Sermon #3 in our series on "The Way of the Heart" - 1 Samuel 8
Everyone likes a winner, am I right? Well. That’s all relative I guess in Minnesota. I was told this week if I want to know what a winner is, I have to become a Packer fan, which is not going to happen. Or I meet someone who loves the Yankees, only because they win. Not thinking their bench makes more money than the Twins payroll. Or God forbid if you are a Chelsea fan, a fan of Man United, Man City, or (Josiah plug your ears) a Liverpool fan. That’s real football for all you Americans out there. The teams I mention are the ones that win. Have prominent histories. They have huge fanbases because they do well and have become popular, Uniting people from all over the world around their squads. You can find fans of the Yankees in Asia, fans of Manchester United in South Africa, fans of the Packers…well…somewhere.
These teams have products that are worth emulating. Coaches come from all over to learn from the winners, no matter who they are. If a college football team keeps winning, other teams start to try and do the same thing. Copy the offense or defense. Recruit similar players. Thinking that if it works there, it works here. Do this formula it will work.
Samuel gets drawn into this same boat. The Scriptures are full of the stories of God’s work of redemption and God’s care. God’s giving of leadership at times when it is needed. If you were with us for Lent, you might remember our midweek services in which we saw God raising up leaders. Leaders that would not pass the search committee. Nominating committees probably don’t seek after the people God chose. The weak, fearful, womanizers, idolaters, corrupt. Dangerous.
But now, here in 1 Samuel, fear has crept in. The tribes see threats coming from various kingdoms. They see the kingdoms doing well. They have already borrowed from their worship. Serving other gods, and now they come to Samuel and say, we want to be like everyone else. Like the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Amalekites. We want to be like them because they are winning.
So Israel wants a winner. Appoint us a king to fight for us because all these other nations have one. We don’t like whom God might appoint. Whom God might call. You made the mistake Samuel of sort of making yourself king. Appointing your own sons. We want you to resign from being judge and give us a king. What we have been given is not good enough anymore. We want to be winners. We want to be like everyone else. Go away, but first, give us what we want.
The scary thing is that after they ask, and Samuel gets angry with their desires, he goes to God and the Lord lays it out plainly. They have not rejected you. They have rejected me. The turning away going to a whole other level without trying. Turning away from what it is God does daily and wanting something else. Even though these were the people gifted with deliverance from slavery, a promised land, laws and ceremonies in order to set them apart. But this is not enough.
Theologians have talked often, pastors not enough, about this same syndrome within us all. Seeking something wilder than God. Wilder than Jesus. The believer’s midlife crisis. This spouse is not cutting it anymore. I need someone else. I need the Corvette. I need the gold-studded Harley. Not wanting what has been offered, we get to a point of not listening and decide we like something else. Or we look around and get disappointed with the current way of life and need that other thing. The greener grass.
But imagine, is there something wilder than Jesus? Jesus who came for you? Who died for you? For your sin and death? Let me say it again, he died for you. He died for you. No. Listen. He died for you. Hear those words. Let them sink in. A God who comes for you, for your worst parts, while we are still sinners Christ died, and dies to bring you freedom. To reconcile you to God. To the God that we want to replace with a politician or bureaucrat. Jesus died for you. Isn’t that wild? A God who gives. Who gives himself to us, who don’t really want him. Wild.
But what do we want? What do the Israelites want? Apparently not a giving God. Even after Samuel lays it out for them. What this king they want will be like. Describing what he will do. His rights as King. Bottomline? He will take. Take from you. He will take your sons for the army, for work, for industry. He will take your daughters as workers for him. He will take your property and give it to his buddies. The ones he likes. He will take your profits. Take that 10% that is meant for God. The tithe as it was called. He will take your employees, transportation, all for what he wants. Eventually he will take you. Take. Take. Take. Yet, the people say – I don’t care. I want to be like everyone else. Turning from the Giver to a taker. Not caring about what could be true. I want what they have.
Basically, this chapter, the description of what it is the Israelites are ok with and what they want is the exact opposite of Luther’s explanation of the 1st article of the Apostles Creed.
I believe that God has created me and all that exists. That means you and me. Everything.
I believe that he has given me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason and all mental faculties, together with food and clothing, house and home, family and property. Imagine that. The God who has created all things, created it to give it to you. Yet here we see the human propensity to take. We don’t like what God has given and so look to take what he has given to others. Want what others have. Our hearts betraying us often.
One of the hardest parts about being a pastor is the position in which I live hearing and carrying with you many burdens that you have. Stories, troubles, heartache, guilt, shame, sin. Bringing them to me, whether you know it or not because you do often see what the world has and want that, and yet the work of Christ in you, the faith birthed in you draws you back to the church because it my job to relieve you of those. To release you from those bonds. To speak that word to you of forgiveness, of life in a world of death.
This week has been especially hard because along with some losses in our parish and some difficulties in the lives of your brothers and sisters, I was hit by the loss of one of my idols. Good or bad, I don’t know. I came of age alongside the career of Anthony Bourdain. Working in restaurants and bartending, I read all of his books. Saw every episode of every show he was in. Often had envy well-up as I saw where he travelled. Whom he spent time with. What he ate.
On Friday, according to all accounts, Anthony Bourdain took his own life. A man who had everything. Had a dream job. A daughter. A loving partner. Friends around the world, and yet there were demons that haunted him. Things that tormented a man who was well known for hiding nothing of who he is. A reality star and yet not truly real because we each have that façade we make to defend ourselves. To hide ourselves. We look around and see the winners and think “I need to look or be like them so no one might know what is going on with me.” Often to our own peril. Listening to the voices of sin and the Devil, we get dragged into captivity. We can think that power or fame might save us. No. That comes and goes. Money or property? No. Those fade away. All so much as sand running through our fingers.
Paul speaks of us being raised up in the one spirit. This Spirit that binds us together. But also he tells us this morning how we must look to the unseen, to the eternal, to the things of the Spirit. Because the mortal, the fleshly, the human things are these temporary wastelands. Things that pass away. Every year there is some sort of election. Every year we get older. Every year we have to replace possessions that have worn out or make a change in our life to accommodate a new person, or new situation. Things coming along that we think we are immune to and yet we can’t run away from them. We are not alone. That is everyone.
God, on the other hand, never changes. His word stands forever. The cross is there…always. The promises are there always. As we go about our lives flexing our spiritual muscles, we discipline ourselves in our devotions and connections to God and Jesus because our hearts are not immune to the way of the Israelites. We need to regularly remind ourselves of God as Creator and Sustainer. God as the one who gives, that our thanksgiving might be deeper. Our longing for his presence be greater. Realizing that we aren’t as strong as we think we are. That our life rests in his hands, and for some reason, because Christ has done his work for you, to bring you to God, God remains as your God. Your Lord. Your King. Why want what everyone else has apart from God when you have him? Rather he has you. Thanks be to God. Amen.