Allegiance to the King

1 Samuel 7-8 and John 19

            When I was a kid in public school back in the dark ages, we used to begin each school day by standing at our desks, placing our hand over our heart, facing the United States flag and pledging our allegiance to that flag.  We did it day after day, year after year.  I never thought much about it, it was just something you did.  In music classes we sang “God bless America, land that I love…”  Then in 6th grade we had a new kid in the class named John.  I didn’t like John very much- as an early bloomer I had actually been the tallest kid in the class for the previous couple of years (with the exception of Linda, a freakishly tall girl).  But among the boys I was the tallest which was a great help on the basketball court where I ruled during recess and after school.  But tall, lanky John was a good 2-3 inches taller than me.  Fortunately, his height did not translate into coordination and he wasn’t any good at basketball, so I still ruled supreme there, but it was still annoying that my height domination had been superceded.  (Fun fact, I stopped growing after 6th grade, so while I was a massively tall presence on the basketball court at 5’10” in sixth grade, by the time I hit 9th grade, still 5’10” I was too short, not quick enough and didn’t have a good enough outside jump shot so I didn’t bother to try out for the high school team.  Post-up skills don’t go very well with being NOT the tallest kid on the team). 

But I digress, back to lanky, uncoordinated taller John who wore clothes that looked outdated and never seemed to comb his hair, and was just a weird kid.  What really set this weird kid, John, apart was that when the rest of us stood by our desks to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, John didn’t stand.  What is with this strange outlier among us?  Eventually, I discovered the reason for this.  John said he didn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and it was against his religion.  His parent also didn’t vote, and they didn’t celebrate their birthdays or Christmas.  I was quite relieved that I wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness.  I got to celebrate my birthday and Christmas, I didn’t have to be the odd-ball sitting during the pledge,  and my parents got to vote for Richard Nixon as President.  (that didn’t age well, now, did it?).

It was at that time that I first became aware that for some religious people there was a connection between their religious faith, how they worshipped God on Sunday, and other parts of their life like politics.  It’s been nearly 50 years since I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses like John didn’t pledge allegiance to the flag, but I still remember that day I learned it.

What do we mean by allegiance?  Webster’s dictionary defines allegiance as:

“the obligation of a feudal vassal to his liege lord, the fidelity owed by a subject or citizen to a sovereign or government. Devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause. allegiance to a political party. Synonyms:adhesionattachmentcommitmentconstancydedicationdevotednessdevotionfaithfaithfulnessfastnessfealtyfidelityloyaltypietysteadfastnesstroth.”

That’s a lot to unpack but for our purposes look at some of those synonyms like commitment, devotion, faith etc… those are all clearly religious words.  For many people their flag represents their nation, their family, their people, their way of life, all that matters to them.  Particularly those who serve in the military often have a ferocious loyalty and allegiance.  The Marine Core motto is Semper Fi, Latin for Always Faithful.

What does any of this have to do with today’s readings?  In his books Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance, Matthew Bates makes the case that the Greek word “pistis”, which is often translated “faith” into most English translations of the Bible should more accurately be translated “allegiance.”  Salvation, then is transformed from simply faith in Jesus Christ to Allegiance to Jesus as Christ, or more precisely, Allegiance to Jesus as God’s anointed King.  What does it look like to place your allegiance in Jesus as God’s anointed King over the whole earth? 

In today’s readings in 1 Samuel and John’s Gospel the concept of king and allegiance come to the forefront of both narratives.  During the time of Samuel Israel transitioned from being led by various judges: Gideon, Deborah, Samson and others to a place where they demanded to be led by a king.  Their stated reason for wanting a king was interesting as they wanted “to be like all of the other nations.”  Think of the teenager who makes a request to a parent and when rebuked comes back with “but all the other kids are doing it.”   Samuel took the people’s request for a king as a personal rejection of his leadership, but God pointed out that HE had been their king since they left Egypt and that this constituted a rejection of Him, not Samuel.  God told Samuel to go ahead and give the people what they wanted, a king, along with a word of warning- kings require those in their kingdom to show them a high level of Allegiance, and if you get a narcissistic, proud man as king you will regret it as he will use his power to enrich and empower himself still more.  “Yeah, but we still want to be like everybody else.”

So begins the next phase of Israel’s history in the time of the kings and in coming weeks you will read about those king’s like Saul, David, Solomon and many others.  You will see how even the bravest and godliest, like David and the wisest, like Solomon, misused their power and privilege and eventually the kingdom split, then was taken into captivity and constantly battled the empires and kingdoms around them.  Having a sinful king was no better than a judge.  How much better it would have been if they had simply given their full allegiance to God as their king.

In the Gospel of John Israel gets a do over.  God has given them His own son, Jesus, the sinless human representative of God to be their king.  After Jesus is arrested and brought before Pilate to be judged and sentenced Pilate looks to persuade the Jewish people to change their minds about Jesus.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

In the account in Samuel, Israel rejects God as their king so that they can be like everybody else.  He gives them that choice.  In the Gospel of John, a thousand years after they rejected God as king, God’s son, Jesus,  is presented to them as their king, and once again they decisively reject God’s anointed King. Instead, they demanded that he be crucified.  They declared their allegiance that day to Caesar, I guess because they wanted to be like everybody else.  Not much changed in 1000 years in Israel.

2000 years and half a world a way we still have the same choice.  To whom will we give our allegiance?  Will we give our allegiance to the principalities and powers of this age.  Will we give our loyalty to trying to be like everybody else, going along with the crowd, whatever direction the crowd decides we should be going?  Or will we give our allegiance to God’s anointed king, Jesus?

            If you are a Christian living in this world you are a resident alien living in exile.  Your body may be in Ohio or Indiana or Virginia or India, but your citizenship is in Heaven because that’s where your King is currently living.  One day King Jesus will return from heaven to earth and reign right here on earth during the renewal of all things (See 1 Corinthians 15:20-24).  But for now, you and I are living in exile and while  living in exile we should strive to be respectful and law abiding in areas that don’t conflict with our primary allegiance to King Jesus (See Romans 13).  You can be a good citizen in many ways, but never forget that if you are a follower of Jesus, your allegiance is to him first and foremost, not to your country, or your family, or your friends, or your culture or fashion or whatever seeks to define you.  Your allegiance must be to Jesus.

            Can you be a Christian and still pledge allegiance to the US flag?  My childhood classmate John thought, “No, you can’t” and Christians may not always agree on these kinds of questions, but there should be no doubt in your mind as to whom your ultimate allegiance is due, Jesus Christ the King, and God our Father.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 7-8 and John 19.

Without a King

Judges 19-21 and John 13

If you’ve not yet read today’s scriptures, especially Judges 19-21 you should read them now.  Right now!  Go ahead, I’ll wait patiently while you read this very disturbing story. (Be sure to read it in an easy to read version like the NIV or ESV and not KJV so you don’t get lost).  Did you read it?  How did you feel while reading it?  Disgusted?  Angry? Sick to your stomach?  To be honest I felt all of those things and I feel all of those things whenever I read it.  It is like watching a Netflix docuseries about horrible rapes and murders, only it gets much worse because it goes from rape and murder to all out warfare…a virtual bloodbath.  Made worse by the fact that these are cousins fighting each other.

How sick is it to see a bunch of thugs demanding to gang rape a houseguest?  How sick is it that a young woman is given to the sex-crazed angry mob who end up raping her and murdering her and leaving her body on the front door? How truly bizarre that the husband then cuts up her dead body and sends it all over the country?  How crazy is it that this results in war with thousands of cousins killing each other?  And how truly bizarre that the war is resolved by encouraging a bunch of warriors to kidnap virgins and drag them home and force them to be their wives?  You couldn’t make up this kind of sick, twisted, debauched behavior… and yet here it is in the Bible?  What on earth is going on?

Two verses stand out- the first verse and the last verse.  It begins with Judges 19:1: “In those days Israel had no king.”   The last verse is Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”   Those two verses essentially explain all of the chaos, vile and disgusting behavior that goes on throughout the story.  Human beings do not survive very well in situations of complete anarchy.  In school you may have read the book The Lord of the Flies.  It’s about a group of young boys during WWII in England who are taken away from the country for their own safety to protect them from the war.  Their plane crashes on an Island and the boys  survive with no adult supervision.  What happens when you have a bunch of schoolboys together with no adult supervision?  Absolute chaos.  What happens when you have a country where there is no leadership, no law and order?  Absolute chaos.  That is what was going on in Israel at the time of our story in Judges.  “Everyone did as they saw fit.”  That’s a recipe for lawlessness.

Those of you living in the United States have gotten a little taste of this during the past year.  In places where demonstrations and protests turned into riots, in places where all law and order broke down, and for a few minutes at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 we saw examples of what happens when “everyone did as they saw fit.”

After God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, one of the first things that he did to help form them as a community was give them 10 commandments for how they were to live.  He also gave them instructions for how to worship, what foods to eat and not eat, and instructions for how to respond to infectious diseases and how to properly dispose of human excrement and dead bodies.  He gave them rules about who you could and could not have sex with: you can have sex with your husband or wife of the opposite sex.  You cannot have sex with your sister, your mother, your aunt, your neighbor’s wife, people of your own gender or your animals.  God did His best as Israel’s king to create order and stability within their communities so that they could be healthy, have strong families and communities and live long and prosperous lives as His chosen people. 

Some people followed God’s instructions for their lives and prospered.  Others rejected God as King and His instructions.  By the time we get to Judges 19-21 we arrive at a place of near anarchy where “everyone did as they saw fit.”  And that is how we get the story of the tribe of Benjamin trying to gang rape a cousin, murdering his wife, the man cutting her to pieces and it leading to a civil war that ends only after a bunch of virgins are sex-trafficked (abducted and taken by force to be wives).  That’s how lawlessness worked then, and that’s how it still works today and if you don’t believe me just watch a Netflix documentary (or the news every day on tv.)

Jesus shows us a better way in John 13.  Jesus is God’s choice to be Israel’s king.  He is worthy to be king because he is both humble and loving and also obedient to His father and His God.  Jesus shows his humble love by kneeling down and washing the feet of the people over whom he will serve as King.  Jesus the king loves his servants enough to wash their dirty feet, and to die for them.  That is a king we can follow.  That is a king we can love.  That is a king who will one day restore order and bring a final end to lawlessness and chaos and make all things right.  This is a King whose words and example and life we can follow.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here Judges 19-21 and John 13

Gifts

wise men

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

 
‘Tis the season to be giving gifts. Like the Wise Men from long ago, we present our loved ones with gifts each Christmas. The gifts that were brought before the young Messiah, held great significance. The gold was representative of Jesus’ kingship. The incense points to Jesus’ priesthood. And the myrrh was an indication of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All three were costly. All three were given as an act of worship.
But what about the gifts that we bring to the Messiah? What is it that you and I have that can be presented to the Prince of Peace? I can think of another trio of gifts that would be pleasing:
Acts of service
Acts of devotion
Acts of faith
I may not have gold to give, but I can serve. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. How we choose to do that on a daily basis are acts of service. When we put ourselves in a position of lifting others up, we are making an offering that is pleasing in God’s sight.
I may not have incense to give, but I can be devoted. We are instructed to love God with ALL of our heart, and with ALL of our soul, and with ALL of our mind, and with ALL of our strength. When we stop holding back and finally submit to our Lord all that we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we position ourselves to be forgiven by the great High Priest.
I may not have myrrh, but I can be faithful. When circumstances don’t make sense; when we are in a season of loss; when we have given every last effort, when we don’t know what else to do, we can still be faithful and trust in the One who gave himself for each one of us.
Friends, whether today is a day that you can be surrounded by those you love or you’re in a place where your heart is hurting (maybe it’s a combination of the two), know this: whatever you have, your joys and your sorrows, out of your wealth and your poverty, in your health and in your illness, the gifts you bring will be treasured beyond measure.
Bethany Ligon

This Can’t Be the End

Luke 23

Luke 23 38 NIV
What is it about cliffhangers that people enjoy so much? Writers of television series, movies and series of books know the power that a good story with a delayed ending has on an audience.
Several years ago I went to go see the movie “Catching Fire” the second story of the Hunger Games trilogy. At the conclusion of the very last scene, as the screen went to black, the lady that I was sitting next to exclaimed, “What!?! That’s it?!?” Even though I had read the books, I had forgotten how this particular book ended and I admit that I was also taken aback. So much so, that the next day one of my students was reading the book and I had to borrow it to reread the last chapter to confirm that the movie held true to the book.
Equally shocking was the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War”. How was the universe going to function after The Snap? I would have to wait an entire year to see how the story would come together in the final installment of the Avengers series in Endgame.
Neither of these experiences compares to the reality that people who knew and followed Jesus would have gone through at the time of his death. Was this it? What about the promised Kingdom? What about his anticipated rule and reign over all the earth? This couldn’t be it! But if we stop reading at the end of Luke chapter 23, then we put ourselves in the same position as those first believers.
But hang on just a minute. A really good story teller hides in his or her stories hints and clues of what’s to come. In “Infinity War,” Dr. Strange states that there is one scenario in which Thanos can be beat. It’s this single line that gives viewers a teeny tiny glimpse into what could come next.
Jesus is NOT that obtuse. Thank goodness!!! In fact, Jesus makes it crystal clear what will happen and the order in which it is to happen. In his conversations with his disciples Jesus plainly tells his disciples that he has to go, but that he will return for them. In John 14 Jesus reassures his men that what might seem like the end, is definitely not the end.
So when we read in Luke 23 verses 50-56 of Joseph of Arimathea claiming the body of Jesus and the women who had traveled from Galilee to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, we can take confidence that while it was a very dark day, the Light will shine once more, because Jesus really is KING of all.
Bethany Ligon