected Saul as the king of Israel.

So it is that Samuel in turn finds himself going to Jesse to find out which of his sons God will anoint to be the new ruler of Israel. Jesse is not a new character in the story, but instead is a part of an earlier book in the Bible, Ruth. Jesse is the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. David’s lineage therefore comes from a family noted for its faithfulness to God and Israel, a faithfulness, that on Ruth’s side comes not by birth, but by choice. In going to the line of Jesse to find a new king, God is looking for someone who can be faithful in a way that Saul was unable to be.

When Samuel meets with Jesse, his sons are assembled so that Samuel might see who God wants to anoint. Samuel’s first instinct is to anoint the eldest, Eliab. Eliab has the all the characteristics we might think are important in a ruler, the firstborn, good looks, and an impressive stature. Instead, God reminds Samuel that what God desires cannot be seen on the outside but instead is reflected in the heart. God wants a king who will have the heart to follow and stay faithful to God.

As the youngest son, not even brought in from the sheep pen, David would seem the least likely choice for a future king. He does not have the height and stature to look the part of a great warrior (a requirement for a king in those days). Nor does he have the age to garner the respect of those around him. Still, God sees in him, the makings of a ruler. As a shepherd, David has been trained to care and watch for others, just as a king must watch after his people. Here is the one who God will anoint to lead and so it is that the Spirit of the Lord falls upon David.

From a historical perspective, this is an important story. Like the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, the switch from Saul to David establishes a new legacy for the nation of Israel. The line of David after all is important not only to the kingship of Israel, but extends all the way down to Christ, through Joseph. While he is not without his failings (as we will see), David seeks to be a faithful follower of God in his rulership.

What can we learn from this story? I would like to think that the switch from Saul to David as a ruler is a reminder that the qualities we should seek are not always the ones we can see with our eyes. Strength, height, and beauty are often taken as outward signs of authority, but real authority comes from the heart. What makes us good followers of God is not what we can do, but instead our willingness to trust in what God can do. Saul struggles to follow God because he struggles to trust in God and instead relies on himself, his own strength, cunning, and abilities. Following God requires us to be humbler and less self-reliant.

One of the dangers when it comes to kings and rulers is how set apart they are from the rest of us. I have been enjoying the Netflix show called “The Crown” which chronicles the reign of Elizabeth II. It does a good job of capturing the efforts made by the monarchy, but also by British subjects, to elevate the Queen and to keep her from seeming like just another person. While this has benefits when it comes to rulership, it can make it harder to see ourselves as being like royalty.

As we read the story of David, I think it is important that we do see ourselves like David. Yes, we have not been anointed as the next ruler of Israel, or the United States, or even of Willmar. We have however, all been called and claimed by God. We all, in our baptismal covenants, have been anointed and taken on a new task. How we accomplish that task will vary based on our gifts and our positions, but the task is the same.

When we are baptized and confirmed we make several promises. We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of our sins. We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We confess Jesus Christ as our savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord. After we make these promises, we are bathed in water, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and enter a new life in Christ.

With that blessing comes a responsibility to honor those promises we make. I cannot speak for all of you, but as I think about those vows today, my heart is heavy. My heart is heavy because here, in a nation filled with Christians and primarily run by Christians, I do not see us living into those promises. When I hear stories about children being torn from their mothers’ breasts, I see evil and I want to resist it. When I hear stories about how Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the hurricanes that devasted it almost a year ago despite being a part of the wealthiest nation in the world, I see injustice. When I hear stories about how people have the police called on them for cooking their backyard, waiting for friends at a coffee shop, or staying at an Airbnb because of the color of their skin, I see oppression. Here in the United States, one nation under God, we still have evil, injustice, and oppression.

The problem is I do not have easy answers. I do not know what we need to do to solve these problems. I do not know what we can to make our children safer when they go to school. I do not know how to protect them when      someone fleeing the police runs them over while driving through a playground. I do not have easy answers or concrete solutions. I wish I did. What I do know is this. I took these promises when I accepted Christ in my life. God’s grace is at work before we know it, but when we claim, we accept responsibilities. We promise to follow Christ. We promise to serve God.

I believe that God sees things in us that are not apparent from the outside. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is something that Margaret Mead said. I would make a change, I would change the word the citizen to Christian. We should never underestimate what we can do as Christians, not because of who we are, but because of the God we follow. What made David great was not his height, his strength, or his age. What made him great was his faithfulness to God.

If you do not believe that Christians can make a difference in this country, go home and look up the 18th amendment. Whether or not you agree with prohibition, this was a law that passed because of the hard work Christians who believe that alcohol was a sin that was ruining our nation. They stood up to combat the evil, injustice, and oppression that they saw all around them.

We are called today to remember our own baptisms, our own anointing of the Holy Spirit, when God claimed us. We have been chosen for such a time as this. We are being called to be faithful disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. Let us remember our baptisms and remember that God sees greatness in each of us so let us follow God. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

Where do you see evil, injustice, and oppression in the world?

What gifts does God see in you that others might not see?

What do you do to try and humbly follow God and trust in God rather than yourself?

Prayer:

God, we give you thanks for your grace that we have come to know through our baptisms. We give you thanks for the ways that you see greatness in us that often we do not see in ourselves. Give us the courage to accept the call you have for our lives. Grant us the strength to stand up to the evil, injustice, and oppression we see around ourselves in the world. Bless us as we seek to be faithful followers of you. Amen

The Need for a King

1 Samuel 8:4-20

4 So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” 6 It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

7 The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. 8 They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. 9 So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

10 Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. 11 “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons, and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. 12 He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. 14 He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. 15 He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. 16 He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! 18 When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us 20 so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

1 Samuel 11:14-15

14 “Let’s go to Gilgal,” Samuel told the people, “and renew the monarchy there.” 15 So everyone went to Gilgal, and there at Gilgal they made Saul king in the Lord’s presence. They offered well-being sacrifices in the Lord’s presence, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration there.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill

As I reflected up on this passage from Samuel, the words of Churchill came back to me. Often it seems like government involves settling for the better of bad choices. One only has to look at the gridlock in Washington or Saint Paul to get frustrated with democracy. Yet, as frustrated as we are with our democracy, we know it is so much better than the dictatorships masquerading as democracies that we see in places like Russia or the blatant dictatorships of places like North Korea. We see a similar sentiment being expressed by the people in our story from First Samuel. The people are longing for a king to rule them despite the warnings of how bad a king will be for them. Having a king might be the worst thing to happen to them, but it seems better than anything else they have experienced.

Before we get into why the people want a king, I think we need to remind ourselves what they already had. When the people came out of Egypt they were lead first by Moses and then Joshua. From Joshua, rulership of the tribes of Israel was passed to a series of judges. Essentially the people moved through a cycle where first they sinned, then God called forth a judge to call them to repent and then they repented. Of course, this only lasted for a little bit before they fell into sinning again, and a new judge was called forth. Meanwhile, priests descended from Aaron continued to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people and serve as intermediaries between them and God. Eli was one such priest who passed on his mantle, not to his sons who had proven to be corrupt, but instead to Samuel. At the point of our story, Samuel was the spiritual leader, judge, prophet, and priest, of the people who had no single authority because they were ruled not by mortals but by God.

What is so appealing about a king? First there is the answer that the people give: they want a king so that they can be like the other nations. Peer-pressure was real even thousands of years ago. They want a king so that they can command the respect of the other nations. They wanted someone they could point to, listen to, and follow directly. God is not as easy to follow. The lack of a clear leader or central authority to govern all the tribes left them feeling less important than all the other nations with their splendid kings and queens. Not only that, they were struggling to follow God and figured that any king, no matter how capricious or dictatorial would be easier than following God, who wanted their full faith and allegiance, heart and soul.

The philosopher Plato struggled with what would be the perfect sort of government. In his treatise “Republic” he settled on the idea of a philosopher-king. Such a ruler would be able to govern with wisdom, being able to see all sides of issues and coming to decisions that were fair and just. Plato’s understanding of a philosopher was one who was able to grasp the ideas rather than just the particulars. A philosopher would understand beauty in its purest form, rather than simply beauty as represented by an object or a person. Being able to see beyond the biases and limits of our own experiences is especially valuable to rulers who need to see the whole picture. Ultimately, however, what makes the philosopher-king work, or democracy work is the level to which the individuals come closer to being like Christ.

Democracy is a great thing, when we think not just with our own desires in mind, but vote not for our own benefits but those of the group. Just like the philosopher-king is effective because they can get beyond their own biases and desires to see the bigger picture. All of this ends up mirroring the nature of Christ: who lays his life down for others, who should be first but is treated as last, who gives up everything so that others might be saved. In the end, the more we can be like Christ, the more we can follow God, the better our governments will work. The very things that make it hard for us to follow God, our sin and temptation, are the very reasons we should not be trusting someone else to lead us like a king.

The kings of Israel are an expression of the challenge that God faces in allowing us free will. If we are truly free, then we can choose to not follow God. In our story today, the people turn from God and Samuel and look for a new leader to put their trust in. Ironically, they ask God to find this new leader for them, showing their own reluctance to fully turn from God. Samuel finds Saul, and anoints him and later crowns him as the first king of Israel. The people will have their king, and as God predicted, it will not be as good for them as they think.

Socrates would have us believe that to know the good is to do the good. Sadly, at least for myself, I have not found this to be true. I can know I do not need another piece of chocolate cake, but that does not stop me from eating one anyway. I can know that I should love my enemies and pray for those that persecute me, but that does not stop me from feeling hatred towards those who do me wrong. I have found that knowing the good is important, but it is not a guarantee of doing the good.

Following God is hard. It is hard because unlike a king or other mortal leader, we do not have a clear person to listen to and obey. We cannot always see or understand the one we follow. Not only that, God makes difficult demands of us that are hard to follow. We are told by Christ to give up everything and follow him. When we ask we learn that this means giving up our wealth, the things we love. We also learn it means give up our family, the people we love. Following God is about an act of surrender, where we are called to give up our full lives to God and trust entirely in Christ. Yeah, that is hard.

Is it any wonder, that after years of struggling to follow God, the people are looking for an easier way out? Is it any wonder that even when being told what it might mean to have a king, they do not blanche at the cost? After all, losing a son to a war, or a daughter to the king’s harem might seem like less than the cost of discipleship that God demands.

Our story today is not an easy one. It is the story of a group of people, who like us are struggling to do what is good. They know they should be following God. They know the good, but they struggle to do it. In the same way, we struggle in our lives to place God first. What is our first loyalty, God or country? What is our first loyalty, God or security? What is our first loyalty, God or family? Will we give our whole lives to follow Christ?

In the end, the people choose a king over God. In the end the people choose their own comfort and security over the uncertainty of following God. We know they made the wrong choice. God has told us how this will end. Yet, there is good news in this story. Even though the people turn from God, God never turns from the people. Even though they seek the certainty of a king to lead them, God never stops caring for them. They want a king, but it is God who finds the king and anoints the king.

We can give up on God, but God never gives up on us. Just like the people in the story, we fall short of what God wants for us. We sin. We make mistakes. When given a second and third chance, we sin again. Yet through it all, God loves us. Through it all, God forgives us. We can give up on God, but God never gives up on us. Thanks be to God. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What do you need to do to follow God more closely?

When is a time where you have known what is right and yet done something else?

What do you find it easier to trust in instead of God?

Who is someone you know who surrenders their life to God?

Prayer:

God, we give you thanks that you never stop loving us. Even when we turn from you and give our allegiance to kings and rulers on this earth, you remain ready to help us. Forgive us our weakness. Bless us with your wisdom and give us the courage to always follow you. Amen