“Give us a king!”

King Charles.jpghttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prince_Charles_Ireland-4.jpg"width="130" height="49" />✠

1 Samuel 8:4-10, 19-22 (June 9, 2024)

It was just over a year ago that King Charles was crowned in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey. You might have watched it on TV. Interest in the monarchy is waning. And yet, even if it seems like an anachronistic institution, the crown continues to play a constitutional role in the governance of our country.

In our scripture reading for today, the elders of Israel are keen to have a monarch! They plead with Samuel to appoint one for them. “Look,” they say, pointing to their neighbours, “They have a king! So why can’t we?”


Last Sunday we began a series of readings from the OT books of Samuel. We met Samuel at the beginning of his ministry, when he served as a boy in the temple at Shiloh. It was there he heard God speaking. A voice came to him in the night.

After that, Samuel became known as a straight-talking prophet of the Lord and a great leader among his people. He administered justice in the land, encouraged leadership. He performed ritual sacrifice and interceded with God on behalf of his people.

But now, Samuel is nearing the end of his life. And others are growing anxious. “What will happen when this great man is gone?”

Samuel talking to Eli.jpghttps://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eli_and_Samuel.jpg" width="225" height="78" />

Samuel thought he had it all arranged. His two boys, Joel and Abijah, were judges in Beersheba. Yet, the Bible tells us, they took bribes and perverted justice.

It's the same story we heard last Sunday, with the sons of Eli. Do you remember? They were meant to continue Eli’s priestly line. But they were corrupt. And it was Samuel who had to break the difficult news to Eli: “Your priestly line is finished!”

Now Samuel has the very same problem! Just because one generation offers exemplary service doesn’t mean the next one will follow. Will our kids turn out to be decent human beings? And will their children after them?

It must have been very disappointing for Samuel to watch his sons go awry. But it happens. And now the people of Israel are demanding a different kind of ruler – something they’ve never had before.

Up to this moment, they have been a loose confederacy of tribes, guided by Spirit-filled leaders that God has raised up when needed. Yahweh alone has been their ruler!

Now they’re asking for hereditary monarchs, an established line. “Give us a king!”

Samuel is not pleased. In fact, he’s feeling rather put out, personally rejected. “Don’t feel bad,” says the LORD. “It’s not you they don’t want. It’s me they are rejecting! Just as they have done … from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods.”

This is the crux of the matter – the question we all have to answer (whatever form of government we choose): Who will we trust? Who will we serve? Who will we allow to be our ruler?

That question of trust strikes close to home, I’d say. It is a question for us both personally and publicly.

We live in a time when trust for our public institutions has diminished. How much do you trust the government, police, the justice system, educational institutions, scientists, religious leaders? Have you noticed a shift in attitude toward these things?

I remember driving through parts of our province during the pandemic and seeing signs in farmer’s fields displaying obscenities directed at our Prime Minister. We’ve always had a degree of skepticism about politicians. But this seemed new and quite disrespectful.

Who do we trust? How far will it go? What happens to our society when trust is eroded to such a degree?

The question is personal too. Do you trust your neighbour. And crucially this: Do you trust your God?

Faith is fundamentally about trust. In the Greek text of the NT, there is one word that can be translated several ways: To believe, to have faith, to have trust. In the Bible, belief is not so much about theological propositions as it is about acknowledging our complete and utter dependence on God.

“I am the one who brought them out of Egypt,” says God to Samuel. It was me who led them out of slavery. And now they want to appoint a king. Imagine that – a brand new Pharoah!

It’s ironic. The people of Israel want a strong man who will protect them. Who will defend their interests. Who will make their nation great. But at what cost? The cost of their very identity as a people who live in covenant relationship with God.

Who will we trust?

Fear can be a powerful motivator. But not always for good.

Scrabble Fear.jpgAnxiety about who will be in charge motivates the people to seek an easy solution. “Just give us a king, Samuel. Everyone else has one, after all.”

Except the people of God are not meant to be like everyone else. We’re supposed to follow a different way. But we get sucked into this vortex of anxiety. And so we grasp the first solution we can see. We don’t stop to consider, “Is this a good idea?”

Both God and Samuel know it’s not a good idea. The LORD says, “You better warn them.”

What follows is a long list of troubles the people are bound to experience. We skipped this section in our reading earlier, because it goes on at length in a pretty negative way. You can look up the details when you get home, but let me summarize them for you.

Warning.jpgA king, warns Yahweh, will conscript your children to serve in a standing army. He’ll put you to work manufacturing weapons of war. He’ll take the best of your crops. He’ll tax you to the hilt, and distribute that wealth to his supporters. You’ll lose your freedom and spend the rest of your lives serving the interests of those in charge.

And when all this happens, says the LORD, “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves.” Notice the language. This is “your king.” It’s not God’s idea. You have chosen him “for yourselves.”

Samuel gives this warning to the elders of Israel. If that’s what they want, God will grant their request. But watch out! This is not a good solution.

Our passage today is part of a section of scripture that was gathered and pieced together in the time of exile. There, in the face of that tragic event when the promised land was taken away and the kings of Israel were no more, the people of faith wondered how they got into that mess.

And what they realized was that those precious kings whom they’d sought so eagerly … turned out, almost without exception, to be self-serving and unfaithful. They led the nation, all right. But every one of Samuel’s warnings turned out to be true.

You want to concentrate power in the hands of an individual? Be careful! I’m reminded of these familiar words: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[1]

So what is this passage about, really? Is it about monarchy? I think not. I think it’s a story that expresses caution about any of our systems of government and any of our earthly rulers. Take them all with a grain of salt, it says.

Don’t let them become as gods to you. Because they are not. They are human beings, susceptible to self-interest and corruption. And just so you know … what I’m saying about them applies to every one of us.

election box.png

This is a big year for elections. India, the world’s largest democracy, just finished voting. It was a process that ran a month and a half, accommodating 968 million eligible voters. It boggles the mind!

The UK is in election mode as we speak. Our neighbours to the south seem to be perpetually campaigning.

And over the next year and a half, elections at all levels will be held here in Canada. So whether you’re satisfied or unhappy with government, you will have an opportunity to choose.

To be clear, our choice of leaders does matter. We should always seek the best in our candidates and support policies we believe will be beneficial for everyone.

But we should also acknowledge the imperfections and limitations that are embedded in every party and every candidate. The king is not God. Politics will not, ultimately, save us.

For that, we must look beyond our earthly rulers. To the God who rules all creation. A God who desires justice and peace and goodness for all the citizens of the earth. A God who came to us in Jesus, revealing God’s kingdom way.

Jesus washing feet.jpgDid you hear what I just said? God’s kingdom. This is an amazing thing! Our scripture tells us the people’s request for a king was an afront to Yahweh. A rejection of God’s sovereign rule. But the Good News is that God takes that very request for a king, and gives it back to us in a way the world has never seen before.

In Jesus, God gifts us with a king who comes to serve. A ruler who is truly good, through and through. A monarch who lives among us as servant. The regal representative of God clothed in humility and grace. A Messiah, God’s anointed ruler, who comes not to conquer his enemies but to win them with his love. Wow!

See what I mean? It’s amazing! God’s steadfast love brings blessing in ways we could never imagine.

Text Box: Painting by Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt (1854 - 1905), Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples.

The early Christians made a bold confession of faith in the face of one of the most powerful empires the world has known: “Jesus is Lord,” they said. Jesus, not Caesar.

So, again these questions rise before us: “Who will you trust? Who will you serve? Who will be your ruler?” The answer has implications that stretch far beyond politics. This has to do with every part of our lives.

Whatever you are faced with – whatever difficulty or dilemma, joy or sorrow, challenge or delight … who will you trust?

May it be the God who promises to be with us each and every day in a covenant relationship of love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] Lord Acton, 1834-1902, https://www.acton.org/research/lord-acton-quote-archive, (Accessed June 7, 2024).

“Fire that brings new life”

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-4 (May 19, 2024)

disciples in upper room.jpgThere they were, gathered together. Just as we do every Sunday. Believers, followers of Jesus.

“It’s not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority,” Jesus had told them. There is so much we do not know! “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses …” (Acts 1:7-8)

So there they were, waiting, waiting. How long, O Lord? What does Jesus have in mind for us?

The first disciples were in one of those difficult periods of life we all go through. A time of waiting and not yet knowing. A time of transition. Their leader, Jesus, was crucified and rose from the dead. It was an astounding miracle! But then he went away. Left them on their own.

Or did he? He said it would be better for them because something new would come: A Spirit, an Advocate, One who would continue to lead them forward in his way.

tongues of fire.pngThese times of waiting are confusing and difficult. And yet, that’s what we as believers are often called to do. God’s specific plan for our lives is rarely given in detail. We must wait for it to unfold. Believers walk by faith, taking it slowly, one step (and the odd leap) at a time.

So they were waiting. And all of a sudden, in a way that no one had anticipated, the Spirit came from heaven like the sound of a mighty rushing wind. It came as tongues of fire, resting upon each one of them.

And it changed them – from no life to life, from confusion to knowing, from hiding to proclaiming. The Spirit sent them into the streets to mingle with others from every nation. Now they were a people with purpose.

Does the Spirit still come? Can passions be stirred? Confusions clarified? Would you pray for such a thing?

Let me tell you another story.

Years ago, long before the Spirit fell upon those disciples at Pentecost, there was a prophet named Ezekiel. He was among a group of people taken into exile. This, he said, was the judgement of God.

But in that dark time of destruction and loss, Ezekiel also had visions that brought hope. Our scripture reading today is one of them.


Ezekiel finds himself in a valley. He looks around and what does he see? Many bones. And they are dry as dust.

I imagine a scene like this from the Badlands of North Dakota. We do find bones here: Skeletons of animals that have been lost or preyed upon in that harsh, environment. If we’re lucky, we might happen upon a piece of fossilized bone, the remains of dinosaurs.

The valley that Ezekiel sees is very dry, and full of bones. And it was, for him, a picture of his own people, trapped in a foreign land where they lived as strangers in exile.

badlands north dakota.jpgThe expansion of the great Babylonian empire was responsible for that. The people of Judah had tried to resist. But it was futile in the face of a much larger, more powerful nation.

The Babylonians occupied the land. Captured the city of Jerusalem. Destroyed the temple, the house of Yahweh, the living God.

Anyone left standing they captured and carried away. The urban elite of Jerusalem would become slaves to their new masters.

the Babylonian Empire.pnghttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Neo-Babylonian_Empire_in_550_BC.png" width="289" height="52" />It must have seemed as though the story of God’s people had come to a humiliating end.

bones.jpg“[The LORD] said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’”

What do you think? Can bones that are dead come back to life? Can a nation destroyed be rebuilt? Can exiles return? Can a dispirited people find hope? Can these bones live? Or are they too far gone?

Ezekiel could hardly bring himself to answer. “O LORD God,” he moaned, staring despondently at the ground, unable to lift his eyes. “LORD, you know.”

He was right, God knows. We cannot see what the future holds. Even a prophet, like Ezekiel, will hesitate to say.

“Prophesy,” the LORD commands. God tells the prophet to do what he’s called to do: Speak the message that God will give.

“Prophesy to these bones,” these dry old bones. This lost and dispirited people.

Suddenly there is a noise. Those bones begin to rattle. From the dust they rise and come together and find their place, clicking and clacking.

Flesh comes upon them. And skin. And look, they are almost living! Just one more thing.

“Prophesy!” says the LORD. Tell the wind to come from the four corners of the earth, “and breathe upon these slain that they may live.”


In the language of the Bible, the words for wind and breath and Spirit are one and the same. So when Ezekiel calls for the wind to come, he calls for breath. And when he calls for breath, he summons the Spirit of God.

Do you remember the creation story, how God formed humanity from the dust of the earth, and breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, and we became living beings? (Genesis 2:7)

Here, in this vision of Ezekiel, the Spirit of God brings new life. Without the Spirit, the wind, the breath – we are nothing. Lifeless bodies, a mere shadow of what we are meant to be.

Do you feel that way? Tired, lifeless, out of steam? Some days I drag these old bones out of bed in the morning, and I can barely get myself going. More coffee is not the answer!

swirls.png“Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’”

But now comes the pinnacle of Ezekiel’s vision! “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil. … Then you shall know that I the LORD have spoken and will act.”

Within a generation, the great Babylonian empire, that had once seemed so powerful and intimidating, was itself defeated. A way was opened for the people of Israel to return.

From death to life. From dusty old bones to new creation. From no hope to a fresh new calling as the people of God!

Two Mennonite pastors, Patty Friesen from Osler and Lois Siemens from Bethany Manor, recall a canoe trip they took last summer on the Churchill River system in northern Saskatchewan. Much of that area had been burned from recent wildfires.

flower fireweed.jpgAt first, they said, if felt devastating: “No birdsong or the telltale rustling of small animals in the bushes greeted us. Only silence, the sound of our paddles in the water, and our conversations were carried on the wind.”[1]

But what they discovered was Fireweed. A beautiful purple flower – it is the first sign of the forest regenerating.

Healthy forests need fire for renewal and rejuvenation. Old brush is cleared away. The canopy is opened to sunlight. Pinecones release their seeds. Growth begins again.

This past week, northern wildfires have threatened communities. Fire driven by wind can spread quickly and be devastating!

Fire and wind are also symbols for God’s Spirit: A spirit that may disrupt our lives, but ultimately brings new life.

Like those first disciples, all of us go through times waiting and not knowing. But on the day of Pentecost the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God, blew among them. And they were made new.

Disciples became apostles, sent to share God’s Good News. The church began to grow!


“Thus says the LORD God: I am going to open your graves …”

What we have here, in the book of Ezekiel, is a glimpse of resurrection. The prophet speaks to a dispirited people and offers hope. They think they’re finished, done, dead. But they are not!

We gather this morning at the table of our Lord. We break bread and remember Jesus’ body broken on the cross. We drink a cup and remember his blood poured out for the life of the world.

Was crucifixion the end of the story? Or was God present there, in that darkest hour?

The answer is a resounding yes! What Ezekiel could only glimpse from a distance, the church embraces. As followers of Jesus, resurrection is the truth we hold onto.

I’m glad to see that some of you remembered to wear red today. I pray that God’s Spirit may come to rest upon all of you and dwell within you.

And if your day is dark, or you’re struggling with something – physically or spiritually … If you’re tired, worn out, discouraged … Or if you’re simply waiting, wondering what comes next …

dove.jpgWell, none of us are finished. We live by the power of the Spirit until the day we die.

Even then, when we think it’s finally over, even then, it’s not! For God still promises resurrection, life after death! That is the hope of every believer.

The love of God is the most powerful reality in all creation and it will never let us go. Thanks be to God!


[1] “I will put my Spirit with you, and you shall live,” published in Leader, Spring 2024 Vol. 21 No. 3, p.44.

“Like flourishing trees”

Psalm 1 (May 12, 2024)

News article.pngIt was a “multi-million dollar rain!” So read the headline, referring to recent showers we’ve had here in Saskatchewan. Ian McCreary, who farms near Bladworth, remarked: “We feel pretty blessed right now. … we were so dry … this one is huge for the whole industry.” [1]

We all know water is crucial for life to flourish. It’s not just crops in the fields. Here in our urban landscape, its lawns and gardens and trees.

After a time of drought the grass is sparse and dry, the trees are stressed and leaves are thin. But give us a beautiful spring rain and the place is instantly transformed. The world turns lush and green. There’s still a whole summer ahead of us, isn’t there? But we’re off to a good start.

“Happy are those who delight in the law of the LORD,” says the Psalmist. “They are like trees planted by streams of water … their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”

This Psalm sets out two ways before us: Flourishing and withering. Fruitfulness and barrenness. Happiness and sadness.

Either we become like trees that grow full and beautiful and bear much fruit. Or we become like chaff that is empty and blown away.

Which are you? Which would you like to be?

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.”

Another word we could use is “blessed.” Here, at the very beginning of the book of Psalms, we’re given a blessing. A “beatitude!”

But notice, it’s a conditional blessing that flows from living a certain way: Not following the advice of the wicked, but delighting in the law of the LORD.

Now we should pause right there and note this phrase may be quite surprising. “Their delight is in the law.” Really? Do you find the law delightful? Do you relish more rules and commandments? Do you stay up at night memorizing city ordinances and building codes?

Is this what makes you want to come to church on a Sunday morning? “O honey, the service was so great today, the Pastor gave us another 20 rules to follow. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”


The way of life. Let’s call it the “Torah way.” Torah is a Hebrew word that is technically translated as “commandments.” And yes, it can refer to more than 600 individual commands contained within the Hebrew scripture.

But that is a very narrow interpretation. In Jewish tradition, Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. These books contain commandments. But there is also so much more!

Think of the creation stories. Think of Noah and the ark. Abraham and Sarah. Joseph and his coat of many colours. Think of the Exodus, and the escape from Egypt through the waters of the sea.

girl on a dock.jpgTorah means instruction. Do these stories guide you, inform you? Don’t they tell us who we are, and how to live in this marvellous world that God has given?

The Torah is way more than rules! And in this sense, we can think of the tradition extending even further, to include the whole of scripture: the historical books, the prophets, and the wisdom literature. The Psalms themselves are divided into five sections, which mirror the books of the law.

“Think about these things,” the Psalmist tells us. Meditate on them day and night. Give them your attention. Keep them front and centre, all the time. Do that and you will find blessing.

In our lives, we’re influenced by all kinds of things: The families we grow up in, our parents and those who went before us. What they taught us. What they did – or didn’t – do. None of us appeared out of nowhere. We carry this baggage forward into the lives we live today.

Ostritch.jpgAnd we are influenced by the crowd we hang out with. This is especially true in our formative years as teenagers, when that group of peers exerts such a profound influence on our behaviour.

But this never goes away. We are social creatures. We listen to the talk that’s all around us. In the coffee shop, when we get together with our friends.

We listen to the news – whether mainstream or alternative, it matters not. The way we see the world, our outlook, and often our frame of mind, is shaped by the cultural sea we swim in.

The question is, do these things give us life? Do they lead us closer to God, or farther from God? Do we come away from them from finding ourselves refreshed – as though we’ve had a drink of God’s life-giving water? Or do we come away feeling more alienated, angry and dissatisfied?

What nourishes your life and makes it more whole, more complete and more loving? What greens the leaves on your tree?

The words of this Psalm invite us to critical reflection: Which of these two ways do we follow? Is it the Torah way? Is the word of God at the centre of our lives? Is it the living word, Jesus Christ?

Now listen! Here’s the real invitation of this Psalm, the one that promises blessing:

Tree roots.jpgIt’s the invitation to sink our roots more deeply into God. Like a tree near life-giving water. We cannot live without this water. We cannot live, in any meaningful way, without the spiritual nourishment that God provides.

Do the stories of our faith inform and inspire our living? Do the prophets give us hope? Does the poetry of scripture give us language to use in prayer and praise? Does the risen Christ walk with us in every moment?

Today is the last Sunday in the Easter season, and this is what we celebrate: Christ in us, and with us. Jesus guiding the community of his disciples and showing us the way. “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Listen to what the apostle Paul prays for us: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:17)

Cottonwood.jpgSo we’re back to this beautiful image of a tree planted by streams of water. Trees have different strategies for how to get that water. But the result is the same.

Burr oak.jpgThis is a picture of a Cottonwood along a path by the river where Lindsay and I sometimes walk. These trees thrive in prairie river valleys. They depend on the water flooding occasionally, soaking into the ground. When that ground is muddy it provides a receptive base for seeds to begin new life.

And here’s a picture of a large Burr Oak. When the city landscaped the park in our neighbourhood recently they planted several of these. We have one in our back yard.

These trees are drought-tolerant. In times of little rain, they manage to survive by sinking a taproot deep into the ground. A one-year old sapling may have a root almost five feet deep![2]

Do you delight in the Torah? Do you pray? Do you value the community of faith? Do you immerse yourself in God’s free-flowing love?

I said there were two ways. Here I’m quoting from Leslie Brandt’s translation, “Psalms Now:”

“The man who chooses to live a significant life
is not going to take his cues
from the religiously indifferent.
Nor will he conform to the crowd
or mouth his prejudices
nor dote on the failures of others.”

Brandt wrote these words back in the 70’s, so you’ll understand his exclusively masculine language. Yet I’m struck by how contemporary his description still sounds: religious indifference, conforming to the crowd, mouthing prejudice, doting on the failure of others.

leaves on tree branches.jpgThese things are all around us. And sometimes they’re in us too!

There is no life in it. These things are chaff. An empty shell. When the wind blows, they are swept away. “Like sand in a desert storm,” writes Brandt, “or leaves in an autumn wind.”[3]

The world is full of dispute and controversy, and sometimes we find ourselves caught up in it. We’d better be careful to stay rooted in God’s love.

Fork in the road.jpgTwo ways, the Psalmist says. Life or death. One way enables us to flourish, like trees planted by streams of water. The other leads to withering up, and leaves falling off, and life slipping away.

When I stand back from this Psalm, I find myself asking, “Could it really be this simple?” Jesus, too, spoke about a path that is wide but leads to destruction, and a road that is narrow that leads to life. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Two choices. So which path are we on? Sometimes I feel like I have a foot on both of them! Which can’t be good. Because as these two ways diverge, I may find myself stretched to the breaking point. Do you feel that way too? Like you’re being torn or pulled in too many different directions? How do you choose the one that leads to life?

Apples.jpg “Trees planted by streams of water ... yield their fruit in season …” In the same way, Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-20)

Does your life bring blessing to others around you? Does it spread God’s goodness and love?

Love is the final measure, I think, since the Torah can be summed up in two simple commands: “Love God and love your neighbour.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

When our lives are rooted in God’s life-giving water, this is the kind of fruit they bear.

Quilts.jpgI look at these quilts placed in front of us, and I see them as the fruit of lives that are living God’s way. I think of the mothers we honour this day, who have cared for us, nurtured us, and I see that too as a kind of fruit that embodies God’s love.

God’s way leads to life, more life, abundant life. Life for all people. Life that is flourishing!

The singer, Ken Medema, has a piece called the Tree Song. We used to sing it with our children.

“I’ve got roots growing down to the water
I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine
And the fruit I bear is a sign of the life in me …
I’m becoming what the Maker of trees has blessed me to be
A strong young tree”[4]

Tree by stream.pngWho are you when you are most alive, when you are thriving? What has the Maker of trees blessed you to be? What does flourishing mean for you in the particular place where you are planted?

The Psalm invites us to live God’s way. To become “like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do they prosper.”

I pray that you will be that kind of tree!


[1] Dayne Patterson · CBC News · Posted: May 07, 2024. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/rain-revives-soil-south-farm-season-1.7197235, Accessed May 7, 2024.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_macrocarpa, Accessed May 9, 2024.

[3] “Psalms/Now” by Leslie F. Brandt, c. 1973, Concordia Publishing House, p.7.

[4] https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=ken+medema+tree+song+lyrics&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8, Accessed May 11, 2024.