Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 8
1 Samuel 8
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.
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.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 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.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
What is the point of all these Isaiah prophesies – telling of the coming of justice and God’s reign? We are instructed that with Christ, comes God’s reign, and yet for the last 2000+ years, we’ve had knowledge of Jesus Christ, and yet wars still rage, injustice still reigns, and all things have not yet been made right.
What are we to make of this?
Is all this just a nice dream, a fairy-tale, make-believe?
Is it what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the presence of evils and powers we feel powerless to change?
And I feel bad for asking these questions. After all, I’ve not known more love and truth, hope and goodness than what I’ve found in Jesus Christ.
But what do I make of these prophesies and the disparity we see between the vision of God’s Kingdom and the realities of our broken world?
In the Old Testament, we read a lot about kingdoms. Israel as a nation was supposed to be led by God and not by any human, that is why God raised up for them judges and prophets instead of kings. They were to communicate God’s will to the people. But in the end the people wanted a human king. Like every child who wanted the same things as his peers, the nation of Israel wanted a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them.
To this request, God warned them that if they got what they wanted, they would regret it. Kings would cause suffering – asking of them the fruit of their labors and the lives of their children. But the people did not heed God’s words through the prophet, and so God gave them over to their misguided desires. God gave them a king.
And indeed the people knew suffering. Their first king, King Saul, led them in God’s way for awhile, but he strayed from the Lord and began to disobey God’s leading, so much so that he was tormented by an evil spirit and God’s Spirit left him.
Their next king, King David, is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, but he certainly made his share of mistakes – taking life unjustly and abusing his power for his own personal gain.
And then after David, we have King Solomon – known as the wise king who rebuilds the temple. But alas, he has many wives and is quite indulgent. But following these three kings, the list goes downhill sharply.
Thus, Israel came to intimately know the downside of spurning God’s leadership and trading down for a human leader. But experiencing all this suffering unfortunately does not insure that any of us learn our lessons. And the nation kept wanting a new a better king.
This is something of the environment into which Jesus is born. And Jesus starts using the phrase “Kingdom of God.” Does it remind you of anything? If the people’s memories had been preserved strongly, with the passing on of the knowledge of God and their history as part of God’s story, then this phrase, “The Kingdom of God” should take them back to the times of the judges and the prophets, the time when God sought to lead them more directly, without a personal ego in the way.
“The Kingdom of God” could also take them back to that original story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Because it was then that God walked and talked with the people directly. Indeed THIS is what God intends for each of us. But in our sinfulness, we have traded that possibility for the chance and power and knowledge and control. We have sought not to be led but to lead. We have sought not the One who knows but rather to know ourselves.
We wanted to BE God, rather than to be with God.
As a human species we have always wanted to be in full control, from our very beginnings – as though any of us possess the wisdom and power to do that, much less effectively.
And when God called Israel into covenant relationship with God – to be God’s people, a city on a hill – God provided leaders, judges, and prophets. But again the people wanted more. It seemed to weak perhaps. They wanted a figure-head, and human display of power and might. And so they got what they wanted. And they traded down God’s good gift of intimate leadership for a human leader, a human king.
So here we have Jesus, claiming to have brought the Kingdom of God to earth.
For the first time in our history, since our fall in the garden, God will reign. God’s will has come to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ. And everywhere, hearts that receive Christ, receive God’s reign in their hearts – where God will live and guide them, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And so, God’s Kingdom has come. But not in the human sense. Jesus didn’t make himself their human mascot king. Jesus had bigger fish to fry. Jesus didn’t want to govern our actions but to be Lord of our hearts – that we might will to do what is pleasing to God.
And Jesus came to bring that Good News that God wasn’t looking for perfect people but for followers. WHO would let Jesus into their hearts? Who would allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives and sensibilities? WHO would be so transformed in God’s unwithheld love that they’d never be the same? WHO would be among those who finally realized that life isn’t life at all, unless it is the life that God freely gives?
And so our Messiah has come. Our King has come. Our Rescuer, Deliverer, Savior has come! But not in the human sense, not in our human political machines, not into our systems of laws and societal order.
God has come into hearts, far and wide.
And if God reigns in us,…
If God truly lives in us,…
Where God is still truly received,…
Where God’s WORD is still welcomed and followed,…
THERE is the Kingdom of God.
THERE is power and authority like none other.
THERE we find justice flowing down.
THERE we hear truth rightly spoken
THERE the sick are made well.
THERE the lame are healed, the deaf hear, and the blind see.
THERE the burning, thirsty ground becomes a pool of refreshing.
THERE we hear singing, with everlasting joy and gladness.
THERE no one steals or kills or destroys.
THIS is the power of God. THIS is the Kingdom of God.
WE are the body of Church. WE are the body of Christ.
Will we rise up and be people of God?
The family of God?
The messengers of God?
Will we bring Good News?
Will we set the captive free?
Do we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?
In all things and at all times, we have a choice to make:
To follow Christ our Lord and King
Or to follow in our own way.
Both individually and collectively,
Choose to bear the Kingdom of God into this weary and burnt-out world,
Day after day
The world is dying for the LIFE that lives in you.