The text for the Second Sunday in Pentecost is from the eighth chapter of First Samuel, verse nine:
Listen to the voice of the people; but give them this solemn warning: show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
For hundreds of years the people of Israel lived free. Their only King was El Shaddai, the Good Shepherd. When there was danger the lord gathered an army of volunteers from the villages and farms of Israel and called a charismatic war chieftain to lead this militia. These were the judges, men and women like Gideon and Deborah. After the crisis everybody returned to their farms. Except for the prophet, and last judge, Samuel, who tried to establish a hereditary monarchy. But his boys were not called by lord as prophets or war chiefs. And they were corrupt. The people of Israel rejected Samuel's dynasty but liked the idea of a king in a city to replace their King in heaven.
In the beginning, the lord God made all of us sovereign as His Image. But for all of history king means both political and religious dictator. The palace and the temple were build together of the same stones. The pagan king supported the pagan god and the pagan god gave legitimacy to the pagan king. In Shumer every city had its own god or goddess.
Around 1400BC the lord changed everything and lead His people out of Egypt at their head, as their personal Shepherd-King. He gave them the Covenant of the Ten Commandments, which bypassed all human authority and power and bound each and every individual, Image of God, human being, directly to Himself. Around 1000BC, our text, the lord again changed everything. He said:
You reject me as your King. By our covenant I should annihilate you as I did the Canaanites. But I will show mercy and give you freedom. You may now govern yourselves. Only I am still your true king and I will hold you accountable for what happens.
King David ruled in this way, as the adopted son of lord and beloved by the people. But his descendants, why do monarchs never read what always happens to their descendants, turned to the pagan model. Not all, but most of them, were ruthless tyrants and made idols to replace the true King. That holy King finally wiped them out and forced the people into exile.
By the time of the Greco-Roman Empire a crude political monotheism had developed. In Christian Europe the Divine Right of kings and the Papacy grew out of this political religion. Apparently no one read the books of Samuel and Kings.
Whatever freedom we have to rule ourselves, the lord God remains our true and only King. He made us, He redeemed us, He is with us as we gather around Word and Sacrament. This King above all kings is not like King George whom we rebelled against or King Rehoboam whose harsh rule split the nation into Israel and Judah. This King is the King of freedom. And duty.
This freedom is personal, granting to us in our very nature as human beings certain unalienable rights. And, in our text, that Creator extends to us, joined together in cities and nations, the duty and authority to set up our own forms of government. As it says in the American Declaration of Independence:
It is the right of the people…to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.Finally, some one read Samuel.
Unique in history, 2700 years after our text, is this sovereignty of people over earthly rulers. Unfettered by tyranny, this freedom has blessed us with wealth, safety, science, medicine, and men and women of character and ability. Unfettered by establishment, America has seen the church flourish.
This high personal freedom can only last if the people are also responsible and virtuous. In other words, only when our true King rules our personal lives will the earthly kings and presidents be kept in check. Like a father telling his son as he hands him the car keys for the first time,
Have a good time. But, if anything is damaged, you will pay for it.We are grateful and afraid.
We are blessed by founding documents that are the culmination of a whole history of blood and argument, a history that began with the Word of the lord in Samuel Eight, a history in the Reformation that fought over freedom of conscience, and at last shed the hereditary monarchs on these shores. And here we stand today about to give up most of our freedom to a series of elected monarchs, majority rule tyrants, and politically selected judges.
Like the people in our text, we want a king to fight our battles for us. And we want more. We have become suckers at the carnival booths of corrupt politics. We all have a favorite midway game. Space was mine. Others may want clean water, a baseball stadium, public schools. Now these are all real concerns. Just like the Israelites had a real concern for their safety from invasion. We must work and assemble and donate to all good causes. But these same good causes make terrible excuses for giving up our sovereignty as free individuals. Eager for the prize the hucksters show off, too many miss the trickery: The money, and the power, will come from somewhere and one way or the other the carnival barker will be in our pockets. We are enslaved by our own good intentions.
The example of the Roman Catholic Church must give us pause. For many years they have supported feel good Progressive politics, only recently discovering there is a cost that they cannot pay.
The problem is not that we have chosen our own form of government. And the problem is not even that we sin. It is one thing to break the Law of God, but when we decide what is good and what is evil we have committed an unforgivable sin. What do I mean? A child in high school is pregnant. Not a good thing. But family, friends, and church are able to help her and the baby. Through the power of love and mercy, and repentance, these sorry circumstances can be overcome. But instead, too often our society rejects God's definition of good and makes up an artificial good and evil. We decide she did nothing wrong and take money from other not pregnant young people to support her, no matter what she does. What will this teach to other young women? In a false sense of kindheartedness we have replaced the Law of God and the mercy of God with social fads, emotional reactions, court rulings, and majority votes. Now we have stepped over the line. Now His wrath will come. Not because we show mercy to the poor or the troubled or sick, but because we change the rules so nobody has to repent and reform. We can just go about doing whatever, somebody else will pay the consequences. We now have a new king and it is not the lord Jesus.
We are free, we have a free will, even to disobey the moral Law burned into our human nature. We are free to turn ourselves into caricatures of the Image of God. But He remains our king and will punish our rebellion. Politically free, we may never spend a day in jail. But changing the Law of God may find us spending a long time in a rather more unpleasant place.
There is no hope for us but this: King Jesus who declared He was not an earthly king but the Good Shepherd, the Good King. He leads us to repentance, absolves us our sin, and sends His Spirit to us in the Word, the water, and the bread and wine. I announce to you this day that His wrath will soon fall on those who have rejected His Covenant, but that when we repent of our man made law of evil, He will have mercy on us and return us to His Kingdom. And we must hurry to spread His Kingdom of freedom with responsibility to all of our society before secular and pagan ideas completely overwhelm the American character. I am convinced that these words in the Lord's Prayer are meant for us and our times of soft and smothering tyranny:
…Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.