January 12, 2020
I Samuel 8.8-22
Amos 1.1-3, 1.6, 1.11,1.13, 2.1, 2.4, 2.6 excerpts, Amos 3:9-10,15
The Bible recounts God’s vision of world harmony. Yet violence, social divisions and international conflicts persist.What are we doing to promote God’s vision of world harmony? A few inspiring examples include: Australians are tirelessly working together to rescue fire endangered people, animals, personal property and forests. Muslims in Seattle are hosting gracious inter-religious dinner discussion groups. Police in Salem, OR are strengthening community relations with meet and greets in troubled neighborhoods. Catholic Brothers host a free July 4 picnic in Newburgh.
Yet self-interests dominate social, economic and political commerce. The Bible includes innumerable accounts of abuse of power, pridefulness and selfishness that eventually lead to dire consequences. The Bible also teaches paths to world harmony: (1) trust in God and (2) a fighting spirit escalates to more fighting. Despite our denials, anyone over age 1-1/2 knows that aggression results in more aggression. Yet even good church people tend to ignore these warnings and wisdom.
The Old Testament recounts numerous gory military victories and defeats. Kings functioned as military, economic and social dictators. Some kings looked after the well-being of their people, to a degree. However, most kings were self-serving. Throughout history, most monarchs and de-facto dictators try to grab power, usually by over-burdening lower classes in their nation and, if strong enough, they often try to conquer or dominate other territories.
Our story from I Samuel shows that choosing a king because of a desire for a military champion was a BAD idea. This story reminds me of a persistent whining child. God finally acquiesced to the people’s demand for a military leader, so people could learn a lesson: Following God rather than human authorities is the best way to peace and harmony. Choosing to obey a national despot instead of following God’s will proved disastrous, time and again.
For our country, the underlying impetus to form One Nation, Under God was to curtail power abuse. Abraham Lincoln described our representational democracy, as ‘a nation of the people, for the people and by the people.’ Note that the people must participate in the government in order for democracy to function well. In addition, if moral principles of voters are compromised, democratic government will be ravaged. If concern for the common good is diminished, only the powerful will flourish.
Imagine Uncle Sam on a psychiatrist’s couch. Uncle Sam frets to his counsellor: “I spend most of my money on government administration and international conflicts. I have little money left for helping the poor or for health and education, to say nothing of funding crumbling infrastructures, environmental protection measures or assistance in the wake of natural disasters. My mind is in a turmoil and I lose sight of my main priorities. What’s wrong with me, doc?” The counselor responds, “You suffer from a deep-seated industrial-military complex. You need intensive therapy.”
What action steps can we take to help implement God’s vision of world harmony? Please take the bulletin insert and write down your ideas for how YOU can help to make a better world.* As we consider some of the possibilities, I will pause briefly for you to write down ways that you can help.
The first task is to face up to our own desire to control our life, rather than seeking God’s direction. In order to promote personal and world harmony, we need to ask ourselves: Do we live with God as our sovereign Lord? To what extent do we try to control our own lives? Do we turn to God only as a back-up insurance plan, when our own efforts prove ineffective? What steps do we need to take to turn to God as our pathfinder? How can we accept God’s unconditional love and God’s love for all creation? Prayer and group Bible study are ways that can help us focus on God’s wisdom. How can we replace our destructive patterns with God’s ways?
In order to support God’s purposes for a fruitful and loving world, we also need to confess our own selfish actions that undermine world harmony. How can each of us curtail our own self-centered behaviors that ignore the common good? Our personal commitment to promote world harmony starts with confessing how we, as individuals and we, as a nation hinder God’s purposes of justice and equality for all. Here are some examples: We need to admit our laziness about helping to make a difference. We need to identify our own excessive consumerism. And, we need to admit our elitist attitudes towards other nations, other religions and other ethnicities. How can you make changes in your life to better align with God’s hopes for the world?
Faithful Christians also need to identify ways that the self-interests of our economic and government leaders undermine God’s purpose of a loving world. How can each of us help to reduce the self-centered actions of government and business leaders that threaten vulnerable people and world harmony? Voting and conversations matter. And, a significant way to help shape local and national policy is to influence local leaders and congressional leaders. We need to persistently contact leaders regarding the welfare of our community, nation and world. We cannot be one-issue citizens. Please write down thoughts about how you might encourage leaders’ integrity and persuade our leaders to make good decisions by setting aside their own self-interests.
Please write down thoughts about how you might reduce personal selfishness or promote integrity of our country’s leaders.
A fourth task in promoting God’s vision for the world is hope. We can hope, for example, for Union Church to deeply feed members and inspire members to follow paths that Jesus laid down for us. Such life-giving church experiences inspire members to invite others to participate, too. We can hope for ecumenical harmony and cooperation among Christians. We can hope for inter-faith harmony and cooperation—starting with our own openness and welcoming. We can hope for inter-cultural harmony starting with openness and by taking initiatives to build bridges of respect and caring—both in one-on-one conversations and by building mutual goodwill between cultural groups. We can hope for ecological accountability, starting with our own responsible actions to care for the earth, such as reducing single-purpose automobile travel, and less waste of food, energy and water. We can advocate for policies that will promote good stewardship of the world’s eco-systems.
Please continue writing down the ways you can promote God’s vision of world harmony. And then, with strong resolve, DO IT!
* Credit for overview of actions needed: Walter Brueggeman, “Called to a Dangerous Oddness,”Sojourners, January 2020.