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The King Is Coming

Sermon 351 St. Martin’s 107 6/16/24

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.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Elections I just got back from Cape Town, South Africa earlier this week. It was a precarious time to be in the country. They had just wrapped up their national elections, and for the first time in their 30-year history, they would not be solely ruled by the party that brought Nelson Mandela to power. Instead, the country would be led by a coalition government.

Many of the people we talked to over our ten days there described the angst and uncertainty they were feeling about the days ahead. They were entering a new era in their country’s history, and yet the scars of apartheid are still evident wherever you go.  

The national elections proved the country was ready for something new, but no one, not even the party bosses, knew exactly what that would look like. After two weeks, they finally named a president this Friday—with some help from old political rivals—and so, the hard work of governing now begins.

1st Samuel I couldn’t help seeing the similarities between the tense political climate in today’s South Africa and our reading from 1st Samuel this morning which takes us back some 3,000 years ago. Now some of you may be going, “That’s quite a stretch.” But let me quickly catch you up in the story.

Samuel the prophet many years ago anointed Saul the first king of Israel. Saul is tall, handsome, and a natural leader, and this was exactly what the people of Israel wanted. Now with a king for the first time, they would be like all the other nations around them.

Our reading this morning picks up after King Saul has committed a grievous sin that costs him the right to the throne. As God’s prophet, Samuel is the bearer of this bad news. Though Saul will continue to rule the land, God has rejected him, and taken his Holy Spirit away from Saul. Not only is God fiercely angry with the king, but even Samuel regrets anointing him as ruler.

Our reading begins right after this definitive moment; Samuel returns to his hometown of Ramah while Saul goes to the village of Gibeah. The split between the prophet and king is now complete. 

But soon enough, God is ready for Samuel to take up his horn of oil once more and anoint a new king. A risky endeavor as long as King Saul is alive. 

Our reading moves pretty quickly through the actions that Samuel takes, but I want to spend a moment reflecting on Samuel’s journey from the village of Ramah to Bethlehem, the place God says the future king resides. Samuel knew he could be in serious danger if people saw him on the road with that not-so-inconspicuous horn of oil in his hand.

As he was walking south from Ramah to Bethlehem he must’ve been reflecting on everything that just happened and what it could mean for the future. “What is God up to?” he must’ve muttered to himself. “What does this mean for me? For Saul? For the nation and its people?”

The Kingdom of Israel was entering uncharted territory, and the future was not clear. And then something happens. He sees a village along the road, there is no way around it. It’s the village of Gibeah—the same Gibeah where Saul lived! The biblical writers just assume that we know Samuel's journey will take him right into enemy territory. They don’t bother with this important detail.

To be faithful to God’s call and usher in a new heir to the throne, Samuel would have to conceal that horn of oil in his tunic and sneak pass the watchful eye of the king and his guards. 

Can you imagine what that journey must have been like? As Psalm 17 goes, “Hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.”[i] Samuel could’ve written that as he walked past Gibeah.

Thankfully, he made it through but when he arrives in Bethlehem, the village elders are fearful of letting him in. “Do you come in peace?” they ask. Meaning, “You’re not coming to stir up trouble, are you? We’ve heard of the schism between you and the king.” Showing favor to Samuel could lead to serious consequences if the king finds out. Samuel may have God, but Saul has the sword.  

Discernment When looking closely at this chapter we discover that everyone is in some form of discernment. Each of them are asking the question John mentioned in his sermon last week: How can we know God’s will for our lives?

Absolutely everyone in this passage is asking that for themselves—but also for what that means for their families, their communities, and the entire kingdom.

Along with Samuel and Saul, the village elders, Jesse the Bethlehemite, and his sons, including tall and dashing Eliab, smart and caring Abinadab, and all the brothers gathered in the house around the prophet are asking: What in the world is God up to?

Discernment in uncertain times. The answers are not always clear, but what does it mean to be faithful—to respond to God’s call in the small things—without having a firm understanding of what it will lead to?

Samuel is just as surprised that God wants him to anoint the youngest of Jesse’s sons as anyone else. The boy didn’t even come to his father’s mind when he was rounding up his sons! This was not a Jacob and Joseph situation where the youngest was his father’s favorite. (Happy Father’s Day)

But when the young, ruddy David appears, Samuel doesn’t say a word. He anoints him King of Israel and begins the long walk back home with just as many questions for God as he did before.

It appears that God chooses David just as he chooses a mustard seed to represent the simple yet profound nature of the Kingdom of God. Though his father forgot about him, his brothers dismissed him, God had a plan that would change David and everyone around him.

In David there is a glimmer of something even greater; a hope that surpasses human understanding.

Jono Now back to South Africa for a moment. While in Cape Town, we met a man name Jonathan, Jono for short. He’s a faithful man who has dedicated his life to living in a crime-ridden neighborhood with the sole purpose of bringing hope to the kids and families in that area.

Gang violence is prevalent, and for many of the teenagers in that area, the only hope they have is to join a gang because in some strange way, you can count on the gang to care for you, at least until they are done with you. 

Jono, through his presence and loving persistence in the life of so many, displays another option in life—a way of love. One of his favorite phrases is “Love is just a waste of time.”

What he means by that is that if you truly love someone then you’re not trying to get something from them—they aren’t an object of entertainment or to be used for your purposes. No, if you love someone, you’d be willing to waste time with them—just being in their presence is a gift.

We met Jono in an abandoned park where the government had promised to build a playground for the children, but that promise has never been fulfilled, and the townspeople have accepted it likely will never be done.

On that same site, Jono has built his own structure. A very simple, concrete building where he cooks food with two large pots and a propane tank that feeds a few hundred people several times a week.

The tin roof had just been put up, but the rest of the small building is still a work in progress. No bathrooms, no heat, or electricity. But he hopes that with time this crude structure will be a place of peace and safety for the youth of that community. A place where they can play and learn and even dream together.

There is much work to be done but Jono is an optimist. If he wasn’t, he would’ve given up long ago.

And so, it is from this lonely lot, littered with rubbish and broken glass shattered into a million pieces that hope shimmers with the glory of God. Or as Rihanna once said, “We found love in a hopeless place.”

That small building is not only an investment in the community’s future, but it is a refuge, a lighthouse, a beacon of love in a dark and uncertain world.

As we were about to leave, I asked Jono what kept him going. His answer came from a place of faithfulness but also of pain and loss.  He shared an imaginative story that got to the heart of what he was trying to say.

There was a man, he said, who came to the entrance of a city, and he saw someone sitting at the gate and asked, “How goes it in the city?” The man looked up and replied, “It goes not well, but the king is coming.”

Our story from 1st Samuel this morning foreshadows another part of the Bible that you and I are more accustomed to. As time continues, King Saul becomes a bitter and paranoid man. He is obsessed with holding onto power at any cost, and multiple times tries to kill David. 

Could we say that he prefigures another paranoid king of the Jews named Herod the Great? Both will do everything in their power to kill the rightful heir to the throne.

And so, could we say that David foreshadows another boy from Bethlehem, a king like none other? One whom even King David would call Lord. In this way, 1st Samuel chapter 16 has profound implications for everything that will follow in the Bible, and ultimately our faith.

Conclusion You and I live in uncertain times. Our social and political life at home and abroad are more divided than ever. We simply can’t talk to people who differ from us, and the future is unclear. A Pew Research report from last fall showed that a majority of Americans are pessimistic about the future.[ii]

We are like Samuel on the road, wondering what God is up to amid so much social and political angst.

And so, what does it look like to be faithful in the small things like Jono in Cape Town, as we try to navigate the complexities of our current time?

How goes it in your city? In your neighborhood, among the people and places that you inhabit and interact with on a daily basis? Where is your place in all of that? And in what way has God invited you to be a tangible sign of the means of grace and the hope of glory?

Jono is not worried about being right on every hot-button issue, he does not have all the answers to fix South Africa’s problems, but he is faithful among the people God has given him. He is the icon of the risen and reigning Jesus in his own community.

As followers of the King of Kings: Jesus the Bethlehemite, the Nazarene, the firstborn of all Creation, the head of the church, and the author of our salvation—though we may not presently have all the answers to the problems that we face, we can live out our faith knowing that the king is coming.

And that alone should be enough to keep us going; to keep loving, to keep forgiving, to keep living in and among the fraught neighborhoods of this world and within our own lives.

How goes it in the cities and towns of this world?

Not well, at least not all the time, but the king is coming, and he is good indeed.

[i] Psalm 17:8b-9, NIV

Photos from different members of our group.

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