Bringing the Text to Life
Sunday, June 10, 2018
At a Glance
Although our war of independence in the mid-1770s was a struggle to be rid of a monarchy, today we still seem fascinated by the very monarchy we once despised. Most monarchies today are ceremonial regencies only, living tableaus of a different past. In today's text, Israel decides that if it is going to live under a monarch, it would prefer one of flesh and bones. God, it seems, was not enough.
For material based on today's gospel text, see "Build a Bridge and Get Over It," June 8, 1997, at HomileticsOnline.com.
Our American colonist ancestors fought a long and hard war to rid themselves of rule by the English king, setting up our government as a democratic constitutional republic instead of a monarchy.
Yet today, we seem fascinated by the British royals. If you do a Google search on that topic, you'll find among the top results articles with titles like "Why are we still so obsessed by the British royals?" posted every year since 2011.
According to these articles, our obsession with the British monarchy has its roots in our general interest in celebrities who are famous for being famous and the Cinderella story that was Diana, and which continues with William and Kate.
Be that as it may, our attraction to the British royals doesn't mean we actually want a monarchy in the United States. No genuflecting for us! Worldwide, 26 royal families rule in more than 40 countries, but it's fair to say that few of us could name more than two or three of these countries, much less the monarchs on the throne. Moreover, we likely know little about the actual form of government in these nations. Many of them are constitutional monarchies, as is the United Kingdom. However, there still are six absolute monarchies, and one of them -- you'll never guess -- is ... the Vatican.
Israel wants a king
That we are a republic with democratically elected leaders -- not an absolute monarchy -- may make it difficult to put ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites in our Old Testament reading which tells the story of a people who want a king. The Israelites are pressing the prophet-priest Samuel to anoint a king for them. All the nations around them have a monarchy. They want one, too.
Why? Let's look at context and history.
From the Exodus -- when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt -- to the time of Samuel, a period of about 220 years, the Israelites had understood themselves as a loose confederacy of tribes with no king but God himself. Throughout that time, God called human leaders to take the reins as needed -- first Moses, then Joshua, then the judges, with Samuel being one of them -- and, as it turns out, the last.
Samuel had two sons and when he became old, he made them judges over Israel. This suggests that Samuel, for all his usual obedience to God, was here acting on his own, not waiting for God's direction, but instead instituting a hereditary line of succession. In any case, the people quickly realized that this was a bad situation, for as the biblical narrator tells us, Samuel's "sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice" (v. 3).
So the tribal elders gathered, came up with a plan and approached Samuel, asking him to give them a king to govern them. Samuel in turn sought God's advice in prayer, and God told him that while their demand was a rejection of God himself, Samuel should do as they wanted.
Samuel first spelled out for the elders the downside of royal leadership, listing the abuses that usually came when someone had absolute power. But the people were adamant, and ultimately, under God's direction, Samuel anointed Saul, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin, to be that king.
A God with skin
Apparently, the Israelites had come to the place where they decided that when it came to governance, God was not enough. Life sometimes pushes us toward that conclusion as well.
As Christians, we may view God as our ultimate leader and try to apply our faith in him across the board of our lives. But we may also find times when it seems that God is not enough for the pain, loss or grief life brings to us.
There is a story that sometimes gets trotted out for Christmas sermons to illustrate the Incarnation of God in Christ. It's about a little girl who became frightened during the night because of a thunderstorm. She cried out for her mother, who came in to comfort her. The mother, who wanted to get back to bed herself, tried to reassure her daughter by saying, "Don't worry, dear. God will take care of you."
But her daughter answered, "I want somebody with skin on!" Or, to paraphrase, she was saying, "God is not enough to deal with the fright I'm feeling."
Have you ever thought something like that when facing the pain of being human? "I have these troubles, and people at church tell me God is all I need. Well, I've prayed and prayed about my problems, and they're still there." Such a prayer is your way of saying that God isn't enough. You may feel uneasy saying so, but it's how you sometimes feel, nonetheless.
God is not liquid
The issue, says author and blogger J. Grace Pennington, is not that statements like "God is enough" aren't true. They are true, she says. But the problem is that such claims are vague. Why? Because the word "need" is ambiguous. For example, we can say we need God's help, but we can also say we need food or need a break, and we're talking about very different things.
"Our hearts seem to be need-factories," Pennington says, "and we are told that Jesus is the answer for them all." She goes on to say that "It's as though we spend our days carving hollows into our hearts -- hollows that are shaped just to fit the objects of our necessities and desires." But, she adds, "knowing that God is all we need doesn't seem to abate the inner longings for a happy marriage, a time of rest, fellowship or more money. The holes still feel empty. And their emptiness seems to weigh us down."
Pennington tells of her own feelings: "I can sometimes get angry with God when this emptiness is particularly heavy -- then of course I feel guilty for my anger. After all, God is all I need! Then a half-realized panic starts to creep in. Is God really enough?"
The problem, she says, is that God isn't liquid. "He doesn't exist to fill the holes we manufacture in our hearts. He's a solid -- he is his own shape, rather than taking on the shape of that which he inhabits." Pennington points out that in Ezekiel, God "tells us that he will remove the heart of stone from us and replace it with a heart of flesh. Our hearts aren't meant to be hard, hollow receptacles for God to fit himself into."
Pennington concludes, "It's not about [God] being enough to fill our needs anymore; it's about him being more than enough, filling us in ways we didn't expect or know that we needed."
The "enoughness" of God
Well, that's a nice, faith-filled conclusion, but when we're in pain, how do we get there? The answer is perhaps a combination of God's "enoughness" and the skin on that the little girl asked for.
In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on a worshiping congregation in a small Baptist church, killing 26 and wounding 20, Christianity Today published an article about research that shows that "people of faith, particularly those who receive support from their churches and religious communities, fare better in their recovery" (emphasis added). The article continues: "After a mass shooting, people who felt supported by their religious communities ultimately experienced fewer symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and their faith didn't suffer as much. ... researchers found that after a mass shooting, similar to what studies show in the wake of natural disasters, 'religious support buffers the deleterious relationship between resource loss and negative outcomes.' That means, even when the suffering is greater, survivors with high levels of support from their faith communities don't show the level of worsening symptoms experienced by people without such community."
Surely, this is a way of saying God's people are the ones who put the skin on God's sufficiency, so when we are in pain, letting the Christian community minister to us is where we learn from experience that God is enough. As the research cited in the article pointed out, "looking to God for strength, support and guidance and experiencing him as 'ever-present help in trouble' (Psalm 46:1) is associated with less anxiety and depression, as well as greater meaning and psychological stability."
When we're questioning whether God is enough, it may be because we're thinking of this enoughness as total solutions to our problems. But consider this: Author Anne Lamott was a single mother who found her way to the Lord after several years of drug and alcohol abuse. A great part of what enabled her to embrace the Christian way and continue to live it was the support and love she found from members of a small church she started attending -- people who put the skin on God's sufficiency. Even after coming to Christ, Lamott's life was not easy, but she experienced the help of the Lord through the friendships and prayers of those faithful people.
Here's something she wrote about that: "It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools -- friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty -- and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they're enough."
They are, through God, enough!
Possible Preaching Themes:
+ God's sufficiency is transmitted through God's people.
+ When isn't God good enough for us? Do we have a religious life and a private life? Do we keep God boxed in one compartment, and perhaps mention God occasionally to show others that we do have a moral and religious compass? Do we live privately what Luther and Augustine talked about in terms of the public sphere, a two-kingdom policy, the City of God, and the City of Mortals? We have the Sacred part of our lives and the Secular part and ne'er the twain shall meet. What if God were sovereign over our time? What if God were sovereign over our budget? Who are the monarchs in our life?
Dewey, Caitlin and Max Fisher. "Meet the world's other 25 royal families." The Washington Post, July 22, 2013. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. New York: Pantheon, 1999, 103.
"List of current monarchies." Wikipedia. wikipedia.org. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
Pennington, J. Grace, "When God is not enough." The Rebelution, November 9, 2015. therebelution.com. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
Shellnutt, Kate and Rebecca Randall. "Researchers: Faith helps mass shooting survivors." Christianity Today, November 6, 2017. ChristianityToday.com. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
THE OTHER TEXTS: June 10, 2018, Cycle B
What Does the Text Say?
Psalm 138 is a psalm of lavish thanksgiving and praise to the Lord. Thanksgiving is offered with the whole heart (v. 1). See Psalm 9:1: "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds." But the expression in verse 1b, "before the gods I sing your praise," gives considerable pause to many. The faith of biblical Israel is typically regarded as strictly monotheistic (a belief in "the one true God" that denies the existence of other gods). But OT literature reveals a much more complex situation. Many polytheistic Israelites worshiped many gods and goddesses -- those of their ancestors or those of the lands they occupied (see Joshua 24 passim) or gods of the surrounding nations. Some tried eclectically to combine worshiping the Lord God of Israel and other gods. See 1 Kings 11:33. Another possibility for understanding "before the gods" is that occasionally the word 'elohim is understood and/or translated other than "God" or "gods" (the word is a plural form in Hebrew). Tanakh translates verse 1's 'elohim as "divine beings"; New English Translation has "heavenly assembly"; the LXX Greek has aggelwn ("angels"), and the Latin Vulgate has angelorum ("angels"). In Psalm 8:5 'elohim is translated variously as "God" (NRSV), "the angels" (KJV) or "the heavenly beings" (NIV and NET). In such a viewpoint, "gods" can be understood as a "divine council" comprised of the Lord God and other divine or divinely endowed beings around the Lord's throne: Psalms 29:1; 82:1; 89:5-8. Verse 8 combines an affirmation and a prayerful plea. David believes that God will "fulfill his purpose" (complete or finish things) for him, out of God's enduring steadfast love (hesed again). David implores God not to abandon him or cut him loose. God's hands have both fashioned David (v. 8) and delivered him (v. 7).
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
A Plan for My Life, or a Life for God's Plan?Most people would agree that it's a good thing to have a plan. The plan might be a small one. It could be a large one. Depends on whether you're planning your day or your life. It's the planning your life part that's hard. Yet we seem to respond to someone who is able to help us with life-planning. Life coaching is a burgeoning industry. Pastor Rick Warren's book, The Purpose-Driven Life, was -- and is -- a huge best-seller. Back in the 1970s, Bill Bright of Campus Life put together The Four Spiritual Laws. The first law is that "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." This is essentially the message of verse 8, "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me." The New Living Translation puts it this way: "The Lord will work out his plans for my life." Note: Whose plan is underway here? God's plan, not our plan. Sometimes, we'd prefer to develop our own plan and have God bless it, sanctify it and use it for our glory. God wants us to have a life that is purpose-built by God's design for God's glory! What are some ways we can move into a life for God's plan? First, we begin with praise. "I give you thanks ... with my whole heart ... I sing your praise; I bow down ... and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness" (vv. 1-2). Second, we walk in humility, verse 6: "For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away." Third, we trust God implicitly to carry out his will. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me" (v. 7). Work on these three things, and you'll probably discover that your life has been shaped to fit in with the plan that God has had for you all along.
*Homiletics has treated this text once. Go to HomileticsOnline.com. Select Psalm in the Scripture Search drop-down menu and click GO.
What Does the Text Say?
As the text opens, those who thought they had known Jesus the longest and the best -- his oldest friends and family -- cannot comprehend all the stir and turmoil that now follows him. Their conclusion is that Jesus was "out of his mind" (v. 21). Standing "outside" -- apparently both physically and metaphorically -- his family calls out to him announcing a family intervention. This unprecedented behavior leads Jesus to offer a pronouncement about the new nature of kinship, where the priority of blood family ties recedes in favor of spiritual ties that bind together all those who do "the will of God." Jesus' answer avoids insulting his family, as would ignoring them or directly refusing their wishes. Outright disobedience to parental authority on Jesus' part would lower his own honored status into the gutter. But Jesus avoids this trap by raising the stakes. By appealing to a higher law, a greater will, to legitimize his actions, doing God's will becomes the standard, a standard that allows Jesus to redefine family boundaries. Today's other "hot button" is blasphemy. The "scribes" continue to pick at Jesus' credentials for performing exorcisms. But Jesus easily disarms the barbed accusations of "blasphemy" that the scribes hurl at him. His logic shoots down their attack ("How can Satan cast out Satan?") and sinks them deeper into shame.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Embrace Your Craziness. Here's the deal: If God is real, then, by definition, God is above and beyond any and all cultures, perspectives or political views. No one tribe completely "gets" God. Therefore, in some way, as God breaks into our world through the Son, the Word and Spirit-filled people, God will, in some way, offend and jar the sensibilities of everyone at some time or another. If the God we worship is not deeply disrupting and uncomfortably confronting some part of our lives, then the God we worship is likely one of our own creation, not the Creator of the universe. Nowhere is this illustrated more vividly than in the gospel itself. The Incarnation: Doesn't make sense. Think about it. See 2 Corinthians 8:9 and Philippians 2:5-8. The cross: Foolishness. See 1 Corinthians 1:18. God in flesh, giving his life as a gift for a rebellious and evil humanity is crazy. It is pure foolishness. Salvation: Every other religious system requires that the one being rescued do something, like grow in certain knowledge or demonstrate certain obedience. But no, we are told that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and made us alive when we were dead. We bring nothing to the table (see Ephesians 2:8-10). Instead, God, by his Spirit, brings us and feeds us an unrelenting course of undeserved mercy and grace. It runs counter to all that we celebrate in our world. It's not how careers are conquered, how championships are won or how a heart is wooed. It is, to the human hearer, completely ludicrous. And yet it's true. The resurrection: Even the disciples couldn't believe it -- at first. So Jesus was not fazed when his family thought he was going nuts. And we should regard the occasional eye roll as that which goes with the territory. We need only turn to the book of Acts where, with dumbfounded, wide-eyed wonder, the world responds to the early believers. "Look at them. They share their stuff. They celebrate in their struggles. They eat flesh and drink blood. We can't hate them ... they're insane." What if the church today embraced her craziness? (Adapted from Homiletics, "By Reason of Insanity," June 7, 2015.)
*Homiletics has treated this text twice. Go to HomileticsOnline.com. Select Mark in the Scripture Search drop-down menu and click GO.
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
Come, We That Love the Lord
I Just Came to Praise the Lord
Let's Just Praise the Lord
†For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The Praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
COMMITMENT TO GOD
WILL OF GOD
on 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
from Jun 10, 2018
Today's reading from 1 Samuel is part of the narrative arc stretching from chapter 8 to chapter 12 in that book, which recounts, in highly ambivalent terms, the establishment of the Israelite monarchy in the 10th century B.C. Within that narrative block, scholars have identified two literary sources, an older, pro-monarchy (or neutral) source (found in 9:1-10:16; 10:27b-11:15), and a later, anti-m... Read more (you must be logged in to read the commentary)
Throughout history, there have been good leaders and bad leaders. There have been dictators, and there have been benevolent kings. This list is about the greatest, most benevolent monarchs in history -- those rulers who made life better for their people.
10. Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire. Reign: 1494-1566. Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, reigned as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for 69 years, longer than any other Sultan. During his rule, the Ottoman Empire in its Golden Age encompassed most of the Middle East, Southeastern Europe and Rhodes. Suleiman also made educational, legislative, taxation and criminal reforms.
9. James I of England. Reign: 1603-1625. James I, also known as "the wisest fool in Christendom," was the first king of both England and Scotland. Under his rule, the two kingdoms were united. He is the James of the King James Version of the Bible (1607). Literature and the fine arts flourished under his reign, he himself writing many books and poems.
8. John III of Poland-Lithuania. Reign: 1674-1696. John III, also known as the Lion of Lehistan, was a military and political genius. Under his rule, Poland-Lithuania became a stable, flourishing state. John became known as the Lion of Lehistan after his victory against the Turks in the Battle of Vienna.
7. Meiji of Japan. Reign: 1867-1912. When Meiji became Emperor of Japan at the age of 14, Japan was a primitive and isolated country. By the end of his reign, Japan was an industrial powerhouse. Meiji was a key player in making Japan a major world superpower.
6. Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. Reign: 1611-1632. Gustav II Adolf, also known as Gustavus Adolphus, was the King of Sweden for 21 years. During his reign, Sweden became a major European power. Gustav II Adolf led his Protestant army against the Catholic armies of France and Spain. After his death in battle, Sweden became known as a military powerhouse.
5. Augustus of Rome. Reign: 27 B.C.-A.D. 14. Augustus Caesar ruled as the Emperor of Rome for 41 years. During this time, Augustus improved the infrastructure and military of Rome. He also reformed the taxation process. His reign is known as Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, because during his reign diplomacy flourished.
4. Cyrus II of Persia. Reign: 559 B.C.-530 B.C. Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great, ruled Persia for 30 years. During his reign, the Persian Empire encompassed much of the Middle East, including Iran, Israel and Mesopotamia. Under Cyrus's reign, human rights and military strategy were greatly improved.
3. Frederick II of Prussia. Reign: 1740-1786. Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, ruled Prussia for 46 years. During his reign, the borders of Prussia expanded to encompass West Prussia and Silesia. Under his reign, the infrastructure, military and bureaucratic process of Prussia was greatly improved.
2. Victoria of the United Kingdom. Reign: 1837-1901. Queen Victoria was ruler of the United Kingdom for more than 63 years, longer than any other British monarch. During her reign, the British Empire expanded to encompass one quarter of the land on the Earth, making it the largest empire ever. The United Kingdom flourished under her reign, with the Industrial Revolution taking place. Victoria lent her name to the Victorian Era, a time when the United Kingdom's power was at its zenith.
1. Louis XIV of France. Reign: 1643-1715. Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, reigned as King of France for 72 years, longer than any other European monarch. Under his reign, France became the most powerful country in Europe. Louis ended feudalism in France and modernized the country. During his rule, the military and fine arts flourished. Louis believed strongly in the divine right of kings, saying that he was the sun and that his courtiers and France should revolve around him like planets.
--Adapted from "Top 10 greatest monarchs," listverse.com. August 11, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte, reflecting back on his life, made this capstone statement on his career in government: "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires; but on what foundation did we rest the creatures of our genius? Upon force. But Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour, millions of persons would die for Him."
--Cited by Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (W Publishing Group, 2002), 149.
I am very frightened whenever religious people absorb political power. Because the minute that they begin to operate from the position of power, they contradict the essence of Christ, which is powerlessness: love in action.
You know, the only people that have ever gotten anything done in this world are people who didn't hold political office. ... Ghandi led a revolution, and he did it without using political power. He was never elected to office. When they asked him, "How are you going to get the British to leave India?" he said, "As friends."
Martin Luther King did not hold a political office. He changed history more than all the politicians put together in this country. That great march from Selma to Montgomery, and the followers of King got to the bridge, and the Sheriff said to turn back. And the response was, "We've come too far to turn back now." And the people got down on their knees. And what is more vulnerable than people on their knees? At the count of 10, the deputies waded in with their clubs, released the vicious dogs, and on live television I saw it ... I remember standing up and saying, "We've won! We've won! The civil rights movement has won!"
You say, "Wait a minute. They're getting beaten, they're getting battered, they're getting bitten, they're getting destroyed!"
"You're right! They're getting killed! But we Christians, we have a nasty habit of rising again; for there is no power that can keep love down!" Love triumphs in the end.
That's the great issue of history, isn't it? Whether we're going to trust in power, or we're going to trust in love. And the problem is that the church, instead of being faithful to its genius, thinks that it has to play power games, instead of love games.
--Tony Campolo, from a speech delivered at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Breakfast,
June 11, 2001.
A 101-year-old woman was being given cognitive tests in the care facility where she lived. The staff psychologist was trying to determine the level of her mental acuity.
She asked her a standard question: "Who is president of the United States?"
The patient didn't miss a beat. She replied: "Honey, I'm 101 years old and I don't care who's President."
The psychologist wrote on the patient's chart that she was appropriately oriented to the world around her.
There are times when even rulers of nations get no respect.
A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent arrived at a ranch in Texas telling the old rancher that he needed to search his property for illegal drugs. The rancher cheerfully assented, but said, "Just don't go into that field over there."
This made the DEA agent suspicious. "Look, mister," he said, pulling a badge out of his pocket. "I have the full authority of the federal government behind me. I'll go anywhere on your ranch that I want!"
The rancher silently nodded and went off to resume his chores. Moments later he heard loud screams. Looking up, he saw the DEA agent running for his life, being chased by the rancher's bull.
The bull was gaining on him. The agent frantically gestured to the rancher for help.
The rancher cupped his hands around his mouth and called out in a loud voice: "YOUR BADGE! SHOW HIM YOUR BADGE!"
There are limits to human authority.
Pull a penny and a nickel out of your pocket and ask the children which has the most value. Repeat with a nickel and dime, then a dime and a quarter. Hold up the quarter and ask which has the most value, 25 cents or 25 minutes playing with toys? Discuss the answers. What would they do with the quarter? Is 25 cents more or less valuable than watching 25 minutes of TV? They might come to the conclusion that there are some things that are more valuable than money. The companion truth is that there are some things that money can't buy. What do we have that money can't buy? What do you have that's more valuable than money? What do you have that you wouldn't trade for all the money in the world? Things that money can't buy or are more valuable than money include love, respect, time, health, parents, friendship, joy. How rich do you consider yourself?