Sermon for Weekend 9/10 June 2018: Choosing a King!

Choosing a king!

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.’ 1 Samuel 8:6-7

Choosing a king! The people of Israel realized that Samuel’s children would not make good leaders helping them to be obedient to God. Samuel wasn’t distressed that they didn’t want his sons to provide leadership in the tradition of the Judges and prophets. He knew his sons were not up to it.

But Samuel’s even deeper sadness is that the people want to have a king just like the other nations do. Samuel knows the people have been called to be different from other nations, set apart, to be holy. Choosing a king will in deed make them like the other nations; it will make them subservient to the king, over and above their commitment to God. They and their children will have to serve the king and pay taxes to him so he can have an army and wives and palaces. History has shown how readily Kings lord it over their subjects as tyrants.

Sadly the other alternative, to rely on the Samuel’s own sons to lead in what could be called a theocracy, was doomed as well. A Theocracy is what you have when God is the head of state, rather than a monarchy where the king or queen is head of state.

The so called Islamic State we seen over these past few years in Iraq and Syria deemed itself to be a theocracy. But it was merely what results in a theocracy when the religious leaders are mad or profoundly evil. The people of Israel knew enough not to go down that path.

We have a democracy, which for all its faults works fairly well most of the time. So what is the value of hearing this story of the people of Israel choosing a king?  The value comes in the way this story sits alongside Mark’s account of Jesus in Nazareth.

But before we go to the Gospel there is one other important thing to reflect on. Even though the decision to have a king was not the best decision the people could have made, God honoured their decision. In deed the promise that came later to King David took their bad decision and turned it into a sign of profound grace. Jesus’ incarnation was the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant. The people’s desire for the anointed one, the Messiah, a king was granted in the end by Jesus coming to live in our midst. So even though the choice was a rejection of God in the first place, God’s love and extraordinary forgiveness turned that rejection into an opportunity for grace.

Even if our own children or others we love appear to us to have rejected God the Good News is that God can turn that rejection once again into an opportunity for grace. All we may be able to do is to pray and to hand them over to the grace of God.

Now let’s hear this choice of a king alongside the story of Jesus at Nazareth.

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they (Jesus and the disciples) could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Mark 3:20-22

People were saying that Jesus was either mad or bad. As I have pointed out, we know only too well what happens when mad or wicked people become religious or political leaders. But what had Jesus done that had caused the Scribes to equate Jesus with Beelzebul or even his own family to believe he had gone out of his mind. If you had asked the Scribes or even his own family at this point they would have told you Jesus cannot be King. He is not messiah material.

David Lose suggests: (http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-2-b-offering-a-wide-welcome/)

“…the crowds, the religious authorities, even Jesus’ own family – are judging him against predetermined and socially or religious agreed upon norms.”

When we see someone who doesn’t conform, we call them rebels, or radicals, or unnatural, or immoral. Which is pretty much what’s happening to Jesus.

So maybe the question isn’t, “Why is Jesus getting so much flack?” But instead should be, “Why aren’t we getting more?” Why, that is, aren’t we pushing the boundaries of what’s socially and religiously acceptable in order to reach more folks with the always surprising, often upsetting, unimaginably gracious, and ridiculously inclusive love of Jesus? And if that is the kind of love we want to offer, we might go on to ask whether we [are] communicating that message in word and deed, loudly and clearly, both inside our doors and outside to the community as well.

Now I said the first reading from 1 Samuel would help us to appreciate this Gospel reading. The people of Israel told Samuel that they needed a king because they wanted to be like the other nations. It seemed good to be like the other nations they were powerful and had strong leadership. But as I said the strong powerful leadership was present because the leaders were tyrants lording it over their people and the neighbouring nations.

Even here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, only chapter three some people are choosing to follow Jesus and be his disciples while others are banding together against him. We too have to choose. Do we want to make Jesus king of our life? Do we truly see Jesus as the anointed one of God, the Christ? I suspect most of us here feel we have already responded positively to Jesus. We don’t regard Jesus as mad or bad, exactly the opposite, we regard Jesus as the son of God who brings life in abundance, eternal life.

Part of acknowledging Jesus as Lord and King in our lives is that we are then called to live our lives with the same radical openness and hospitality that Jesus showed. Jesus welcomed and embraced those who were persona non grata because of their illness like leprosy or being severely disabled, or a continuous flow of blood making them “unclean” or because of their choice of work as a tax collector. Jesus even had an openness to that woman caught in adultery, a person who had committed an unforgiveable sin.  I wonder if the church today knows how to be loving towards those who have committed unforgivable sins.

Lose’s challenge then is why is it that we are not criticised for this unimaginably gracious, and ridiculously inclusive love? May be that is because the Church and individual Christians have settled into the very conservative environment that would have made the Scribes feel right at home. I suspect that Jesus’ mother and brothers would also feel that there was no madness that needed to be questioned in the way the Churches behave. We have become the sort of institution that subconsciously makes a whole lot of people feel unwelcome. The advantage of welcoming new comers and going out to the Caravan parks and byways is that new people will help us take on the shape of the Kingdom of God more overtly. New people, “strange people” change us. That is the risk of making Jesus both Lord and King in our lives, we can’t help but invite complete strangers to join. It is not very comfortable, it is often challenging but it opens us up to new experiences of joy. Let’s make a new commitment to Jesus as our King that in his name we will embrace with love the people he sends to us and the people we are sent to. Let’s expect signs of the Kingdom right here in this place. Some of us who are Scribe-like or mother-like in nature will find this notion of genuine inclusion ridiculous and sinister. But if we look to Jesus for strength and encouragement we will begin to appreciate the new and exciting times.

The flags and suitcases in place for messy Church remind us that sometimes following Jesus unsettles our comfortable world and sends us to other parts of the world. The unimaginably gracious, and ridiculously inclusive love of Jesus motivates us to uproot our whole family and move to the other side of the world.

Questions for reflection

  1. What does it mean to follow Jesus today in the 21st century?
  2. Is it in any way reckless (mad)?
  3. Do we crave respectability more than we desire to be like Jesus? Or maybe we think Jesus is the respectable?
  4. Do we crave security more than the uncertainty of following Jesus?
  5. Are there people who are not welcome in our Church?
  6. Many will say, I can’t possible go on overseas mission, but could you visit a neighbour or a new comer to church? What are the fears that hinder our “ridiculously inclusive love”?

 

 

Questions for reflection

  1. What does it mean to follow Jesus today in the 21st century?
  2. Is it in any way reckless (mad)?
  3. Do we crave respectability more than we desire to be like Jesus? Or maybe we think Jesus is the respectable?
  4. Do we crave security more than the uncertainty of following Jesus?
  5. Are there people who are not welcome in our Church?
  6. Many will say, I can’t possible go on overseas mission, but could you visit a neighbour or a new comer to church? What are the fears that hinder our “ridiculously inclusive love”?

 

 

 

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