I made a joke the other week that the only thing that has changed for my preaching during the Trump Administration has been that I can no longer write sermons prior to Fridays. Nowadays, enough horror will occur later in the week that people need to hear it addressed.
This week, with the several high-profile suicides, was no different. I wasn’t sure, however, how to talk about them in the sermon. I found the advice for how to talk about this somewhat contradictory, and couldn’t quite see a clear way to discuss it. And yet, in the process of writing the sermon, there it appeared anyway.
Sometimes life creeps in around the edges in spite of ourselves.
Here’s what I said.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
June 10, 2018
Proper 5, Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 8
Do you remember Pogs? They were a really big deal for about a split second in the mid 1990s. I am not even sure what exactly they started out as, but when they were hitting their stride, they were little circles of cardboard, about the size of a large silver dollar, with different logos printed on them. You played a game with them, the rules of which I don’t quite remember—I think the goal was to flip them over, then trade them?
But what I DO remember was that it was VERY Important in my childhood mind to own Pogs. It was SO VITAL. In the small economy of late elementary school, you were pressing your luck not to come equipped with a Trapper Keeper, or a 5 Star binder, but really, to not have Pogs was to court social disaster. The thought of not having a plentiful supply of these cardboard discs to carry around (again—not clear on what you were supposed to do with them) was ALARMING. Other kids had them, so I needed them—otherwise, how would I even talk to them????
Kids in my day loved cardboard circles. I understand kids these days love….No, actually I don’t know what silly fad kids these days love. Kids these days are probably over silly fads, and just want a sensible policy to combat climate change, and the hope of a job when they graduate.
But the human impulse to get the newest, shinest, toy just because someone else has it—that’s pretty ancient. Our first reading this morning is one of my favorites because it is so very human. The Israelites are pestering Samuel, the prophet, who in between last week’s reading and this week’s reading is all grown up and in charge of things. And the Israelites really, REALLY, have decided they want a king.
Now, up until now, the Israelites have not had a king at all. And this was sort of a big deal. The understanding was that God alone was in charge of Israel, and there was a series of judges and prophets, who listened to God, and then interpreted that for the people. But there was no king, per se, because in the ancient world of the time, kings were seen to hold absolute, and somewhat god-like power, and that would get in the way of God. This was one of the important ways that Israel is different from the other nations—God rules Israel, while other gods didn’t care enough about their people to rule them—they sent humans to do it, and humans were constantly screwing things up.
The judges of Israel—like Deborah, and Gideon, and Barak, actually did pretty well. It was an unorthodox system, which relied heavily on whoever the high priest was at the time (which is why Samuel’s mentor got in trouble last week—he had not been holding up his end of the deal adequately.) But Israel was motoring along mostly fine—no major invasions, and no massive wars.
Then, it somehow occurs to the gathered people of Israel in today’s periscope that you know what their problem is? They don’t have a king, And everyone else does.
From then on, it really sounds like the sort of argument a tween would have with their exasperated parent. “WE NEED A KING. ALL THE COOL KIDS HAVE ONE.” Ok, but you don’t really want a king. Kings are bad news. “NO, WE DO WANT ONE.” But a king is just going to enslave everyone, and take all your money in taxes and start a silly war. Is that really what you want? “YES. WE WANT A KING NOW PLEASE.”
It’s evident that their argument to Samuel is based not on politics, or on how awesome Saul is, but on their growing consciousness that the other nations have something that they lack. And this really bothers them. If their God provides for them, as he keeps saying then why don’t they have this major thing everyone else does?
What we see at work here—not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time—is a growing insecurity among the people of God. Those people over there have something and we want the Same Thing—regardless of whether the Different Thing God has provided for us is better, or more appropriate. Because suddenly, what’s important is whether we can keep up with those other people, and less our relationship with God.
Insecurity, this inner fear, is a driver of so much of human behavior. We work harder because our neighbors do, we compete for the better job because we see others have it. We want more and more money because we’re convinced that’s what we need to do. And we do it all because somehow, we’re convinced that we are incomplete if we don’t have this one more thing. This one new toy, this one bigger piece of the pie, this one larger mountain scaled.
It’s not that ambition is bad—ambition, when it’s aimed at serving the human race better and truer is good. But when we allow that inner voice of fear drive us, then that’s a problem,. Because insecurity also says “You can’t possibly have enough—so you can’t possibly share.” “Those people can’t possibly really love you if they knew you, so you can’t possibly help them.” “Those people are probably all crooks and liars anyway, so you can’t possibly be kind to them.” And most pernicious of all—“You cannot ever be enough as you are, so why be kind to yourself?”
It is that root insecurity that drives so much of what we do, and often in really sad and tragic ways, as we saw this week. The thing was—Samuel was right! Saul was a HORRIBLE king, and it basically took all of two seconds for Israel to figure that out, and to come back and complain about how horrible this king idea had been.
Insecurity doesn’t tell the truth. It lies. That voice of fear? Lies to us.
The truth is we were created by a God who loves us entirely as we are, and roots us on everyday. The truth is that this God has given us everything we need—if we have eyes to see it, and to share it appropriately. The truth is that this God calls us and equips us to build a world where the voice of fear has no place.
The church patriarchs liked to say that the original sin was pride—the pride of Adam caused him to eat the apple in the garden. I’m inclined to think it was this insecurity and fear that has dogged us from the start. But God, in Christ, has come to reassure us that we have enough, we are enough, and that there is nothing in the world, not even death, to be afraid of. And in a world like that—so open, so abundant, and so full of love—who cares what other countries are doing?
I thought your sermon on Sunday was absolutely wonderful. It spoke to what is happening right now on so many levels. It really moved me. I especially like how you questioned whether is pride or insecurity that drives these decisions for wanting more. We are lucky to have you at St. John’s
Reminds me of La Fontaine’s Les Grenouilles qui Demandent un Roi [Frogs who asked Zeus for a king] They finally get a crane who gobbles them up. I guess frogs can have fears and insecurities too, and Saul wasn’t much better than the crane.