7 July, Proper 9, AWL (A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church)


1 Samuel 8:1, 4–18; Psalm 72:1–4, 12–14, 18–19; 1 Timothy 2:1–6; John 6:14–20

Streamed 9:30 HST

May the preached word draw us into the written word wherein all might encounter the living Word. Amen.

How are these sacred ancestral texts to help us to live in this world? Mere days after many here and mainland celebrated Independence Day, we read in our first lesson a story about a form of government we don’t have any more and, didn’t want when we did; to the point of a violent revolution from one perspective or a rebellion from another.

Here on this aina and on our sister islands, monarchy is more than a foreign system of domination and is still a tender and pressing issue. We cannot talk about monarchy in these ainas without acknowledging the overthrow of aupuni o Hawaii by white outsiders to steal its land and its future wealth they didn’t see its brown kanaka o Hawaii, worthy or capable of stewarding, but also, straight up greed; a coup facilitated by members of the US government. And at the same time, the question of how we as a nation are governed and will be governed is as urgent and a pressing question as is how we are led in the Church.  

In the Samuel lesson the people were at a crossroads. Their system of government was not working for them. Not because it failed to meet their needs but because they just didn’t want it anymore. And the slate of candidates was undesirable; they were unfit in some ethical, moral or religious manner because they were not walking before and following after God in the same way as the prophet Samuel. So not only were the only candidates undesirable, but the incumbent was old. And when they said old, they meant fit to die at any moment. Though there is nothing in the text that says that Samuel was infirm or failing in anyway. They were simply dismissive of the wise old uncle who had led them for so many years, dismissive of the wisdom of his elder years.

Samuel’s sons were not prophets like Samuel, Deborah and Moses; they were not capable of standing between God and the people, speaking to each on behalf of each other and crying out to the one on behalf of the other one. Though there were judges between Moses and Deborah and, there were judges between Deborah and Samuel there were no other judges who were also prophets except for Moses, Deborah and Samuel. So even if Samuel’s sons were appointed as judges, their leadership would not have been rooted in the way of God in the same way as their father.

But the people didn’t ask for a prophet-judge like Moses, Deborah or Samuel. The people looked at their Iron Age neighbors and said what we want is an warlord-king, not a King Charles king, or a King Kamehameha king. We want the kind of king you see in the barbarian movies. We want a loud, ostentatious, gold plated strong man. And Samuel’s feelings were hurt on behalf of God. But God doesn’t need our protection. We need each other’s protection. We make choices that affect each other like choices in leadership and, more significantly, choices that affect the most vulnerable among us. Samuel spends the rest of the lesson telling the people the consequences of their choice, all the ways in which they would be defrauded and exploited because of their own choices. Or at least the choices of some of them. The text says, “the people” but we will never know for sure who was counted and who wasn’t. Who voted and who didn’t, but that is another sermon.

Then as though we were watching a movie and the screen fades to black with the words, “A hundred years later…Solomon.” The psalmist is praying for a newly designated leader, likely leading public prayer, perhaps at the very moment the mantle of leadership is figuratively draped around his shoulders. One the one hand, the job description revealed in the psalmist’s prayer reflects Iron Age cultural understanding of desired leadership characteristics. On the other hand the psalm is shade against the previous – or even current occupant of the throne. Near the end of the psalm it becomes clear that all is not well in the community and there are urgent needs that they imagine only a leader can meet or see met and problems that only the right leader can fix.

Whether this psalm was written for Solomon in response to the violent exploitation of David’s rule or for an unknown future ruler, woman or man – based on the financial exploitation and neglect of Solomon’s rule, this psalm is still both hopeful prayer and job description for the next commander-in-chief. In our current election cycle it is worthwhile to reiterate these scriptural, biblical, values: righteous judgements, not only decision-making but also devising and implementing legal statutes and national and international policies where the primary goal is is to be just and more specifically, prioritizing the needs of the poor, the needy and the oppressed who have been reduced to and kept in that state by financial and political violence against them including but not limited to open warfare actual and virtual enslavement, wages unequal to the level of work and wage theft of those impoverished wages. The biblical measure of what is just is whether is it is just for the poor – even if it cost the wealthy something to render that justice.

Then the screen fades to black again and the words, “More than 1000 years later…” appear. In the pastoral letter, written by a person who felt another leader’s name would get more attention and who wrote under that name rather than their own, the Church is called to perpetual prayer for leaders as we do in this Church and will do in this service. Ruling aint easy. Kinging aint easy. Queening aint easy. Presiding Bishop-ing aint easy. Regular Bishop-ing aint easy. Presidenting aint easy. Leading aint easy. These folk need prayer, whether you voted for them or not. Some of them need more prayer than others and some seem to be beyond the reach of prayer, yet the Church is called to persistent faithful prayer whether or not we see the fruit of our prayer in our lifetime.

I come from a people who prayed for liberation from enslavement for 400 years. That means that people prayed and died and still were not free; and their children prayed and died and still were not free; and their children prayed and died and they did not see liberation but they and their children kept on praying. Pray church. And don’t stop. Pray until the last prayer leaves your lips and trust that the saints will continue in the ministry of prayer after your death.

And now, the black screen says, “Present Day, 30 or 31 CE…” In the Gospel there is a story about Jesus who we have been trained to think of as our perfect leader, who seems not to want to lead [us] in this story and who runs away from leadership and – if we read ourselves into the text – and runs away from us.

Jesus, guerilla theologian, itinerant street corner preacher, funeral disruptor, mic dropping scripture reader, socialist distributer of loaves and fishes, from the wrong side of the wrong town whose mama had a bad reputation, Jesus, Mary’s baby and Joseph’s maybe, Jesus was doing the work called for by Psalm 72; Jesus was the opposite of the leader Samuel warned the people about. And the people around him in the Gospel lesson knew a good thing when they saw it. They knew a God thing when they saw it. Some people will always want to read this as the people just wanted free governmental subsidies and handouts of loaves and fishes. There are people who mock the poverty and hunger of the poor and hungry. There are folk who use all the power invested in them by their fellow citizens to make it hard for a poor mama to feed her children. There are folk who seem to want the poor to subsist on gruel and boiled potatoes, who get outraged if a person on public assistance uses the funds available to them to buy a source of protein that they think is too good for the poor like steak or shrimp.

But what those who work with the hungry know is that you can’t live up to your full potential if you’re hungry; a child can’t reach their full physical stature or meet their academic learning goals if they’re hungry. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a stable and reliable source of food in perpetuity. That’s not greed; that’s not laziness. That’s the foundation for a society in which basic needs are met and people then can use their creative genius and imagination and hard-working hands to build a society that addresses the other pressing needs of humanity and steward the planet entrusted to us, steward these beautiful ainas entrusted to us.

The folk in the gospel reading just wanted not to have to worry about their basic survival every day, at least not from famine, starvation and malnutrition because the Roman occupation, the kind of empire that kings and kingdoms grew up to become, was doing enough to threaten their lives, limbs and liberty every day. The people of ancient Israel asked for a king and they got kings and the queen who ruled as a king and, they got gobbled up by stronger kings who got gobbled up by even stronger kings and they had to endure the insult of having their kings appointed by puppet-master foreign kings but, they couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of the idea that a king was all they needed if they could just get the right one.

And here we are with an election looming. It would be so easy to read and hear and preach these texts at or about candidates. But God has called all of us to delve more deeply in the waters of the Word and get beyond Baby Beach Bible interpretation. The hard word out beyond the safety of the lagoon is, that we idolize women and men who have no deep and abiding connection to God. We are still looking for kings and not prophets. In America we kill our prophets. And some of us think that if we elect a good king everything will be all right, at least for some of us. But we have not wrestled seriously with the theologically and ethically bankrupt institution that is the kind of monarchy these texts are talking about. The kind our American ancestors – to the degree that they were the ancestors of any of us – escaped and that kind of neo-monarchy some are seeking to impose at this very moment on the US political system.

And for thousands of years, millennia even, we and our scripture writing biblical ancestors have tried to force God into a king shaped box because the strongest and mightiest figure they could see in their world was a king and they imagined that God was just like them only bigger and richer. But our imaginations have taken us from the Iron Age to the stars so we need not be so limited in our thinking or language about God. Indeed the scriptures offer us a wealth of other descriptive language: Ancient Of Days, Judge of all Flesh, Rock Who Gave Us Birth, Ark of Safety, Fire of Sinai  –  Language that we have allowed languish, focusing on the power, privilege and prestige associated with kings.

And that is why Jesus didn’t want to be made a king. It’s good to be king. Kings take. But Jesus gives. A king will take your sister, wife or daughter. A king will take and tax your crops. But Jesus gives the Bread of Heaven and earthly food to the hungry. A king will take your life if you get in his way, but Jesus gives eternal life.

We may have presidents and not kings, but we are not immune to power grabs and throne games. I would go so far as to say the violence we have seen in this country is nothing more than an empire striking back against those who talk back and its cabal of would-be kings fighting to maintain their power base, patriarchal white supremacy, at any cost. At the cost of voting rights, at the cost of free speech and at the cost of the right to protest. At the cost of black lives. At the cost of indigenous lives. At the cost of trans lives. At the cost of women’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies without being objectified, fetishized or criminalized.

Heir to a majesty the word “kingdom” does not fully contain, Jesus came to love us into life, a life that transcends death. Jesus came knowing that love with no limitations or pre-conditions is terrifying to those whose only currency is fear and death. And he came anyway. Jesus came to be with us, as us, God with us. He came knowing the cost of his radical life and love was police brutality, conviction in a crooked court by an unjust judge and a shameful, painful, humiliating death. This human, mortal, woman-born Jesus is the glory and majesty of God, a majesty in human flesh before which every human crown must be set aside and, every earthly throne abandoned. That humanness, shared with every girl and woman, boy and man, nonbinary and trans child and adult, is the majesty of Christ and our own.

The choice is before us. Choose wisely. Amen.