Cautionary Tales

9 Jun, 2024

By the Rev’d Lucy Nguyen

Season: 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: I Samuel 8:4-20; I Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Our first reading from The First Book of Samuel – is a rather interesting tale of the people of Israel once again struggling to “get it right”. And their words could be a script for a scene in the American White House …

Mr President,

‘You are old, and your sons do not follow in your ways: appoint for us, then a king to govern us.’

The variation for the Israelites is that their request is for a move from a spiritual leader to a political Leader.

The event in our first reading marks the start of the monarchy in Israel.

Despite God warning the people, through Samuel, that having a king would come at a high cost. That the king would draft their sons to plant his fields and make war for his selfish ambitions and worse, the people were determined to change the system.

Now one could be forgiven for thinking – what’s wrong with wanting someone new to lead the people?

We know we need systems and rules for good governance.

We know situations change and a new approach is sometimes helpful.

Oh, if it were that simple.

For this is the start of a cautionary tale.

And cautionary tales – are stories that teach us to be?  … yes –

to be cautious, to be wary, to think before we do “something” …

What are your cautionary tales?

Little Red Riding Hood

The Thorax by Dr Seuss  …

This story from 1 Samuel will continue with Saul’s eventual kingship which sharply reminds us that the best earthly leaders are not meant to take the place of God.

This call for a king is a case of misplaced allegiance and a quest to be like the other nations, instead of living as an alternative community under God’s Reign. (2)

And yet what are we to do?

We need governments …

how do we wed the two together?

Are there two realms,

political and spirituality,

communal and congregational,

secular or religious (which for us is Christian)

or just one world somehow embracing all creation in its many aspects? 

A study of church history and the relationship between Christianity and politics reveals a long-standing debate on this issue. (3)

And you may want to do your own reading on that historical debate.

Where many find themselves now as our debates and reflections have continued is this real often overwhelming sense of the Holy, of faith traditions which speak to us of creation and God in all things and God’s breath and word coming to us as Abba, as Jesus as Holy Spirit to love, teach, lead all creation.  

We give our allegiance to this understanding of God,

and we are to serve this God in any profession,

works or ways of our life.

But … but we have the free will to discern how we do that.

This is good news, and it also challenges us to live in the way of Jesus in our political and personal lives. This is the choice we all have to make – how we live, how we set our life’s agendas in the midst of diversity.

Sure, there are dangers and challenges of civil government, and we have seen and continue to see the horror of a theocracy today, given the fanaticism and self-interest of those who claim to follow God or gods in religious communities.

Throughout history, the unholy alliance of religion and government has led to violence, idolatry, and investing penultimate values with ultimate authority. 

God’s intermediaries are often more bloodthirsty than secular political leaders. (3)

If our first reading is a cautionary tale of allegiance – let’s move to the Gospel reading – what do we make of the reading from Mark?

Again, it’s a bit confrontational with Jesus facing persecution from his family who call him crazy, and from the religious leaders who claim that he is demonised. (2)

No doubt, Jesus’ family has good intentions: they want to protect him. Perhaps, they are more aware of where his ministry may take him than he is.

The religious leaders have their own motives for  challenging Jesus’ spiritual wellness, suggesting that he is demon-possessed.

And yet, Jesus establishes his genuineness; he is speaking for God, he is not possessed by an evil spirit. (3)

He reveals not just the absurdity of the religious leaders in claiming that his power to defeat the devil comes from the devil, but also sets the scene for conversation of governance across our differences.

If you are seeking what is good then we will find the common ground, the place of grace and understanding, the way forward and God is in it.

Jesus is claiming a new kind of community, one that lives in accordance with God’s vision.

This spiritual family now, not just to come, includes our biological family and beyond, the supposedly strange and nobodies, tax collectors and sinners, not just the easy, wise or righteous.

So, as Christians – how do we find our way forward in all this diversity and seeking of good will, where is our hope in the face of daily disasters – As move back to our Epistle reading I’ll quote from one of the writers I turned to this week:

Paul invites his Corinthian listeners to trust in God’s everlasting promise. He wants them to trust that they are resurrection people, growing in grace despite life’s setbacks. In the midst of life’s personal and political challenges, our hope is in the unseen, in God’s vision for our lives.

The resurrection transforms everything: failure cannot defeat God, imprisonment cannot defeat God, and aging cannot defeat God. Deeper spiritual growth is possible despite the limitations of age and illness. This is a life-transforming promise especially in our aging congregations.

We are invited to trust in God in all the seasons of life and to look for God’s movements in our lives. Whether we live or die, we belong to God; God’s eternity is our greatest hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

This does not turn us away from the world but gives us a foundation for social and political involvement and for patience with processes whose fruition may come to pass in years rather than days. 

Can we trust God despite the rise of the powers of destruction in our body politic and global relationships? 

What does trusting God mean in a “doomed” world, as Brain McLaren says?  At the very least, it means seeking to “save the world” one act at a time, whether these acts be interpersonal or political. (3)

So, the reality of justice, peace, and love spreads and gains ground in our world.

We can already see this happening, and it gives us hope. In addition, as we continue to trust that God is at work with us, in us, and through us, we can commit to a promise of a new world that we may never see realised, but for which we know we must give our lives if it is ever to happen.

We all need a moral compass to keep us accountable, to question and to keep striving for good.

God Abba Jesus Holy Spirit draws near and brings new life into our ways – –

you are invited in this time to close your eyes if you feel comfortable or perhaps lower your gaze,

if you like place your hand on your heart

and resting in the company of this community

in the breadth of God’s being

realign yourself, your allegiance to God,

allow yourself to once again

be open to what that is like for you in this time of your life.

Acknowledge your struggles,

hold them lightly,

recall the positives,

offer a whisper of a prayer for the joy of a family of faith with whom we can share our tears, our joys and our hope, while helping one another to stay faithful to God and for this zany marvellous extended family of God.



  1. Abba does not have to be a male. It is simply an expression of endearment for a parent.
  2. Lectionary Resources: Proper 5B from Sacredise John van de Laar

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