The Kin-dom of God
First United Presbyterian Church
“The Kin-dom of God”
Rev. Amy Morgan
June 10, 2018
1 Samuel 8:4-10
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,
5 and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations."
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the LORD,
7 and the LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.
9 Now then, listen to their voice; only-- you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."
10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture-- "I believed, and so I spoke"-- we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because 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. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
On June 16, the PC(USA) will begin its 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis. Each time our whole Presbyterian family meets together, we adopt a theme to guide the work and worship that happens throughout the week. This year, the theme that has been chosen is “Kin-dom Building for the 21st Century.”
Kin-dom is an odd but intentionally chosen word that has started to circulate among churches who recognize the discomfort, confusion, and even damage that can result from talking about the “kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is a reference that comes up quite frequently throughout the gospels, which were written in a time and culture that could not begin to fathom a representative democracy. And we now live in a nation that forcefully and violently overthrew a distant monarchy. This creates a cognitive dissonance every time the kingdom of God is referenced throughout scripture. According to Dr. Deborah Krause, academic dean and professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis and one of the bible study leaders at this year’s General Assembly, “The idea of kingdom has also left a legacy of colonialism, imperialism, sexism, and racism, all of which demean and destroy God’s people and God’s creation.”
And so I think it is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit that in this week’s lectionary reading, which are the readings planned for each Sunday in a 3-year cycle, that this week it just so happens that we are reading about the Israelites demanding a king. God is clear that in this desire for a king, the Israelites are, once again, rejecting the sovereignty of God. Only this time, instead of mumbling and grumbling about God or turning away to worship other gods, the people know exactly what they want. They explicitly reject the benevolent monarchy of YHWH and demand a human king. This transition in government has repercussions not only for how the Israelites are ruled. This also has theological significance and reflects on the Israelites’ identity as a people.
Up to this point in the history of Israel, they have had a theocratic government. They are ruled directly by God. They have had judges to help settle disputes about God’s laws and to help keep the people faithful to God, discouraging them from worshipping other gods and helping to fight off surrounding polytheistic nations whose rule over the Israelites entices them to worship other gods, the gods of those nations. But these judges are in no way rulers. It is God alone who is sovereign over Israel.
But now the people want a human king, a monarchy. Now, it might seem like there’s not much difference between a theocracy and a monarchy. God is king, or a human is king. Either way, you’ve got one sovereign ruler.
But, in fact, there are a lot of differences. In our text, God outlines just a few:
- · a human king will conscript your sons and daughters into the service of the monarch. From military service and weapons manufacturers to cooks and perfumers, children’s skills will no longer serve God or their family or their community. They will serve the king. Whether they want to or not. By contrast, in a theocracy, service to God is voluntary, an act of gratitude. Samuel himself was given into the service of God out of his mother, Hannah’s, gratitude for his birth.
- · A human king will also demand the best of everything and take it – fields, vineyards, olive orchards, livestock, servants – and distribute it amongst the privileged, the courtiers and officers. In Yahweh’s theocracy, the law calls for sacrifices and offerings, which are used to build and maintain the relationship between God and all the people. The food given for these offerings and sacrifices is either eaten by the people themselves, or used to sustain the priesthood, or, in some cases, given to the poor and marginalized, widows and children and sojourners.
- · The people have been expected to pay a tithe to God, to give a tenth of their resources every three years to the Levites, the widows, and the orphans. A king will demand a tithe, too. But he will use it to make the rich richer.
- · In the end, God says, the people will be slaves to a human king. This is in direct contrast to the rule of God, which is characterized by freedom. Over and over throughout the Torah, God is spoken of as the one who brought the Israelites up out of slavery. They wandered in the desert for 40 years to try to rid them of a slavery mentality. But here they are, generations later, wanting to enslave themselves again.
This sounds bizarre. Why would anyone choose this? But for the Israelites, even after many generations, slavery meant security. Yes, they endured great hardships while they were in slavery in Egypt. But they knew where their next meal was coming from. They knew what the next day would be like. They knew where they would live and where they would die. They knew who was in charge. And they knew the person in charge was powerful.
Pharaoh, like most monarchs in the ancient near-east, was regarded not just as a ruler, but a deity. All of the other nations around Israel worshipped multiple gods, and their king was almost always one of them. Those nations had gods you could see and touch. They had kings who could fight battles and intimidate other nations. By contrast, Israel only had one God. And they couldn’t see him or touch him or, usually, hear him directly.
What the people wanted was a God who could be with them. Emmanuel. God with us.
In time, God provides the people with that kind of god, in the form of one of the descendants of King David, Jesus of Nazareth. But the time has not come for that to happen yet.
So God shoulders the rejection of the people, and gives them their human king. God continues to speak to the people, and to their kings, through prophets. Sometimes they listen, and a lot of times, they don’t. Some of their kings have the wealth and wisdom of Solomon, and some have the wickedness of Ahaz. Even the good ones, really, are a mixed bag, none of them perfect. None of them turn out to be god.
But the real reason the Israelites give for wanting a king is so they can “be like other nations.” And this is, perhaps, the greatest tragedy of their decision.
God chose Israel to be special. Not because they were a great nation, but because they were few. Not because they knew or loved God, but because God loved and knew them. They were a nation set apart, a people blessed to be a blessing to all the other nations.
And now, they just want to be like everybody else.
In 1776, we may have rejected a particular monarchy. But every day, we decide who will be our sovereign ruler. We choose who or what will have power and authority over us. And most days, we don’t choose God.
One of our most popular alternatives to God’s sovereignty in our lives is autonomy, individualism, or libertarianism. No one can tell us what to do. Our personal desires, our individual will is king, and we’ll fight anyone who wants to try to interfere with that. Because it’s the American way, perhaps. Or it feels right. It’s what freedom means to us.
Others choose to be ruled by the kings of industry. Consumerism, capitalism will protect us, provide for us, and please us. Let the wealthy get wealthier, give our tithe to the privileged.
Still others put their trust in our elected leaders – yes, believe it or not, some people still have faith in our democratic system and the people whom we elect. Or, at least, they believe that if they can get someone in office who agrees with their political agenda, the country will be better off. The election frenzy has already begun as the first primary results came in this week. Billions of dollars are spent trying to get the “right” people in office, trying to put our political party on the throne. Our tithe goes to call centers and tv networks, marketing firms and hotels instead of the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.
The consequences of deifying ourselves, our stuff, or our politicians rival anything the Israelites were warned about. Our nation is characterized not by its faithfulness or its greatness or even its power and might. We are a nation of massive debt. We are a nation of isolated, depressed, anxious people. We are a nation plagued by inequality, division, and injustice.
This is not what God wants for us.
What God wants for us, what God has always wanted for all humanity since the very beginning of creation, is freedom. Freedom from our slavery to all those people, powers, and things we would ask to be our kings.
We when are baptized, or confirmed, or become members of a church, we name our king. We profess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Not some distant benevolent monarch. Not ourselves, or our stuff, or our politicians. Emmanuel. God with us. That is our king. And he is our kin. Jesus didn’t come to re-establish a theocracy like Israel’s. He established God’s “kin-dom,” which Dr. Deborah Krause of Eden Seminary describes, not a top-down monarchy but “a more horizontal structure of power in which everyone is a beloved child of God.” A new theocracy ruled by a God who is fully human and fully divine. A new theocracy in which God is not only our sovereign but our kin, and he makes us kin to all of humanity.
As Christians, we are called, chosen, elected, if you want to be Calvinist about it, to be special. We are different. We are not like other people. We have been freed to set others free. We have been blessed to be a blessing.
Being different is hard. There are days when slavery looks more enticing. The security of self-reliance, the comfort of consuming, and the potential of politics is tempting. It’s what everybody else is doing. And sometimes it seems to be working out really well for them. Just like Israel, surrounded by wealthy and powerful nations, we are surrounded by powerful forces that encourage us to wonder what on earth our Lord and Savior can offer that is better than what we could get serving other kings.
And the best answer is still freedom. In Christ, we are free to serve out of gratitude and love, and not out of compulsion. In Christ, we are free to give in ways that are life-giving to the marginalized - poor, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner – instead of giving more to those who are already wealthy and privileged. In Christ, we are free to give our very best to the community, to our families, to the common good. In Christ, we are truly free.
And so the kin-dom of God is where our ultimate allegiance belongs. The kin-dom of God, ruled by Christ, our king and our kin. God will allow us to be ruled by other powers if we so choose. And God will be with us through the consequences those choices bring. Because Jesus promised to be with us always, until the kin-dom of God is complete on earth, and all of us live into our kin-ship with God and with one another.
Until that day comes, may we choose well whom we will serve.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.