Be Careful What You Ask For

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 3/Proper 5
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1 and 1 Samuel 8:4-20
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1 Samuel 8: 19-20 (NIV)

THE PEOPLE WANT A KING

Last week we began a journey though the two Old Testament books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. We started off by looking briefly at God’s call to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 but we actually focused on Eli. Remember that he was not only the high priest, he was also the judge of Israel which meant that basically he ran the show. He had hoped that his two sons would succeed him as judges and rule Israel fairly and faithfully. But that didn’t happen because his sons disrespected the temple sacrifices and used the services of prostitutes. And they weren’t exactly subtle about their unfaithfulness. It seems that everyone in Israel knew exactly what was going on.

That’s why God declared that Eli’s sons would not become judges but rather that Samuel would succeed him. That’s why God called Samuel in 1 Samuel 3.

Now fast forward to 1 Samuel 8 and what we will discover is that things haven’t changed very much. Samuel has been the judge of Israel for many years. In fact, we will discover that he is now an old man. 1 Samuel 8:1-3 (NIV) says:

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

Does that sound vaguely familiar? Eli appointed his sons to be judges and it didn’t work out because they were sinful and did not follow the law. What about Samuel’s sons? He appointed them as judges too but they too turned away by seeking dishonest gain, accepting bribes and perverting justice. What happened? We don’t know. We don’t know what caused Eli’s sons to turn away and we don’t know what caused Samuel’s to do the same. We just know that that’s what happened.

So now we move on to 1 Samuel 8:4-5 (NIV) which say this: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.'”

What this tells us is that the people of Israel know exactly what is going on. They know that things aren’t working out. Eli’s sons did not turned out to be good judges. Samuel’s sons have not turned out to be good judges. So now they want a change. It’s kind of like what happened in Ontario on Thursday.

The people of Israel want to change their leadership. For the past 300 years, Israel has been ruled by judges. But they don’t want to be ruled by judges anymore because that’s not working. “No more judges,” they say. “We want a king to rule over us.”

GOD’S RESPONSE

Let’s listen to God’s response to this request. We find it in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 (NIV): “But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights'”

This is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows God’s patience with the people of Israel. God’s reminds Samuel that this latest move is just another in a long line of ways in which they have rejected God. Ever since they came out of Egypt they have been rebellious. Do you remember their forty year Exodus journey through the wilderness? They complained about the food and they complained about the water. They complained when Moses went up Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. They made the Golden Calf to worship when he was up there. They refused to enter the Promised Land the first time God commanded them to do so. The list goes on. And yet God still holds them as his people. Despite the many times they have fallen away from God, God has not deserted them but continues to be their God even in the midst of their complaining.

The second thing that is interesting about this is that God tells Samuel to listen to the people. “Listen to them,” God says but then there’s a caveat. God also tells Samuel to warn them and tell them exactly what having a king might mean. And this is where it gets tricky. It gets tricky because as people we often don’t think through what we want. We don’t always think far enough into the future about where that decision might take us. Or to put it another way, we often seek to solve short term problems without really understanding the long term consequences.

That’s what the people of Israel are doing. They clearly have a problem and it is a real problem. They system of judges is not working as well as it once did. And so they want a king. But they never really thought through what that might mean for the future.

But then God tries to open their eyes by giving them some idea of what can happen with kings. We find that in 1 Samuel 8:10-18 (NIV). It’s fairly lengthy because God wants to make sure the people know what they are getting into so let’s read what it says and remember that while Samuel is speaking them, these are the words that God gave to Samuel:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day”

That’s a pretty extensive list of negatives. It includes a loss of freedom. It includes taking away their sons for military service and their daughters to be servants. The farmers will be forced to work the king’s fields rather than their own and even when they work their own fields the king will demand a tenth of the produce. The king will take what he wants and use what he wants because along with the whole idea of being a king comes the notion of limitless power. The last sentence is most telling. “When that day comes,” says the Lord, “you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” God is saying, “Okay folks, you want a king. I’ll let you have a king but you might just live to regret it.” In a nutshell, God is warning them to be careful what they ask for because they might just get it.

FINDING GOD’S WAY

We always run a risk when we insist on getting our own way, when we think we know what’s best. We run the risk of experiencing unforeseen consequences because we often don’t think through our decisions to the logical end of what is likely to happen. We do that as individuals. We also do that as churches.

We have some important decision to make in this church in the next few months. They are decision that could well change the way we operate and how we do ministry here at Cottam United Church. I want to take a few minutes this morning just to talk about that a bit. But before I do that, I just want to say that change is necessary for any organization to grow. We cannot do ministry the same way today that we did it thirty years ago.. The Gospel might be the same but the world is a different place than it was thirty years ago and people have different needs and expectation. What we as the church have to do is discern how we apply the Gospel in a changing world.

At the same time, change is never done simply for change’s sake. We change things for one of two reason. Either what we are doing no longer works or because we’ve discovered a better way to do something that will improve an already successful ministry.

There are actually two decisions that we have to make in the next few months. Here they are. First, the Hiring Task Group will be making a presentation to Church Board on June 20 regarding the possibility of hiring a second staff person. In that presentation, the Hiring Task Group will provide a job description, the number of hours and an approximate idea of how those hours should be used. It will also include some idea of how we can pay for a second staff person. If the Church Board approves the proposal, it will come before the congregation at a congregational meeting soon afterwards.

The second issue is the idea of entering into a shared ministry agreement with Wheatley United Church. Remember that that church has been without a minister for about two years and has been operating on pulpit supply. A shared ministry agreement means that they sort of come under the wing of Cottam United Church which will enable Wheatley to hire a lay person who will provide consistent worship leadership which we believe will help that congregation to move forward. I can tell you that we have faced some significant hurdles from the higher courts of the Church in trying to address this but in each case God has helped us overcome those hurdles. There is a task group looking at this issue as well and will also be making a report to the Church Board in the near future. And again, if the Church Board approves then it will have to come to a congregational meeting probably in the early fall.

So there are lots of things to consider. And in the midst of making those decisions, we have to discern what God would have us do. We need to look at the short term implications of what each of these decisions might mean. But even more importantly, we need to look at the long term implications. Is a decisions made for short term purposes really what we need in the long term or do we allow some short term pain for long term gain? Those are never easy question to answer. But one thing that is clear is that we want to take the time to really consider the long term consequences of our actions.

How do we do that? I’m going to suggest three things that we need to do if we want to seek God’s will in these or any decisions. The first one pretty obvious. It is to take the situation to God in prayer. Isn’t that what Samuel did? The very first thing that Samuel did in verse 6 was to pray to the Lord: “O God, your people want me to anoint a king to rule them. And I’m not sure what to do. What do you think?” And Samuel received guidance from God.

What this tells us is that, when faced with major decisions, the very first thing that we should do is take it to God. Do we do that? I think the truth is that we usually do take our issues to God at some point but it’s often not the first thing that we do. Sometimes we try to figure it out ourselves. Sometimes we seek the advice of experts or read some books on the subject and those are all valid things to do. But Samuel went to God first. He didn’t get around to it eventually. He dropped to his knees and sought God’s guidance as the very first thing.

That’s the first thing we need to do – take it to God in prayer. The second thing is to create an environment in which people can respectfully discuss the issue at hand. This is done for a couple of reasons. First, it gives people a chance to be heard. That’s important. And second, it enables us to gather more information which could be important to the decision making process. Often, small decision making groups in the Church forget to consult with the membership. They can make assumptions that may or may not be valid and the only way to understand this is to actually consult with people.

This affirmed by God in 1 Samuel 8. When Samuel was praying to God, one of the things that God told Samuel to do in verse 7 was to listen to everything that the people were saying to him. Hear them out. Hear their concerns. Let them know that you are listening to them and seriously considering their issues and fears.

As a recap the very first thing is to take the issue to God in prayers. The second thing is to enter into discussions with the people to hear what they have to say. The third things is to be open to changing your mind. That might be the most difficult task of all because to do that, we must first be willing to admit that we could be wrong. And a lot of people have trouble doing that. But Christians should be more able to do that. Do you know why? It’s because the reason why so many people have trouble admitting they are wrong is because their pride won’t allow them to do it. But if we as the body of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we should be living not with pride but with humility because humility is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that are listed in Galatians 5. It is that humility that enables us to be open to the possibility that we might just be wrong. 

Did Samuel do that? I think he did. It is demonstrated in his willingness to go before God. It is shown in his willingness to listen to what the people have to say. But do you know who aren’t willing to change their minds? It is the people of Israel. This is what they say in 1 Samuel 8:19-20 (NIV): “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.'”

Clearly it doees not matter what Samuel says and it does not matter what God has in mind. They want their king so that they can be just like everyone else and nothing is going to stand in their way. So do you know what happens? God allows Samuel to anoint a king over Israel. His name is Saul and although Saul clearly has some good points, he also comes with some problems. Everything that Samuel warns the people about actually happens. Saul takes their sons to serve in his army. He takes their daughters to be his servants. He makes the farmers work his land before their own and then makes them give him a portion of their crops. They effectively become slaves to the king just as God predicted through Samuel. Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it.

But even then, God is there and will turn things around for those who walk in his way. Next week we will discover that God has a plan in mind to replace Saul as king. Samuel will go to the town of Bethlehem where he will anoint a new king. This king will not be the choice of the people but will be the choice of God. You might recognize him. His name is David and next week we will look the surprising story of how he, the most unlikely of all, was called to be king.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts. We are grateful for cool swims after hot days, trails and roads upon which to ride our bikes, early morning fishing trips and refreshing evenings spent on the front porch. We also thank you for the crops that are growing in the field and even now working their way to the harvest.

Thank you for the hope that you give to us in the difficult times of life. Regardless of how hopeless or unsolvable our circumstances may appear, you can enter in and change things for the better. Strengthen our faith and help us to believe every hope, every possibility, and every promise that you have made.

We thank you for summer visitors and those who have recently moved to town and are looking for a church home. We think about how motorist, cyclists and pedestrians must sometimes share the same space. Help us, O God, especially with the end of school approaching, to be careful and watchful for one another. Speaking of school, we offer our prayers and support for all of the students, teachers and staff who will be entering exam time this week. May that go well and as smoothly as possible.

We are also thankful that the provincial election is now over. We pray for those who were elected and for all who found the courage to run for public office. We pray for a government that will be responsive to the needs of all people and that will seek your will because your will is the best for the world and all those in it. Bless our elected officials at every level and enable us to lift them up to do a good job in government.

We lift up in prayer those of our community and congregation who are sick this week at home or in hospital. We remember especially Helen, Larry, Sharon, Oswald, Lyle, John and David. We ask for your Healing Spirit to be upon them.

Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

June 10, 2018 / Pentecost 3 / Proper 5

SCRIPTURE

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; Mark 3:20-35; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let us praise the one who lifts us up;

who carries us above our worries

and takes our burdens from our shoulders.

The glory of God is shining around us. Alleluia!

Come, let us worship.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

We come, God of Life, seeking the hope that you make possible this day. Your love surrounds us in ways too numerous to count and too strong for us to comprehend. In that love there is also your challenge to us to daily walk closer to your way. In our worship, we ask for a fresh breath of your Spirit that our lives may be renewed with dreams and visions of a brighter tomorrow. Your Word is life and we call upon that Word to fulfill our deepest yearning. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Blessed Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be renewed in their relationship with you. You abolished the barriers that once separated us from your Holy Presence. Forgive us when we, your people, erect walls of conflict that divide ourselves from one another. In the midst of separation, help us to be ministers of your love and healing to all people. Enable our lives to reflect the same forgiving and reconciling Spirit that you have shown towards us. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

In a world of strife and anger, there is a calming Spirit that hovers over the face of the earth. The Spirit of Christ reminds us of the power of God’s amazing forgiveness which is able to overcome the deepest and darkest sins of our lives. When we confess our sins, we are redeemed and made new in the cleansing blood of Jesus.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

What could we give that would adequately convey our need of you? What could we provide that is not already from you? Your generousity is beyond our need. May all of our lives and resources be set aside for the sharing of your Good News. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

Jesus died as he lived – with great passion. Go now, and live with that passion. May our lives and our actions proclaim the Gospel which is for all Creation.

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