Readings: 1 Samuel 8:4-20; Matthew 6:24
I opened with the story of contradicting signs as read in Oakland Airport. (“All you need is love,” by J. Lennon; P. McCartney. “You can’t always get what you want,” by M. Jagger; K. Richards)
I wanted this morning’s question to be that age-old one, Rolling Stones or Beatles for the greatest band of all time? Of course that’s like asking you all to decide between Michigan or Michigan State. While we can debate the merits of the British Invation later...I’ll leave college rivalries up to the Skinner twins to sort out.
Mick Jagger said "We can't always get what we want."
So my question to is “Why not?” Why can’t we get what we want?
Why can’t we live by the rule of Burger King...and have it our way?
Let’s try an exercise. Close your eyes and think of one thing you really want. Something that your heart has desired for a long time. Don’t say what it is. Just picture yourself...filled with great joy because you finally got what you wanted. Now, open your eyes. And cling to that feeling.
Imagine waking up on morning and getting everything you want. Your body no longer feels the aches and pains of age. Your children are no longer fighting each other. Your boss gives you a promotion and a well needed raise. And let's go all out...you picked the willing Powerball numbers. That would be great, wouldn't it?
Now, go back to that thing you just thought about...and ask yourself "Is God in that picture?" How many of our wants and desires include God. Do we want to be closer to family...or have a closer relationship with God as his child? Did you wish to live in the perfect house...or to live in perfect Christ-likeness inside and outside your home? We can want better neighbors...but what we need is to love our neighbors better.
Don’t feel ashamed if you wanted another stuffed bear for your collection, or that you wanted to win the lottery. Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give to you.” There is some truth to what Mick Jagger sang, we don't always get what we want...“But if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.” God knows what we need. And what we want. It's up to us to balance the two.
But companies spend billions of dollars every year to make sure our needs and wants are not aligned. They want to make sure we are never satisfied with what we have. They promise us that we can have our cake and eat it too, and yet they are always baking a bigger, and better cake. Some of us know too well that chasing the things we think we want, doesn’t always make life easier, but instead more difficult. It has become too easy to confuse our wants and our needs and therefore we are often out of sync with God.
It's like this: Your sailing a boat on Lake Michigan and because it's Michigan the weather changes quickly for no apparent reason. Sunshine turns to a nasty storm. You sail towards the safety of a dock at the shoreline. Now when you dock a boat, what is the first thing you do? You tie it to the dock, right? Otherwise, the boat will slowly drift away. The same thing happens when we are not tied securely to what God wants from us. Slowly, we begin to drift. We drift away and towards other ‘stuff’. ‘Stuff’ that can be tempting and alluring, pulling us away from God.
It's often at the dock where Christians stumble with their faith. In stormy times we'll sail towards the dock for safety. But then we only plant one foot on the wooden planks. The other one we keep in the boat. Can you the problem coming? Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We will love one and hate the other. We can't straddle between the two...without experiencing some negative consequences. If we are not securely tied to God, we don’t get what we want. Or what we need. Instead we wind up in the cold water.
We cannot serve two masters. Israel learned this lesson the hard way. In 1 Samuel, we read they desperately wanted a king. God said, I am your king. But they began to whine louder, "we want a king like our neighbors have;" one that is battle tested, smart and comes from a rich and powerful family. It didn't matter that God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Or gave them the Promised Land. How quickly they forgot it was God who protected them from their enemies.
Samuel warns the people that any other king will only bring misery upon them. They will not have freedom, but have slavery again. An earthly king will take their sons and put them in his army. He will take their daughters and put them to work to care for his personal needs. He will burden them with taxes. He will take their slaves; a portion of their crops, and land, and animals. To think how far we've come in 3,000 years.
But Israel kicks and screams, like a child still wanting candy after his parents have said no. In spite of the warnings, God gives them what they want, which is not necessarily what they need. God gives it to them, because God loves them. They are his beloved children. And even the best parent gives in to the wishes of a crying child.
Israel will discover that each new king they drift further and further away from God’s life giving spirit. Before long political disagreements will divide the House of Israel into two nations; weakening them further. Smaller and more vulnerable, neither side is able fend off the attacks of their war hungry neighbors. Within a few hundred years the 12 tribes of Abraham had been dismantled and dispersed.
What God wanted from them, they could not give to God. And they suffered the consequences. Yet God hears the prayers of the faithful, the scattered remnants, crying out from the different lands and nations. Crying out for a savior to rescue them, and return them back to their former glory. And so God sends his people one last king. One who would not only gather the lost sheep, but who come to save all of creation.
This king would be different. This king would not be rich or battle tested. In fact, he would come in the form of a weak and vulnerable baby. Born in a dirty stable to a poor family with no political sway or social status. He would ride a donkey instead of a warhorse. He will wage peace instead of violence. He will promote freedom instead of slavery. This king would take nothing, but instead give everything he had, including his own life.
Jesus was and still is a different kind of ruler. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He gives us Gods love and redemption. He made us heirs in God's family. He transformed our most basic needs into our most cherished desires. Because of the blood he shed on the cross, the mistakes of our past are washed clean. Because of his righteousness and guidance, we receive grace, and mercy, and peace, and joy. These are things we cannot buy, but only wish for. Christ paid for them with his life.
We cannot serve two masters. But why would we have to, or want to? Christ gives us all we need, everything we could ever want or desire. When we are tethered to Jesus we can have our cake and eat it too.
As we follow the way of Christ, and put our faith to work, then our wants and needs become one in the same. We become in sync with our Creator. The things we want from God are the things God wants from us. And what God wants is all we need. How does that song go again? If we try sometime, we just might find, we get what we need.
Or for your Beatles fans... "All we need is love."
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”