1 Samuel 8, 11, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost B, June 7, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Personally, I cannot believe that our Lord deliberately causes tragedies. After attending Tori Vogel’s visitation and funeral, I cannot believe that the Lord intentionally brought about her death. The scriptures tell us that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Tori was an innocent fourteen year old. The Lord had no reason to take her life. I do not believe that the Lord directly causes tragedies.
Instead, I believe that we humans bring some tragedies on ourselves through our faults and wrongdoing. Our consistent lack of care for our earth throughout the generations has brought about a lot of negative changes. Some forms of cancer may stem from that. In many ways both directly and indirectly, we cause our own tragedies.
Yet despite all of humanity’s faults, the Lord is able to bring some good out of tragedy. After natural disasters, communities work together in beautiful ways that they couldn’t have without that common cause. Sometimes a person’s death can inspire change in others. I pray that something good comes out of Tori’s passing.
Today’s first lesson is an example of good coming out of evil. The people of Israel make a terrible mistake, yet the Lord is able to bring good out of it. We are familiar with the story of Samuel’s call to ministry. Samuel hears the Lord in the middle of the night and thinks it is his mentor, Eli. When Samuel finally answers the Lord’s call, the Lord tells him to renounce Eli’s sons for their evil deeds.
Five chapters and almost a lifetime later, now Samuel is the old sage and now his sons are misusing their privilege. Almost as soon as Samuel sets his sons as judges over Israel, they begin to swindle money, accept bribes, and twist the law. The Israelites were sick of these judges’ perversions, and they were sick of generations of bad judges. They want a new central form of government. They want a king!
Up until this time, the Lord was considered their king. The judges handled the human squabbling, yet the Lord was the ultimate ruler over Israel. Now, this is not enough. The twelve tribes want one ruler to guide them in war against their enemy neighbors, including the Philistines.
In many ways, the Israelites’ shout for a king is a rejection of the Lord. Their faith is not strong enough to trust the Lord to care for them, even against their enemies. They don’t want to be the unique nation compared to those around them. Now they want to look just like their neighbors.
So, the Lord tells Samuel to give the people every reason why they most certainly should not want a king. Samuel explains that a king will want a standing army. Each family will have to send their sons to war and risk them not coming home. Many families - and even communities - will now have to make weapons of war instead of plowshares.
The people want a military, though, so the threat of their children dying in war is a sacrifice they are willing to make. The Israelites did not feel safe with so many larger countries surrounding them, so they thought that an army would protect them. They were willing to do whatever a king would ask as long as the king was the first into battle.
Next, Samuel describes what he thinks is even worse than war: taxes. Samuel cries out that they will have to give the best ten percent of their crops to the king. The ten percent of their crops that they already give to the Temple is distributed to the poor, but this extra ten percent taken by the king will be given to his courtiers who are already rich. In a sense, Samuel is saying that their taxes will help the one percent get richer while they, the 99 percent, get poorer.
But the king is entitled to more than just crops! The king also can take a family’s work animals and servants. The king has a right to claim whatever he wants, and the people won’t be able to do anything about it. Sound familiar?
Yet even the threat of taxes is not enough to deter the people. They want a king, no matter what. So, the Lord gives in and decides that Saul will be their king. As the Bible describes him, “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (1 Samuel 9:2b)
Not only was Saul tall and handsome, he also was a competent leader. Before he is crowned king, he leads an army of Israelites against the Ammonites and wins. He proves his worth as leader of the people early and often.
The Israelites' demand for a king was a rejection of the Lord, yet the Lord was able to turn that tragedy into a triumph. Certainly, after David and Solomon, Israel and Judah would be plagued by kings who “were evil in the sight of the Lord.”
The people would eventually face their greatest fear and be overtaken by a foreign nation. They will be sent from their holy land into a foreign place, forced to worship their Lord away from Jerusalem. Even when they eventually return to their land, they will still be under foreign rule. After the exile, the Israelites will never again have a king.
In the end, though, all of these bad kings and foreign rulers lead to the one true king, Jesus Christ. Jesus will go into battle, but his foe will not be a human enemy. Instead, Jesus will conquer death itself. We have life eternal because Jesus went before us and sacrificed himself. Jesus is the ultimate king.
Once again, our earthly government is corrupt, but Jesus never will be. We know that we can turn to the Lord for the eternal leadership that will never fail us.
Every generation has found ways to reject the Lord. Even so, the Lord has made the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Despite all of the ways that we turn our backs on the Lord, Jesus never turns his back on us.
We humans can be cruel and petty, yet the Lord never is. The Lord takes what we screw up and makes something good out of it. The Lord takes the tragedy of death and gives us life instead. Thanks be to God! Amen.