Pr. Ben Adams
June 9/10, 2018
You’ve Been Warned
You’ve been warned. Anyone else ever hear those words before? Any parents out there ever utter those words? Anyone here ever disregard those fateful words?
I know I have, and when the things I have been warned about eventually come to pass, the next thing I normally hear is, “I told you so.”
Isn’t that the worst? When you’ve been warned about the probable outcomes of your decisions, you do it anyway, and then have to suffer the self-righteous lecture of the one who warned you and who was right all along.
That terrible, defeated, humiliating feeling, that’s how I relate to today’s lesson from First Samuel. We have the Israelites who are entering a new stage in their communal life, they are moving from theocracy to monarchy. In other words, from the time of Moses until this point in First Samuel where they elect Saul as their King, they had been operating with a system of government where there was no king and priests ruled in the name of God.
So we can’t underestimate the momentousness of this change. And it’s clear from the displeasure of Samuel, Israel’s judge, that he wasn’t in agreement with this decision. So he takes his concern to God, probably hoping that God would send him word to stop this change from happening, but God doesn’t stop the change from happening. Instead God instructs Samuel to listen to the people. God tells Samuel to do what the people want, but to also issue a solemn warning letting people know of all the ways in which a king would rule over them.
Samuel reports all the words of the Lord. The ways in which this king will make their sons fight in the war economy, their daughters will be taken to work menial jobs, their fields will be seized and he’ll give it to his friends, and he’ll also take one tenth of their harvest and give that to his friends too, he will take their property and use it for his own gain, ultimately, they will be the king’s slaves. So with that warning from God themself, what do the Israelites do? They elect Saul as their King.
This gets me to thinking, what is it that compelled these Israelites to disregard even a warning from God? The text makes it sound like they just wanted to be like everyone else who already had a king, but there has to be more to it than just that. And there was. We need to understand that Israel was not exactly safe and sound during this time. They were facing a very real threat from the Philistines and their desire for a King reflects their desire for safety.
They think this king will be a display of strength to the rest of the world, something tangible that doesn’t require faith, but as we know from God’s warning to the Israelites, Kings don’t come free.
And things don’t go great for Israel under King Saul. Spoiler alert: he dies in battle against the Philistines.
So that's our cue, this is our chance to tell Israel, told you so! Come on they had a warning from God after all! They definitely got what they deserve right? Right?
I don't know though… Should it give us a good feeling in our gut knowing that the Israelites got what they deserved for not heeding God’s warning?
Really, how can we read about these Israelites and feel justified by simply saying, well they were warned, now they’re just getting what they deserve? How can we feel a sense of justification when we know that because of God’s grace known to us through Jesus Christ, we will never experience what it means to get what we deserve.
Let’s be honest, would any of us be where we are today if we always got what we deserved? I think we know, on a deep level, that there have probably have experienced grace upon grace many times when we didn't deserve it, yet when we see others making bad decisions, especially when they’ve been warned, we feel righteous and justified when things don’t turn out for them and they get their due.
I saw this most clearly soon after the election of Donald Trump. Many of his supporters put their full faith into his promises for their jobs, their health care, and most importantly like the Israelites, their safety.
But when things didn’t go as promised, there was a collective sense of disappointment, and we even began to see the #TrumpRegrets start trending. And right on cue, those who had sounded the alarm about Trump, and delivered the warnings chimed in with their self-righteousness and celebrated the pain of folks who had been conned.
I read things like, Trump supporters are learning their lesson now, or I heard people say things like anyone who voted for Trump deserves to lose their healthcare and I don’t feel bad for them at all.
But this had me, a progressive, cringing and shifting in my seat, because I saw fellow progressives who couldn't see past their own self-righteousness those and they began to mirror the injustice that they were fighting.
And if we're being really honest we know that we live in a world marred by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, and xenophobia, so the concept of people getting what they deserve is a dead concept because fairness and justice have become so twisted, so distorted, so broken that we can no longer accept a formulaic understanding of this much work+ this many good decisions = this much reward. That just doesn't compute in our broken world.
This reality has to go deep into our conscience and convict is so that we develop an immunity to the tempting message strong men who claim to be the only ones who can fix it, protect us, or save us from death. Unless that one we put our faith in is Jesus we might as well be asking for more war, more inequality, and more injustice. If we have any hope of experiencing here and now a new heaven and a new earth, we must stake our lives on God’s powerful love that redresses injustice, forgives sin, that ultimately resurrects our world bound by the powers of death and destruction.
And if we have power and privilege in this world like me simply because of the color of our skin, our gender identity, our sexuality, or our ability, we can't stake our lives on a world changing love if we start in a place of guilt, but we must start in a place of grace.
Starting in this place roots us in the understanding that everything has come from God and not as the result of our own hard work, or good decisions.
From this place we are opened, softened, and formed by God’s love and Grace. In this place we are awakened to the potential for pain if we seek after kings because we have experienced something through our one true savior that our world cannot give. Peace.
Peace comes from God, peace is what the Israelites wanted, and it's ultimately what I believe both progressives and those who voted for Trump want, but as long as our judgement is clouded by fear, we will continue to put our faith in flawed systems, empty idols, and impotent kings and as long as we do that we will only continue to know the absence of peace. This is the truth that God made plain to the Israelites and a warning that we too would be wise to heed.
But there is an even greater truth than that and it is that even when we don't heed God’s warning, God’s perfect love is casting out all fear and restoring our judgement and resurrecting this dead and dying world. Staking our lives on this love and rooting our actions in God's Grace known to us through Christ is the only way to ultimately experience what we all seek. Peace.
When God says you've been warned, and we fail to heed God's warning God doesn't say, “I told you so,” God says I still love you and invites us to experience anew the Grace and peace that only come from God. Amen.