Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

1 Samuel 8:1, 4-18+Psalm 71:1-4+(Acts 17:1-7)+John 6:14-20

Samuel tried to tell them.

He tried to warn the people of Israel that they didn’t really want a king.

Kings are bad news. He told them. They’ll draft your children to fight endless wars and tax you mercilessly to fund their extravagant ways. They’ll take the best of your crops and your flocks and turn your womenfolk into housemaids.

And all of this came to pass just as Samuel warned, culminating in Solomon who did, in fact, do all of these things and more.

This memory of kingship gone awry caused Jesus to slip away from a crowd who wanted to kidnap him and make him king. He was so resistant to the idea that he set out across the water in order to escape them.

God tells Samuel that the people of Israel aren’t rejecting Samuel; they are rejecting God, and God lists all the ways the people have rebelled ever since being delivered out of bondage in Egypt. So, God tells Samuel to give them what they want. Maybe that will teach them.

Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus simply walks away (in a rather miraculous way) and keeps on doing what he’s been doing, teaching and preaching and healing and, above all, loving.

In between these two readings this morning, we get a glimpse of what a true king ought to be like. Psalm 72 is believed to have been something of a rebuke to Solomon, but even if it wasn’t, it certainly convicts him of his failures.

I took a class at Yale called “Jesus and Paul on Poverty and Economic Justice” that took as its inspiration this very psalm.  A king, you see, is to judge with righteousness, doing justice for the poor and crushing the oppressor. The ruler considers precious those within the realm.

How different that image is from most sovereigns throughout history. Jesus was not interested in that kind of kingship. When he later tells someone to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, he is, once again, rejecting that kind of earthly power. The reign of God that he proclaims is more in tune with the psalm. Leaders will provide and protect. Everyone will have what they need not just to survive but to flourish.

So, Jesus walks away from this other kingship, terrifying his followers who watched as he walked across the water towards them. Don’t be afraid, he tells them. It’s just me. You know me. The one who is with you. The one who fills the hungry with good things. The one who walks the way of love and beckons you to follow.

This past week, the Episcopal Church came a lot closer to following this way of love as the 80th General Convention committed this church to pursuing justice, righting historic wrongs, and protecting the vulnerable including transgender and child-bearing people. We elected not one but two women of color – one Latina and one First Nations – to lead our church and to hold us accountable for doing this work.

Who needs a king when you are part of a faith community that looks more and more like the depth and breadth of humankind?

I am sure that many of you have seen the images sent back by the James Webb Space Telescope. These extraordinary pictures show us stars and galaxies more than 8,000 light years away, taking us into the vast expanses of interstellar space (as our prayer book puts it), inching us closer to what it might have looked like when God was flinging the lights of the heavens into being. The heavens declare the glory of God, the psalmist wrote, and never have I understood that psalm more than witnessing these photos of stars dying and being born, the vast multitude of space, that final frontier.

What are kings in the presence of this? What are we in this cosmic ballet?

We are part of it all. We are made from the very dust of the universe. Poet Leslé Honoré put it this way

You see this
This is what is in you
What makes you
What connects you
You are more than flesh and bone
More than blood and sinew
More than tendon and cartilage
You are forever
You are everything everywhere
All at once
You are universes and galaxies
Still undiscovered
You are star dust…[1]

The very matter that is out there is also right here, in each and every human who has ever lived. How can we not respond in awe and love for every person we meet. Yes, our world has been corrupted – we have been corrupted – by our own sense of self-efficacy, by the greed that pits the powerful against the powerless. But we are made of the stuff of stars. Maybe that makes you feel insignificant when gazing on the majesty of the universe, but don’t let humility get in the way of the power that we have to make a difference in the lives of those sitting here or joining us from home, or the ones we will meet when we leave here today.

We can wield as much power as the king in Psalm 72 or even as much as Jesus did when traipsing around Galilee, because all it takes is the pursuit of justice, having empathy for those that suffer, and recognizing that they are the stuff of the universe, and we honor them as part of God’s creation just as we should honor ourselves. You can’t love as God loved; you can’t love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t first love yourself.

And if that’s a hard thing for you to do, go outside tonight and look up at the stars. If you marvel at what’s out there, remember that it’s all a part of you. And what good news that is.

[1] Leslé Honoré, from her forthcoming Letters and Lagniappe, posted on her Facebook page on July 12, 2022.

ASEPSermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas