The fight over keeping the United States flag in the church’s sanctuary had been bitter. It was bitter enough that it came up in conversation several years later when I first started my ministry with the congregation. The feud ended with an agreement that the flag would reside in the fellowship hall every Sunday except those that fell on national holidays. If I forget to move the flag into the sanctuary on the weekends of July 4, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, a member moves it for me.
When the Israelites ask for a king like other nations, they complicate their lives by creating a world of two realms: subjects of God and citizens of nations. As followers of Jesus we strive to be good citizens. We vote, run for office, write and call our elected leaders, and try to be informed on national and local issues. We hold our leaders accountable and insist that the government include the most vulnerable in its plans.
As followers of Jesus we can easily mistake national pride for discipleship. We live in an era when many of us quickly identify the prosperity of our nation with a sign of divine providence and think the victory of our political party is God’s will. Therefore, it is jarring to read this story from First Samuel, which reminds us that a theocracy was God’s first choice. Good kings will follow bad kings; bad kings will follow good kings, but all human governments will fall short. Good governments care about what is best for the people, but all governments are ultimately concerned about their own self-interest and maintaining their power. God proves over and over again that God’s interest lies in giving God’s self to us. That is what is best for us and deserves our primary allegiance.
God, our sovereign ruler, give us courage to live as your subjects while citizens of our nation. Amen.
We sometimes struggle to believe in the power of a God we cannot see. The psalmist declares that God is greater than any earthly king and will preserve us in the face of our enemies. However, in the time of Samuel, the Israelites demanded a human king to lead them into battle, as other nations had. God was not enough for them. Paul admonishes the Corinthians not to repeat this mistake. We should not think that what we can see is the ultimate reality. What we see is temporary; what cannot be seen is eternal. Perhaps Jesus is teaching a similar idea in this somewhat troubling passage in Mark. Jesus is not against family, but he is emphasizing that human families are temporary; spiritual family is eternal.
• Read 1 Samuel 8:4-20. How influenced by culture and neigh-
bors are you? How do you attempt to keep your priorities aligned with God’s reign?
• Read Psalm 138. How do you evaluate the “gods” in your life? How do you recognize when those gods have gained control of your life?
• Read 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1. When life’s circumstances over-
whelm you, how do you avoid losing heart?
• Read Mark 3:20-35. Who is your spiritual family? Whom do you identify as your brothers, sisters, mother and father?
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