Let us pray: God, our loving shepherd, you never allow us to stray from your sight; you keep constant watch over us and desire to be in close relationship to us. Yet, we, in our own desire, become separated from you. Thank you for hovering near to us while also allowing us to experience the fullness of our decision-making. Help us to seek your will; help us to seek the same love for you that you already have for each and every person. Help us to demonstrate the same love and hospitality to others that you have already given to us. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you, O Lord, are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“You are never going to know unless you try.” This is a phrase I heard often as child growing up: “Do you think I can ride my bike without training wheels?” “You are never going to know until you try.” “Do you think I can make the Junior High Cheerleading team?” “You are never going to know until you try.” “Do you think I will make new friends in Middle School, Junior High School, and High School?” “You will never know until you try.” “Do you think I will be okay living by myself on campus?” “You will never know until you try.” Anytime, I asked my mom for advice on what I should do with my life, this or something similar was the response I was given. It’s not that my mom did not care or did not have time, but she wanted to make sure that I was the one making the choice, that I was the one determining how I would spend my time, my energy, my resources, so that I would either learn how to succeed at something I wanted or I would learn from my mistakes the next time I endeavored to do something new or different with my life.
I feel relatively safe saying that as parents (or teachers or mentors), we want to see those for whom we care grow up to be safe, self-sustaining, responsible and respectful adults. I mean, I don’t think I have ever met a teacher or a coach say, “I hope this student falls flat on her bottom.” It is ingrained in us as humans that we want to see those for whom we care succeed, and for many of us, the way we learn about success is by taking responsibility for the choices presented to us as we grow up.
In the Ancient Near East, up until approximately 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, Israel was ruled by one king, God. God who had led the Hebrew slaves out from the bondage and oppression of Pharaoh’s heavy hand, now covenanted with the people of Israel to be their God, to be their king and they, in response, were called to be God’s people. To be a people of God meant following the commands given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. To follow these commandments was not so much a legalistic task as a means of living in community with God and with one another. Throughout their history, God appointed prophets and judges to speak and to rule the people of Israel, but their center was the sanctuary where they offered their whole hearts, minds, and souls to God. Then, there was a shift in society.
Beginning with Gideon, right up until Samuel, each of the judges ruled justly and worshiped God exclusively, and yet the sons of these judges perverted justice, ruled for themselves, and gave no regard for the people or situation in Israel. For approximately three generations, or 60 years, the nation of Israel faced military attacks at the hands of Philistine to the west of them. In addition, elders from the tribes of Israel began to wonder and to think aloud about what would happen if instead of living as 12 tribes under the rule of the judges, what if they combined their military and economic resources like their neighboring countries? Surely, then, they would be like the other countries, and be able to have a monarch who would build a military and defend their nation. Israel wanted to look after its own interest, and the elders of Israel believed that appointing a king to rule over them would accomplish this goal.
This is the backdrop for the Scripture from I Samuel that Bill read for us this morning. The elders of Israel have come to Samuel, a judge, now old in age and have asked him to appoint a king to rule over them. Samuel, as a representative appointed by God, does not like this idea, so he goes and prays, and God responds in a surprising way. God tells Samuel to do what the people have asked and to speak on behalf God to make sure Israel understands what they are asking for in asking for a king to rule over them. Despite the warning, the nation of Israel insists it knows best and asks for a king. Israel, seemingly has forgotten the moans and cries that their ancestors made as they worked as slaves in Egypt, and now once again asks to be enslaved by an earthly monarch.
Israel has experienced life in relationship with God and life in community with one another, and this type of life is demanding. It is a life that requires commitment 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Life in relationship with God requires that a community put its entire trust in God, that a community makes decisions that are right, good, and just for the whole of the community and not for just a few. Relationship with one another means that we seek to find the God-like characteristic in one another; we have to more than tolerate one another if we seek to live in true community with each other. We must be willing to offer ourselves on behalf of another, even when we disagree, do not like, or do not want anything to do with that other.
This is a big life, full of both freedom and risks that God calls Israel to, and that God calls each one of us to as well. Yet, Israel, from the time of the exodus, sought to live a small life. Constant complaining in the desert for lack of food and shelter led to the Israelites eating so much quail it came out their noses. Doubts about God led to the worshiping of Baal and other gods and deities. Israel once again forgets its story and its history—a covenant that begins, “I am the LORD your GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1). The Hebrew and Christian Testaments of the Bible are filled with example after example of how, throughout history, humanity has neglected, forgotten, and flat-out forsaken this commandment. The Bible is filled with example after example of how God, like a parent-figure, has responded to humanity, “Despite my words to you, you will not know or understand until you try.”
But it is not just characters in the Bible who seek to live small lives. In a day and age where we can receive 24-hour/day news told from every possible perspective; in a day and an age when disasters take place in real time thanks to social media, who would not want a life where one thought he or she was safe and comfortable? Who wouldn’t want instant assurance of security, defenses, and resources in a time of such uncertainty? Yet, like the Israelites, we are called to remember our story. We are called to remember that God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are called to remember that God traveled with the liberated Hebrew slaves by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We are called to remember that God slipped into flesh and came down and ate, laughed, suffered, healed, wept, and died among us as part of humanity. We are called to remember that no matter how many times we forget our story, no matter how many times we have desired to live a small life of comfort and security, no matter how many times, God in God’ love for us has said, “You will not know or understand until you try,” that God in fact, does not abandon us but continues, in the words of Rachel Held Evans “to stoop and stoop and stoop and stoop. At the heart of [our story as a Church] is God, who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that [we] are seen and [we] are loved…This is who God is. This is what God does.”
Because we are seen and we are loved, we are called to live a life in service to God. Our faith does not get checked at the church building exits Sunday after worship. Our faith tells our story whether we are at work, at home, at school, at the grocery store, at the laundromat, or at the polling place; whether we are advocating for those whose voices are no longer heard in our society or whether we are battling physical or mental disease and/or addiction. Because God is always present and always active in our lives and in the world, every decision, every choice we make reflects and reveals who or what we hold most dear. This is the gift and the tension God offers to each and every human being. What will you choose? Amen.
 From “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” (releases June 12, 2018), Facebook/rachelheldevans.page/posts (accessed June 9, 2018).