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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 06/17/2018

This summer and into the fall we are again using what are called the “semi-continuous” Old Testament readings rather than the more frequently used “complementary” readings. When the lectionary was revised back in the mid-90’s they, whoever they are, added this alternative set of readings, the feeling being that some of the major stories and characters of the Old Testament were being neglected by the lectionary and of course those stories and characters are central to our faith; some familiarity with the stories, images and characters of the Old Testament helps to provide a context for the New Testament.

Also, in the church, the green, Sundays after Pentecost season is thematically understood as a time of growth, like the greenness and growth we see outside. The festival half of the year is over so until December we focus more on the teachings of Jesus as well as the Old Testament stories that inform his teachings and the interpretation concerning Jesus that comes in the second reading each week.

One of the ways we grow though, is to get out of our comfort zone and I think some of the Old Testament readings we’ll encounter in the coming months can do that. Christianity as a whole has tended to want to come up with settled answers to deep theological questions concerning the nature of God but the many and varied and sometimes conflicting voices of the Old Testament don’t really let us do that. Those voices lead us more to “faithful questioning” and accepting God’s ambiguity and elusiveness.

Honestly encountering the unsettledness that ambiguity creates takes us out of our comfort zone which in turn can cause us to wrestle with the questions which in turn can help us grow in faith even when the answers remain elusive. Sometimes we do have to dwell in the mystery of faith and live in the tension the text creates as we engage the questions regarding God. In his own way Luther himself acknowledged this when he talked about what he called the hiddenness of God, by which he meant those things about God and God’s ways and how God is revealed that we can’t understand or make sense of. For him though, that hiddenness shouldn’t leave us lost but should ultimately lead us back to the revealed God which is the God revealed in Christ.

So…having said all that, I would encourage you to pay attention to the first readings throughout the coming months. I won’t preach on them every week but hopefully the sequence of them can help you to at least have a better feel for the flow of the Old Testament. By the way, if you follow the daily lectionary as printed in the newsletter, you can fill in some of the blanks between the Sunday readings.

Starting today and for the next two months, we hear stories about David. The figure of David looms large in the Old Testament; probably only Moses can challenge him as an Old Testament hero. He is the main character in over 30 chapters of First and Second Samuel, likely the author of at least some of the Psalms and a point of reference for the prophets. But…apart from the story of David and Goliath and maybe David and Bathsheba, for most people, the stories about him aren’t real well known, at least I don’t think they are. There’s a Jesus connection with David too; Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David so David becomes part of the New Testament gospel witness as well.

David is fascinating for a lot of reasons maybe mostly because we can relate to his humanity, so much both saint and sinner; he’s like us! His acts of heroism probably outdo anything we might do and so do his sins, his failures, but while the scale of his actions may be different, we can relate. Like us and most biblical characters, he’s a mixed bag, he’s flawed; as a result we can find ourselves being attracted to him but also bewildered by him, sometimes repulsed and embarrassed by him.

As is the case with much of the Bible, we don’t really know how much of what we have about David is historically accurate, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the truth revealed by the stories that are generated about him. What is the truth concerning him, concerning God and concerning us? Again, and not surprisingly, there is no one answer to those questions. Ultimately we are left to wrestle with and live in the tension created by the text.

Today we get the beginning of the David story as Samuel is summoned by the Lord to anoint a new king who will replace Saul because, as the opening verses of our text say, “The Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” The reasons for the Lord being sorry about Saul get pretty complicated and could be the topic of a much longer conversation because his treatment seems unfair, but suffice it to say that Saul had disobeyed the Lord. To say anymore would raise way more questions than I want to take on this morning.

Worth mentioning though is the fact that this narrative is not intended to be objective concerning Saul or anyone. The writer has an agenda and that agenda is decidedly pro-David, the focus is always on David meaning you shouldn’t get too hung up on other details in the narrative that may be troubling and there are such details. It is interesting though that despite the pro-David agenda, as I said you still wind up with portrayal of David that is anything but sugar coated. It winds up being a pretty honest portrayal of a very human character, simultaneously saint and sinner.

Anyway, Samuel is sent to Jesse the Bethlehemite to choose a new king from among his sons. Samuel though fears the wrath of King Saul if Saul finds out what he’s up to. In one of those troubling details, in order to avoid that wrath the Lord essentially tells Samuel to lie: “Just say you’ve come to offer a sacrifice. Don’t tell them the real reason why you’re there.” When Samuel arrives though, the people are afraid; if Samuel is an agent of Saul they’re afraid because they know that Saul doesn’t like people from Bethlehem. If Samuel is working against Saul, they’re afraid of being implicated in a conspiracy against him. Using the lie the Lord told him to use, Samuel calmed them down and continued on to meet Jesse and his sons.

The next part of the story might be more familiar: Seven of Jesse’s sons are paraded before Samuel and he is impressed by the physical appearance of all them. To Samuel, they all have kingly potential, but all are rejected by the Lord. There is however one more son, David the youngest one, who isn’t there but has to be called in from the fields where he is keeping watch over the sheep. When he appears, the Lord says, “He’s the one,” Samuel anoints him with oil, the spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon him and the deed is done. David won’t actually become king for another 15 chapters or so, but he is now the heir apparent.

So what is the truth of the story? The most obvious truth is in the text: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” That in itself might be truth enough for us to consider this morning in a culture that tends to be preoccupied with outward appearances. There’s nothing wrong with beauty and a pleasing physical appearance but I’m the clergy representative on the Reproductive Health committee for the Ishpeming schools and at the meetings I hear about little girls, 9 or 10 years old, maybe even younger, already worried about body image, worried that they don’t have or aren’t going to have that super slim, super model body; they’re already worried about outward appearance and that’s sad. The Lord looks on the heart is an important truth.

Related to that and even more important in the realm of biblical theology is the Lord working through the lowly, the Lord choosing those who we probably wouldn’t choose to reveal divine truth. It’s a story that’s told and retold throughout the Bible, a story of the powerful being brought down from their thrones and the lowly being lifted up, for us as Christians, a story we see most clearly told through Jesus. David isn’t the first example of this in the Old Testament, but he is a central figure, especially with Jesus being descended from the line of David. The gospel is about the upside down order of God’s kingdom and that gospel message begins in the Old Testament.

Another significant truth has to do with the Spirit. The last verse of today’s reading says, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” On his own, David was just the son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, but trusting in the Lord, filled with the spirit of the Lord, he would become much more than that. Through him, led by the Spirit, the Kingdom of Israel would never be the same. When he strayed from that trust and became too big for his britches as it were, when he strayed from that faithful, spirit filled, spirit led identity, he would fail.

As we leave things today though, for David and for the people of Israel there are new possibilities; an alternative world is being opened to them and that is a pretty good summary of the gospel of the Lord.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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