Union Presbyterian Church

254 Shell Road, Carneys Point, NJ 08069 856-299-1724 "A Caring Family Of Faith That Loves As Christ Taught Us To"

1 Samuel 4: 1-11                                                                                                                                                                                                    Matthew 15: 1-11

                                                        ‘The Convenience Of Need’

            May the Lord be with you!  (And also with you…)

            I think we all know that the word ‘loyalty’ is a pretty powerful word.  It’s a word that signifies in us a sense of acceptance, a sense of community, a sense of respectability, usually a sense of honesty and most definitely a sense of love when in relationship.  A person or being that is loyal is most always seen as a very good thing, and it’s not very often that we’re put down for being loyal.   Clearly some of the most wonderful attributes a personality can have involve loyalty.  And then on the other side of that proverbial coin, we have the words ‘treacherous’ and ‘treasonous’ which clearly connotate the opposite of all of those really very respectable attributes I just listed.  If a person is seen as and believed to be treacherous or treasonous, they’ll most likely be seen as selfish and self-centered, perhaps untrustworthy and even devilish, clearly a person who’s not really a good friend is labeled as such, ..and we know that a person like that won’t really do their best to help out in a situation where they can certainly help out.  And for sure, nobody wants to be labeled as not loyal. 

            I think it very safe to say that God in the Old Testament accounts was always really loyal to the Israelites.  He’s always provided for them, he’s constantly saving them from these horrible situations that they get themselves into, he brings them to this really beautiful piece of land and wants them to have that land to nurture and to then show forth God’s love to the rest of the world from.  And that really is the biggest thing that God ultimately wants from the Israelites, the rules and regulations that he’s put down in front of them are actually pretty straightforward and actually meant to help them live life more easily and in a less complicated way, yes the rules are made more complicated and difficult by us people, but really when you get down to it, God’s law is not unmanageable and impossible.  It’s not putting physical testing or physical requirements on us, it’s not demanding a person to be highly intelligent or perfect in most every way, of a certain age or of a certain race, you can have physical disformity and mental confusion and imbalance, you can be rich or you can be poor…and still God wants to be in relationship with you.  All God wanted from the Israelites was to show Him love and respect as their parent, and to then spread and show forth his love to the rest of their world, to be His Light To The World. 

            But for the Israelites, they had a lot of problem with that concept, and we can say that it was because they were sinful humans just like all of us, and that’s not untrue.  Some may ask,  would it really have destroyed the Israelites to show some of that loyalty back to God that he had always shown to them?  And the answer is clearly not…, and in fact the story goes that it was because they didn’t show God some of that loyalty back, that it was always then that they would end-up losing everything.  Yes, we are sinful, and we do tend to put ourselves first in most mixes, not being as loyal as we know we can be and should be, and yes, we do often even have trouble with this pretty accepted concept that there really is a God that exists and is active in our lives… 

I was having a conversation with someone a little over a week ago and they were peppering me with all of these questions about faith and about God and about the church.  And the bottom line was that they were feeling some of that doubt in the role of God in our lives, that doubt that we all experience at some point, or at points.  And so my biggest question to them was this, “You say that you believe in God.  But why, why do you believe in God?  Is God to you the white haired Zeus with the long white beard up in the sky, or is God that powerful force of creation?”  ..That was something of a stumper for them.  They thought for a minute and then I was told, “Well isn’t it both, God had to have created the world, there must be some force that puts all of this together and into motion.  And I guess I do think of God with the white hair and white beard, we do say that God made us in his image, but I don’t know about that one so much.”  ..I think that this is where a lot of people find themselves, where a lot of people are with God, and probably most of us sitting right here today will admit to that being the case for them, ..just because we come to church doesn’t mean that there’s some expectation that we’ve got to have all of the answers, just the opposite really – if you come to church your looking for the answers, and that really is for all of us, including me. 

But what I said back to that comment was essentially this.  “If we’re going to say that we truly believe in God, this great powerful force that created the universe – something which is clearly more powerful and more intelligent than we could ever see ourselves as being, than shouldn’t we really push ourselves a little harder to trust what God might have in store for us?  To maybe show a little more loyalty, ..whether we picture God as the Zeus figure, or as Christ or maybe we’re thinking of God as an invisible spirit – and all of those are the same really – but the bottom line is that we need to show back some of that loyalty, some of that love back to God, and realize and act out as if we know full well that really and truly, we don’t have all of the answers, and then too, that you only get out of something if you’re willing to put something into it, whatever that is, but in this example – your relationship with God.

I want to put out there that our First Samuel Scripture lesson for today is really just that, and the Old Testament and the New Testament readings really are speaking very much to the same subject today.  The Israelites are going through one of their cyclical periods in which they’re being really disloyal to God, they’re not listening to any of the laws that had been formed in the Sinai with Moses, they’re warring with the Philistines, they’re being really very unfair and abusive with the other peoples that live in the areas where the Israelites are the majority, the sons of Eli, the nation’s Judge, are just terrible.  They seduce women that come to the temple, they take the sacrifices that people bring and have barbecues, just doing all kinds of things that are just really disrespectful, and no matter what their father says to them they don’t listen.  And that’s the kind of stuff that lots of people are doing, not just Eli’s sons, there’s really kind of a Sodom and Gomorrah attitude going on in Israel at this time, Eli has become a really ineffective Judge. 

Well, as it goes, the Israelites get into this big battle with the Philistines and they lose, and so they get this brilliant idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant into their next battle with the Philistines which is supposed to be an even bigger battle, their thought is that God will handle this for them, just wipe out the Philistines; and remember the Ark is where the Spirit of God is believed to essentially live, and it’s power is incomprehensible.  They don’t think about how disloyal they’ve been acting, they need God now and it’s convenient and so they think that they can just bring him along for the ride, kind of like the little kid bringing his big brother to the playground with him to beat up on the kid that he got into a fight with the day before.  But God just kind of steps aside here and seems to essentially say two things, first he’s saying, “You guys are on your own with this one.  You can’t just call on me when it’s convenient for you.”  There’s some God tough love going on here.  And as parents we’ve probably all done this with our kids at some point, they’ve been acting terrible and misbehaving, so then when it comes time for what they want we step up and say, “I don’t think so, not after the way you were just acting.” 

This one time when the boys were really young, Hala went to a Walgreens or a Rite Aid or a CVS with them, and they were acting terrible.  And she said to them that if they behaved and did as they were told that she would get them a candy of some kind.  Well, they continued to be terrible, and gritting her teeth she put a couple choices of candy in front of them for them to choose from thinking that that would make them stop.  But neither was good enough, and so they started crying and going nuts and making a scene as toddlers will be known for doing on occasion.  In the end, they got nothing and cried all the way home, declaring that they were sorry and that they just needed one more chance, that they really had wanted what it was that Hala had given them to choose from.  Actually I think that that was the last time that they ever did anything like that when they were little, they learned their lesson with that instance.  (Things were so much easier then…) 

And then the other thing that God is saying to the Israelites is this, “You fools, you fools are worshiping the Ark of the Covenant instead of worshipping me.  That ‘thing’, that no matter how wonderful it is, is not what’s going to protect you or to provide for you, it’s me, the source of it all.”  It seems really so simple, it just shouldn’t be as hard as it is for people to understand this, but it just is.  I’m sure God just would love to slap everyone in the face and tell them to wake up. 

You know, really and truly, that is kind of what God did in sending Jesus to be here with us, Jesus was essentially slapping our realities in the face, trying to get us to wake up and see that our relationship with God has never had to be so complicated, as complicated as we always tend to make it.  And you can really hear exactly that coming out in his comments to the Pharisees, comments that really aren’t just for the Pharisees but actually for everyone that reads them or hears them.  Jesus was calling out the Pharisees.  They were snapping on Jesus because they saw his followers not washing their hands in the ritualistic way that had been always done, and so Jesus turns on them and says, “Well why don’t you follow the commandments?  You know, the ones that aren’t superficial like hand washing?”  And realize that speaking to the Pharisees in such a way was really unheard of, the Pharisees had the power to put a person to death for blasphemy, and they would exercise that power that they had, crying blasphemy in any instance they decided.  And then to really one up them, Jesus continues to them with a quote from Isaiah that Jesus says refers to the Pharisees, he quotes to them Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man made ideas as commands from God.”  Those were fighting words if they were anything.

Jesus is saying to them, saying to us, how do you show your loyalty to God, the God that does everything for you, that provides you with everything that you have?  Saying your faithful, saying you believe, washing your hands according to ritual, just showing up at church, is actually not enough.   And once again there doesn’t have to be this complicated relationship, just follow those rules that really shouldn’t be so confusing, challenging occasionally perhaps – but complicated, no.  Jesus taught very clearly, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And a second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the other commandments and all the demands from the prophets are based on these two commandments.” That’s what he told us.  (Matthew 22: 37-40)  Challenging occasionally...perhaps.  Complicated..no.

The Israelites went back to their homes after this really big battle completely defeated, totally at a loss and devastated, not only had they lost the battle but they lost the Ark of the Covenant, which was in their minds their God.  Now for us, in our time – and for the last two thousand years, we’ve not had to worry about such a loss, Jesus’s salvation and Holy Spirit really do see to that, especially if we’re faithful and follow the teachings that he set down in front of us, challenging ones occasionally, perhaps…complicated, no.  If you believe in God, show back some of that loyalty that God has always shown to you; to your family, to your neighbors, to your church.  And don’t ever think of God as convenient when you need something, live your faith fully and loyally. 

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.