Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 06/10/2012

“Say among the nations, the Lord is King!  The Lord is King, let the earth rejoice!  The Lord is King, let the people tremble!”  The Lord is King is a frequent refrain in some of the Psalms, some, not all because there are others that do praise an earthly king.  But in early Israel, “The Lord is King” was the refrain because they were not to be like other nations that were ruled by a human king.  Their only king would be the Lord their God. 

For earthly rulers the people of Israel would have judges, hence the book of Judges and the main role of the judges would be to keep the peace among the various tribes, to settle disputes that might come up; but they would also lead armies into battle, thus functioning kind of like a king, but with the critical understanding that the Lord was the real authority.  The good judges knew that and they honored the Lord’s kingship; Gideon for example who said, “I will not rule over you and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”

With King David as one of the main characters in the Old Testament though, somewhere along the line this thinking about kings changed and that is what the book of First Samuel is about.  The elders of the people of Israel came to Samuel and basically said, “You’re old, and your sons aren’t good for much, give us a king; give us a king so we can be like other nations.”  It’s a bold request, especially the “so we can be like other nations” part and all the reasons for this request are not clear, the history is hard to trace, but an external threat from the Philistines was probably part of it.  As a loose confederation of tribes, in order to defend themselves the people of Israel thought they needed a leader with the power to hold things together.  Without such a leader they were afraid that they would be defeated as they had been in the past and then order would be imposed by a Philistine outsider. So, “Give us a king,” they said. 

According to today’s lesson, the Lord was a little miffed about this request.  He took it personally, telling Samuel it’s not about you it’s about me; I’m the one they’ve rejected.  He told Samuel to warn the people about all the ways that a king could abuse his power and Samuel did that; but then the Lord agreed to go along with their request.  He agreed to provide them with a king which might not be what we would have expected.    

Theologically, that decision on the part of the Lord is interesting.  The people make a request that the Lord doesn’t agree with, that Samuel doesn’t agree with, a request that runs counter to who they have been as a “different” people, yet the Lord, despite feeling that the people have betrayed his trust, ultimately says OK.  It’s interesting because we know that King David looms on the horizon and we also know that the idea of a Messiah comes out of the rule of King David and we know that Jesus is the descendent of David who fulfills the promise of a Messiah.   It’s interesting because this idea of a Messiah that is so much a part of who we are comes out of a request for a king that the Lord didn’t approve of, a request which reflected a rejection of the Lord on the part of his chosen people.

But the Lord takes that request and works with it which gives us another example of the complex, relational nature of this God.  The God described here is a God who allows his people to have a voice, a God who is influenced by that voice.  It’s complex because we can’t lose sight of the sovereign nature of God either, the all powerful God who says, “I’m God and you’re not.”  Yet here we have another example of the Lord God setting aside that all powerful nature to cooperate with a request he doesn’t approve of, and then to ultimately work something new and wonderful out of the monarchy that is established.  The Lord doesn’t just cooperate with the request for a king to teach the people a lesson about how bad kings can be, although along the way they do get a taste of that, but instead there’s grace; he again provides a way for them, a way that we call Jesus.

That’s kind of the back story that will finally get us to the character of David, but this story of the request for a king also raises a couple of other topics for discussion, topics that are as relevant today as they were back then.  One is the question of accommodation, that request to “be like other nations.”  The people of Israel didn’t want to be different anymore, they wanted to be like everyone else.  For the church as an institution and for individuals who are part of a church, it’s an age old issue.  How different should we be?  How different do we want to be?  When is it OK to accommodate and be more like the wider culture?  Whether it’s worship styles or social values or morality, has accommodation gone too far?  Have we lost our difference? 

They’re tough questions and it is an age old issue because the text doesn’t provide clear direction about when accommodation is acceptable.  Accommodation isn’t ruled out, that’s clear.   One might have thought that the Lord would have stood firm in opposition to the request to have a king, but that’s not what happened; accommodation was made showing that just when you think you have the will of the Lord figured out, you find out you don’t.  To say that they all lived happily ever after with the move to monarchy wouldn’t be quite accurate, but good did come out of it so the question of accommodation and just how different we should be persists. 

As followers of Jesus, it would seem that a degree of difference is called for, but what that difference looks like is the question.  A group like the Amish really embraces the idea of Christian difference; it’s a big part of their identity.  There was a show about them on Public TV a couple of months ago, maybe you saw it, and while watching it and seeing how different they are I remember thinking, if they did a similar show about Lutherans it might be hard to see much difference at all between us and anyone else.  Is our degree of Christian difference even perceptible? 

Even with the Amish though, while their external differences most definitely make them a group set apart, I don’t think those are their most important differences.  How they live out those external differences is more important and with that they’re a mixed bag like the rest of us.  You remember how they extended forgiveness and sympathy to the family of the guy who shot up one of their schoolhouses and killed five little girls and injured five others?  That’s Christian difference, difference that reflects the kind of forgiveness and acceptance and hospitality that Jesus lived.  You don’t have to wear funny clothes and drive a horse and buggy to reflect that difference though.  Accommodation with modern life can be acceptable and even the Amish do it.  On the TV show I noticed that when they showed a Sunday night gathering they all the men and boys seemed to know who won the Eagles game that afternoon.

When it comes to accommodation a lot of things are negotiable just like whether or not to have a king proved to be negotiable in ancient Israel.  And remarkably, as that story shows us, good can come out of those accommodations even if they are initially displeasing to the Lord.  That’s worth remembering when the church gets bogged down in some of the discussions it gets bogged down in.  Whichever way the vote goes, it’s possible that good can come from it.  What isn’t negotiable though are those values that Jesus came back to over and over, things like forgiveness and acceptance, hospitality and compassion, love and care for the neighbor and for the least of these.  From his teachings, it’s clear that those are things that Jesus would find to be non-negotiable.  Those are the Christian differences that matter.

Another aspect of accommodation that this lesson raises has to do with trust.  What’s most striking about the request of the people for a king and the fact that the Lord went along with it, was that it displayed a lack of trust in the Lord as king.  Apparently, faced with the threat of the Philistines, they weren’t so sure about the Lord.  It’s another issue that certainly persists into our time.  We put “In God we Trust” on all our money, but a military budget that far exceeds that of the next ten nations on the list combined is evidence of trust in something else, an accommodation with how we perceive that the world really works.

We want it both ways.  Luther got around this to some extent with his Two Kingdoms doctrine, the Kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of this world.  “Both must be permitted to remain;” he said, “the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and to prevent evil deeds.”  That makes us all feel better, but is this just an accommodation on the part of Luther?  We certainly understand what he’s saying and except for an extreme pacifist, most of us agree with him; blatant evil must be challenged.  The problem with the Two Kingdoms doctrine is that it can become a short and slippery slope from there to permitting most anything for the sake of security and then going to church on Sunday to worship the Prince of Peace. As Christians we have to think about these things because from the way Jesus is portrayed in the gospels, he was that extreme pacifist I mentioned a moment ago.

That is clear, but according to our lesson from First Samuel, accommodation with that which seems clear can, at least sometimes, be permissible.  For any of us, our faith life involves that dance between accommodation and the call to be different.  The good news though is that God is part of the dance too, maybe not always pleased with our missteps, but still dancing with us and still leading the dance.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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