Tag Archives: 1 Samuel

For freedom Christ has set us free | St. Peter and St. Paul

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David. (BCP 92)

God has come to his people and set them free

The Spirit includes in our fellowship people we normally wouldn’t include, and the apostles proclaim inclusion and freedom.

Peter has a vision from God that leads him to understand God is doing a new thing, inviting him to move beyond the familiar boundaries of Jewish law and practice.

In response to that vision, he follows God’s leading — “the Spirit told me to go with them, and to make no distinction between them and us” — and goes to the house in Caesarea where some Gentiles are gathered.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:15-17)

Peter’s story convinces the leaders of the Jerusalem church. “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'” (Acts 11:18).

God has included in our fellowship people we were once commanded to avoid, and the leaders of the church recognize that God is doing a new thing.

It’s a good start, but it doesn’t last very long.

People don’t want the freedom God offers

It’s no accident that the lectionary appoints the passage from Ezekiel for Morning Prayer on this Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Like Peter and Paul themselves, the early church struggles between law and grace, and in fact we still struggle with it to this day. We refuse to hear the message of inclusion and freedom.

Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (Ezekiel 2:3-5).

It is, however, a lovely coincidence that the lesson appointed for this Monday morning (Proper 8) in the normal lectionary tells exactly the same story of rebelliousness.

Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’” (1 Samuel 10:17-19)

We do not want the freedom God intends for us, the special covenant relationship with God that saves us. We want what everyone else has.

So Samuel gives us Saul, whom he has already warned us about and (with God’s grudging permission) anointed as our king.

But (what a bunch of jerks!) we don’t even want the king that we chose instead of God’s freedom.

Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace. (1 Samuel 10:25-27)

Can this man save us? Of course not, as Samuel has been trying to tell us.

For freedom Christ has set us free

Our apostles (whom we call bishops) still have to beat their heads against our stubbornness.

Like Paul before them, they have to keep reminding us not to slip backward into law, into exclusion, into wanting what everyone else has — a secular king who will enslave and exploit them.

We need our apostles to remind us to keep pressing forward into inclusion and freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

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On them he has set the world

He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
The pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:8)

In Rembrandt’s depiction of the Presentation, the aged Simeon is worshiping God in the Temple as the child Jesus is placed into his praying hands.

Simeon is one of the “pillars of the earth,” a devout person who can say with the Psalmist that:

The Lord grants his loving-kindness in the daytime;
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:10)

Into his outstretched arms, onto this pillar of the earth, Mary and Joseph set the world.

Just as Simeon is no mere old man, the child Jesus is no mere boy. The Word made flesh, without whom nothing was made that was made, rests in the praying arms of a strong tower, if we but had the eyes to see it.

What child do you know who is more than just a child, who represents the hopes and fears of a family?

What older person have you met whose strength, whose faithful wisdom, is hidden from view?

The Psalmist asks the question we might ask in our blindness, and then answers the way Simeon, a pillar of the earth, might answer.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God. (Psalm 43:5-6)

When he draws near

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Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;
call upon him when he draws near. (BCP 86)

Little does Saul realize (1 Samuel 9) that while hunting for his father’s lost sheep he will find instead the crown of the king of Israel. The Lord wills to be found, and through his servant Samuel God’s word “will prosper in that for which I sent it.” Saul will be made king, and he will pave the way for David’s reign.

Likewise, Stephen, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8), seizes the opportunity at his trial before the Council to preach about God’s salvation history being fulfilled in Jesus. God’s word will prosper through Stephen, we will learn in the next couple of days, because his stoning makes an impression on another young man named Saul.

The Lord wills to find Saul, and eventually he will heed the words of Isaiah we read in Canticle 10:

Let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,
and to our God, for he will richly pardon. (BCP 86)

The renamed Saul (our apostle Paul), becomes a fresh witness to the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, the “word that goes forth from [God’s] mouth.”

The Lord wills to be found in your life, too. Keep an eye out for his presence, and call upon him when he draws near to you.

Piercing darts of love

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But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Lord, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me? (Psalm 88:14-15)

In our English spiritual tradition one of the landmarks is a book from the late 1300s called The Cloud of Unknowing.

The anonymous author, most likely a country parson from the East Midlands, is counseling a younger monk with practical, pastoral advice about mystical prayer, especially dealing with the difficulty that arises when it seems that God has withdrawn — what John of the Cross some 300 years later called “the dark night of the soul.”

The author suggests that we should imagine, as it were, a “cloud of unknowing” hiding God from our senses. Our prayers should be as “piercing darts of love” aimed toward God through the cloud.

The hope of this pastoral approach to prayer is that eventually we will come to love God as he is, not for the consolations he provides. God’s seeming withdrawal, and our time spent under the cloud, can help us to mature in our love for God.

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Our Old Testament reading this morning is a poignant story of another wise priest, Eli, counseling the young man Samuel. Though “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Sam. 3:1), Eli helped Samuel to recognize that God had something to say to him. When Samuel heard the judgment of God against Eli’s sons, he “lay there until morning,” as if under a cloud.

Eli insists that Samuel tell him everything; he knows God is judging him and his sons, but he says “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). Though Eli will receive no consolation, he continues to love the Lord.

And Samuel? I can’t help but see the “piercing darts of love” foreshadowed when the story tells us that “as Samuel grew up, the Lord let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19).

Can I get a witness?

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Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the LORD, in the presence of the priest Eli. (1 Sam. 2:11)

I wonder whether the boy Samuel “ministered to the Lord” by singing songs like the canticle we read this morning right after hearing the beginning of his story:

A Song of Praise Benedictus es, Domine
Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever. (BCP 90)

We also read in the Acts of the Apostles this morning about the followers of Jesus in the days after his resurrection and ascension. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,” we read (Acts 1:14). Their prayer, like ours, probably consisted largely of the Psalms. We minister to the Lord, in part, by singing his praise and joining our voices with all those who have gone before.

One of the first pieces of business the apostles have to attend to is selecting someone to replace Judas, to bring the number of apostles back up to 12. They want someone who has accompanied them during Jesus’ ministry — “one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

I wonder what song Matthias sang after he was chosen to be a witness? What song do you sing to honor God and witness to his love?