The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 6/8/97
Text: I Sam. 8:4-20 (Phil. 4:8-13)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Graduation. Big time. Congratulations on a job WELL... DONE - the emphasis for parents is on WELL, but we know the emphasis for you graduates is on DONE.

I appreciated what the President said to the graduates Friday at Chelsea's commencement: "I ask you at the beginning to indulge your folks if we seem a little sad or we act a little weird. You see, today we are remembering your first day in school, and all the triumphs and travails between then and now...Though we have raised you for this moment of departure, and we are very proud of you, part of us longs to hold you once more as we did when you could barely walk..." He continued wistfully remembering the evenings reading from Goodnight, Moon and Curious George and wishing for a chance to go back to those days. I know how he feels. I have only one more year before I send my son off, and, to be painfully honest, I do NOT look forward to that.

Hillary Clinton wrote in her syndicated newspaper column this week, "We find ourselves fighting back tears as we contemplate what our days will be like when our daughter leaves the nest to embark on a new stage of life." I know. Someone has suggested that God made teenagers the way they are so we parents won't mind so much when they leave. Well, for me anyway, it has not worked out that way.

Away with the maudlin!!! Graduates, I trust you learned your lessons well. In keeping with the spirit of the season just completed, let me share some answers to test questions as compiled for posterity by dedicated teachers to show off the fruit of their labors. These fall under the general heading of Kids Say the Darndest Things:(1)

The category is Science -

  • (Define H2O and CO2.) H2O is hot water and CO2 is cold water.
  • Water is composed of two gins. Oxygin and hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water. (For some folks, perhaps.)
  • A city purifies its water supply by filtering the water then forcing it through an aviator. (Uh huh.)
  • The four seasons are salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.
  • One of the main causes of dust is janitors.
  • The spinal column is a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top and you sit on the bottom.

That's enough. For you who now have all those tests behind you, we join you in a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, at this time, the expectation is that we should pass on some words of wisdom. After all, graduation exercises are called COMMENCEMENTS - beginnings. As you begin this next stage of your life, you wonder what lies ahead. We who have "Been there, Done that, Got the T-Shirt" are expected to offer advice or encouragement to get you going. What should we say?

A good start might be that passage from our Epistle lesson: "Finally, Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Excellent advice!

What the President had to say was also good (Chelsea is reported to have instructed him to "Be wise...briefly"): "For what it's worth, here's my advice," he said. "Dream big and chase your dreams. You will have your failures, but you will grow from every honest effort...Even if you don't get what you think you want, amazing things will happen." No doubt.

There is one more piece of advice to share this morning which comes right out of the Old Testament Lectionary reading. To summarize those verses you heard a moment ago, the prophet Samuel says, "BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT!"

You remember what happened. The high muckety-mucks of the nation came to Samuel with what was probably not an unreasonable request. They wanted a change in the way they were being governed. In years past, they had followed the lead of those Judges whom God had appointed, of whom Samuel was held in highest regard. But now, these "judgeships" were being passed from father to son just as monarchies go from kings to princes. And, as is often the case, the current crop of Israelite "judge-princes" was not the best. In fact, Samuel's own sons, Joel and Abijah, judges in Beer-Sheba, fell into that category; under their administration, "justice" was no justice at all - it was for sale to the highest bidder. No wonder the people came with their request. "Appoint for us...a king to govern us, like other nations."

The Philistines may well have been the "other nations" in the back of the elders' minds. The Philistines were Israel's biggest enemy at this time, and they had a King. They lived on the coast, and were successful traders, controlling the highway between Egypt and the fertile crescent. They had a highly organized military with iron weapons. In contrast, Israel was poor, pretty disorganized--a loose confederation of tribes, and still stuck in the bronze age. They had some iron agricultural implements, but no iron weapons, and no blacksmiths. Could it be that Israel, poor, rural, and technologically weak, was tired of getting kicked around and wanted to emulate the rich, urban, technologically advanced Philistines?(2) "Appoint for us...a king to govern us, like other nations."

Samuel was not pleased. As might be expected, he was personally insulted. His leadership was being called into question. And, just as any other Dad, "You attack my kids, you attack me!" But to the prophet's credit, his first response is not to LASH OUT, but rather to LIFT UP...prayer.

The Lord's response is gentle. "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 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." Then God says something interesting: "listen to their voice; only--you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."

"Warn them." That IS one of the prophets' jobs. One writer likens the prophet to the canary that miners take down in the mine with them. A coal mine used to be one of the most treacherous places you could go because poisonous gasses could form and snuff out your life before you had any idea there was a problem. So the miners would take a canary with them. The canary is much more sensitive to the quality of air around it than a human being. If it looked sick, drooped or fell dead, the miners knew that they had to get to the surface...and NOW! Prophets, both in ancient Israel and in the modern world, are like canaries in that they have a heightened sensitivity to our moral atmosphere. If there is poison in the air, the prophet knows it. No one else may have seen anything wrong, but the prophet has - thus, the warning to act before it is too late.(3)

So Samuel does. In spades! BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT! "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:" You want a warrior king, one to lead you in battle? OK. Guess who will be driving the king's chariots and riding the king's horses into the fray. YOUR SONS! Guess who gets to be the king's infantry. That's right, YOUR SONS again! And, of course, the king, as Commander-in-Chief, will need some subordinates - generals, colonels, captains, lieutenants. Who are they? That's right, YOUR BOYS.

That is not all, of course. The king does not dirty his hands. He will also need tenant farmers to plow his fields and reap his harvest. He will need workers to manufacture his weapons and rolling stock. Who will they be? Whom do you think?

Oh, and don't forget, a king lives like...well, a KING! How does he manage? "He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves." Still want a king?

We know what the people answered. "We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations..." Too bad.

Perhaps Israel's greatest mistake is captured in that one clause: " that we also may be like other nations..." To this point, Israel had been special...unique. And this had been God's intention - Israel was NOT to be like the rest of the nations; they were to be a light to them. Israel's security did not reside in political stratagem or military might, but in Yahweh, who embarrassed the powerful Egyptians at the Red Sea, who provided and guided in the wilderness, who brought them victorious into the Promised Land. They and they alone could have shown the nations of the world that power comes from God and God alone. But no. "Appoint for us a king." They opted for a different sort of power. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT!

Israel got their king. Down through the centuries that followed, some of their monarchs were good, most were not. More battles were lost than won. There was a period during which the whole nation was carried off into exile. Finally, almost 2,000 years would go by without a homeland to call their own. Even to this day, long after the departure of their last kings, Israel's land is in dispute. They came to Samuel wanting new leadership, a new form of government, a be like everybody else. Uh huh. What's that you say? Be careful what you wish for?

Having said all that, the question arises, "Where do this year's graduates fit in all this?" Granted, not too many of them are looking for a king, but LOTS are looking to "be like other 'nations'," to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, whoever they might be. Word has it that the graduates of the 80's and 90's have been heavily oriented toward the trappings of success - jobs, homes, cars, THINGS. Not all graduates, of course, but many, many, many. No question, those things are all within your reach. We are living in an era of unprecedented prosperity. But, for you graduates who have a special relationship with the Lord (as the nation of Israel had), a relationship that has taught you what is ultimately important (and conversely what is NOT important) my advice is to be careful what you wish for. And that applies not only to the class of 1997, but to any class to have ever come through.

A while back Will Willimon, Dean of the Chapel over at Duke, got a call from a parent, an upset, VERY upset parent.(4) "I hold you personally responsible for this," he said.

"Me?" Will asked.

The father was hot, upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all ("throw it all away" was the way the father described it) and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. "Isn't that absurd!" shouted the father. "A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she's going to dig ditches in Haiti."

"Well, I doubt that she's received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she's probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months," Will said.

"Look," said the father, "this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible," he said.

"Me? What have I done?"

"You, you ingratiated yourself with her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you, that's why she's doing this foolishness," he said.

"Now look, buster," Will said, struggling to keep his ministerial composure. "Weren't you the one who had her baptized?"

"Why, yes," he said.

"And then, didn't you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Vail?"

"Well, yes, but.."

"Don't but me," Will said. "It's your fault that she believed all that stuff, that she's gone and thrown it all away on Jesus, not mine. You're the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me."

"But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian," he said, meekly.

"Sorry. You've messed up and made a disciple."

Be careful what you wish for, Mom, Dad...You just might get it!

Graduation. For this year's class, both an end and a beginning. An exciting time. Life is filled with possibility. Just remember, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR...YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT!



2. Marvin Lindsay, via Ecunet, "Old Testament Notes for Next Sunday," #270, 6/3/97

3. Joe Nolan quoted by Tom Neufer Emswiler, "What Is A Prophet?", Sermon, via Internet, Lectionary Homiletics,

4. William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Sept 10, 1995

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