Monday, July 9, 2012

God Never Gives Up On Us!

God Never Gives Up On Us

1 Samuel 8:4-20

Rev. Victor Aloyo, Jr.

Have you noticed that no matter how much of a mess we make of our lives, God never gives up on us? We try to do the right thing, but fail over and over again. Paul talks openly about the fact that he knows the right thing to do, but just keeps doing the wrong thing. He can’t seem to help himself. I guess it all started with the first Adam who got to work early one morning and parked on the line between two parking places so that everyone who came after him has parked on the line ever since. What a mess we humans keep making of things. Theologians call it sin and it touches us all. It’s not just you with the stumbles and missteps you’ve made along the way. It’s all of us. We keep making mistakes. Some were on purpose and some just happened. You know the difference.

Insurance adjusters with a touch of grace often calm anxious drivers who call in from their wrecked cars, “It’s going to be all right. That’s why we call them accidents.” The problem is we can’t take them back anymore than we can put toothpaste back in the tube once it’s squirted out in a spurt. What a mess we make of our lives. Some of them we try to cover up, some we just try to live with. Some gnaw at us for years, even decades, later because we can’t let them go. The good news is God is always there patiently waiting to help us pick up the pieces. Why? Because God never gives up on us! That’s exactly what happened in this story of Samuel and the people’s persistent complaining about the need for a king. If you look carefully you will see there are three key themes echoing in this story.

The first one is this: Samuel’s sons have made a mess of things and the people don’t see any good prospects for the future. If Samuel’s sons are the next ones in line to take over, the future is dim at best and the people are demanding something different. What’s wrong with Samuel’s sons? Well, they are about as different from their respected father as anyone could ever be. Contrary to that wise, old saying, in this case the apples fell a long way from the tree! Like old Eli’s sons, Samuel’s boys were only out for themselves. Surely Samuel saw the irony. Like some politicians and business leaders even today, they were feathering their own nest and did not care about the people they were supposed to be serving and leading.

Apparently, Samuel’s sons never figured that out but the people under Samuel’s care did and they were going to have nothing of it. They wanted a change and they wanted it now! They certainly weren’t timid about expressing their feelings. It reminds me of the young monk who entered a monastery where everyone had to take a vow of silence. The abbot told the young monk that he would only get to say two words every five years. The young monk knew this would be a challenge but agreed grudgingly. At the end of the first five years the abbot asked him, “What are your two words?” The young monk replied, “Bed hard.” At the end of the second five years, the abbot asked him what his two words were this time. The young monk replied, “Food bad.” At the end of the third five years when the abbot asked him what his two words were, the young monk replied, “Want out!” And the abbot said, “I’m not surprised; you’ve done nothing but gripe and complain from the moment you got here.”

Some people complain just to be complaining, but in Samuel’s case it looks as if they had plenty to complain about. They were worried about their future and the future of their children. The old man had been a good leader, but his sons were another story altogether. The people were determined to make some changes, so they asked for a king. After all, other nations had a king and graduating from judges to kings would certainly elevate their status with their neighbors.

Notice carefully now what God does at this crucial moment in biblical history. God could have easily intervened and put a stop to it all. God could have rescued his faithful servant Samuel and saved him a lot of undue stress even though God knows the people could be making a mess of things by insisting on a king. What does God do instead? God simply let things take their own course by letting Samuel and his people sort it all out themselves. Here is another one of those early examples of the doctrine of free will where God gives us human beings room to maneuver. Theologians call it the permissive will of God. We get to choose between right and wrong and then suffer the consequences.

 Sometimes we choose between the lesser of two evils as in political elections. At other times we choose between the better of two goods, which is much more challenging — great characters in classic movies often make choices like these. Whatever the case, God lets us choose. Why? Because God decided from the beginning not to treat us like marionettes on a string dancing about at the whims of some divine puppeteer.

So, in our story, God stands in the shadows to see what we are going to do. Are we going to continue to gripe and complain and push for change even though we have no idea what will come of it? What is poor Samuel going to do with this protest crowd setting up camp at his doorstep every morning? Instead of intervening to save the day or deciding we’re not worth it anymore, God never gives up on us.

Which brings us to the second key theme in this passage — Samuel makes a mess of it by taking it all too personally. How easy that is to do. Poor guy! Look how quickly we’ve jumped from his birth and boyhood to his semi-retirement when he’s thinking about hanging it up and passing the baton to someone else. Like the owner of the business who has been thinking all along about turning the family business over to his own children, or at least one of them, Samuel was hoping beyond hope that his no-account sons might shape up just in time to take on the reins, in this case ruling the people as God’s servants on earth.

Oh, he knows what they’re really like. He’s watched them get in trouble all their lives, especially through the teenage years. You know that tear-filled feeling you have as a parent when you drop your firstborn off at some college or university halfway around the country, knowing all the time that this act signals the break-up of the family as you’ve known it? If you’re really honest, you have to admit it’s a bittersweet moment. You’re happy for your child who is moving on with life and getting a good start on their education and career/calling. You have a lump in your throat because you’re going to miss the little troublemaker. But, then you realize suddenly that God has given us the teenage years to get us through the grief of having them leave home!

So, what did Samuel do? He turned to his old friend for help. Who was his old friend? God — the one waiting in the wings to see what we’re going to do. How often we try to fix things ourselves. But Samuel, being a holy and righteous man, knew better than to try solving this one himself. Instead, he took a deep breath and headed off for some time with God, the one who always seemed to have the right answer. Samuel had learned long ago that worrying about something didn’t get him anywhere. In fact, worry, which affects one’s health by eating at you, is a sure sign that you don’t really trust in God to help you handle whatever trouble you are in. Samuel may not have been the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but he definitely had faith and lots of it. Be that as it may, he goes to God in prayer all worked up over the people’s seeming affront to him as a leader and their attack on his family.

What does God do? God pats him on the hand to calm him down and says, “Relax, Samuel. This is not about you, it’s about me. I’ve dealt with this before. It’s me they’re attacking. You need to learn how to self-differentiate.” It’s so easy to take everything personally when you are leader, especially a church leader. But, guess what — it’s not always about you. Sometimes people are just mad at God like after a death. After all, they have to blame someone, and as a representative of God whether clergy or lay, you are often the closest one in sight so you bear the brunt of their anger. That’s what happened to Samuel. At least that’s what God was trying to help him see. God calms Samuel and reminds him that sometimes you just need to let things go, let them go into God’s loving hands. After all, that’s what prayer is — a place to let our worries and anxieties go. What we need to say is this: “God, I have tried everything I can to solve this problem by myself. I have exhausted all the plausible possibilities and now find myself turning to you. I’m letting this worry go to you, God. It’s all yours now.” That’s what Samuel finally figured out. Notice again, God doesn’t intervene to change things. God knows as does Samuel that a king won’t necessarily solve things. God tells Samuel to warn the people that kings have a way of being selfish and demanding things and messing things up themselves, and that sometimes they may not turn out to be any better than Samuel’s rotten sons. “I won’t take it personally,” says God, “if they still want a king. I’ll work with them on this.” And that’s exactly what God does.

Which brings us to our third key theme — God never gives up on them even though they insist on doing things their way. Samuel warns the people that it’s not going to be perfect with a king, but the people insist because of peer pressure, which makes the people sound as adolescent as Samuel’s no-good sons. Like a loving parent who gives his/her children room to grow up and make mistakes, God gives them what they ask for knowing that human kings make a mess of things — Saul, David, and so forth down the line. God gives them kings who aren’t perfect but do the best they can. What does this show but the great flexibility, grace, and generosity of God? That’s the whole point of this text.

As we look from this story through the whole sweep of human history, we see that things haven’t really changed that much. But, the good news is that God is always there to help us pick up the pieces no matter what we do. From Samuel on, humanity kept making a mess of things even as we do today, so God does something radical — God gives us a new king, a king for all time. Who is this king? It is the one we call the Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the one who picks us up when all we seem to be is down, and because of him, we have the blessed assurance that God will always be with us cleaning up the messes we make of our lives. That’s why we should never give up on God, for God will never, ever give up on us! Amen.