(1 Samuel 8:4-20; (11:14-15) Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1, Mark 3:20-35)
Who is your leader? No, really? Is it the person who shouts the loudest? Is the one who commandeers as if you were all employees? Is it the one who stands ceremoniously at the front? Who is your leader? What, if you lived at the time of Samuel would you expect of a king? Protection? Direction? Someone to fight your battles? What if… that direction didn’t suit your needs? What if… that direction coerced you into doing something you didn’t want to do? What if… that direction made you worse off than you were before?
Now, I am not going all political here, even though the ability to reflect on the current political climate is something you could liken the readings to. No, what I want to look at is how you look after number one. Yourself.
If I were to read out the questions I began with, and you thought about applying them to your own lives, I wonder what answers you might have.
Who is your leader? Who dictates to you how your life should look? How you act? How you are with others? Who snaps his or her fingers and expects you to jump? Personally, the answer once upon a time was ‘How high?’ but I’m not so sure that is a response that I will give now.
Who shouts the loudest? Perhaps this isn’t a who? Perhaps it’s a what? In my life these have four legs and breathe. When they shout, I know about it!
And so, we move to the query about battles – someone who fights battles on behalf of us. If I asked this query in a Sunday School, the answer would come back ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’. Which is right, but only when we have sufficient grace to understand that retaliation is not grace filled enough and that God asks us to do so much more than that.
In the battles that Jesus or God fight on our behalf, we have the gift of prayer – a dialogue, a conversation between us and God. A direct line. We don’t need an intermediary – a king or queen to fight our battles for us. And that is something that the people in Samuel’s time did not understand.
In our Psalm today:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;* you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me. The Lord will make good his purpose for me;* O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.
In the words of Paul, from our second reading, – this slight momentary affliction… we extend God’s grace to those afflicting us, we increase thanksgiving and glory to God. Note, however, that this does not mean never disciplining or explaining to the one being mean or harsh or haughty that damage is being done. This isn’t about quietly loving and feeling weary that a situation or person doesn’t appear to change. It’s about being able to maturely approach others, listen, gently suggest, enabling a cohesive and supportive transition in whatever is required.
That is how we can work together, united. That is how we can ensure that our leader remains God. The one whom we come together for, for worship, in this building, in our communities, and in our lives. If we feel listened to, we will be able to work together.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
That I hope is fairly obvious. But what I think is really important is to come back to ourselves, and work out who is the leader there.
“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”
It always puzzled me that there was this section on a kingdom and a house and whether or not they were divided or united and then this sentence about a strong man and whether or not his house can be plundered. So here’s a few thoughts.
Imagine being so assured. You know who your ancestors were, you know who you are. You have social standing, and you have a good home. Actually, you have a great home. It’s full of laughter and it’s full of children. People look up to you. They pay you homage. Gifts come in from people everywhere. You are so popular. Then someone sows a seed of doubt. Very quickly, one of your closest friends is placed under suspicion by other members of your family. You support your friend, but others go against that. Suddenly there are two sides, two factions. You find it so wearying. You’re exhausted in trying to prove your friend’s innocence. People start shunning you and you begin to doubt yourself. What if… The doubts grow and grow. Now you’re mentally drained, and all you want to do is curl up in bed and for everyone to go away. Why can’t life go back to the way it was? Who was doing the leading? Who was doing the fighting?
The mind of the strong person is now tied up, mentally drained and physically exhausted, and now his or her confidence, self-esteem, way of life can be attacked with impunity. His or her ‘house’ can be plundered. The person loses their self-worth. The strength has gone and is replaced with vulnerability. Who is your leader? Who dictates to you how your life should look? How you act? How you are with others?
If, in that state of vulnerability, you’re told by others how your life should look and you simply accept that… what has just happened? You’ve given people the right to enter your life and do with it as they please. Suddenly you’re dancing to their expectations. The phrase ‘under the thumb’ comes to mind. In very simple terms, others have tied you up and can now easily influence you.
We come back to who is our leader? Is it the one who shouts the loudest? Or is it someone else entirely, who has this soft calming presence – a being who we can’t quite touch. Who walks with us, talks with us, sits with us at table? Who has the ability to take the anxiety from us, and leave a deep peace that no-one but no-one can ever give us? Who, when we stop running around to others’ beck and call, is always constant, gentle, reassuring. We can sense who in our friends and families allows that presence to permeate their lives – they are our sisters and brothers. They are the ones who will ensure that people aren’t tied up – because their focus is on God. They are the ones who will ensure a house or kingdom or church is not divided – because their focus is on God.
Together you will stand, divided. Divided is not a place – mentally or spiritually that I would like to see any one in. So let us focus on standing together. Gracefully, lovingly. Let us show the world as it passes through Thurso how united we are and how much in love we are with God. Let us enter these this next year with prayer, taking everything to God, and listening to his deep, quiet, still voice of calm.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;* before the gods I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,* because of your love and faithfulness;
For you have glorified your name* and your word above all things.
When I called, you answered me;* you increased my strength within me.
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.