Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.
This morning’s bible reading from 1 Samuel isn’t a part of a sermon series, we’ll be beginning on new one next week called Sturdy Shoes on the book of Ephesians. It isn’t a part of any prescribed lectionary reading that other churches around the country might be doing. We’re doing 1 Samuel this morning because a few weeks ago I thought it’d be fun to spend some time with it, you’ll have to let me know if I was correct.
Today’s reading is a pivotal moment in the life of God’s people. For two centuries following the Exodus, when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, Israel was ruled by judges. The judges were charismatic tribal leaders who would rise up from time to time to lead the 12 tribes of Israel in battle and political matters. Yet for the most part the period of the judges was marked by a refrain that appears in the book of judges a number of times, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
It was kind of anarchy. Stuff wasn’t going well. People were being taken advantage of. Those in power were of questionable morals. It was bad. Actually the book of Judges ends with this phrase, all the people did what was right in their own eyes.
It’s a nice way of saying thee people did whatever they wanted, what ever they felt like doing. Which you can imagine how that played out.
1 Samuel picks up the the story right where Judges left off. Samuel is the last of the judges, he’s raised up by God to call the people back to God. He helps them remember who they are and whose they are, but of course it’s fleeting.
Samuel’s sons seem to be up to shady business of their own, and the people can see the writing on the wall. As soon as Samuel is gone things are going to back to the way they were before, and all the people will do what’s right in their own eyes.
So Israel wants a king. They want to be like everyone else around them. They want a ruler who can unify the people and who can win their battles.
The great irony is of course Israel already had a king.
God was their king. God had delivered them from Egypt. God had heard their cries while in slavery, God had provided for them in the wilderness, God had made a covenant with them. God promised that he would be their God and they would be God’s people, forever.
It’s why God says to Samuel in our reading today, “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. Just as they have done to me, 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.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people have a special role, a special calling. They have been set apart, chosen by God to be of benefit to others, to be a blessing for others. Way back in Genesis, when God set this thing in motion by calling Abraham, God said to Abraham,
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.
Israel wasn’t called by God to be like everyone else. They weren’t called to mirror the world around them, they were called to mirror the God who had chosen them to be convey God’s love to the world.
Instead when things got tough they started looking around for somebody to save them, and they forgot that someone already had.
Maybe this ancient sounds quaint to our modern ears. Our modern political sensibilities know the dangers of absolute authority. We hear the laundry list of dangers associated with absolute authority that Samuel enumerates (he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots, he will take your daughters, he will take your land, he will tax you!) and we say no we don’t want any of that. We’re Americans, we don’t want a king. That’s what independence day is all about after all. We’re different. We’re exceptional.
But as we head full steam into another election cycle, our story doesn’t seem all that different. We buy up the empty promises that one politician or another is selling. We become convinced that we are in desperate need of change and that one person, in four years maybe eight, can remake the country into something it once was or what it might still be.
We keep hoping someone will save us, will fix us, will make all of our dreams come true.
It’s not going to happen.
It already has.
In the waters of baptism, God has claimed each one of us as his own. In Jesus Christ, God has reclaimed this world as his own. We belong to God and our lives are gifts that have the capacity to mirror God’s love in the world. We do this more effectively, most faithfully when we recognize our interdependence – when we see that my life in inextricably interwoven with yours, and the person on the north side of town, and in West Virginia, and on the west bank, in Turkey, in Dhaka, and Baghdad.
We are free so that we can serve our neighbor. Our lives are dependent on the one who sets us free, the one who made heaven and earth and all that is in it. Today and everyday let us remember who we are, and whose we are. Amen.