The King’s Gambit

The King’s Gambit

Grace and peace to you from the Mystery in whom we live and move, and have our being. Who is your king?

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”

1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15) 16-20 (11:14-15)

I called Jim Hanson to talk me off the roof. I was wrestling with my emerging Touchpoint. Instead, he pushed me closer to the edge. I could see I chose an unavoidable collision with our political times. I know there are many people who just don’t want to hear their mentors bring up politics. He reminded me, however, that it cannot be avoided, that almost all prophets emerged after kings began operating. It was a counter-move to the tragic outcomes of choosing kings over the King of all kings. Just as it occurred in the hearts of the Israelites, so too, it is happening in the hearts of our congregations.

Authoritarian Christianity

A desire for authoritarian Christianity has seeped into the fabric of our politics. It breaks my heart, and I must turn my attention to the King of Kings, and not my impulse for emotional reactions and verbosity. I am trying very hard to yield to the words of this passage in Samuel alone for this message… not only socially, but also individually, as we look at our own bouts with blasphemous tendencies and desires for elected kings of our own daily circumstances.

It is a gambit when we trade in the God of uncertainty for a god of certitude, when we give over to our own fearful will and choice. But the alternative is what we are being warned about; I don’t mean political in this instance, but personal… our trust in the King who reigns, who cannot be manipulated or coerced, rather than the king of our own devices. Please treat this as Henry’s Touchpoint. Your own touchpoint will matter more as the words of God to Samuel are heard above the demands of the masses.

The title king is used in two different ways: Malak when referring to the king they have chosen, and Melek in reference to the King who reigns over all chosen kings.

Who (or what) is your King?

Like the Israelites, do you unwittingly or wittingly choose a person, a place or a thing that appears more tangible, more directive and more powerful than the God who is with us, in silent inner wisdom, the one that guards our hearts with compassion and justice? 

Considering the gospel text, have we given enough thought to our blasphemous ways for fear we may have committed “the unforgivable sin”?

For me, I would have to say ‘Yes!’ on both counts. I have committed blasphemy and chosen many different kings, given the circumstances being presented. It’s an anxiety move. I want a king who will call balls and strikes in my favor, not guard my heart, a King who will consider me part of the small, favored circle of blood advantage.

In the gospel, Jesus is in a crowded room when they inform him that his mother is outside. As a Latino man I am very uncomfortable with Jesus’ response concerning the one who brought him into this world. The matriarch of matriarchs. In effect he said, ‘I am with my mothers.’ If I were him, I would be glad she was outside and hope she didn’t hear it. Yikes! Here comes the dish towel and an ‘Aye, Dios mio!’

What is blasphemy?

To blaspheme is to say God is in something God is not, or to say God is not in something that God is indeed in.

My answer is yes, I do this. I choose kings and I blaspheme, depending on the feeling of being out of control and fearfully indecisive.

I wouldn’t think I do that, because it just doesn’t sound like a good idea. So, I try not to think about blasphemy and rejecting God as King, because I know my heart. So maybe the question is more, ‘Do we want an authority to tell us what to do?’ I don’t think anyone wants to choose an authoritarian to tell us what to do. But many of us pray every day to be told by God what to do, don’t we? We want a chosen king with flesh and bones and a Morgan Freeman voice.

Israel, we have a problem

What I’m hearing in the Old Testament passage is that we have a real problem. It seems to me the only true authority is ultimate reality, of which we do not have complete knowledge of, and never will. So, we seek an authority of tatted flesh and flowing blood that has the power to fight battles on our behalf. Dispense with our discomfort. Smite our perceived enemies with a vengeful back of the hand, so-called, justice. In our personal lives we turn love into enabling, and make ourselves queen or king.

We wittingly or unwittingly pray, “Lavish us with more than we need. Protect us from others. Manufacture positive outcomes. Prevent us from suffering. Make others behave properly.” Maybe what we really want is an Uber God, a delivery service full of authority, like when we have something delivered, like food, simply for convenience, and we are willing to pay a service charge and a tip. It appears that in our culture, we are willing to pay both of those fees to get an authoritarian, to have a king… a king even at the expense of my mothers and my brothers.

The chosen king

A king speaks with words and is not silent. A king does not believe we can use our brains and follow our hearts. A chosen king doesn’t even necessarily know me; it just puts me in a category that can be polled. When a king is chosen, it is being given full authority from people, but not necessarily all the people. In a democracy, a king is chosen by a majority. In a plutocracy, it is chosen by financial investment, reassuring the poor that their lanes will be open to the same wealth, or at least to the same lack of suffering, only to find we’ve cushioned the king’s throne.

Is everything that happens God’s will?

Was it God’s desire that King Saul rule Israel? Is this even an important question? I think it is! I think it is because there is a deeply popular theology that fashions every event in history to be God’s will, even if the event is horrific, as long as it ensures that Jesus is of the lineage of King David… to bring salvation from the sins that were supposedly “God’s will”… to hurry up the apocalypse and the return of Jesus.

A well-known pastor stated it this way: “So we see Israel’s sinful will and God’s righteous will dovetailing to ultimately bring about the greatest good in redemptive history, the justification and vindication of God’s righteousness and the salvation of God’s people through the sacrifice of the God-man King Jesus. Why does God sovereignly foreordain events in such a way that sinful secondary causes ultimately serve to carry along his primary plans and purposes? In my humble opinion, God accomplishes his purposes through sin, rather than in spite of it, shows his infinite wisdom and ingenuity.” 

This, my friends, claims permission to choose sin and blasphemy, and permission to choose a Saul as king. I encourage you to go back and read what God told Samuel. The fallout, not the punishment, should be they choose Saul, a person who desired to be King for his own populist, power-mongering end.


This idea would seem to support the cliché, “everything happens for a reason.” It would be like saying God, in his infinite wisdom, caused a bus full of school children to go over a cliff to teach us a lesson or bring about a future event. It is shocking and disgusting, and it’s no wonder the U.S. has more atheists than anywhere else in the world. 

Who has the most athiests? sites China and South Korea as having more atheists; however, I’m defining atheist as a rejection of the concept of a western God. This site, as so many pollers sites, defines an atheist as not attending church, therefore having no religion. To my understanding, Buddhism is not a religion, so Buddhists are being counted as godless. It appears everything spiritual is judged through the prism of Western Christianity and anything denominationally mainline. A belief in the divine and personal belief is not considered. Just church-going “believers.”

I would submit that everything does not happen for a reason. Instead, perhaps God causes reason out of what happens, post-event. We live our life and choose our Kings to rule over us.


It’s not you, it’s me

When God tells Samuel, “They did not reject you, Samuel, they’re rejecting me,” God is reassuring Samuel that he did the right thing by not placing himself or anyone else above God. Even if he stands alone. He is not a failure as a king. He’s just not the kind of king they want. The Israelites want a king to do their bidding, not a King of Kings who is for them to live and move and have their being. There is only one King of all the Kings we’ve chosen. This King says, “Go ahead – choose who will lead, but understand the fallout, and know I was not chosen, I AM.


Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Henry Rojas, spiritual director at Spirit in the Desert.

Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.


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