Bread – Obedience

July 8, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:1-3,7-23; Acts 9:19b-31; Luke 23:44-56a; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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What Christian among us would, if the Lord commanded him or her to give away everything they owned, their house, their cars, their cash, their incentive stock options, their mutual funds, their furniture, their annuities, their cash value in their life insurance, their retirement funds, would immediately and without hesitation do so? I wouldn’t. I would like to say that I would, but I would be likely to hold back something (probably, most) for a “rainy day.” Surely if we received such a command from God, we would (and He would) understand that what He really meant was to give up those things that really cause us to sin, like sugar, coffee, chocolate, and maybe that extra house that we spend all of our time and attention on. And the reason He really meant that was that our witness to the world would be compromised if we could not buy plane tickets to go on mission, had to accept charity from others who needed it more, did not invest our talents wisely (at least deposit them at interest – isn’t that what Jesus said?), and couldn’t show others that the prosperity gospel works.

You are probably smiling now because in my list of rationalizations, I probably hit on at least one you yourself have used to justify some response of quasi-obedience.

Our motives are not bad. In fact, they may well be good because it is true that we are more able to give generously from wealth than from poverty, at least according to our definition of “generously.” But good motives from our perspective do not lead to obedience to God’s commands. And half obedience may be some obedience but it is not the sold-out obedience which Christ asks of His disciples. Our obedience is not of the quality or quantity desired by God. Mine isn’t, and I’ll let you speak for yours.

This is the unmistakable lesson from the prophet Samuel today in our readings. God has told Saul, the king whom God has appointed over Israel, to battle the Amalekites and destroy (devote to God for destruction) every one of them and everything they own, including all of their animals.

And Saul did this, sort of. What he did was to kill everything which was “despised and worthless.” But he kept the good stuff. He kept the king and the “best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” 1 Sam. 15:8-9. And he did all this so that he and Israel would have the good stuff to sacrifice to God. He did such a good job that he built himself a monument. 1 Sam. 15:12b In his mind, he had completely and totally obeyed God’s command to him, saying to Samuel at the end “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 1 Sam. 15:13b When confronted by Samuel, Saul was confused and again repeated what he knew was true, that he had obeyed God – “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the kind of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 1 Sam. 15:20-21. It was clear to Saul that he had obeyed the Lord’s command as He surely intended it, and that he (Saul) had good intentions and desires. It was clear to Saul that what he had done in response to God’s commands was good and was what the Lord wanted.

But not true. God Himself said to Samuel “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not performed My commandments.” `1 Sam. 15:10-11a In response to Saul’s protest that he had obeyed God, Samuel repeated God’s actual command (not the one Saul heard). In response to Saul’s argument that he had reserved the good things from destruction so that they could be sacrificed to God, Samuel said – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam. 15:22

God said to do one thing. That thing which God commanded did not sit well with Saul’s modern sensibilities. Saul heard what he wanted to hear. Saul went out and obeyed the parts of the command which he understood should be obeyed and rejected the rest. Saul developed a rationale, which made sense to him and probably to others as well, as to why he had obeyed and why it was better in the end. Samuel reminded Saul that what Saul thought about God’s commands was irrelevant and his arguments so much smoke and mirrors to disguise his disobedience to God and his obedience to the way he thought he should go and his obedience to the way the world thought he should go.

We are no different from Saul. God has made us king over something – our house, our family, ourselves, our job, our money, our food, our education. He has commanded us in great detail about how we should act as king. But what we don’t like or what society tells us we should not like, we do not do. We rationalize why, of course, using our great powers of reason and persuasion, but the only person we persuade is ourselves. God is not persuaded and He is not fooled, and He is not happy.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”

The next line is not in our readings today, but is important – “For … presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Sam. 15:23a. When we change God’s commands to our liking, we presume that we know best. We take our role as king and elevate it to a role as God. And presumption is as bad as every sin there is, because our elevation of ourselves to the place of God, our disobedience, is why we are such poor kings.

Maybe today I can be obedient in one little thing. And then tomorrow, maybe one more little thing. Maybe I can, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is the only way. Come Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

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