Mini Sermon #39: Anointing an Everyman

Published A Day Early

Please Note that this Mini Sermon is being released a day early (Tuesday, January 19, 2021) so that it will be available a full 24 hours before the Inauguration. Happy Tuesday! aeb

Sermon Lesson #1: 1 Samuel 10 (NRSV)
Sermon Lesson #2: 1 Samuel 16:10-16 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 20:6-9 (NRSV)

In the United States, we have never taken to anointing kings.  The closest we have is the Netflix original series The Crown which showed, in great detail, the anointing of the young Elizabeth II, with full explanation from the Duke of Windsor (the former Edward VIII). 

In fact, we Americans have always made a point not to anoint our elected leaders.

 I was once told a story (I can’t say if it’s true of not), that when George Washington was elected our first president, his subordinates began to bow to him and call him “your majesty.”  There had not, after all, ever been a president before.  British Americans had only ever had a king.  There had been a prime minister, but British Americans were denied the right to vote for members of parliament. 

Washington, naturally, was horrified.  He did not wish to be addressed as a king!  He was a simple General!  So, when asked, George Washington thought and said, “Call me, Mr. President.” 

‘Mister’ of course, was the title of ‘the everyman’ and not a term employed by the aristocracy or by royalty.

And so, a famous tradition began that has yet to end.  No matter our president—he has always been addressed as “Mr. President.”

He is also not anointed by a priest when he is sworn into office, as the United States has no official religion (although we do possess a National Cathedral).  Ours is not anointed with oil at all in any state capacity.  Instead, the president takes the oath of office and when his four years are up (unless reelected), he leaves office.  (There is, of course, the notable case of FDR who was elected for four terms.)

No longer does our ruler govern by divine right.  Instead, our ruler governs by the right of the people.  He is not directly blessed by God with oil by either God’s prophet or by God’s priest.  Instead, the president swears on the Bible in order to show the sanctity of his oath of office and his commitment to our country.

And what’s the worst that can happen?  We might get together and laugh about Teddy Roosevelt who couldn’t quite accept that his “time was up.”  He kept running under the mantle Bull Moose Party.  One might even call him “bull headed.” 

There is the age old debate if political parties that do not believe in the democratic process should be permitted to partake in said political process (such as National Socialists).  That comes up every decade or so, as far as I can tell. 

About ten or twenty years ago there was a flurry of debate on how to address a female president, as it seemed that the US of A might get one soon.  The debate was settled quite soundly with this answer: “Madam President.”  We are still awaiting our first female President, although we did historically elect our first female Vice President in 2020. 

These questions may seem inconsequential in the face of the opening weeks of 2021, but it is now that I would like to turn to the case of King Saul and King David in the Bible.  And—just to give you some spoilers—2021 will appear inconsequential in light of the throne of Israel and the anointing of her kings.

We are jumping a little out of order, so if I may take a moment to remind you where we stand.  When Samuel is called to become a prophet of God (1 Samuel 3:1-20 | “Crossed Signals”), it is at the time of the Judges, just before Saul becomes the first of the “three original kings” of Israel.  Those kings are Saul, David, and Solomon.  There were kings after Solomon—and then the kingdom broke into the North (called “Israel”) and the South (called “Judah”)—and each kingdom had its own line of kings. 

Now, the line of kings became a hereditary line, as are most monarchies that exist today.  Hereditary monarchies pass from ruler to eldest son or, in most modern lines, eldest child.  A notable exception is Saudi Arabia, where the kingship passes from brother to brother in the original line (or something resembling that).

To return to Ancient Israel, when the nation moved from tribalism and the time of judges to a monarchy, Saul was anointed King.  As such, Saul should have remained king to his death, and his heir (one of his sons) should have become king after him.

He was technically king, but God did not favor him, and all because some of his men ate honey when Saul promised God that they would fast.

In Biblical terms, Saul broke faith with God during his reign, and God casts him aside.  Saul is still king, but all of his sons (but one) die in mysterious (and often horrific) ways, his line cannot be continued directly, and he has to watch as God’s new favorite—David—grows in popularity.  Not only do the Israelite people love him (he felled Goliath after all), but Saul’s son Jonathan loves him more than any other on earth (even his own father, Saul). 

Saul, who himself did not break the fast but suffers the consequences, is plagued by evil spirits sent by God, and when he does die, David is anointed as King of Israel. This would add insult to injury, if Saul could see this occur from beyond the grave.

David was faithful to God, and as such was rewarded with many sons.  There was the blip with Bathsheba bathing on the roof, but that was a blip (David was duly punished).  David was prosperous.  David’s name lives on three thousand over three thousand years later.  Solomon, David’s son and heir, was gifted with wisdom and with many children.  His name and reputation, too, are immortalized, and he was the last great King of Israel.

I wonder if perhaps you might begin to see the pattern emerging.

  1. Saul – oath breaker – line ends, plagued by evil spirits, hated for all time
  2. David – faithful – line continues, famous throughout history
  3. Solomon – faithful – gifted with wisdom, famous throughout history

The key, at first glance, is faithfulness and the keeping of oaths to God.  If you look at the kings of the Northern country (called Israel), they are wicked, and so their country is captured into Assyria and Babylon.  The Southern country of Judah prevails because they are good.  It is history that repeats itself over and over again.

If we move forward into the New Testament, the people of Galilee that Jesus preaches to believe they are being occupied because their king, Herod, is wicked… because they, the Jewish people, are wicked, and God is punishing them.

If the ruler is wicked, then they are punished… and a ruler proves faithful by the keeping of oaths.

This brings us full circle to the Inauguration when a President Elect places a hand upon the Bible, lifts the other, and recites the oath of office.  The wording may be specific to America, the trappings might be modern, but it all goes back to the Biblical belief that a king must keep his oath to God for a country to prosper—and that a country would wish to see this oath come into being to bear witness.

Every four years we gather and watch the oath be administered, so we can watch as the oath is upheld (or not, only God may judge) for the next four years.

Whatever your feelings about politics (from apolitical, to joyous, to angry, to something else entirely), know that what is happening on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 isn’t just a piece of history, but it’s a continuation of history that dates all the way back to Saul in the 11th century BC.

God Bless You and Your Loved Ones, And—Today—God Bless the USA,
Rev. Averill Elizabeth Blackburn

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