Summer is officially here when the RCL gives us a choice between the thematic and the continuous readings from the Hebrew Bible. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quit prepared to make that choice this year. I feel like I am running a few steps behind, like I’m still in Lent, or maybe Easter, certainly not this season after Pentecost. Yet, here we are anyway. While I’m not deciding for the entire summer, I can tell you that I am unexpectedly drawn to the 1 Samuel reading.
In this pericope Samuel talks with God about the people’s desire to have a king like all the other nations. Neither God nor Samuel sees this as a good thing. Yet, the people are determined to be like other nations. God sees this as a rejection of God’s rule over the people, as does Samuel. God even warns them about what they will lose if they choose a king. The king will take their children, their goods, their services; the king will take a large slice of everything they have. And the people don’t care. They want what they want. Nothing good ever comes from a desire to be like everyone else.
Samuel knew that a king would change the way people understood God. The king is tangible, in the flesh, and God is not. The people would shift their allegiance from God to the king and they would lose track of holy ways. They would forget that they had a sacred duty to care for the vulnerable among them and repair the brokenness of the world. It would become that much harder for people to choose God’s ways over the ways of the king. This was true then and it is true now.
Now we are confronted with the ways in which our governments have shaped our understanding of justice. We mistake what is legal for what is righteous before God. It is hard for us to leave behind the ways of the “the king” and seek after God’s holy ways. “The king” demands things of us – taxes, allegiance, and supporting the status quo. Questioning the systems of oppression created by our governments leads to strife that many of us want to avoid. Yet, God asks us to chose whom we will serve.
The Gospel text underscores this when Jesus claims the ragtag crowd around him, listening to him, following him as his siblings and family, over his biological family. If we claim to be siblings in Christ, with Christ, can we side with the powerful of our day? Can we continue to support systems of oppression just because our governments want to sustain systems that benefit those with power?
When it comes to church, whom do we follow? Are we seeking God’s ways of justice, mercy, love, healing, hope, etc? Or are we seeking to uphold what is? Are we like the ancient Israelites wanting to be like everyone else? Or are we like Jesus upsetting the status quo to bring power to the people?
Most of us don’t really want to be in Jesus’ crowd. It’s risky. We can’t just sit back and let the world go on around us. We have to get involved in the liberating work of the gospel – not just for ourselves but for all of our neighbors, our siblings. God knew long, long ago that we want to be like everyone else and have an earthly king who will tell us how things are to be. Yet, if we sit still and listen, even for a few minutes, we know the way of our “kings” is not the way of God. Choosing God is always the hardest choice…
Where is the Spirit leading you this week? One of these passages or another? Please join the discussion so we may support one another on our way to the pulpit this week.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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