Saint Mark's Episcopal Church Website

News and Events

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Seeking a king

Pr.5, Yr B
1 Samuel 8:4-20

I love Girl Scout cookies, Thin Mints in particular. If I have a box of them around, they call to me. I can think about how I really ought to save them for a time when I'm truly hungry and as a dessert after a meal. I can read the nutrition information on the side and find out that a serving is just 4 cookies. I can see that along with the delight of those 4 cookies, I'm going to get 160 calories, 8 grams of fat--5 of which are saturated--a lot of sugar, and negligible amounts of fiber or protein. It turns out that Thin Mints are probably worse for you than any other Girl Scout cookie. I can register all that information...and then, without much hesitation, I can open up the box and eat an entire sleeve of them! I know it's not a good idea, but nonetheless, it's what I want; it satisfies some sort of craving.

I admit to this trusting that I'm not the only one who has ever done it. Oh, maybe you aren't brought down by Thin Mints, but there's almost certainly something, most likely more than one something. We do it at an individual level, and we do it communally. We crave what's bad for us. We long for what can't really satisfy us. We choose what threatens to destroy us. And we do it again and again and again.
This timeless human tradition is perfectly expressed in today's Old Testament lesson, demonstrating once again that there really is nothing new under the sun. The Israelites tell the priest Samuel that they really want a king "like all the other nations have..." Samuel tells them and God that he thinks it's a bad idea. A king will take the best of their men as soldiers and farmers and craftsmen; he'll take the best of their women for cooks and perfumers and who knows what else; he'll take the best of their crops for his own court; he'll take the best of their lands for his own enrichment; and then he'll make everyone his slaves. God agrees with Samuel, but the people keep insisting that despite all this, they want a king to be in charge and keep them safe; after all, everyone else is doing it! God tells Samuel to go ahead and give them what they're wishing for, even though they'll regret it, and Saul becomes the first king of Israel.
I get it; I really do. The world is a chaotic, threatening place, and we all long for order, for someone to be in charge and protect us, to assure us everything is going to be okay. However, I tend to want these things the easy way, often ignoring the big picture. I desire good health, but it seems simpler to trust in new drugs and surgeries than the slow and difficult approach of eating well and exercising. Want to feel loved? Sure a lot easier to friend everyone and their neighbor on Facebook than to take time to really talk to the person next to you. We all want safety, but we're more inclined to erect walls, lock doors, and build prisons than address the long term issues of justice, poverty, education, and mental health care. And control...who doesn't want a feeling of control and security? But are bigger bank accounts, longer job titles, or more sophisticated gadgets the way to get it?
The fact is, there are no easy solutions and there never have been. Didn't work for the Israelites a couple thousand years ago, and still doesn't work today. Hard as it may be, we get our best chance when we learn to live with uncertainty, with lack of control, with mystery, because that's what it's like to live with God. We're not supposed to be like everyone else; we're called to be God's chosen and holy people...which is way more difficult.
Yesterday I went to the Education for Ministry graduation at the Cathedral Center to celebrate with our own 4 graduates and a couple dozen from other congregations. Over the years, I've come to believe that one of the most important facets of EfM is learning to live with, and even embrace, the questions, rather than imagining that as Christians we're meant to find static answers. Even beyond that, the wonder of EfM, and of the church, is that we aren't left to do that in isolation. God draws us into communities of seekers, so that although we may be uncertain or mystified or downright confused, we aren't alone. We can explore together, learning from one another, encouraging and supporting and strengthening each other so that we grow mutually in faith, turning to the only One who can fill our longing. We can see from the Israelites what happens when we give up on God and give up on each other; we look for a king--or a book with the answer, or a bank account, or a pill, or a system, or a tool or toy, or a food or drink, or something else human-devised--to take care of us, to make us feel safe. But those just won't cut it for long, even if they look like they're working for everyone else. I'm not saying those things are inherently bad, just that they can't satisfy our deepest needs and longing.
In the Collect for Purity, we pray at the beginning of our worship, "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid..." Isn't that what our souls crave? To be fully and completely known, exactly as we are, and still to be loved? But this is our reality. We don't need to go in search of a king; we already have been found, and known, and loved by the Ruler of all Creation, the Sovereign Lord of Life. To this God we give all thanks and praise. Amen.



Post a Comment

<< Home