…we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations…
[1 Samuel 8:19-20]
No, this is not a post about LeBron James.
Tempted as I am to revert to my sports reporting days and offer a commentary on the Cleveland Cavaliers as they begin their first venture into the NBA Finals in eight years, I refuse to yield to the urge and delve instead into 1 Samuel 8:4–20, 11:14–15, the first semi-continuous assigned Revised Common Lectionary reading for the Second Sunday after Pentecost.
I have long wanted to preach on the semi-continuous readings, but either lacked the will or the energy to do all the exegesis and preparation to follow through on my desire. I have also used this blog to post on a variety of topics and I will continue to do so. But I will try this summer, on occasion, to offer reflections on the lectionary readings, mainly for my own satisfaction, but also in hopes that some may find my musings helpful. I caution the reader that these reflections are for the most part mine. It may be worth your while to read a better researched commentary if you really want to explore the text at its core.
I have always found this reading fascinating. It can be summarized in several ways:
Be careful what you wish for.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
“If I only had…” (fill in the blank: more money, a newer car, a bigger house, a 50-inch flat screen, etc.)
The people of Israel have been given everything imaginable by God. They have been liberated from slavery, protected on their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, yet they are never satisfied. They lack nothing, yet they want more.
Yet no one likes to be told, “No.”
If your child has ever asked for a new toy or electronic gadget just because all their friends have it, and you’ve denied their request, you get the point.
In this narrative, the Israelites clamor for a king, so they can be like other nations. Despite God’s warnings of the consequences, they insist. And God gives them what they want.
It turns out that, over time, most of the warnings come true. But the kingdom endures, and in spite of its origins, God uses the monarchy to accomplish his will during the 400 years of King David’s reign.
God limits God’s power to allow for us to make decisions. But God also shows power through grace, by allowing our poor decisions to be made great, in this case, in the form of a Davidic dynasty with a historical significance beyond measure.
We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations.
As we watch our churches decline in attendance and support, we are tempted to be like the Israelites. Many of us perhaps already are. When we feel another congregation is doing better than ours, we look to make changes, be they innovative programs, contemporary liturgies, or attention-grabbing decorations – none of which usually work.
We gawk with envy at the growing churches and wonder why our pastor couldn’t be like theirs; or why we can’t have a lively praise band; or why we have to continue with our traditional ways of worship.
When we look at our present situation in what appears to be a failing expression of the Christian faith, God’s way often does not seem so attractive to us. And yet, that is precisely with whom the answer to our concerns lies. Our faith and trust in God cannot – must not – take a back seat to the ways of the world. The apostle Paul gives solid advice on that topic:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2]
Just to be like others is never a good enough reason. We must look beyond appearances in order to grapple with the concerns that address the needs of God’s people in the world. We need only the eyes of faith to see the Lord at work in our world today. Nothing else will be acceptable for the life of God’s people.
Fortunately for us, God doesn’t turn God’s back on us. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe,” the Psalmist says. [Psalm 138:7]
The transformative power of the gospel is the good news that still lives with all of us, filling people with God’s grace. And it is in times like these, when the church faces its biggest challenges, that God speaks the loudest and clearest. Listen for God’s voice. Our God is king. The Lord is our guide.
As with the Israelites, God’s presence is our assurance that, in spite of all our fears and concerns, the church has a future and the church will prevail.