1 Samuel 8; John 18:33-38
I am a Thanksgiving, New Year and first Sunday of February football fan. This is when the big games happen. It is about who will win the rivalry games, or who will take home the big trophies. There is pride at stake, and no guarantees as to outcomes.
And I am an underdog fan. In most cases, I review the game analysis in the newspaper and find out who has the compelling underdog story and that is MY team. So, for the most part I am a disappointed football fan. As my son commented at Thanksgiving, the odds-makers are incredibly accurate. But they don’t speak with heart, only with science. And I want a story. I want drama. I want the powerful to be brought low and the humble to be exalted – oh, now I am waxing biblical. Probably not warranted when it comes to talking about football.
But on the other hand, football perhaps brings out in me some of the same things that Israel was looking for when they asked Samuel to give them a king. They wanted to be in the running for the Middle East Cup, for everyone to cheer and bow down to them as they kissed the trophy and pumped their fists in the air. They wanted to be winners, to be in control.
Under Samuel’s leadership, they had been kept safe. Samuel was faithful in his prayers, and God spoke to Samuel, listened when Samuel spoke, too. The people did not understand this power, though. They were afraid of the Ark of the Covenant, just like former generations were afraid of Mt. Sinai. There is a power there which they did not understand or control. So, when the enemies made war against them, they ran to Samuel. He would offer a sacrifice and pray with all his heart. And God fought for them in amazing ways. Amazing, and beyond understanding. (We should probably take a cue on the power of prayer! But that is another sermon.)
Israel wanted a power they could understand. They wanted a king they could see, who would be a powerful warrior their enemies could see, before whom they would tremble.
It broke Samuel’s heart when the people asked for a king. Partly, I am sure, because he had set up a sort-of kingdom of his own, designating his sons to be leaders after him. But they did not have the heart for it. They were not connected to the Holy One of Israel, but were in it for their own self-interest. Samuel understood that these were God’s people to love and to lead and that he was God’s instrument. His sons did not get that. So, truly, the people were in trouble.
It broke God’s heart, too, when the people asked for a king. He reminded Samuel that it was not Samuel they were rejecting as king, but the Lord their God who took them by the hand out of slavery and into this good land. Now they want to do it themselves. Like two-year-olds: “No! I do it!”
Perhaps this was part of the growing-up process for Israel, something they needed to do in order to come back to the one who was their strength and hope. God didn’t want to get angry again and threaten to destroy them all and start over with Samuel, like God proposed to start over with Moses. God could already see that the offspring of Samuel were not up to his caliber of faith.
So, let them have a king.
And there were some highlights – well, at least one – David. David began his last words saying,
“The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Samuel 23:2-4).
This much David understood – that the king who was the light of the world was the one who was a mouthpiece for God, through whom the Spirit herself speaks. Sometimes David ruled like the light of morning, and sometimes he did not. And his offspring grew progressively more dark and deaf to the voice of the Lord.
The way of Israel was to be led by God, not a human king or queen, vested with human power. God’s power is love and it was only this power which was to rule, and would bring the light of morning, and draw all people of earth to the light. No dictator, despot or tyrant; no lording it over others. Rather, light and love which are the things the human soul most seeks.
And so in the person of Jesus, God put the power of love into human form. No mystical ark of the covenant. No sacrificial system. No Samuel, no David. No strength at all, in fact. Isaiah tells us that the one to redeem Israel, the one to bring her back, would not be who they expected: “he would have no form or majesty that we should pay attention to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him…, he would be despised, and held of no account” (Isaiah 53:2,3).
This king was weak, would never win the rivalry football game, would not crush the Rome-enemy. He would not even let his disciples pick up a sword to protect him. Isaiah called him the Prince of Peace (9:6).
All this talk of peace is confusing. How can nations beat their swords into plowshares? It is just not practical. How can justice be achieved without power? Without a fight? We argue that there are times when we are called to take up arms and fight…. Maybe…. In this broken world….
What we are told is that the Prince of Peace is a whole new kind of king. Jesus, Prince of Peace, chose to work for justice through love, forgiving even those he could see gambling for his clothing after nailing him to a cross, forgiving those in the distance who had conspired to have him executed, forgiving those for whom it was easier to crucify one than to risk a riot of many. Jesus was Prince of Peace, heir to the throne of the King of Peace, by being willing to suffer violence rather than dole it out. Yes, this is radical beyond comfort. It is not natural! The animal in us will fight for life and for the life of its young. It is counter to our nature. Yes. Idealistic? Yes, probably.
But can you think of another way of having peace? Will violence, fences, arms races, guns in the hands of all – Will any of these make for peace? No. The way of peace is peace.
Earlier this morning, Jane played a familiar tune for us, “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” That song has an interesting story. Sy Miller wrote the tune and his wife Jill Jackson wrote the words. She wrote the words out of a very personal journey.
Jill says, “When I attempted suicide and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love – which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”
Jill Jackson seems to capture the conversation Jesus had with Pilate perfectly! King? You say I am a king, but I don’t really care about titles or power. I came to be truth. Pilate replies – cynical, or seeker, we don’t know – “What is truth?” This is truth: what Jackson calls her eternal moment of truth, in which she knew she was loved. Jesus said he came to witness to the truth, to be this truth. He knew love. He came from love and knew he would return to love. This truth is not of this world – it is not the kind of truth or power which can be tested by science or politics. It just is. It just is. And, Jesus came to bear witness to it. Jill Jackson wrote a song about this same truth. She knew she was loved, and that meant something for how she would live in the world, and how everyone could live in the world.
In 1955, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the song, came to life. Sy Miller, who wrote the tune, described it this way: “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’—helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding. When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe.”
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Songwriters: Jill Jackson / Sy Miller, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” lyrics © Mccg LLC
The Prince of Peace is among us. World peace starts small. With you. And you. And you.