“The Lesser or the Greater?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Philippians 2:12-13
1 Samuel 8:4-18 and 11:14-15

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

1 Samuel 8:4-18 and 11:14-15

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 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.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 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. 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. 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.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 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; 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. 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. 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.”

1 Samuel 11:14-15

Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

I am moved by this scripture. Here we hear God talking with Samuel, as with a friend.  Samuel has been the leader.  It has been his role to commune with God and lead the people with God’s own words. The whole point is that God is the only true and best leader of the people.  And these people have been set apart to birth into the world God’s own light, God’s own Son – that all people may know God’s love and justice.

But for now, the people feel insecure.  On all sides, people have leaders, kings and queens who they can look to.  But the people of God perhaps feel a bit left out. They want a king too.  They want a clear and definitive earthly leader.  They want the security of an army.  They want everyone to know they can hang with the best of them…

And this Samuel, he’s old. He’s dying soon, and his sons do not follow in his ways.  The people are looking at the line-up and saying, “Something’s got to give. There’s no hope for us in this way. The future is not bright, and we’d rather have a shiny, splendid, powerful and mighty King anyway…”

Samuel hears this and is unhappy.

But God is tender with him. God explains that this rejection is less about Samuel and more about God.  In fact, the people are doing to Samuel what they’ve been doing to God, for their whole history as a people and a nation.  They’ve been ungrateful and faithless, forsaking God time and again, forgetting the goodness and presence of God with them.  God explains that this rejection of Samuel as their leader is most truly a rejection of God as their leader.

And so God will give them up to their desires.

With the wisdom of a parent, God allows the people to follow their base dreams.  God knows they will only learn, by their own experience.

But God wants to warn them – of the trouble it will bring, of the loss they will experience, of their ultimate enslavement to this King they so badly want.

So God instructs Samuel to warn the people.  And so he does.

But still the people are set in their desire.  Nothing but a King will do, and they will not heed Samuel’s warning.

This reminds me of the verses about how God will not give you a snake if you ask for bread.  I love that verse.  It reminds us that God wants the best for us.  It reminds us that our biggest obstacles to receiving the goodness of God in our lives is most often ourselves – for if we simply ask, God is most faithful and generous to us.

But in these moments when we’ve set our hearts and minds on something that will end in our own destruction, God may give us this as well.

It isn’t without warning. It isn’t without utmost care and compassion, but our God seems to know that our journeys through everything less than the best are in some way necessary.  When we’ve set our hearts on lesser things, we are rarely satisfied, we rarely see the light, until we’ve gotten what we wanted…and all that came with it.

We can’t see the emptiness of an encounter until we’ve gone after it, only to feel hollow and alone.

We can’t see the waywardness of a choice, until we’ve wandered so far from home that we can barely remember it.

We often cannot see the wisdom of God’s way, until we’ve followed our own ways to their natural ends…

We can be a stubborn people.
Much like our ancestors in the faith, we want what we want.
But what if we trusted God, more than our own assessments
More than our own desires
More than our own vision or foresight
Can we come to God full of our desires and dreams
And lay each one down at Christ’s feet?
Can we ask God to speak truth over all our endeavors?
Can we listen to what the Spirit is saying to our secret hearts?

For me the challenge was less in the listening and more in the trusting.

For one, I didn’t know if I could trust myself.
I feared I would hear wrong.
And so I was afraid to act on what I heard.

So I started small.  I would pray about seemingly innocuous things, asking God to guide me, and then I’d watch expectantly to see what God did in my obedience.  In this way, I began to trust more that I was hearing God.  In this way, God amazed me – guiding me toward that which I could never know or foresee – sparing me much of the circling and wondering and wasting of time.  It showed me God was active in and cared about me in the smallest of things.

But still the bigger things felt like too much.  They felt too risky.  I worried I’d listen more to my own desires than to God.  But God knows these sorts of anxieties we carry with us.

And God was most merciful with me.  When I would sense God’s direction on a thing, I would write it down.  And I’d ask God to confirm it.  And in time, the thing would be confirmed again and again. There on paper, in black and white, I couldn’t run away from it or forget it.

And I had a choice to make – whether to follow God or not.

And that is where my biggest fear lied.  Could I set down my own desires, my own plans, and follow God.

Can we acknowledge our own desires.  Can we look them in the eye, wink at them, and set them down at God’s feet?

Can we step back and look then to God.  Can we smile and wink at God, and ask God to do with our desires and plans whatever God will?

Can we ask God to give us the desire to do God’s will?

In Philippians Paul writes, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

God does not merely show us the way and then leave us to work out the details of following on our own. In fact, God supplies all we need. God gives us the very desire and ability to follow.  Truly God’s callings are God’s enablings.  And we have been given the Spirit of God – to comfort us, to intercede for us, to reveal God’s Word and will to us, and to empower us to follow.

We too have been richly blessed.  The Israelites were chosen by God and God Godself was their leader.  God led them by fiery pillar and cloud.  God led them by prophets.  God led them by signs and wonders.

And yet they laid down the better thing, to grab hold of the lesser thing – to be led by a person – full of human weakness and failure.

May we learn from our forebears in the faith.

May we develop habits of quieting our hearts and minds in the presence of God.  May we lay down our dreams and desires, asking Got to take them, as God will – assuring us that they are from God and good or warning us that there is no future in them – that we may truly be people of God!

May we receive and cling to the very best that God came and lived and taught and died and rose again that we might have!

God has poured out himself that we might have life, to the full!

May God grow our trust in God.
May we take steps of faith, in big things and small.
And may we be found faithful.
God desires the very best for us.
Will we humble ourselves
And open ourselves
…to receive it?





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