Monday, June 8, 2015

Scrooged: The Problems with Royal Plans

Scrooge is a name that lives in infamy.  It is onomatopoeia-ic.  You have to scrunch your nose and lips to say it, you cannot smile easily and say it. Scrooge.  It has become a descriptive word.  Most of us know what it means if it is said that someone is being a Scrooge.  The holiday mirth that floats through the title of a Christmas Carol sugar coats a story of weariness that looks both backwards and forwards.  Dickens’ tale is a haunting mixture of hope and desperate fear about the way ahead.  We all have ghosts from a past we many not remember, and we all walk with ghosts of a future we have not yet lived.

Specter’s haunt these readings today, especially 1 Samuel.  David who may not even have been born yet, he is there, floating beyond this demand of a free people for a king.  Pharaoh is there, it doesn’t really matter which one,  you can still see the outline of that large headdress and feel his stubborn greedy grasp on power & wealth. These are not silly ghosts like Nearly Headless Nick.  These ghosts are lives and lessons learned and hopes and dreams, these ghosts are bitter tears of should-a-been-s and could-a-been-s.  The witness of lives and chaos behind us and before us, a cloud of could have been-s and should have been-s.
This story of Samuel, God and a crowd of bourgeois Hebrews, it is more holy morality tale than it is history.  When the raven stole fire from the sun, or when Adam and Eve tried that forbidden fruit in the garden.  For the holy writer of this tale (likely a Deuteronomist) it is very much the choice between good and evil.  This system of kings did begin somewhere, and the desires were probably much like what is offered here.  You can see the royal and blessed (and flawed) David coming over the horizon.  Yet the trappings of majesty are just sugar coating, they are sparkles over layers that know how God loves us and the strange truth that God lets us make rotten choices. 

Parents and counselors and teachers and pastors all do this thing that God does in 1 Samuel.  You, darling children, you want to make a choice that we are certain will not lead to good things.  Or it is simply not the way we would have chosen.  Yet we love you enough to let you be free.  Sometimes things we don’t think will work out do.  And we also know that sometimes, the only way you learn not to jump on the bed, is to bump your head.  The most beleaguered character of the whole Bible is probably not Job, it is probably God.  Can you hear the resigned divine Storyteller?  The One Lord who desires for all of us safety, satisfaction and salvation.  One God who has offered us the way of a compassionate community in the Torah, offered us the way of forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  He has shown us the way and called us home, but he will not live it for us.  Yet there it is, our request.  Can we do it our way?

We are a bit distant from this monarchy idea.  Most royalty that we can easily name either have limited governmental power or are fictitious. Rolly polly ding a-ling Disney kings are less helpful here.  Emperor Palpatine is closer to the darkness that is chosen (but you might notice he is now listed in the Disney Kings!) .  It isn’t about titles, but about centralization of power and wealth and property.  It is about what happens to the people on the bottom, when everything feeds into the top.  The books of Samuel and the books of Kings are telling about the rise of the Kingdom, but it is also telling us a Scrooge story, one haunted by slavery past, and exile future.  It is dense with concerns about political influence, public pressures, dangers from other powers, the accumulation of wealth, the struggle for land that produces fruit, milk and, honey.   Wait. Are those not our worries and challenges?

These texts are haunted by the deepest tensions in ancient Israel,  fraught by this pivotal invitation for a King. It is quite unusual to let someone else decide who you will be and where you will go.  This dialogue between God and Samuel is perhaps the harshest critique of monarchy in the Old Testament.  Who does this choice benefit he asks us.  Who does it crush?  What realities will it bring and why is Samuel so opposed?  Kingdom making is a very human way of trying to manage the chaos.  It will never ultimately create a just community, because it always relies on expelling someone, or being over  someone or against someone.  It is built on being a scrooge.  It will make it harder to live in God’s way, and harder to find our way home to him.

I am not a pleasant person in the morning, especially if the dreams were strange like Scrooge.  Maybe you are as well.  Yet we are not a people who were created to stumble through life, half awake, just trying not to growl at the sun.  We are full of creativity and the same freedom that chose a system of grab, take: this same gift can wake up and choose God’s desire.  We can solve complex problems, or at least I sure hope so, and just because we made a wrong turn does not mean that this is a dead end. Roads go both ways! 

How do we make new dreams, how do we learn from ghosts past, present and future to follow God’s desire for us?   What is this divine desire, this system of governance?  Healing, love, community, compassion.  Service, simplicity, deep thoughts.   These dreams are not for forgetting, but a call to be the up and awake Scrooge at the end of story.  To become a generous peacemaking bundle of love, about whom the neighbors might have thought he went mad.

I sort of dislike the idea that God has a plan for us.  Desire, yes.  Intention, yes.  Roadmap, yes. I guess that is a plan, if you want to call it a plan.  'Plan' just seems to me to be another very human way to try and control the chaos.  (Can we be like other nations, can we have a king? How about an agenda?)  Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly.  He perceives the haughty from afar.  The ghosts of empires past and present, we must be honest about.  The ghosts of devastation future, we have a choice about that.  Does God have for us a desire, yes.  Intention, yes.  Roadmap, yes.  GPS, yes. Sadness when we get turned around, yes.  Forgiveness of our getting turned around and seeking after false kingdoms?  Yes.   Amen.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
June 7, 2015
RCL Pentecost 3B

(No audio, because my tired brain could only handle one audio malfunction at once).

(Should go in the invisible category of sermons that started in the Whedonverse and then had that unusual element removed. Check out the show Dollhouse and think about what it means to give up your mind, but keep your heart.)

(Same sermon, two postings, because one would not share right on fb.  this one has no hyperlinks.  hmm.)

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