Readings– I Samuel 8: 4- 20, 11: 14- 15; Psalm 138; II Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35
About following the crowd. As a teenager, I sometimes defended a decision with the words, “Everyone else is doing it!” My parents would then reply, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Following the crowd is not just something teenagers are prone to do, it is a temptation we all face from time to time.
In our reading from First Samuel, we hear of the ancient Israelites giving in to this temptation. Though the prophet Samuel counseled against it, “the people refused to listen…; they said … we are determined to have a king over us so that we may be like the other nations”. They wanted a king to “govern us and go out before us and fight our battles”. And so, at Gilgal, they anointed Saul as the first king of Israel.
Unfortunately, they did not count the cost as Samuel admonished them
A king would take their sons to be soldiers. A king would take their daughters to be courtesans, cooks, and bakers. A king would take their best fields, vineyards, and orchards. A king would take their produce and their flocks.
Actually, the Hebrew word is not “take”, but rather the more violent word, “grab”.
Since the author of this text wrote at least a generation after Saul’s kingship, it is generally understood that this was in fact what happened. The first king of Israel grabbed what he wanted. The people who demanded that they be like the other nations did not count the cost.
Let’s reflect a bit on how this may apply to our own current day. The five weeks between Memorial Day and the fourth of July is sometimes called the Patriotic Season. Flags are flying on Rotary Field, at Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, and at Merle Phillips Park in Sunbury, and on many porches around our communities. We remember those who gave their all with the ultimate sacrifice; we thank those among us who served; we honor our flag on the fourteenth; we celebrate those in colonial Philadelphia who signed the Declaration of Independence on the fourth of July. Their signatures could have become their own death warrants had the British prevailed.
It is interesting that fighting for our county under our Stars and Stripes actually began during the Civil War. It was in 1861 that our flag became the symbol of the United States, of the Union. The thirteen red and white stripes?? They remind us of the thirteen British colonies that joined together. The now fifty-five pointed stars remind us of the fifty states as of the fourth of July 1960.
President Ronald Reagan described our flag in a speech in 1986. Red is for the courage and readiness to sacrifice. White is for pure intentions and high ideals. Blue is for vigilance and justice for all. He also reminded us of the most recent addition to our pledge of allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. The additional words were championed by the Daughters of the Revolution and by the Knights of Columbus, and taken from the words of Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, “that his nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom”. By an act of Congress and signed by President Dwight D Eisenhauer, on Flag Day, the fourteenth of June, 1954, the words “under God” were added to our Pledge of Allegiance.
Returning to the words of our forty-sixth president, we have as a nation “under God” different standards by which to measure. I would highlight —
The “readiness to sacrifice” for the benefit of others,
The “high ideals” of loving neighbor as self, of being instruments of peace as in the Prayer of St. Francis,
The “justice for all” as the children’s’ hymn states, Red, and yellow, black and white, all are precious in God’s sight.
“Under God” stretches us to embrace that very last line of our Gospel reading today. When told that his mother, brothers, and sisters, were outside and calling him to return home rather than continue his ministry among the crowds, Jesus replied, “who are my mother, my brothers, and my sisters?” He then answered his own question, “whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and my mother”.
The Israelites anointed their first king and failed to listen to the voice of the prophet Samuel who in fact was sharing the council of God. They failed to count the cost. We have counted the cost; we remember the cost in ages past, and we know that there will continue to be costs in the future that will challenge our nation to be one, under God with liberty and justice for all.
May we join with our own sisters and brothers, with our own mothers and fathers and live our own lives “under God”, and continue to work for “liberty and justice for all”.