Reflection: June 10

Published on Jun 11th, 2018 by Robin Murray | 0

“We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

It is easy to get distracted by the things we see – a beautiful actress walking down the red carpet in a sparkling gown, the executive homes with perfectly manicured lawns.  A friend of mine from high school who now lives in Los Angeles just posted a picture on Facebook of his brand-new Porsche with the Beverly Hills dealer plates. We get equally distracted by the overweight woman in a dressing gown standing in her weed-choked lawn where a broken-down Chevy sits up on blocks. (Those pictures don’t usually make it on Facebook.) 

We see and we judge.  We desire.  We think we want the red carpet, the fancy home and the Porsche, and while those things are nice, they are not what our heart truly longs for. What our heart longs for are the unseen things.  The Psalmist names them for us – love and faithfulness.  We want to cry out in our suffering and know we will be heard.  We want God.  And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why, but God wants us! For all our flaws and woundedness, even when we turn away from God, God still loves us, just as we are.

The people of Israel in Samuel’s time were distracted.  For long years since they returned to their homeland from slavery in Egypt, the people lived in their villages, governed by elders and wise prophets like Samuel, who served as judges in their disputes and leaders in times of difficulty. In the passage just before today’s reading, we see how Samuel had tried to set up his sons in positions of leadership, but they had failed, falling into the trap of accepting bribes and putting their own interests ahead of justice. The system was not working how it was supposed to, so the people looked around them. Surrounding nations had kings; glamorous, mighty and powerful kings.  They wanted one, too.

What a great idea, hey?  The government has grown corrupt, so let’s replace it with a dictator monarch who has no accountability to anyone! Of course, that’s not how they saw it.  In ancient Mesopotamia, the popular belief was that kings were accountable to their gods, and if a king displeased the gods, it would be evidenced by a loss in prosperity in his kingdom and defeat by enemies.  The will of the gods, then, was determined by the presence or absence of things that could be seen.  God tries to warn them, through Samuel, that they are not going to like having a king. He speaks to them in terms of things that can be seen, how the king will take their children, servants and livestock to serve the royal palace. A human king’s rule will not be at all like having God rule. Seduced by the glamour and the power of neighbouring kingdoms, however, they ignore the wisdom offered and insist on having a king.

We fall into these sorts of traps, too.  We in Canada often look to our southern neighbour and start trying to copy them. I remember in the early 1980’s when the first McDonalds Restaurant opened in my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland. People stood in line for more than an hour outside and around the block. All for an over-processed hamburger and to have what our neighbours had been advertising for years. We judge our nation’s health and well-being by comparing our Gross National Product with that of other countries’, instead of looking at our Gross National Happiness. We want to see upward pointing arrows on all our financial charts. That’s how we know we’re doing well, right?  Big ol’ dollar signs everywhere? Love, faithfulness, thankfulness, satisfaction…  where’s the glamour in that?

Where’s the glamour in a Carpenter’s son riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with a bunch of fishermen, former tax collectors and hard-working women? Israel wanted a king like other kings, and God gave them Saul, then David, then Solomon, then a whole string of other kings, some Hebrew, some Assyrian, some Babylonian, some Roman. And when they had been through every kind of oppression their human rulers could dream up, God tried once again to send a divine king.

In the United Church, we tend to shy away from the language of “King” and “Lord” when talking about Jesus. There are too many negative connotations to those words and for good reason!  God warned that human kings would take the best of everything for themselves, stripping the people of their freedom, and the kings did not disappoint in this regard. But personally, I delight in calling Christ, “Lord Jesus” and even “King Jesus” in a sort of in-your-face, rebellious sort of way.   Do you want to see what real power looks like?  Have a look at this guy! Have a look at the empty cross! This is a king who gives all, not takes all!

Paul talks about this upside-down idea of power in his second letter to the Corinthians that Catherine read from earlier, where visible strength and wealth are not the markers of success, but rather it is an inner strength that matters.  Paul also speaks to the faithfulness of God, saying that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.” Now, we can look at this statement from the perspective of the afterlife, that Paul is saying something about being in heaven with Jesus someday, but we can also look at it from a power perspective.  The power of death could not contain Christ.  Crucified and killed, he rose on the third day, in the ultimate defeat of oppression. The cross is empty! Human powers tried to stop God’s love and failed. And when we share God’s love, we have hope through Christ, that the powers won’t be able to stop that love, either.

When we give generously of our time, volunteering to help others when we pray for one another and take the time to listen deeply when we share a meal, when we thank others for their sharing, these are times where we share God’s love.  These actions don’t bring us visible gain.  We don’t get rich from listening or volunteering. You can’t put your hands on what is gained by loving one another. But a greedy ruler also can’t tax it or take it away. The rule of God transcends the death and decay of the temporary world.

A person who is beautiful on the outside pleases the eyes of their beholders for a short time until their beauty fades. But a person who is beautiful on the inside – and I’m sure you can think a few you have known – that person touches the lives of the people around them with love that can last long after they are dead and gone, even for generations. My children never knew my mother, who died before they were born, but they encounter her love every day as it lives on in me and the way I am “mother” to them. The grace shown by sharing the love of God with others, extends from the inside, outward to more and more people.

So, let us reach out, and by the faithfulness of God in whom we believe and of whom we speak, set our hearts on things that can’t be destroyed or taken – justice, kindness and humble love.  The riches and power held by human rulers are taken at the expense of others and has no lasting strength.  But the power of God goes deeper and cannot be destroyed, even by our bad choices, even by our brokenness. God’s love is eternal.

Amen.

 

 

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