June 17, 2018
Pr. Craig Mueller
What makes a good leader? We certainly know corruption and abuse of power when we see it. In the realm of TV, I think of Frank Underwood. And then, Kevin Spacey, the actor who played him accused of sexual misconduct by 15 persons. I’ve also been watching a CNN series on the papacy and note how power and corruption often go together.
And that leads us to our reading today from the Hebrew scriptures, and the theme of leadership. A continuous television series often begins with the “previously” segment. Maybe you weren’t here last week. Maybe you don’t know much about the biblical figures of Samuel, David, and Saul.
So “previously” . . . the people clamor for a king so they can be like other nations. God isn’t so keen on it but goes along anyway. Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel, which is where we left off last week. But a whole lot is left out before we get to today’s story. Actually, a lot needs to be left out or we’d either get bored, bogged down, or never get through one book in the entire summer. Saul disobeys God and proves to be unworthy of the office. And with a high dose of anthropomorphism, the text says that God grieves over Saul and is sorry that he was made king of over Israel. It’s one of the only times in the Bible that we learn God regrets something. Another is in the Noah and the flood story when great sin covered the earth.
Who will be king now? What is the succession plan? In England, there was a Succession to the Crown Act in 2013, declaring that gender shall not be a factor and you’re not disqualified if you marry a Roman Catholic! Well, that changes history! Next in line, of course, is Prince Charles, then his eldest son, Prince William. Prince Harry, the man of the hour a month of ago, is in fourth position.
The eldest child is often the chosen one, whether possessing leadership skills or not. But I digress. Back to the Bible. They need a new king. Jesse brings his seven sons and they pass by one by one. The Lord has already revealed to Samuel that they should not be judged on appearance. God works in mysterious ways and Samuel isn’t satisfied until the youngest son is brought in from the fields. He of course is David. And though appearance doesn’t matter, we are told, David is described as ruddy, with beautiful eyes, and handsome. Ruddy. When do I use that word? Google it. A face with a healthy reddish color.
Then David is anointed with oil. And the Spirit comes mightily upon him. He will have faults for sure, and the big one comes up in our readings several weeks from now. But David is a superstar in the Bible. His name occurs over 1,000 times in the First (the Old) Testament and 59 times in the Second (New) Testament.
Anointing a king or queen with oil. How many of you have watched the Netflix series The Crown? In season one, in the year 1953 a young Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England. And the anointing ceremony comes from these stories of Saul and David. The new monarch is anointed with olive oil infused with orange, rose, cinnamon and musk. A cross is made on the hands, the breast, and the crown of her head. Words are whispered to her. They include: “Be thy head anointed with holy oil: as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed . . . so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to rule and govern.”
A coronation committee in 1953 believed that transformative moment was so magical and mystical that it must take place out of sight. So the television cameras cut away for the anointing. But on Netflix’s The Crown they show it. Of course! As a (real) newsreel commentator put it in 1953: “the hallowing—a moment so old history can go deep enough to contain it.” When the cameras rolled on the monarch once again, with great hallelujahs, Elizabeth had become associated with the divine.
Neither our politics nor our theology is associated with a monarchy. However, anointing is part of our heritage. The newly baptized are marked—sealed—with oil with the sign of the cross. Oil is used in healing rites as well. Since baptism is the great equalizer, this oil is for all, showing that we are all children of God, honored as royalty, whether great or small, rich or poor, saint or sinner.
And the word Christ means “the anointed one.” The Messiah is the one anointed by God to be a sign of God’s justice and peace and to rule with equity as we read in the psalms.
What of our anointing and our call to service and leadership in these times? Recently a number of ecumenical Christian leaders released a statement called “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” It talks about these perilous and polarizing times. It names the crisis in moral and political leadership both in our government and in our churches. It calls us to claim our identity in Christ as our ultimate allegiance—superseding nationality, political party, race, gender, or geography.
Many people appreciate Holy Trinity’s values listed on page 11, including things we are for and things we are against. Since it is over five years old, we are proposing a few additions such as these.
Things we are for:
Welcoming refugees and immigrants as the biblical injunction to provide hospitality to strangers.
Democracy as the means to support those who are marginalized or most vulnerable in society.
God’s creation, including human beings, as being wonderfully diverse.
And things we are against:
Systems that perpetuate white preference and advantage.
Binary ways of looking at gender, sexuality, and other ways of being in the world.
Political ideology when it pits love of country against service to the earth and all its people.
Patriarchy and sexism that discriminate against women and gender non-conforming people.
Equating Christianity with a particular political party.
Things are not always what they seem. A small seed becomes a great tree. An unlikely person becomes a great leader. A dab of oil gives us our identity and our calling. And a piece of bread and sip of wine strengthens us for all that is yet to come.