It has been quite a week: Britain has voted to leave the European Union. All branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church except for the Russians are meeting in an Ecumenical Council, the first in over a thousand years that some of these groups have talked to each other. Many major evangelical Christian leaders have come out in support of Donald Trump. There is a lot to process in all of that!
In some ways, none of this has immediately impacted our lives here at this old house and yet, at some level, the ground has shifted under our feet in significant ways. What will Britain’s exit mean for the global economy? Has Pope Francis and his reign of love and mercy motivated the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy around the world to try to connect more intentionally with each other and with laypeople? Are we watching the end of evangelicalism as a viable view of Christian living and theology? These are not things that will be answered quickly; maybe not even in our lifetimes.
The late Phyllis Tickle believed that about every 500 years, there was a major shake-up in the Church and the world. We are nearly 500 years past the Protestant Reformation and so, if she is correct (and there are some who take issue with her analysis), we may be living in the midst of an upheaval that will only be accurately assessed decades from now.
All of this uncertainty can leave us feeling vulnerable. As humans, we like security, safety and total control. Yet, world events have always served to, among other things, remind us that there is ultimately no safety and security here on earth. We are invited to rely on God in times of great uncertainty. Current events can remind us of the need to walk by faith, holding God’s hand in the dark, waiting for God to move rather than trying to take things into our own hand.
There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 that illustrates what can happen when we seek to play God in the world: Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
Saul goes out and defeats the Amalekites but he took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
God is not pleased and sends Samuel back to Saul. When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop!”
“What then is this bleating of sheep in my ear”: the witness against Saul’s taking things into his own hands. It is like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, all the while denying that he was getting a forbidden cookie. Samuel hears Saul’s “hand in the cookie jar” through the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle and says, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” [Saul] replied, “Speak.”
17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
And here comes Saul’s good, honestly believed to be right, rationalization. 20 Saul said to Samuel, “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 king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
It makes perfect sense that he did this, right? 22 And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
What a powerful indictment for us all! Ouch! I so get it, Saul! I really do. It all made perfect sense at the time! Except that it was not what God commanded; it was taking things into my own hands and not trusting God’s instructions.
My take-away with Brexit and the Ecumenical Council meeting and Christ-followers compromising principles so they can stay in power, is that my job is to remain faithful, remembering God always bats last.