A Reading from the First Book of Samuel (8:4-20)
All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” 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. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (4:13-5:1)
Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (3:20-35)
The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last week, we celebrated Trinity Sunday. Today, we begin the rest of the time after Pentecost: the “long green season.” While we won’t be celebrating any special feast days for a while, these weeks are still an important time for us to gather to listen to and reflect on the word of God and to be renewed together in our weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
Our first readings, at least for the summer months, are excerpts from the books of Samuel and Kings; and they relate, for better and for worse, Israel’s experience with kings. Among the issues that they address is the relationship between God and king: dealing in many situations with differences and conflicts between the interests and concerns of God, on the one hand, and the interests and concerns of the nation, on the other.
From the beginning, it is obvious that there are going to be serious problems. In the passage that we heard today, the elders of Israel come to Samuel and demand that he appoint for them a king so that they can be “like other nations.” Our translation says that Samuel was “displeased” by this request, but the context indicates that he was more than just displeased. He was angry and gravely disappointed that they had come to such a point. There were two main reasons for that.
First of all, God had not chosen Israel to be “like other nations”: God already had plenty of “other nations.” God had chosen Israel to be different and to live differently from the rest. God had chosen Israel to be a nation that was an example and a light to everyone else: a nation with higher standards, a nation in which all people lived in accordance with God’s law, the Torah, and in which the needs of all were the central concern, not the wealth or privilege of the few. In demanding a human king and choosing to be like other nations, the elders of the people were essentially abandoning that vision.
Notice that those who insisted on changing the relationship between God and God’s people were not a group of young people turning to new ways. They were the elders of the people: those who thought of themselves as the ones protecting the tradition, even though, in reality, their actions betrayed the genuine tradition.
The second reason that Samuel opposed the elders’ call for a king was the fact that Israel already had a king: Yahweh was their king. In calling for a human king, the elders were abandoning that fundamental principle of the people’s identity. Samuel knew that; and, at first, he interpreted their request as a sign that he had somehow failed in his mission. But in our reading, God tries to console him by explaining, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” The elders were clearly choosing security, in the end a false security, over the freedom that God had given them. They were choosing loyalty to a human king, and to the demands that he would make of them, over loyalty to their divine king who had brought them out of Egypt, made them a people, and guided them during the past two hundred years.
Samuel tried to warn them about the implications of their decision. In our reading, he lays out a long list of the prerogatives of a king and of all that a human king would take from them. And, saving his most powerful line for last, Samuel concludes his list by declaring bluntly, “and you shall be his slaves.” For a people whose very identity was inseparably tied to God’s great work in freeing them from slavery in Egypt, this statement alone should have stopped them in their tracks; but obviously, it did not.
Over and over again throughout history, Jews and Christians alike have forgotten the message of Samuel, ultimately the message of God. They have watered down or abandoned the fundamental principle that God alone is king and that God’s word and God’s work take priority over all other rulers and nations and over all other demands. They have longed to be like other people and have tried to put their nations on a par with God.
When Constantine granted legal status to the Christian religion, it was not long before Christians began to equate the concerns of God with the concerns of the Roman Empire. Being faithful to God required people to be faithful to and supportive of the Emperor and the Empire. They managed to convince themselves that the values of the Empire and the values of God were essentially the same, even though that was far from the truth.
That process and pattern has repeated itself over and over again throughout the church’s history. It was used to give legitimacy to the values and actions of Byzantine emperors, of rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, of Russian czars, of European monarchs, and of those who have held authority and power in the United States. People throughout history have found ways to convince themselves, “Well, we’re not perfect, but the interests and values of God and the interests and values of our country are basically the same.” In more ways that we want to admit, they are not.
As we watch and listen this summer to speeches and declarations and National Conventions tied to this fall’s elections, we need to be skeptical of what all parties and all candidates and their supporters try to tell us about the values that they want us to support, to claims that their values are also the values of God. We need to return again and again to the scriptures to allow God to remind us of the values that they espouse: concern for justice for all people, for an equitable share for all people of the world‘s resources, and for special attention to the needs of the poor, both in this country and around the world.
That is one of the reasons that our regular, Sunday worship is so important, even in the summer. It is here that we listen to, reflect on, and recommit ourselves to the vision of God for the world. It is here that we are reminded that we, as St. Paul put it (Phil. 4:20), have our citizenship in heaven. And it is here that are called once again to examine, in humility, our values and priorities, and those of our nation and society, and compare and contrast them with the values and priorities of God.
Even beyond those vital reminders, we simply need to allow our weekly liturgy to carry us into the presence and life of God. As 20th century American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, prayed: “Give us grace to apprehend by faith the power and wisdom which lie beyond our understanding; and in worship to feel that which we do not know, and to praise even what we do not understand; so that in the presence of your glory we may be humble, and in the knowledge of your judgment we may repent; and in the assurance of your mercy, we may rejoice and be glad.” Amen.