1 Samuel 8
1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7 and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’
Veritas Vos Liberabit, which you should recognise as the College motto “The truth shall set you free”.
As far as I can see there are at least two confronting ideas in this motto.
The first is to wonder about the same thing that Jack Nicholson wondered in the movie “A Few Good Men”: can we actually handle the truth? Can you? Can I?
And the second is to wonder at what kind of freedom we are talking about. Have you have ever asked yourself the questions ‘freedom from what’ or even more importantly ‘freedom for what’?
My short hand response to these confrontations in the Kings College motto would be “We are set free to serve” but how do I come to this conclusion.
It may seem odd that I chose to have a story which dates back over 3000 years to help elucidate a response to the idea that as Kings men (and for the women who work here as well) you have been “Set free to serve” but I hope you noticed just how poignant the passage is for us this evening.
In the passage we have an aging prophet called Samuel seeking to do some succession planning in anticipation of his death he wishes to install his sons as Judges over Israel.
Yet, as the Israelites rightly point out, Samuel’s sons do not follow in his ways. They are off message! So it is that the Israelites request that God appoint a king over them, like the other nations. A plan which Samuel rejects and God questions as idolatrous, outlining that such a choice will have disastrous consequences.
Despite this divine warning God graciously accedes to the wishes of the people and the rest as they say is history. Saul is chosen to be King.
What does this have to do with us here 3000 years later? Well, I believe it has a few lessons for us to listen to because this passage is not simply about challenging the idea of Kingship as a concept but is about power and authority and where we place our allegiance.
You may be thinking at this point that you do not have much authority or power in your life, especially if you are a student. But the reality is everyone here is a place of privilege. We are among the wealthiest people in the world, and we have been given the opportunity for education, if we have not already received it, and there can be little doubt that many of us will grow in our power and influence through our lives.
In this sense as Australians living her ate Kings we have a great deal of freedom which is accompanied by the opportunity to exercise that freedom because of our education and access to power.
If we turn back to the reading for a moment I find that when we look at the issues associated with the application of power and authority there is a two edge sword.
On one side we find that regardless of which way the Israelites choose it will be inadequate. Neither a King nor Judges will be a perfect option. Power and authority are always and ever open to misuse and misunderstanding because the limitations of our human capacity. We are it seems never all that we should be or could be.
For me this is a reminder, that any who grow to have power and authority must be wary of the mistakes we will undoubtedly make and to approach our leadership with a sense of humility.
The other edge of the blade is that people still long to be lead and look to others to exercise power and authority in decisions about how a community operates. In other words despite the problems and conundrums that leaders give to us we still need leaders.
As I indicated before because of the opportunities and privileges you and I have most if not all of us will be leaders and will exercise significant power and authority but how do we move beyond that conundrum that I have named, the imperfection of our leadership.
It is my view that in our own efforts we cannot but within the limitations of our own capacity we can seek to respond to the ideal of Jesus and the kingdom that he speaks of.
After his arrest Jesus was brought before Pilate and in response to the question in John’s gospel, ‘Are you a king?’ Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus kingdom is not a place and so his kingship does not occur within a physical domain. Rather Jesus kingship is connected to the idea of how God longs for and intends things to be within the creation.
The basileia tou theo of which Jesus spoke or the kingdom of God is not a place but is when and where God’s reign and rule is expressed within our lives. Jesus exercise of power and authority occurs in his willingness to give up his life for others – not to fashion his existence around gaining power and prestige and authority for himself but to look to heal, help and reconcile people with one another and with God.
It is precisely in Jesus action of doing this that he sets us free from the problem of our imperfection. His perfect response to having power and authority supersedes our inadequacies and errors. Moreover, when we examine Jesus life we are challenged with a picture of power and authority which sits in a skewed relationship with what we know and experience in most of our lives. Life is not about what I am going to get out of it for myself rather it is about what I give of my life for the sake of others. In this we, are as I suggested, ‘Set free for service to others’.
This truth, the truth of Jesus gift of freedom from our abuse of power, is a difficult truth inasmuch as it suggests we are not in control of as much as we think we are. Yet it is also a truth which sets us free for the purpose of leading and serving others in new ways. This is the purpose of participating in the coming reign of God by putting others before ourselves, living against the mainstream and living for God.
So as we begin the year at Kings the good news is this Veritas Vos Liberabit. Can we handle this truth and can we live this freedom which we receive as gift as we enter into this year at Kings? The answer is probably only ever imperfectly but as we look to Jesus and have our notions of power authority turned on their head we are lead to consider what it means to be a community of God’s grace together.