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Walking Together, Rev Cathy Schuyler, Duluth Congregational Church, 090614

Walking Together

Israel begged God for a king, a human king, just like the other nations had.  A strong, wise, powerful king.  If they had a human king like that, whom other nations could see and fear, then everything would work, all would be well.  God says that if they follow God and God’s ways all will be well, and they say, “of course!  But can’t we also have a human king?”  God relents.  So God sent Samuel to anoint Saul, and Saul just didn’t have it – strong? Yes.  Wise? not so much.  Paranoid and disobedient?  Far too much. 

So God moves on to plan B.  God talks to Samuel again – how long will you grieve over Saul?  Let’s move on.  Fill your horn with oil and set out. 

Samuel heads to Bethlehem, just as God commands, and finds Jesse.  Now, Samuel, and all the rest of Israel, have high expectations for a king.  A king is strong, powerful and wise, someone we can look up to and who will instill fear into the hearts of our enemies or potential enemies.  Samuel already has an idea of what a king might look like – tall, ruddy, good-looking, someone you’d like your oldest daughter to marry.  Eliab is Jesse’s oldest son.  Good prospect for a king, thinks Samuel.  The text says “6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’* 7But 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.’

Samuel tries again with Jesse’s next son, Abinidab and he, too, is rejected.  And so on, and so on.  Somewhere along the way, Samuel is probably thinking, maybe I misunderstood.  Maybe God said Josie, not Jesse.  But he keeps on, through seven sons.  Is there another son? He asks Jesse.  Well, there’s the kid out in the field, but he’s no king.  Both Samuel and Jesse were expecting strength and maturity, with wisdom possible in but a few years as the necessary requirements for a king.  But God ‘looks on the heart.’  The text doesn’t say what God was looking for in the heart.  It isn’t purity, because we see in later years that doesn’t adequately describe David.  But God sees something in David that works.

God goes with the kid.  That had to have been tough for his older brothers.  They may well have been fond of their baby brother, but he was still their baby brother.  Even today we know the hierarchy among siblings depends greatly on age.  Not entirely; younger brothers and sisters aren’t written off by a long shot, but there is still power in the position of older brother or sister.  Three thousand years ago the position held considerably more power.  Deuteronomy 21 references the law: inheritance was divided up into equal portions, with one more portion than sons. The eldest son then was to be given a double portion.   Then, since eldest sons were the richest in the society, they were given respect and honor.  That’s been the way of human societies from the beginning. 

But it’s not God’s way.  Here God chooses David, the youngest, to be king of all Israel.  From the beginning God has had a weak spot for those who weren’t the obvious favorites.  Abel’s offering is accepted over Cain’s; Jacob is younger than Esau and yet receives his father’s blessing; Joseph is the one who dreams dreams of greatness, seeing eleven sheaves of wheat bowing down to him, and he lives it out through his leadership in Egypt.  Fast-forward to Jesus and he, too, talks about little things.  The mustard seed was not anyone’s favorite plant.  It starts out small and ends up huge, and, wonderful though mustard is, one doesn’t need acres of mustard trees.  Mustard trees don’t always know that, however, and so were basically weeds.  His hearers expected Jesus to talk about the cedar tree, lush and beautiful, symbolic of the restoration of Israel.  If he was the Messiah, the one who would bring the nation back to all God wanted and intended it to be, he should be talking about the power and glory of the cedar.  Instead he compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed.

Liberation theologians, from Latin America and Africa, writing in the last forty years, have identified this phenomenon of scripture’s leaning toward the lowest, the least and the lost as “God’s preferential option for the poor.”  God reaches into the world through little, almost forgotten, and conventionally unacceptable things and people.  Moses the murderer, David the youngest, Jesus the obscure wanderer from Nazareth.  And these heroes of the faith connect with the nobodies in society; Moses builds a nation from a motley crew of slaves, Jesus preaches good news to the poor, to prostitutes and tax collectors.  This has proved to be an important insight for the people of the southern hemisphere, where churches are growing incredibly quickly, in contrast to the sluggish rate of growth, or backward growth we’re experiencing here in North America. 

Good news to the poor.  What does that mean for us?  We could talk about being a small church among big ones, finding hope that God works through little things as well as big.  And there would be truth in that.  But it wouldn’t be the whole truth.  Because we live in this world primarily as winners, not as losers.  We are the rich, the respected, the honored; we are given the places of honor in this society and in this world.  In the Biblical story, we are the older brothers who are passed over, the cedars of Lebanon who aren’t mentioned; we are the Pharisees who have received honor in this life and have no need of the good news of God’s kingdom because we’ve already got what we need.  Does the gospel still hold good news for us?  

God works through the poor and the less powerful because they know they aren’t the center of the world.  People who aren’t in power know they need help, they need a redeemer.  God is the power at the center of the world, of our world.  God seeks to be in relationship with us; God makes it clear that God loves us.  But it’s not about us, it’s about God.  When our world revolves around us, around our high and exalted place in the world, we have no need of God.  We figure that we’ve gotten ourselves into this good situation and we’re pretty proud of ourselves.  God is an extra. 

The Bible is clear.  God is not an extra.  God is the source of our life, of our gifts, and of our joy.  The good news is that we find the best of what life is when we come together in God’s ways.  When we walk together in all of God’s ways as he reveals himself to us.  We do have a clue.  As Congregationalists, we know that life is found together as God’s people.  We may not always live it perfectly, but we proclaim it weekly and allow it to challenge us. 

Part of that challenge is recognizing that everyone, even or especially people who aren’t like us, is part of that ‘together’.  We walk in God’s ways when we connect with the poor, the least, the forgotten, recognizing the image of God even in them. 

A group of women in Australia, aboriginal women, came together a number of years ago, in part to address the paternalism they experienced from people who came to ‘help’ them.  They came up with a statement that has been reprinted millions of times since. 

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your salvation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

This is the good news of the gospel for David’s older brothers.  To be part of the nation of Israel that David would bring into being.  To let go of their right to lord it over their brother and to accept the leadership of the kid.  In our world, that means looking beyond our own lives of prosperity to see wisdom and courage in the struggles of the poor, instead of seeing only pain and need.  And it means getting involved in the lives of those in need, because our salvation is bound up with theirs.  Yes, our salvation.  We need saving; we need God.  Our lives are not complete as they are.  We seek to connect, to find meaning, to know the truth of God’s love and to live it.  But we can’t do it alone.  We can’t even do it only amongst ourselves, here at Duluth Congregational Church.  Our salvation is bound up with the lives and struggles of others.  It’s why we reach out through CHUM and through the Gospel Mission.  Not simply because it’s ethical and the right thing to do, but because it changes us, it focuses us on the lives and needs of others.  Our salvation is bound up with our neighbors in Duluth, especially with our hungry and struggling neighbors.  That’s the word from scripture, over and over again.

Is it possible?  We sometimes even have a hard time dealing with our own kids in worship, can we find ways to include others who are powerless, who aren’t as cute?  Can we actually let go of our pride in ourselves and in our lives enough to share honestly and build friendships with those whose lives are very different? 

Even we are part of God’s plan of salvation.  And thanks be to God, it needn’t happen all by our own will.  Paul proclaims the truth that is still true today.  God’s grace has the power to change even our hardened hearts.  If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.  Everything old has passed away; behold, everything has become new! 

Challenge yourselves to hear God’s option for the poor.  Reach out beyond the artificial boundaries you’ve set in this world.  God’s kingdom begins beyond us and includes people we have forgotten even exist.  Let’s plan to be a part of this kingdom, that we might know life abundant.  Amen.

 

 

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13

34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel 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.

16The 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.’ 2Samuel 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.” 3Invite 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.’ 4Samuel 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?’ 5He 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.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’* 7But 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.’ 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 11Samuel 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.’ 12He 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.’ 13Then 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.


2 Corinthians 5:6-17

6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

11Therefore, 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. 12We 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. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And 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.

16From 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. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!


Mark 4:26-34

26He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

30He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.’

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

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