Readings & Reflection for June 6, 2021
1 Samuel 8:4-20
Then 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 it 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 to run before his chariots; he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands, commanders of fifties, some to plow his ground, and reap his harvest, some 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, vineyards and olive orchards to give to his courtiers.
He will take one-tenth of your grain and vineyards to give to his officers and 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.
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! We want 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."
I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me; you increased my strength of soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
Though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
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.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. . O
Lord God, do not forsake the work of your hands.
2 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 crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.
When the family of Jesus heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind."
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."
But Jesus called them to him, and said, "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.
If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand: his end has come.
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 evil spirit."
Then his mother and brothers came - 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 are outside, asking for you."
Jesus replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"
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 your mysterious power, Lord God, you have made all that is. We see order, pattern, and harmony throughout creation. Yet we also know accidents, mistakes, tragedies that overwhelm us.
Help us to know your guidance and strength amid the allegiances which call to us; help us to seek your presence above all else, in order that your good purposes flow even in us, that our lives might reflect your creative power and blessing.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
Each week there seems to be news which challenges our equilibrium and threatens our longing for harmony and peace. While we have been aware of historic patterns of discrimination and persecution in North America, our inner being is deeply torn with grief to hear of the suffering of children. While the creation of Indian Residential Schools in Canada involves both positive and negative motivations, so many terrible outcomes of that policy threaten the confidence we might have had in “good Canadian history.” How could people approve the removal of children from other families?
For anyone who remembers their own experience of family life with appreciation, it boggles the mind to imagine what good could be accomplished in removing children from their parents. Whether the stories from children in Residential Schools in Canada, living apart from their parents for many years, or the recent stories of immigrant children separated from their parents at the southern US border, most adults would agree these represent tragic human failure, or evil. What is sobering, however, is to consider how often good people (like us?) do what is wrong while seeking to do something which in their (our) own minds is good.
Where, for example, does respect for “family life” threaten the well-being of children? How do we balance respect for the allegiance between children and parents, with the protection children sometimes need from parents who are misguided, hurtful, or even cruel? Similarly, when you consider the complex functioning of a nation state, or the interwoven aspects of any particular ethnic identity, what are appropriate standards to evaluate the difference between what is healthy and good, or evil?
When one key leader seems to have sole power over most decisions in a country, what allegiance should any citizen in that society have towards the governing system or their leaders? Can you think of political parties or nations today who look up to a “fearless leader” to whom they seem devoted, but who others see as devious, untrustworthy, and even twisted?
Questions of love and respect within families, or allegiance and ethnic identity within nations, have often proven difficult. These questions are of immediate contemporary importance in our world today, and also represent long patterns from the beginnings of human history. Is it any wonder that Jesus was involved in circumstances addressing both of these conflictual issues? And, are you surprised that the baseline of Biblical faith challenges everyone who believes they have “settled answers” to historic and ongoing human complexity?
(1) In the first story (above) from Samuel, the people of Israel, settling in the “promised land” after finally getting out of slavery in Egypt, began to rebel against the prophet Samuel, who they have previously respected and trusted as someone who helped them to hear and follow God’s way. It seems they were impatient, and wanted more action faster than what was happening in their nation (which sounds like political pressures all around the world today as well!) The specific desire of the people of Israel was “to be like other nations”; in their minds this meant having a strong king to guide them, and to lead them into battle.
Samuel pushed back, telling them what a king would demand, how their lives would be ruled by the king in ways they would not like. Yet like someone having a tantrum, the people of Israel simply yelled louder, refusing to listen, demanding a king for themselves. Struggling with the question of how to lead the people as they were being so resistant, Samuel prayed. In the prayer, God pointed out that the people were rejecting God as King, in favour of a human leader, who would take advantage of them, and perhaps oppress them in pursuing his own visions of human power and glory.
What is fascinating to see in the dialogue between Samuel and God, is the clear indication of God’s willingness to “let the people do what they want”, rather than to force them into what would be a better life-choice for them. When you wonder “why God allows bad things to happen”, this story from Samuel might offer insight. The tensions between human desire, political “strength” from a human perspective, and God’s good purposes for the people He has made, seem tangled and difficult to resolve quickly. Yet to try to listen first to what God says is to ask whether God’s Reign as King can be trusted.
That question goes to the heart of “faith”: are we willing to acknowledge that we didn’t create ourselves, and perhaps consider whether the goodness of life which we have experienced might be a pointer towards “trusting” God first, over and above our political or personal vision?
(2) In the story from Mark we see a family conflict blown wide open in front of a much larger community ~ and this is the family of Jesus with his mother and brothers! Jesus is so popular, that the crowds drawn to him make it impossible even for his disciples and himself to eat.
His family are notified, and see that “Jesus is out of his right mind”; as a result they try to grab him and pull him out of the crowd ~ most likely a difficult challenge that would fail when the crowd wanted to keep Jesus there with them. The leaders from Jerusalem (scribes) who had come to investigate Jesus saw what was happening (as they were probably mixed through the crowd). They immediately agreed not only that “Jesus was beside himself”, but that he was controlled by Beelzebul, the chief of devils, which was where Jesus must receive his power ~ even to heal!
Jesus quickly pointed out the craziness of the idea that he was using evil powers to do good. This would only indicate that the evil powers were fighting against themselves. He then went on to caution against calling evil good, and good evil, for that is to blaspheme against the Spirit of God ~ i.e. to put yourself in opposition to God, which is like choosing a dark pit. A moment later, when the focus is brought back again to his family, Jesus turns to the crowd around them and defines a boundary line between family traditions and trusting faith in God. He says that “anyone who does the will of God is his sister, brother, mother...”
(3) In other words, these stories point up the ongoing patterns of tension for every human being between personal choices, family allegiance, political preferences, and “God’s will.”
Is it possible for us to “seek first the Reign of God in our lives” in the midst of family, cultural, social, political, and all other allegiances and pressures? My answer has to be yes. Just as we can perceive an order and harmony in nature, where the sequence of seasons, the movement of the planets, and so many other patterns contribute towards a purposeful flow that benefits human flourishing, I believe it is possible to find God’s order and harmony in the midst of all the allegiances which pull us one way and another. While it is simple to say “seek first the Kingdom of God” and everything else will work out, in everyday life trying to put that principle into practice is challenging. It requires diligent practice, humility while we grow through our mistakes and errors, and a trusting faith that God is with us in everything.
In other words, being human, wanting to make sense of life by looking to God in Jesus for guidance, will always be a “work in progress” for us. But it is also God’s call that we step forward in that direction, to reach the best of what might be possible for us within God’s good purposes.
In Paul’s comments above in 2Corinthians 4 we see an illustration of his perspective about this ongoing process of transformation which makes up “life in Christ”. He says that we are being raised with Jesus now, in this life, in a process of “grace flowing to more and more people”. While our bodies age, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
I believe that the transformation we see in the disciples as they followed Jesus, witnessed his death, and were radically expanded in their expectations of life after repeatedly seeing Jesus after his resurrection, show us the journey that is ours as well, as fellow disciples of Jesus.
May the Holy Spirit give us each day the ability to live in balance and harmony, in the midst of all the pressures, allegiances and tensions of human life, as we “seek first the Kingdom of God”.
Learning through humility, forgiveness, and renewal as we follow Jesus is the beginning of what the New Testament calls “eternal life” ~ the life God wants for us, lived here and now.