06/10/18 – Only Good Autocracy is God’s Autocracy

THE ONLY GOOD AUTOCRACY IS GOD’S AUTOCRACY

June 10, 2018
Sam. 8:4-20; Ps.138; 2 Cor. 4:13 – 5:1; Mk. 3:20-35
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2018

 

Samuel had been faithful to God and a great leader for his people. Without using military force, he had kept peace with Israel’s archenemy the Philistines. But, like Eli, Samuel’s two sons were not worthy of taking on the mantle of leadership. With Samuel growing old and his sons corrupt, the people decided it was time for a change. Instead of looking for guidance from God, they looked at neighboring nations. What had made Israel unique was faithfulness to God, who had chosen them to lead all the nations of the world into God’s kingdom by their example. God had made this special covenant with their ancestor Abraham and was again the foundation of the covenant with Moses. But now, with an uncertain future, God’s people looked to their neighboring nations, each ruled by a king with a strong military as their source of security. The Israelites wanted a king.

God was not pleased that they put their trust in worldly powers. The people were warned of the dangers of a human autocrat. God warned them that their sons would be taken from the family farms to become the king’s army. With the men in military servitude, their daughters would be put to work in service to the king. The people would be taxed to pay for weapons and for the king’s grand lifestyle. The resources of the land would be disproportionally given over to the king and the king’s friends. But, dreams of nationalistic power and glory danced in their heads and the people demanded a king.

The people should have realized from their history that God could be a strict teacher. They should have realized from their history to be careful about what they wished for; but, immediate gratification won out over long-term gains. Since the people were being shallow and short-sighted, God gave them what they deserved. God told Samuel to anoint Saul, whose only asset for leadership was being tall and handsome. Saul did not even want to be king. Saul held no aspirations to lead or serve the people. Yes, this turned out as badly for the Israelites as you would expect. God had saved the Israelites from slavery to an autocrat once before. The Pharaoh of Egypt, driven by the desire to boast, worked the Hebrew slaves mercilessly to keep up productions, which were monuments to his power and wealth. Duly warned, God would not save them again.

Samuel’s anointing Saul as the first king of Israel was a major transition for God’s chosen people. Once governed by judges, whose first allegiance was to God, now Israel became a monarchy. God had spoken: leadership by anyone other than God would lead the people away from God with tragic consequences. The pursuit of wealth and power would lead to their downfall.

The Israelites would soon learn that when change is needed, it is important to discern what change is needed. To seek change merely for the sake of change, particularly change that goes in a different direction than the path toward justice and mercy, would be destructive.

As their ancestors had constructed a Golden Calf to worship, the Israelites pledged their allegiance to what they could see – an army with powerful weapons and a king decked out in regal finery rather than God, who they could not see. The Apostle Paul, in our epistle reading, encouraged the Corinthian congregation to remain faithful to Christ, who was no longer visibly present in the world. Paul wrote:

“Because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor.4:18)

In our gospel reading, Jesus is also working toward change – changing the status quo of society to bring his people back to God. Mark describes a scene in which those that would be expected to be insiders, his biological family, and religious leaders, were outside the building. Jesus’ disciples and the people who wanted to hear Jesus speak were inside the building with him. The society in which Jesus lived held that the family was the central social and economic unit. The Jewish people understood salvation was accomplished by birth into a Jewish family. His audience would have been shocked to hear Jesus’ proclaiming a new definition of family – those that do God’s will.

On the other hand, the times were changing. With the rise of trades and commerce, the population was moving from the family farm to the city, thereby removing people from the support of their families and communities. A new concept of family would have been good news for many who felt lonely and isolated. Paul took this idea and made it a reality by starting Christian fellowships whose life together centered around worship and discipleship.

The religious leaders were concerned that a call to change the status quo would leave them out in the cold. Jesus’ family was worried that he was shaming the family, which would bring dishonor to them in their community. The religious leaders used the common ploy of discrediting and name-calling. They claimed his power to heal came from the prince of evil, Satan or Beelzebub. Jesus deftly destroyed their argument. If his power came from evil, how could he destroy – “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Now here’s Jesus’ line that I had to chew on a bit. Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

No forgiveness… ever? Jesus has presented himself as all about forgiveness, but then he draws a line. How does one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? Evidently, that is just what the religious leaders had done when they accused Jesus’ healing with the work of Satan. The way I interpret this verse is when we claim something good is evil or what is evil good, we have sinned big time! Or to be more specific when we interchange the work of Satan with the mission of Christ, and vice versa, we have stepped on a banana peel on the way down that treacherous slippery slope that sends us away from God. When national politics and social conflicts threaten our own power and privilege, we risk the errors of the Israelites in choosing to trust in a king rather than God. We risk becoming like the people outside the house that Jesus was in. We risk becoming like the de-churched in Corinth who fell back into the ways of the world when being faithful required more of a commitment than they were willing to make.

Ched Myers in “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus,” warns: “When we clean up Jesus to the point that his mission is no longer disruptive and offensive, we commit the unforgivable sin. We render Jesus so innocuous that instead of binding up the strong man and freeing the captives, we use him to bolster the status quo when that status quo benefits us. We conflate our wants, biases and beliefs with Jesus’ words and mission and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

Imagine if we lived into Jesus’ vision of family in our churches, in our communities, in our nation and the world. How can we begin to live this way this very day? If we pledge our allegiance to God, first and foremost, the path becomes clearer – not short, not without obstacles, but clearer. We may not see God’s kingdom fulfilled, but through Christ’s eyes, by faith, we can imagine God’s eternal kingdom on earth and work to make it so.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God.

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois