Summer Story Time: The High Way and The King’s Way, Give Us a King

June 7, 2015

1 Samuel 8:4-20, Common English Bible
So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”
It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.
The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you.
No, they’ve rejected me as king over them.
They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods.
So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”
Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king.
“This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:
“He will take your sons, and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot.
He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers.
He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants.
He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants.
He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work.
He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves!
When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Frederick Buechner says:
Samuel was a combination prophet, judge, and one-man band. When the old curmudgeon wasn’t out in the field trying to fight off the Philistine guerrillas, he was riding his circuit trying to keep the tribes of Israel honest, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was giving them hell for cheating on Yahweh every time a new fertility god showed up with a come-hither look in [its] eye. When he reached retirement age, he might have turned things over to his sons, but they were a bunch of crooks who sold justice to the highest bidder, and the Israelites said maybe he’d better get them a king instead. They’d never had one before, but they felt the time had come. Samuel threw a fit.

Scripture in the book of Lamentations tells us that nothing is new under the sun. Today’s scripture passage we along with Buechner’s description of Samuel—God’s prophet for God’s people—reminds us that things haven’t changed much have they?

We are not ruled by a king or queen and their court hierarchy so from our immediate history and experience of well over 230 years, we are more likely to wonder why in the world the Israelites would want a king after their enslavement with Pharaoh.

Let’s not too quickly jump to conclusions. Instead, let’s remember that we, too, have the heritage of being ruled by a king from the beginning of people landing on this continent as subjects of the King of England. Without the ships of England and eventually other countries, we would not exist as a nation today. People came to this continent for various reasons—religious freedom, business/trade enterprise that promised a fortune, adventure for the sake of adventure, prisoners who were released and given freedom in the colonies where they would no longer be rebellious against the King in England and a variety of other reasons brought people here.

Some of these people were entirely loyal to the King of England and saw no need for change. Most likely, as is usually the case, these were the people in control governmentally, politically, and religiously and were making money, buying property, accumulating stuff, eating well, and enjoying the way things were meant to be. A small voice in the back of our heads is whispering—Pharisees. These are the people who became the lords of the land and agents of the King. Then there was everyone else. Many of these people were not satisfied with having a king. They wanted change.

This should sound familiar. It’s our story today. We often feel that we are not in control and that our corrupt and immoral leadership burdens us with:
• too many taxes that are too high
• criminals running rampant
• education, food, fuel, housing and medical costs that continue to rise
• unemployment and underemployment that creates the necessity of two parents working or a single parent holding down two or three part-time jobs to survive
• injustices in our court system that often translates to those who can afford the best legal representation are the ones who receive justice
I suspect that these are the people of Israel who were demanding a king for the very same reasons that our ancestors were demanding freedom from the rule of a King.

Corruption was present even within the very system of judges and government that they had. Samuel did not offer any defense of his sons. He knew the sad truth of who they were and how they had lived. Maybe, just maybe we can stand in the shoes and life experiences of those who came to Samuel demanding a king and see some of the reasons they believed having a king would bring about the changes that they knew needed to happen. Samuel would soon die, and then who would be in charge? Are we not repeating the same actions every presidential election when we want to believe that the candidate we vote for will set things right in this country and fix all our problems? Or when we vote for certain congressional candidates who we believe will work to also set things right in this country and fix all our problems.

Hear again what Samuel heard from God:
The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you.
No, they’ve rejected me as king over them.
They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods.
So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

It’s not about Samuel’s lack of leadership. It’s not about his sons immorality and lack of leadership. God’s people have rejected God as their king, their lord the one they claimed to love with all their heart, all their might and all of their soul and to teach this same love of God to their children along with loving the alien, the stranger among them. This is the story of our lives even today. This is nothing new under the sun.

While Larry and I were on vacation, we visited England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Scotland was my favorite of all the places we saw although they were all beautiful places. I liked the Scottish highlands—the mountains and coastline. Castles and palaces everywhere with some being mostly ruins and ancient relics of former great estates and some still active estates and homes such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace in England and Cardor Castle in Scotland where families live today. Urquhart Castle ruins in Scotland, Dunluce Castle and Blarney Castle ruins in Ireland. All of these castles and palaces reminded me of the rule of kings and queens and all the history of the ways and the wealth of kings and queens who ruled their people with absolute power over the people.

Throughout history people have given their lives and their loyalty to men and women in exchange for leadership, protection and security. People continue to do this today whether giving their lives and their loyalty to elected government leaders or to actual kings and queens in still some places in this world. These elected government leaders and kings and queens continue to disappoint us in their lack of leadership and their immorality. We continue to be dismayed and surprised when this happens. We continue to be disappointed at the results we get from our leaders—the results that God told Samuel we would receive when we rejected God as our King.

Our summer sermon series, Summer Story Time: The High Way and The King’s Way begins today with God’s people demanding a human king to solve their problems. God’s people wanted to be like everyone else—all those other people around them who had kings and queens and life looked so ordered, peaceful and secure compared to what they were experiencing. We think we have better solutions to our problems than God can provide. God loves us enough to hear our demands, give us what we ask for, and then let us learn from the consequences of getting exactly what we asked God to give us. All along, God simply desires that we give our lives and our loyalty to God just as Jesus did when he died on the cross. This is the High Way—God as our King and Lord of our life. The people chose the human King’s Way, and our summer sermon series will take us through the results God giving the people, us, what we asked to receive.

When was a time you wanted what “everyone else” had, received it, and lived to regret it? God knows this story of our lives and God knows it’s nothing new under the sun. Let us continue to learn together what it means to travel the High Way with God as our King.