becoming poor (4/4)

The people of Israel wanted a king.

To have a king was a sign of power.

To have a king was a sign that you had arrived as a nation.

To have a king meant that you were a people to be reckoned with.

The prophet Samuel warned the people – you don’t want a king. A king will take the best of your vineyards and fields and orchards through taxation. A king will take your daughters as his perfumers and bakers and cooks. A king will make your sons his soldiers and horsemen and commanders.  Let me warn you – you will rue the day that you asked for a king.

But the people didn’t care: “We demand a king – we want a king like the other nations. Give us a king.”

So Samuel gave them a king.

God gave them a king. A series of kings in succession.

Saul and David and Solomon and Jeroboam and Rehoboam and Abijam and Asa and  Baasha and on – God gave kings to Israel and Judah.

Psalm 72 is a prayer of the people for their king. To some extent the people understand the potential for failure in their king – to some extent they understand that a king may not be a panacea, a king may not be a universal remedy for the problems facing the people.

Psalm 72 is a prayer of the people that their king would rule according to God’s purposes. Psalm 72 is a prayer that their king would rule in the service of God’s people. The people understand the potential for failure in their leaders, and so they pray to God for the king.

A reflection this morning on Psalm 72.

What kind of a king do you want, O people? What is your prayer?

May he be a powerful king – a king who goes off to battle and comes home victorious. A king who establishes himself as a fearless warrior so that other nations think twice before attacking us, and think twice before exploiting us, and think twice before taking advantage of our vulnerabilities. May our king’s foes bow down before him and lick the dust. May all kings fall down before him, and all nations give him service.

O God, we want our king to be honoured among our own people – a man of courage and strength and wisdom. Someone who gains honour and respect from the men and women and families of our nation – and someone who gains respect from the far flung nations of the world.

O God, may our king be so feared and honoured that princes from neighbouring lands – and Queens from far off lands – come bearing gifts to recognize of him – bearing gifts that signal their allegiance to him. May he be a king the nations want on their side – someone with whom they will make alliances – so that he doesn’t make alliances against them. O God, may our king have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

What kind of a king do you want, O people? What is your prayer?

O God, we also want a king who will establish peace. Only poetry comes close to expressing what we want from this king. May he be like rain that falls on mown grass, like showers that water the earth. May refreshment and delight define the rule of our king – refreshment and delight for our nation and for the world at our doors.

There is one word that sums up the refreshment and delight for which we long and for which we pray. The word is Peace

In his days may peace abound – until the moon is no more. The moon is a constant in the sky – the sun is a constant in the sky. The sun and the moon are before us and they after us – may this king of ours, may his kingdom of peace, be more enduring than the sun, more enduring than the moon.

We are looking for peace, but not a temporary peace, not a passing peace, not a peace that is as a fleeting dream – we are looking for an enduring peace, O God – the peace that you long to give us. So may our king be strong and honourable and victorious in war, but may his end and goal be peace, not conflict. Long may he live in peace. Long may we live in peace. Long may our world be at peace because of the king you give to us.

O God, through our king, grant us peace.

What kind of a king do you want, O people? What is your prayer?

We would have an honourable king and a powerful king.

We would have a king committed to the peace of his people and the peace of our world.

But above all, O God. Above everything else – may our king be one who remembers the faces of the poor among us.

Yes, victory and honour.

Yes, a peace that endures.

But above all, O God, may our king remember the faces of the poor among us. They are not few. May he remember them . . .

It is so easy to forget the faces of the poor, even when they are on our own doorstep – too easy.

Easy to blot out the anguished faces of those who are hungry.

Easy to blot out the tear-streaked faces of those who are in pain.

Easy to forget those who are sick and dying.

Easy to forget those who have no power.

Easy to hold them all at a distance.

But may our king remember the faces of the poor. May he defend the cause of the poor – may he give deliverance to the needy.

O God, we remember what it is to be poor – we remember what it is to be in profound need. When we were living in poverty, you showed us love. When we were in profound need, oppressed, you showed us love. You lifted us up – you set us on our feet – you gave us a livelihood and a land. May our king remember, and walk in your way.

O God may this be the glory of our king: That he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

O God may this be the glory of our king: That he has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

O God may this be the glory of our king: That he saves those facing oppression and violence . . . . for their lives are precious in his sight . . . . . . . .

Here ends the prayer of Psalm 72. A prayer that God would direct and strengthen the king in God’s own way.

God doesn’t only give a series of kings to Israel and Judah. God also sends a series of prophets to Israel and Judah – and to the king.

The prophets enter the picture; the prophets arise within the history of God’s people; the prophets are called by God to speak – when the king and the people forget God’s ways. Each prophet speaks in a particular time, addresses a particular context, has a particular bone to pick.

Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah – are all prophets who had something particular to say about the pursuit of justice, about care for the poor, about help for the downtrodden, about remembering the forgotten. It turns out that Samuel was right when he warned the people – the presence of a King isn’t a panacea, isn’t a universal cure for the problems of the nations. In fact,

Your kings will forget justice.

Your kings will forget goodness.

Your kings will forget the poor and vulnerable and marginalized.

A reflection on our Old Testament lesson from the prophecy of Jeremiah 21.

This is what God says to you, O King of Judah – King Jehoahaz.

My people prayed to me, that the glory of their king would be in his remembrance of the poor. My people prayed to me, that the glory of their king would be his care for the marginalized and the victimized. My people prayed to me that the glory of their king would be his solidarity with the vulnerable.

I have led you King Jehoahaz. I have given you my law that commands honour and protection for the least among you. I have led you King Jehoahaz. I have reminded you of your people’s past, how I took them by the hand and cared for them, when they were despised and lost and living in poverty.

This is what God says to you, O King of Judah – King Jehoahaz.

You have not found your glory in remembering justice and righteousness. You have not found your glory in remembering the vulnerable around you.

You have found your glory elsewhere.

You have found your glory in a beautiful home made of cedar.

You have found your glory in not paying a fair wage.

You have found your glory in a comfortable life.

You have found your glory in practicing oppression and violence.

This is what God says to you, O King of Judah – King Jehoahaz.

Your kingship – which is a false kingship – is over.

Your kingship – which is no kingship at all – will come to an end.

You have been led astray from your true glory – the only glory that matters to me.

My people have been led astray – led astray from true glory.

The glory you have achieved is empty – your glory amounts to nothing.

A hard word will be spoken – must be spoken – the end of kingship, and the dispersal of my people. They will go into exile. They will live far from home, far from the temple, far from their land, far from the comforts they took for granted. A hard word will be spoken – the end of kingship, and the dispersal of my people.

This is what God says to you, O King of Judah – King Jehoahaz

Though judgment and exile will be spoken for many years – it will not be the final word.

One day. One day I will send you a new king. A king in the line of David – a king who will embody the best you saw in king David – and more. This new king will deal wisely, and he will establish justice and goodness and truth. Through him my people will find safety and new life and fullness of life. This will be the name of that king. “God-who-puts-everything-right.”

My people asked for a king – and I gave them kings in succession. But every king who ever could have arisen in the line of Saul and David and Solomon and Jeroboam and Rehoboam and Abijam and Asa and on – they could never be the king you needed. Every king who could have arisen – could never give you what you really needed or wanted.

The days are surely coming when I will send you a new king, who will be called: “God-who-puts-everything-right.” That will be his named: Jehovah Tsidkenu “God-who-puts-everything-right.”

Today is Ascension Sunday – Thursday of this past week was Ascension Day – falling on the fortieth day of Easter. There is a word that is not much loved in our world that we remember today – the word is Theocracy. The word Theocracy brings to our minds images of men in dark suits or dark robes, often with dark beards – men whose goal in life is to oppress in the name of their God – in the name of God’s law, and in the name of their particular religion.

As the New Testament scholar Tom Wright puts it in the title of one of his books, the gospels tell the story of How God Became King. The claim of Ascension Day and of Ascension Sunday is the claim that in Jesus God has become King – in this particular one Jesus, God has become the king Israel prayed for, the king the prophets spoke of, and the king that Saul or David or Solomon or Jeroboam or Rehoboam or Abijah or Asa could never be.

“One day. One day I will send you a new king. A king in the line of David – a king who will embody the best you saw in king David – and much more.” We live in a theocracy – under a theocracy – we live under the kingship of the risen and ascended Jesus. Our world, whether it knows it or not, lives under the kingship of the ascended Jesus.

A reflection on the kingship of Jesus:

Who is this one who ascends on high? What kind of a king is this?

The birds have a nest to call home – the foxes of the field have a burrow to call home – this king Jesus has no place to rest his head. He wanders on the margins of his society

–       never a part of the establishment

–       never a person of wealth,

–       never a person of power

He is one who makes his home with farmers and fishermen, with migrant workers from Mexico, with child labourers in developing countries, with refugees in camps around the world, with those who weep and who mourn. He makes his home with the poor and the poor in spirit. This is Jesus’ glory.

Who is this one who ascends? What kind of a king is this?

The one who ascends is a king who bears the marks of nails in his hands, and whose side bears the mark of a spear.

His glory is in the life of humble service.

His glory is in the forgiveness and reconciliation he achieves.

His glory is in the life he shares with the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts.

His glory is in the new life he brings into circumstances of oppression and alienation and violence and injustice and wrong-headed living.

Who is this one who ascends? What kind of a king is this?

He is a king who invites us into friendship with him.

He is a king who invites us to share in his life on the margins.

He is a king who gives us a share in his glory, as we walk with him, as we live with him.

He is a king who gives us a share in his glory, as we follow him humility and service – among the poor, and among the poor in spirit – working for a world that is made new through his goodness and justice and peace – a world that knows his resurrection life.

Thanks be to God for the king. Amen.

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