The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6, 14 June 2015
I Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
II Corinthians 5:6-17
St. Mark 4:26-34
Background: Reading about preaching
At this moment I’m attending classes taught by John Dally on missional preaching, and I should like to recommend one of the books that we are using as a text: Choosing the Kingdom, Missional Preaching for the Household of God. I recommend it to you because it is not a “how to” but rather a book that reorients its reader to the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus it is not only for those who preach on a regular basis, but also for those who are interested in exploring the Scriptures. It sets for a series of questions that can guide the reader into a deeper understanding of the Reign of God. The questions that are asked of each text are, what needs to be proclaimed, what is the implication of that proclamation, and how does the text invite us into the Kingdom of God. It is a good read and I heartily recommend it for your life in the Scriptures.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you." Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
We might automatically gravitate toward the selection of David as the king to succeed Saul, but we would be missing a great deal of what Samuel is trying to communicate to us. Even though Saul is still alive, to Samuel he is dead, and thus the grieving for him. Even God repents of the choice, and directs Samuel to look elsewhere. In a way there is a sense of adventure in what God asks Samuel to undertake. Saul now is a threat, and his ambition is not born of his appointment by God, but rather comes from a sense of survival. Such are the difficulties of kingship. We have to remember that Samuel sees such kingship not in political terms, but in theological and relational understanding of God’s rule.
From this stems our introduction David and his family, a line-up of royal possibilities. And yet again, Samuel needs to make his way through the temptations of comeliness, height, and valor. It is God who will make the selection, and it is perhaps God who weighs his own choices in the past, finding them wanting. God chooses David, and Samuel anoints. Finally in the argument about kingship, God makes his will known.
Breaking open II Samuel
- What do you think of God repenting?
- What do you look for when choosing a leader?
- What does the entire community expect?
Psalm 20 Exaudiat te Dominus
May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble, *
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
Send you help from his holy place *
and strengthen you out of Zion;
Remember all your offerings *
and accept your burnt sacrifice;
Grant you your heart's desire *
and prosper all your plans.
We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the Name of our God; *
may the LORD grant all your requests.
Now I know that the LORD gives victory to his anointed; *
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.
Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, *
but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall down, *
but we will arise and stand upright.
O LORD, give victory to the king *
and answer us when we call.
The psalmist here speaks to another individual, and in the Hebrew we get a clue as to who that is, since the second person references are all masculine. It is likely that these verses are addressed to the king, making this a royal psalm. What also is clear when we compare this royal psalm with other Egyptian or Canaanite literature is that many of the verses are borrowed. Borrowed or not, editing makes it clear that the king is being blessed by YHWH, “the God of Jacob”. As in many other ancient near eastern cultures, there is congruence between kingship and the national religion – here Mt. Zion is not only the seat of government, the place from which the king’s justice flows, but is also the seat of holiness – the place of the temple.
One interesting phrase makes clear the earlier cultural provenance of some of these verses. In our translation we read, “Remember all your offerings and accept your burnt sacrifice.” What our translators have rendered as “remember” may also be read as “regarding the richness (read fatty) of the offering. Here is an earlier vision of God as savoring the offering of sacrifice, as did the gods of other nations and cultures. Perhaps its inclusion here is only a reflection of a more ancient usage and thought.
At verse 7, “Now I know that YHWY gives victory to his anointed; and will answer him out of his holy heaven with the victorious strength of his right hand,” the psalm becomes more specific than general, as it recalls God’s specific protections of the king. The psalmist wonders which element is worthy of trust – chariots and horses, or the Name of YHWH? It is the name of God that serves the purpose, not military power. The psalm both begins and ends with the same phraseology, “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble” and “…and answer us when we call.”
Breaking open Psalm 20:
- Do you pray for our national leaders? How?
- What is a Christian’s responsibility to the government?
- How do you live that out?
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the LORD.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
I will accomplish it.
In this brief oracle, Ezekiel treats us to a series of contradictions, high vs. low, dry vs. flourishing, old vs. new. Before relishing the prophet’s hopeful promise it would be good for you to go read the “riddle” that precedes this oracle in the first verses of Chapter 17. In this story of the two eagles, Ezekiel attempts to engage and relate the realpolitik of the time to the realities of a Jerusalem that has been sacked by Babylon. The King (Jehoiachin) has been removed to Babylon, where he will live in exile for 37 years. The puppet king who rules Judah (Mattaniah) serves not Babylon, but Egypt. Which of these transplanted twigs (read the two kings) will flourish? Ezekiel wants the people to pause and yet to see God as an actor in their national history in spite of the downsides that have been realized.
The verses of our reading this morning are meant to give hope to whoever would hear, and acknowledge God’s role in national life. What was once ancient and now destroyed can live again.
Breaking open Ezekiel:
- What role does God play in our national politics?
- Is this good or bad?
- How would you change it?
Psalm 92:1-4,11-14 Bonum est confiteri
It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD, *
and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;
To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning *
and of your faithfulness in the night season;
On the psaltery, and on the lyre, *
and to the melody of the harp.
For you have made me glad by your acts, O LORD; *
and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, *
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
Those who are planted in the house of the LORD *
shall flourish in the courts of our God;
They shall still bear fruit in old age; *
they shall be green and succulent;
That they may show how upright the LORD is, *
my Rock, in whom there is no fault.
This is a psalm written for use on the Sabbath, most likely in the temple. There are several elements here, thanksgiving, hymned song, and wisdom. The wisdom sections, verses 5 -13, are not used in our reading today, but they provide context as to the total meaning of the psalm, a meditation on good and evil. The last verses of the psalm provide a useful accompaniment to the verses from Ezekiel, where the “righteous man” is compared to a palm tree or a cedar. These plants flourish in “the house of YHWH, and in the courts of our God.” In the intervening verses, the wicked are compared to fragile grasses, while here, the righteous man is tall and vigorous, “green and succulent.” These plants (and humans) give witness and testimony to the vigor of God, “in whom there is not fault.”
Breaking open Psalm 92:
- In what ways are you a “righteous person?”
- How are you fruitful in your faith?
- What does your life give testimony to?
II Corinthians 5:6 -17
We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
[Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.] For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Paul uses two words here to stand for other truth. “Tent” stands for the earthly body – temporary and fragile. “House” stands for the new body – the resurrected entity that is the house of God. This is new kind of existence that flows from the offering that Christ made, making those who follow him whole and complete.
The second section functions as a defense for Paul’s behaviors in leading the Corinthians to Jesus. Here he contrasts how the believer and the world (the flesh) perceive the cross. To one it is the quintessence of God’s purpose, while to the other it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Such a perspective is not limited to the cross alone, or even to cross, but to those who follow Jesus as well. To see the believer as from the flesh, is not to see the promise, or the new creation.
Breaking open II Corinthians:
- In what ways is your life fragile?
- In what ways is it strong?
- How has your faith made it strong?
St. Mark 4:26-34
Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Here we have a collection of two parables (The Seed and The Mustard Seed) followed by a statement about such parables. The parable of the Seed is about the Kingdom of God. In a sense it is a statement of wonder about the nature of things – the seed brings life, ‘he does not know how.” The sower in this parable seems removed from all the actions of the growing season. Though he performs them he does not understand the “how” of these actions, only knowing that at the end, there will be a harvest. Is Mark writing about those who were scattering the seed in the early Church, and the Holy Spirit, who was aiding their work? Of special note that the entire action is accomplished in God’s time – in anticipation of the Kingdom.
The Mustard Seed text is known in Q, Mark, and in the Gospel of Thomas – so it has several layers of tradition. For those of you used to the mustard plants that color the rows in the vineyards of Northern California, the final result seems difficult, “(it) becomes the greatest of all shrubs.” Galileans would have known such plants as reading up to ten feet tall, attracting birds with both shade and seed. So what is Jesus’ intent here? From the psalms we know the image of the tree planted by the waters. That any vegetation should exit in the arid land of Galilee would be a wonder and a cause for note and admiration. It is a parable of contrast, the big and the small (compare the reading from Ezekiel). Where will we see the Kingdom of Heaven?
The final verses are a meditation on how might we speak about the Kingdom of Heaven, and uses Jesus’ use of the parable is the example. It is given in the context of the gathered learners, the disciples. The parables were both given and explained to them. As disciples today, how shall we speak to those who wish to listen?
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What is something small in your life that has grown large?
- What happens in your life, that you have no understanding of?
- How do you talk about the Kingdom of God?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller