Reflection: June 17

Published on Jun 18th, 2018 by Robin Murray | 0

Pray with me.

Holy God, you created the heavens and the earth.  You dwell in far-off galaxies and nebulae. You gave light to countless burning stars. But you also dwell in the tiniest of seeds, in the spark of life waiting to grow into something larger.  You see in us, unready and flawed as we may feel, the potential to be so much more than we already are.  And yet, you love us as we are. Open our hearts, now, to hear your call to live out your kingdom of love in our lives. Amen.

Today’s scripture reading from the book of Samuel 1 skips ahead several chapters from where we left off last week.  Last week, we read how the people of Israel decided they wanted to be like neighbouring nations and have a king, instead of being governed by the Judges – wise elders and prophets.  God, speaking through the prophet Samuel, warns them about the corrupt ways of kings, but they insist and Saul is anointed. The chapters we skipped over tell the story of how King Saul starts out as a great leader but becomes as corrupt as predicted at the start. So, in today’s reading we hear how Samuel grieves the corruption of Saul and God is sorry for him. 

I think this is an important point of the story.  God allows Israel the choice of having a king, warning them of the problems it will bring.  Now they must live with the consequences of their choice.  God has every right to say, “I told you so,” and “You get what you deserve.”  Like any loving parent who allows their child a choice they disapprove of, however, God hurts to see the people suffer.  God hurts wherever there are oppression and injustice.  So without overruling their choice of having a king, God steps in to help by choosing a new king, one who hopefully won’t corrupt like Saul, or at least not as quickly as Saul did.

The human social rules of the day would have called for succession by inheritance or at least by status – an aristocrat from a wealthy family in Jerusalem, most likely.  But God sends Samuel to look among a family of shepherds in the more rural community of Bethlehem. When the well-respected prophet Samuel shows up with an invitation to worship together, Jesse brings what he sees as the best of his family.  A firstborn son was considered the highest ranking, and Jesse presents his firstborn son to Samuel first.  Jesse doesn’t even think about bringing David, the lowly eighth son and the smallest of the lot, to the proceedings at all. But God chooses David because God doesn’t care about human status, God cares about the human heart. And David has a good one.

The idea that “the last shall be first” was just as radical a thousand years later when Jesus travelled the through Roman Palestine preaching and teaching.  The people were still looking for a mighty king, now to expel the Romans and restore their nation.  But Jesus doesn’t talk about might and conquest. In today’s parables, Jesus tells about the kingdom of God coming quietly.  The kingdom of God is not like a soldier, it is like a seed. It grows where it’s planted. This is why I struggle with the language of conflict in the pursuit of justice when people talk of “fighting for freedom,” or “destroying” the opposition.  I understand why those words get chosen – they just aren’t words that Jesus used.

One of my friends at seminary did his final big paper for his degree on the parable of the mustard seed as it appears in Luke, which is a little longer than the one in Mark that we read today.  He really researched the mustard plant, even reading some ancient Roman cookbooks. (I’m sure that was a nice change from scholarly papers and biblical commentaries!) There are many varieties of mustard that grow around the Mediterranean region, but the one he found that matched the one Jesus describes in size for the Palestine area is Black Mustard.  Black Mustard is a weed, much like the dandelion, in that it has medicinal and culinary value, but man, is it pesky! Black Mustard actually changes the composition of the soil to make it unsuitable for other plants and so it soon takes over any field or garden. One must not be fooled by the tiny size of its seed. There’s no stopping it once it gets started! The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like this.

We still have trouble with the “first shall be last” idea today.  We easily fall into the “bigger is better” trap.  We also fall into the trap of underestimating ourselves and each other by judging our lives according to cultural norms instead of God’s truth. That was one of the biggest problems in our colonial history here in Canada when well-meaning Christians confused European culture with the good news of the Gospel. Indigenous people were forcibly converted to Western ways in the name of Jesus, but God doesn’t care about your clothes, or the length of your hair, or the kind of house you live in. The very fact that the indigenous people were forced into Christianity is contrary to what Jesus tells us God’s kingdom is like. God’s kingdom is a seed that grows, wild and free.  It grows up to provide abundant food, shelter and protection, not deprivation and poverty, which as we know, is what our First Nations ended up with.

God doesn’t look to culture to judge our success or worthiness – our story today tells us that God looks at the heart – in this case, David’s heart.  We know that later, King David would fall to the temptation of abusing his power, but he held out for a long time and never confused himself with God the way some later Babylonian and Assyrian kings, such as Nebuchadnezzar, are recorded as having done. God could see a strength in him that his older brothers did not have. Not physical strength, but moral strength. His background as a shepherd, rather than a soldier or landlord, would bring a humble sensibility to David’s kingship.

Jesus tells the parables of the seeds, the abundance of the planted seed to bring about a good harvest, and the hospitality of the mustard shrub, to give shelter and shade. God sees the potential, in the heart of the shepherd boy, and in the tiniest seeds of hope to bring the abundance of God’s kingdom of love to all. God sees the potential in each of us, even when we don’t.

I think back to the congregation of Gower Street United Church in the 1970’s, most of whom have long since passed away. They opened their doors to young people through their music program, the Gower Youth Band. Many people gave many volunteer hours, others gave money, and I don’t know how many UCW casseroles were made, all to plant the seeds of God’s kingdom in our community.  It saddens me to think of their despair when the band faltered and almost petered out in the early 1990’s, and that many did not live to see the seeds they planted fruit out.  My family were not church goers. That congregation planted a seed in me, that would lead to seminary.  They planted a seed in many of my friends who now gather as the Gower Community Band, continuing on the ministry of musical service as adults, playing in worship, doing fundraiser concerts in the community and bringing the joy of music out to places where it is needed, such as care homes.

What seeds can WE sow of God’s Kingdom of love and justice? What hope can we plant? If we think we can’t – that we are too small, too poor, too young or too old, God’s choosing of the shepherd boy David reminds us that God sees the seed of life in all of us. Listen for the call of God in your life, and for the call of God in others too. Samuel answered God’s call for himself, but he also named God’s call for David. Together, let’s look beyond the cultural trappings of power and success to see our lives the way God sees them, where the capacity to love and grow is what matters, not our ability to dominate and consume. Let’s not fight for justice, let’s cultivate justice, nurturing it into an unstoppable blossoming of abundant life for all.

May it be so.

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