Sunday, November 21, 2021
By: David H. May, Rector
The eighth chapter of the First Book of Samuel tells the story of an old man who sees a train-wreck coming. He even describes to anyone who’ll listen exactly what that train-wreck will be like. But no one seems interested. The old man is Samuel. He is the man we heard Amelia preaching about last week; the man who when he was a baby his mother Hannah lent back to the Lord.
Samuel is the very last of the judges of Israel. He has an ear to the ground – as a good judge should – and has heard the people muttering and complaining. They are saying that all of the really top-notch, top shelf countries, the countries that command attention and respect are the ones with a king. So, the people say, we want a king too. Look at the Assyrians and the Egyptians, they say, look at their royal court, their awe-inspiring military parades, and look at the palaces and their king dressed in gold and jewels. Look how people fall down before them in awe and wonder at their greatness. Their kings are like gods on earth.
And what have we got?, the people complain, an old man who disputes garden-variety family squabbles and disagreements. Certainly nothing very impressive about that; not something those other great nations stand up and take notice of. ‘We want a king!’, they shout, ‘a real king with real kingly power. Someone who’ll show those other nations that we’re not just some kind of third-rate nation’.
Well, Samuel, has something to say about this. It’s interesting that he doesn’t remind Israel of what they should already know. He doesn’t say, ‘yes, Egypt has its Pharoah, but we have the Lord God himself for a king’. That’s not what he says. He says something completely realistic. He says, “Trust me, you do not want a king. A king will draft your sons into his army. A king will require a chunk of your money year after year so he can build his chariots and armaments and his palaces and he’s going to need plenty of extra spending money to shower his court with gifts. He will take your daughters to be ornaments in his life. And believe me when I say when a king gets all that – and he will – he’s not just going to polish his chariots for parades. He’ll want to use them against other kings to show how great he is. He won’t fight. But your sons will. It’s going to be one endless train-wreck. Trust me,” Samuel tells the people, “you do not want a king”.
But people see the glitter and the gold of other kings and they want it for themselves. Samuel takes this up with the Lord who tells Samuel with what sounds like sadness, “They turned their backs on me long ago. It’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s me. If they want a king, give them a king.”
And so they got a king. And they got everything that goes with one just as Samuel had predicted.
There are legends and tales, like the ones about King Arthur, that describe a king whose first interest is the welfare of his people. And there are even examples here and there of actual kings who, like a mother lion, will defend her pride, even to death. But they are rare and honestly are usually highly embellished stories. Most stories of such kings are fiction of how we wish it were, not how it really was.
In real life, most kings sacrifice their lion cubs to the wolves to save their own skins. In real life, kings center power on themselves and spend their lives keeping it that way. They surround themselves with glittering courts and beautiful people and find occasion to parade their might to show their power to others; especially their subjects. There message is: I am in charge. I will take care of you. Just bend your knee to me. You don’t have to worry about a thing. The more childlike a king can keep his subjects the better.
Which is precisely the sort of arrangement that Jesus rejects and which eventually turned even those closet to him against him. His followers wanted Jesus to use the power he had rejected when he was tempted in the wilderness by the devil. Use power and miracles to make people love you and follow you and create your kingdom in this world.
But Jesus won’t do that. However much his followers then or now want him to seize or compel our allegiance and loyalty to him for his kingdom, he does not. He only say, “Follow me”.
But following Jesus most often doesn’t look like us following him into the halls of power among glittering courtiers. Then as now, we follow him into a different kind of court. We follow him into dark places in need of light. We follow him into the company of the poor and the despised and the heart-broken who need an advocate and friend. We follow him into places of sickness and brokenness in need of healing. We follow him into places of prejudice and persecution in need of justice and righteousness. We follow him into places of isolation and loneliness into a community of praise. That is his kind of kingly court.
A dear friend once told me about a dream she had. This has to be at least twenty years ago and it’s a dream I’ve never been able to shake off. In the dream, my friend say she is wearing a very special dress. It’s an expensive dress she said that she bought years and years before she had this dream. It’s a dress she bought to wear to church on the very first Sunday she went back to church after she had lost her son. She said that she wanted to wear that dress as a sign that she was clothed in the Easter of Jesus, even is she couldn’t quite see her way there yet.
In the dream, she suddenly realizes that she is at a wedding, although she’s not quite sure who’s getting married so she’s not sure that’s she actually supposed to be there or if she’s become an unwitting wedding crasher. In the church, she sees the back doors of the church open for the wedding party to begin processing in as the music swells to signal their entrance. And as the wedding party begins to come through the door, the whole congregation rises to their feet the way you do to show affection and respect. And then to her surprise, she sees that the first ones to enter are in wheelchairs followed by people walking with braces. And then come the next, people using crutches and canes, hand in hand leading people who are blind. And others follow, it is a very large wedding party, hosts of people she knows are broken. She even sees someone like herself in a glorious dress whom she somehow knows bears the same grief she does.
And then, she said, in a flash she finally sees whose wedding it is. It is the wedding feast of Christ Jesus and his Church, betrothed forever.
Her dream describes the royal court of the Kingdom of God where the king, where Jesus, only wields the power of love to earn from us our love for him. Her dream is God’s dream for us.
In this world, king’s expect someone else to die for them. That’s how they use their power.
In the kingdom of God to which we are citizens, our king dies for us, for love, this is how he uses his power, a power that shakes the universe. Follow him. Amen.