Scripture - 1 Samuel 8:4-20
1 Samuel 8:4-20 (The Message)
4-5 Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah. They presented their case: “Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else.”
6 When Samuel heard their demand—“Give us a king to rule us!”—he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to God.
7-9 God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”
10-18 So Samuel told them, delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”
19-20 But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.”
I’m going to show you a couple of different television commercials, and I want you to tell me what they are trying to sell.
[Insurance Ad] - Peace of mind
[Phone Ad] - This phone will make you creative, your everyday life will be exciting.
On one level, they’re selling us a product or service, but on another level, they are speaking to a deep place within our souls, touching that place that makes us think, “oh yeah, if I buy into that exercise program, I’ll get the happiness that I want.” Or, “Oh yeah, if I go with those financial planners, I’ll have the security I need.” Or “Right, if I drink that kind of beer, I’ll suddenly have all the friends and community I want.” These are rarely conscious thoughts that we have, but they are enmeshed with our desires to seek fulfillment and happiness in external things, in outside validation. They’re not just selling us a product, they’re selling us stories about who we are and who we should want to be.
We’re surrounded by these stories everyday on our TVs, Facebook feeds, magazines - everywhere you look, from the seemingly innocuous ad for a cleaning product to larger items like computers and cars - and there’s a cumulative effect when these stories begin to take shape in our spirits and we begin to attach ourselves - our identity, our security, our happiness, our values, our beliefs - to this narrative - and we begin to realize that we don’t measure up to what we’re being sold. To quote a former mentor of mine, “There’s a whole cottage industry out there, friends, that’s designed to tell you that you’re not good enough – and so, you need to buy their product, or their service, or their program so that you can find that elusive happiness that they have you convinced, you so desperately need.”
However, seeking our security or happiness or identity in external things is not purely a modern problem. Take, for instance, our scripture reading from 1 Samuel this morning. The elders of Israel came to Samuel because they wanted to be like other nations and have a king. It wasn’t enough for them to have God as their sovereign, they wanted a human king just like everybody else. When I read that passage for the first time years ago, that idea is what jumped out at me, and it continues to be the part of this story that strikes me the most.
The people of Israel - from the time they had entered and settled the Promised Land and received the laws dictating how they were to live together in that land - from that time to when this story takes place, about 300 - 400 years - they had been ruled by divinely appointed judges; individuals chosen by God to bring the people back into faithfulness with God, some of whom also led great military campaigns against Israel’s enemies. Samuel functioned as both prophet and judge for the people of Israel - so when Samuel heard the people’s desire for a king, God had to remind him that it wasn’t Samuel they were rejecting...but God.
Israel chose to seek their safety and security - and their identity as a people - in having a king instead of relying upon God for their provision. They coveted the system of government held by their neighbors, wanted to adopt their way of thinking and being, they wanted to be like them and thought that a king would solve all their problems for them - be able to fight their battles, make wise decisions, rule them and lead them. What God had given to them in the judges and in their elders and priests wasn’t good enough for them. They chose to believe the story that being like all the other nations would make everything right in their world, and a king was their ticket to success.
Instead of living differently, they wanted to blend in - they wanted to seek validation and happiness in externals in being just like everybody else.
And God, instead of forcing the issue, instead of making the people see reason - lets them make that choice, reminding them, though, that there will be consequences to that choice - and Samuel proceeds to list exactly what those will be, with slave labor on farms, conscripts into the military, taxes on harvests, imminent domain over the choicest fields and vineyards, just to name a few. Last of all is the reminder that when all this happens, when they cry out because of these dire circumstances, that God will not answer them in their distress.
Harsh words - but words that are ignored and we see later in the story that Samuel anoints Saul king over Israel and the people rejoice.
All this because the Israelites believed it would be better to be like the other nations around them, they believed the story that they’d be better off buying into the king program as it was advertised, and that doing so would be better for them instead of what God had offered them in how they were to live together as God’s people.
There continues to be a strong temptation to buy into the stories the world tells us; the stories rooted in individualism and consumerism, the stories that our identity comes from those things that are outside of us. Perhaps we’re not setting up kings and queens to rule us, but we do set up a way of thinking and being that rules our lives that runs antithetical to God’s unconditional love for us and for the world.
We see this in the drive for happiness and success being associated with what I own or consume. We see this in the drive to make something of ourselves, that our whole self-image is based on what we do and whether people like us or not. We see this in the idea that the world is all about me and my own story and my own satisfaction - and that everyone else is there to play a supporting role, everyone else is there as stepping stones or obstacles to the achievement of whatever it is I want to be.
All external realities that motivate us to buy in, to want more, that prey upon our insecurities around not being good enough, attempt to discredit the true reality of our identity and security -- that we are beloved children of God and nothing that we could ever do or not do can change that.
It’s a daily choice to hold fast to that truth, to let the story of God’s grace and love reign in our hearts instead of looking for salvation in governments and fashions and technology and diets, in self-help programs or the self-improvement plans. It’s a choice that requires community to strengthen and reinforce it - with corporate worship and prayer, with study around scripture together, journeying with others who are also looking to ground themselves in God’s great story with humankind as opposed to the temptation to fit in with the world around us. It’s a choice that requires confession and honesty...and an awareness of the ways the world still has claim on us...and the ability to yet again turn our souls toward God’s fresh, transforming spirit. It is a collective choice, as well, to be God’s people - not conformed to the values of this world but shaped and formed by the life of Christ and the way he lived and loved and pointed the way to God’s kingdom.
In our daily living this week, be mindful of the stories you are surrounded with - are they ones full of God’s love and grace, or are they ones that lead you to seek happiness in external things? Do they point to life in God’s kingdom, or do they point to playing by the world’s rules? Be mindful of the opportunities to steep yourself again and again in the story of grace and mercy, of the hope and promise that Jesus brings, of the spirit’s movement opening our hearts to that love once more. May we continue to learn to ground our spirits in God’s great love for us and for the world, that we may hold true that we are all children of God. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.