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Worship and Sermons
June 10, 2018

“Learning the Hard Way” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, June 10, 2018 [Pentecost 3 B] –  1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138  •  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1  •  Mark 3:20-35


FOCUS:  Trust God and God alone to live a life of peace and contentment.


This morning we continue our sermon series on I & II Samuel, following Israel’s transformation from a group of feuding tribal states into a united monarchy.

Last week we focused on young Samuel.  You’ll remember that God called him to give some very bad news to his mentor, Eli the priest.  Because of his courage and faithfulness, Samuel became the prophet par excellence, the shining example of God’s faithful prophet.

All of Israel knew that.  With Samuel directing the people as God counsels him to do, the Israelites kept their noisy neighbors, the Philistines, at bay.  Life for the Israelites was good.

In today’s passage, Eli and his sons have died. Samuel himself is now in the twilight of life.  Ironically, he finds himself beset by the same family problems that bedeviled Eli.

As Eli did before him, Samuel has given his sons authority.  He’s made them judges over Israel.  And, like Eli’s sons, Samuel’s sons have turned aside from the example their father set.  They’ve used their position to benefit themselves, to line their own pockets at the expense of the people seeking justice.

And the people know it.  So, they approach Samuel with a demand.  They don’t want his sons to rule over them.  They want a king.

Samuel relays this to God, and God consoles him.  God knows better than anyone how fickle and faithless this people can be.  He tells Samuel, “They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting me.” 

God tells him to listen to the people and do as they ask, but also to warn them.  A king will take their sons off to war.  He’ll take their daughters away to serve in his household.  The king will also take 10% of their wealth – beyond what they’re already tithing to the Tabernacle – and he will use it to pad his own life and the lives of his courtiers.

And, worst of all, placing their trust in a king will ultimately turn their freedom into slavery.  How terribly ironic:  this people whom God delivered from bondage in Egypt, is willingly exchanging their freedom for renewed slavery. 

The big question is ‘why?’ Why would this people chosen by God to be different from all other nations now want to be just like them?  Of all the peoples and nations, the Israelites alone are led by God.  And not by one of those small-g, stone-idol gods, but THE God, Yahweh, the one, great, living God who was, who is, and who will be – and who made everything that is.

But when God made us, he also gave us free will.  We’re all free to choose our own path, even if it departs from God’s way. 

And when we set our minds to doing as we please, knowing our will is contrary to God’s will, God warns us.  And, if we persist, he simply steps back and lets us have our way.  And then we bear the consequences of our choices.

It’s like a young child whom we’ve told a dozen times not to play with matches, but only learns after getting burned.

And, as it turns out, that’s the kind of king God picked out for the Israelites:  Saul, a childish sort of man who went out one day looking for his father’s lost donkeys and, much to his disbelief, found himself anointed king. 

Saul neither wanted nor sought the kingship.  In fact, when it came time to be crowned, he hid himself among the baggage, hoping to be passed over.  His chief qualifications were height and good looks.  Despite God’s initial blessing, Saul’s reign ended in disobedience, failure and rejection.

And over the centuries of being ruled by kings, everything that Samuel warned the people about would come true.  They would eventually find themselves enslaved to the very nations around them whom they so desperately wanted to imitate.

That’s how it is when we seek our way instead of God’s ways.  We inevitably become slaves to the very things we seek. And when we cry out, God doesn’t seem to answer.  And that is a lonely place to be.

In the Psalms, that feeling of being forsaken sounds like this:

‘Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!  Why do you hide your face?  (Psalm 44)

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.  (Psalm 80)

Turn, O Lord! How long?  Have compassion on your servants!  (Psalm 90)

These are the psalms of lament.  Most of them were written when the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon as a result of their own unfaithfulness and the disastrous decisions of their kings.  

These psalms are what God foretold: “On that day you will you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you.”

The good news is there’s another path.  It’s the path God wants for us, the path on which he wants to lead us, if we will follow him.

But, like the Israelites looking around at the peoples around them and wanting to imitate them, we look around with longing eyes and lusting hearts at the world in which we live. 

We find ourselves yearning after the kinds of things others have, things that seem to make them important and, we assume, happy.  Those things become our idols.

You know what these idols are – there’s nothing new about them:  money, possessions, power, sex.

And in our pursuit of these things we are every bit as idolatrous as were the Israelites.  We may not bow down to wooden carvings, fertility poles or stone figures, but we worship our idols nonetheless.

And, like the Israelites, we want to follow those whom we are convinced can help us get them.

The numbers tell the story.  This year alone Americans will spend more than $10 Billion on self-help gurus and products: infomercials, holistic institutes, books, motivational speakers, websites and seminars, personal coaching and more.

This modern-day idolatry has even co-opted the church.  The likes of Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar have attracted millions of followers who are all too ready to believe the heresy that God wants them to be rich.  But, just as God warned the Israelites, it’s the leaders who are getting rich at the expense of the people who follow them.

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like slavery to me.  That’s not how God wants us to live.  Living a Christian life means following God’s will, not our own, and not that of others either.  

And, sure enough, when we trust him, God leads us into a life of peace and security, just like he did for the Israelites under Samuel.  They were secure not because God had given the ruling class lots of money and power, but precisely the opposite: under Samuel, they – like everyone else - surrendered their will to God’s will.

Friends, the same is true for you and me.  Surrendering our will to God’s will is the road to a life in which we are at peace, content with enough.  

It’s not a guarantee that our lives will be trouble-free.  But it is a guarantee that God will never desert us in the hard times.  He will never leave us alone with our troubles.  God will walk with us and guide us out of even the darkest valley.

This is what the next king, King David, will find. As he wrote in this morning’s psalm:

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. . . All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.”

 That’s exactly what God wants for our leaders, too:  to trust in him above all else, and to follow the example of Jesus in seeking his will, listening to his word and obeying him.  And to lead us to do the same.

This would be a very different world if all our kings and rulers did that.  I suspect we may have to wait awhile for that day to come.  In the meantime, you and I can make sure we learn to resist our idols.  We learn to do that through experience.

The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, famously said, “Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.” 

He’s right, of course.  Experience is the best teacher.  Like that child who insists on playing with matches, we usually have to learn the hard way:  by experiencing the burning loneliness and hollowness of idolatry.

But even more so should we learn about God’s loving care, his wise guidance and gracious provision, by experiencing them in Jesus Christ.

       There’s no secret formula.  There’s no self-help program to buy.  It’s free.  All of us can have that life of peace and contentment.

It all starts by placing our trust in him, just as Jesus showed us how to do. 

May it be so.

Last Published: June 11, 2018 12:20 PM
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