This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Yallourn Parish Uniting Church gathered at Yallourn North on Sunday 17th June 2018.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
I have been listening to quite a bit of Christian music recently. This is in part because I’ve been trying to get a grip on the changes to Life FM in recent weeks, and because I just happen to have a full set of studio albums of Casting Crowns in my car. A recent song which has come around as the CDs cycle through is “Hallelujah” from Casting Crowns’ most recent album entitled “The Very Next Thing” and the first part reads like this:
On the morning of creation, Father, Son and the Spirit rise. As they set the world in motion, The morning of the first sunrise. A symphony of golden sunlight, Dancing in the Father’s eyes, He gazes at His masterpiece, As all creation cries: Hallelujah!
As majestic as those words read it sounds better sung, let me tell you. I love the idea of creation crying out in praise as life is birthed, even if theologically some might struggle with singing on the first day of creation when only light was made by God. But can’t light sing? Why can’t light sing? In 1 Corinthians 5:16 we read what Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth about taking God’s perspective on what exists. Maybe light and colour does sing for God, but more than that this section of Paul’s letter to a specific group of new Christians making their way in the world in which they live is about the ministry of reconciliation. Paul specifically speaks into how the Church has been commissioned to continue the work begun by Jesus at Calvary to bring back to God all that was lost after the Fall. In these verses Paul encourages Christians to view each other through fresh eyes and see each other as a new creation.
Because of the work of Christ there is a new Creation for us. Since we have been reconciled with God by grace through faith our eyes are opened to see Creation as it always appeared to God. So, the new Creation is not a replacement for the old one; it’s the same one looked at with renewed perspective. And that renewed perspective begins with how we view each other.
Today’s Old Testament reading tells us that the brothers of David looked kinglier than he, they were impressive in height, girth, charm, and maturity and they were washed and perfumed for worship and that even Samuel was impressed. But that God chose the sheep-stinking boy with the beautiful eyes, and Samuel anointed him without a second thought. Like Paul and like Samuel the Church has the role of mediator in the world, not conqueror; God needs leaders who will heed the Word of God and not be carried away by their own ideas of kingship and magisterium. To say that we regard no one from a human point of view is to say that we refuse to play games of politics any more. Other people are not a threat or a potential enemy by virtue of being someone other than us: no, we see every other person as God seen him or her, a beloved one belonging to Jesus and for whom Jesus died out of his love for him or her. We see brothers and sisters in the family of God; we citizens of the Kingdom of God of which we are citizens; we see friends. This is who they always were, but now, finally, we see that. Indeed, we see that even if they don’t see that. Part of our job as agents of reconciliation is to tell the world that they are the sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of us, and our friends in the new creation where reconciliation is taking place and love is abundant.
When Saul was chosen as king he was head and shoulders above everyone else. A Benjaminite, so a man from the smallest tribe (1 Samuel 9:21), but a big man in physicality (1 Samuel 10: 23) even if he was obviously not up to the task of being king emotionally. There is no need for metaphor in the story of Saul, at his own coronation he is found actually hidden among the baggage: read it yourself in 1 Samuel 10: 22. David is a Judahite, so the son of a big tribe, but he’s a youngest son and was considered so unimportant that “the boy” was left out shepherding when Samuel came to town and met with “the men”. God does not want another Saul, a big man with a small heart, and God makes this clear to Samuel as each of David’s large brothers are passed over (1 Samuel 16:7). When Samuel anointed David as king the Holy Spirit descended upon David, God’s anointing matched that of the prophet-judge. And then what happened? Well, Samuel returned to Ramah and David returned to the flocks. God’s next thing has been set in motion and its time would assuredly come: but not yet.
As agents of God’s reconciliation in the world this is also our task, to speak of what God is going to do as well as what God has done. As I suggested last week the message of the coming thing is not necessarily about Heaven for dead Christians, it is more about how God is continuing to save the world by revealing the man Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world and demonstrating that God is already King, and God’s reign is unfolding across the planet. With the fresh eyes for a new creation we see this, even as we live in the middle of the old creation. David had the Spirit of God, Saul did not, but David at this moment is still a shepherd and Saul the king. It’s not even as if Jesse had kept David in the house and sent one of the other, un-anointed brothers out to the mob in the back paddock. Immediately after his anointing nothing changed for David even though everything had changed. This is the message we proclaim as well; the change has been made and it is assuredly coming. How do we know? Because we know that David did indeed become king in the fulness of time, and that he was the greatest king the world has ever seen.
There is one more characteristic of the coming reign of God that I saw in this week’s readings, one more sign that as individuals we are on the same page as God and the same track as Paul; but it’s found in 1 Samuel 15:35 where we read that Samuel grieved for Saul. I read this as a sign of Samuel’s greatness in spirit; he does not gloat over the defeat of the king he never wanted in the first place but mourns the man whose greatness got too much for him and has led to his being rejected by God. In the opening words of today’s Psalm, we read may the LORD hear you in the day of affliction, may the name of the God of Jacob defend you, (Psalm 20:1-2), and in Psalm 20:10 we read O LORD save your King and hear us in the day we call upon you. These two Old Testament passages are not connected in history, the Psalm was not written about Saul, but I like that the lectionary has connected them for us today, for whatever reason the lectionary compositors chose. Perhaps we are supposed to see David as the LORD’s King now that Saul has been rejected. Perhaps the Psalmist is praying for David’s safety inside Saul’s realm until such time as David can take assume the throne that God has already given him.
It is true that God interrupts Samuel’s grief and send Samuel to Bethlehem to find and anoint the new king, of God’s choosing. It is true that Samuel must be careful because Saul is mentally unstable and even with God as his protector Samuel is on thin ice travelling to do the work he is called by God to do. It is true that God chose the youngest and smallest son; even as David is no nerdy runt but is ruddy and handsome with beautiful eyes. It is true that David is full of life, it is true that David’s brothers are full of themselves, and it is true that Saul is full of something else entirely. But it is also true that Saul was chosen by God’s people, that Saul was appointed by God on their recommendation, and that Saul remains king over Israel at the point and for some years beyond. Samuel does not delight in the fall of Saul, because with fresh eyes he sees a man who is a creation of God and who is loved by God even as God is disappointed and regretful about Saul’s life.
Like Samuel we must be open to compassion and empathy for the lost, even if in the old way of looking these people are our opposition and agents for our destruction. Saul was never going to get his anointing back, but perhaps Samuel’s grief was for the man who got lost along the way, the tall but shy Benjaminite who may have lived a better life if he’d not been thrust into the Israelite limelight by an envious nation wanting to be like everyone else.
So, who do we know, who do you know, who needs to be reconciled with God the Creator? Maybe that person you are thinking of has fallen from glory, maybe he or she is about to fall but is unaware, or maybe like the later kings of Israel he or she will live and die elevated in the world but will always be rejected by God. For whom do you grieve? From what grief will God call you out to make a new way for the world? Do you even care that there are lost people in the world? What difference does it make to you that some of the lost are currently acting as kings and bishops and CEOs?
Are you looking at the world as a new creation? I commend to you this week that you take some time to look at the world through fresh eyes, through God’s eyes, and that you let yourself grieve for what God grieves for so that you will be moved to act toward what God wants done. There is a world to be reconciled to God, and you and I are the ones who have the responsibility as Church and the means as Christians to do that. So, this week think, read, pray, and go where God is calling you to call others to God.