Unmasked

Sermon title – Unmasked

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By word of mouth

Order of Service

CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 1&2)

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn CH4 448 Lord, the light of your love is shining (verses 1&2)

Scripture readings:

Old Testament 1 Samuel 3: 1-19

New Testament Romans 10: 14-18

Music

Sermon By word of mouth (scroll down for text of sermon)

Hymn CH4 251 I the Lord of sea and sky (verses 1&2)

Prayer

Music

Benediction

CMP 179 Go, tell it on the mountain (verses 4&5)

 

Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. It certainly is the case in the bible where God speaks and His words are heard by those whom He is speaking to. Throughout the bible, focus is on hearing:

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), meaning that his words and deeds are one.

‘But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ (Jeremiah 7:23)

And then the response of the young girl Mary, Jesus’s mother, after hearing the words that the angel Gabriel had spoken to her,

‘I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’(Luke 1:38)

We heard the first words that the twelve year old Jesus spoke in the temple:

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49)

With these words the boy Jesus says: ‘the relationship with my Father comes first.’

And now, we have heard how the boy Samuel, whose name means, ‘to hear’, learns to hear God’s voice.

It was at a time, that rituals and offerings in Israel continued to happen, while the word of the Lord was rare. Or, could it be that His word was not heard?

Eli, the priest has two sons: Hophni and Phinehas. It is said of them that their sin was great in the eyes of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. And by doing so, they found themselves, not within God’s blessing, but within the anger of the Lord.

It’s as if there was a layer, a thick crust that prevented God’s word from reaching His people.

The prophet Eli was old and with that, his eyesight had become weak.

But that weakening of his eyesight symbolizes the situation:

the old priest has lost sight of what it is that makes Israel Israel, its connection with God.

Yet, it was at that time, God chose to speak through the young Samuel.

‘Yet’, we hear that word a few times.

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was (verse 3).

What kind of lamp is this? It’s not just a lamp, but  the lamp of which specific instructions can be found in the book of Exodus. It’s the lamp in the tent of meeting, to be tended from evening to morning before the Lord. It was a statute for ever to be observed throughout the generations by the people of Israel. Both the lamp and the ark, were symbols of God’s presence.

Samuel was lying where the ark was. The lamp had not yet gone out.

But the lamp signifies more. It’s symbolic. It refers to the spirit of Eli that is still receptive to God, even though he’s old and his eyesight had become weak. His commitment and service to God is still there. While that is so, the boy Samuel is given a crucial role by God.

In the darkness of the sin of blasphemy of God by Eli’s sons, while the word of God is rare, God makes His way to this young servant Samuel, who is not yet familiar with God’s word.

Just before the lamp runs out of oil, God speaks.

But Samuel does not recognize what he hears as the voice of God. Eli must have been near him, otherwise Samuel would not have assumed that it was Eli who called him.

‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ (verse 7)

That is how it is with faith. Familiarity with God comes with getting to know Him. Time is needed to let that familiarity grow; ripen.

Faith is not something that can be passed on. We wish, for if that were so, wouldn’t we pass it on to our children and grandchildren, our neighbours, friends? But no, that is not how it works.

God calls Samuel three times. There’s suspension until the moment of Samuel’s actual encounter with God.

That delay stands for the time that we all need to realize that and how God is present in our lives, and where He wants us to be. It is a delay that can be recognized in our faith in Him, now. God’s patience; His timing determines the pace with which He lets things happen.

It is important to realize that we never stop learning who God is; how He works in His mysterious ways.

While Eli’s eyesight has become weak, he still functions as a key in Samuel’s service to God. He puts Samuel on the way to God, by telling him to hear the Lord’s voice.

God was present that night. He is present now, but He can only be present through those who do hear Him. There is an enormous emphasis, for instance in Isaiah, on receiving God’s Word through the ear:

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward. (Isaiah 40:4-5)

Samuel opens his ear, but not without Eli’s help and guidance.

God says to Samuel:

 ‘I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.’

What a difficult thing to do, for this young servant Samuel, to tell Eli. And Eli? Eli wants to know every word that God has spoken.

And so he shows that he maintains his willingness to guide Samuel in God’s ways. He does not shut his ears for what he doesn’t want to hear, but listens and says:

‘It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to him’. (verse 18)

Eli continues to hear His Lord; continues to trust God in the darkness of His judgment.

Speaking is silver, hearing is gold. But hearing is only gold when we hear and recognize God’s voice like Eli does. Eli hears and then speaks to Samuel  words that for Samuel are words of guidance. And then, Eli hears those difficult words, that God spoke through Samuel.

While Eli’s own strength was failing, his faith in God wasn’t.

Faith doesn’t grow without being tested during times that are dark, difficult, painful. Our strength may be affected, but we can choose; we can insist on holding on to our faith, as Eli does.

In our struggles, we can find encouragement in God’s word as it has come to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom God’s word became flesh.

Let’s not lose sight of the biblical reality that God is and remains present through those who hear Him. God is not loud. So hearing requires concentration and training, so that we learn to recognize his voice like Eli the priest, who guided Samuel.

May hearing God’s word be as gold, triggering words and deeds coloured by His love. Love that He wants to begin within ourselves, so that He can make it greater, like the effect of a stone thrown into water causing bigger circles.

That so God’s word may continue to go out to all the earth, reaching the end of the world.

Amen

 

Father’s Joy

When we are left in the dark, we react. In different ways, according to how we are as persons. We try to find things that make that darkness disappear; take things in our own hands; find things with which we can bring some light to us again, things that have the effect of a torch, switched on, handled and controlled by us, so we don’t feel lost anymore.

But what we have learned, this year, is that we don’t have control. We lost the control we thought we had; that we assumed we had. Without having control of our lives, we feel lost.

Last week we saw how David was lost, because he had lost the voice of Samuel, the prophet. The prophet who had anointed David king, when he heard God’s voice, saying to him, ‘Arise, anoint him, this is he.’ (1 Samuel 16:12)

‘Hearing’, particularly in the name of the book called Samuel is essential as you can hear in the name Samuel, ‘sama’, which means to hear. In the bible, names are not just names. Their meanings are reflected in the person’s personality, so here, ‘hearing’ is reflected in Samuel as prophet, and in Samuel as bible book. However, through Samuel’s death, there is no prophetic voice to be heard by David anymore. That direction is lost. That is the darkness David finds himself in. And while that is so, David is hurt, unappreciated, scoffed at by Nabal.

But in fact, it is God Himself who is mocked by Nabal. For David had been chosen, set apart by God, for His purpose: to be Israel’s king.

The way David reacts to Nabal is uncontrolled, he loses his temper, is overwhelmed by anger and aggression, and he lets that aggression determine what he is going to do. He will, with his men, kill Nabal and his men.

So war is declared.

In this dire situation, one of Nabal’s men thinks of Nabal’s wife Abigail. He goes to her and says to her what he doesn’t dare say to Nabal, his master,

…one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” (1 Samuel 25:14-17)

This servant of Nabal tells Abigail what has happened and what is about to happen. When Abigail hears what the servant is saying, there’s no sign of solidarity with her husband. She doesn’t say anything about the fact that the servant calls her husband a worthless man. Instead, she takes action, immediately. She does what Nabal should have done, when he was asked to give David something of the abundance he had, of his wealth.  For it was also thanks to David’s care for Nabal’s shepherds, that Nabal was able to make the profit he had made. But then, the name Nabal, means ‘fool’. Consistent with what his name means, he is of course only full of himself and when you’re full of yourself, you don’t see and hear anything else.

Abigail reacts quickly and takes two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep, grain, raisins and cakes. With all that she is on her way to David, on a donkey, but she says nothing to her husband.

Abigail and Nabal, they are not a happy couple. In last week’s reading it was said specifically that Abigail was discerning and beautiful. Discernment comes with wisdom. That is what we have in Abigail as opposed to what we have in Nabal. In this couple we have wisdom versus foolishness.

When Abigail saw David,

she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal[is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. (1 Samuel 25: 23-28)

Here we see how tact, wisdom and grace come David’s way through this woman. She sees, discerns David’s temptation and prevents David from giving in.

David may have lost sight of his call, but Abigail hasn’t. Samuel’s prophetic voice is no longer there, but God uses Abigail’s voice. Abigail stands firm in the promise, in the purpose that God has for David. Her encounter with David, is immersed in her faith in the Lord, and we can hear it in how she, like Mary, spells out God’s power and so magnifies God. She says,

Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” (1 Samuel 25: 28-31)

Abigail’s wisdom and humility come to David, while he finds himself in the darkness of his anger. Through her, he is reminded of who he is: God’s anointed one.

Through this story, Abigail’s wisdom comes to us too. It can be received by us and remembered, when we find ourselves in the darkness of our anger, impatience, our criticism.

A change of shift of focus, within us, from ourselves to God, just as we see that happening in David, that is what makes room in our hearts for Christ’s arrival…

Because David understood Abigail, he could say:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!’

How receptive are we to reminders of who we are, children of the one Father? How receptive are we to God’s call to open up to His wisdom, wisdom that is immersed in His love and to let that wisdom shape our thinking?

Thanks to Abigail who, through her strength and humility, was indeed her Father’s joy, David’s plan to wage war; to insist on his way of taking revenge, didn’t happen. Instead, it became peace.

And from within his own peace he said to Abigail, ’Go up in peace to your house…’

Abigail did tell Nabal. God took his revenge, that’s why David didn’t have to do it.

Let that so be for us. Let us realize, be reminded, like David, that God’s purpose for us is peace. And from within that peace, let us be, our Father’s joy.

Amen

David? Who’s He?

Abigail is quite a popular name. It means, ‘father’s joy’. You may well know an Abigail.

Our Old Testament passage, which is part of a bigger story has an Abigail. Does she do justice to her name? What is the story here?

First of all the prophet Samuel is no longer there; the prophet who anointed the young shepherd David king, while Saul was still king, had died. Even though Samuel and David didn’t see much of each other, David was aware of Samuel’s presence; of his prophetic voice and that was a silent support to David.

The fact that in our story Saul is still king, is the reason why we find David in the wilderness. For Saul is after him. And in this wilderness of Paran, David is a steppe sheriff. A good, caring one. He looks well after the shepherds of Nabal, a wealthy businessman, who is Abigail’s husband. So David is the shepherd of these shepherds, but at the moment the sheep of these shepherds are not in the fields. They’ve been taken away as they’re getting sheared. That also means partying; a yearly feast than no shepherd wants to miss: the celebration of lots of wool with lots of drinking, and lots of food. Nobody thinks about the fact that the harvest is good also thanks to David, who had been protecting Nabal’s shepherds, so they could do their work in peace.

David thinks, ‘give a little, take a little’. So David sends his men. Say to Nabal: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace to all that you have, from David, the son of Jesse. He has taken good care of your men. Share a little bit of what you’ve gained.’

It was not unusual to do so, to give a bit of the profit. It was courtesy to do so, but Nabal’s refusal is so much more than meanness and rudeness.

Nabal is not just mean and rude. That’s what it may be to us: unfair, unkind, just taking no giving. But in Bible stories it doesn’t stop with how things are for us, human beings. Bible stories give more, they also tell how things are seen by God.

David? Who’s he?

Nabal scoffs.

Well, David is the chosen king by God. God had His plan with David. So what we actually have here is scoffing at God.

This scoffing from Nabal echos what Pharaoh once did,

“Who is the Lord’, Pharao said, ‘that I should obey his voice.. I do not know the Lord.

When David hears this, he is furious.

“Every man strap on his sword!”

(Samuel 25:13)

Now this doesn’t sound like David, so touchy and so violent. It is as if things are different, now Samuel is no longer there for David. Has it changed David? Is David a bit lost without Samuel’s prophetic voice? Has David lost direction?

Let’s hope not. Good Lord, do something. For if You don’t, your chosen king David is going to be like Saul and then what? Then we’ll be back at square one.

What is it again Isaiah says…?

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)

David is at this point of walking in the darkness of his anger. And this is where this story, that happens in the wilderness of Paran, that seems so not relevant to us, is exactly the opposite of irrelevant.

For the darkness in which David finds himself, is not different from ours; is not different from the people of whom Isaiah says,

The people who walked in darkness

We pray the words of the Lord’s prayer together, every Sunday, ’Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.

Do we, kind of know what we’re saying at the moment we’re saying it, and then forget when we find ourselves, like David, caught in exactly that moment of temptation?

For the temptations to let our reactions and actions be determined by our anger, our impatience, self interest, all these temptations come to us on a pretty regular basis. That is why the first prayer of our worship is the prayer of confession, when we bring to God all those things that we thought, said and done that were not in line with God’s will, but that were detached from Him.

So through David, we can see ourselves. His anger may be justified, anger in itself is not sin, but how it’s handled can come close to sin and become precisely that.

As for Nabal, the husband of the discerning and beautiful Abigail, Nabal means ‘fool’.

Foolishness is spelled out and illustrated in the book of Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.

 

And wisdom is spelled out too.

In the same book of Proverbs, wisdom is this:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
if you scoff, you alone will bear it. (9:10-12)

Foolishness vs wisdom.

So here, in our story we have the couple, Mr Fool and Mrs Wise.

What now may begin to emerge is that this is not a story that gives us historical facts. This story is actually a parable that has truths that don’t stop being truths.

We see how human David is. He is overwhelmed by his anger and his reaction is to give in, just as we often do, it’s so natural. But that has consequences. And the consequences lead us more and more away from God into darkness, from which we cannot save ourselves, even though we think we can. We do so by switching on a light, a light that we can find: finding things that cheer us up, that keep ourselves busy, by taking ourselves not too seriously. But those lights last only so long, they’re superficial.

The light that came to Mary is different.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

That same light came to Joseph, in a dream, when the Lord spoke to him,

 …Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Now, it would be wise, discerning, to acknowledge that God’s son was born as a Jewish boy, which means that the name He was given was Yeshua, rather than Jesus. Yesua means ‘God saves’. If you have that in mind, what the Lord said to Joseph makes more sense,

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua (meaning, ‘God saves) for he will save his people from their sins

Our parable about David, and Nabal and Abigail, it doesn’t stop with David giving in to the temptation of his anger. We’ll follow the story next week and see how God went His way with David, how He didn’t let go what His Hand began through Samuel, in David.

That’s is how God is, He doesn’t let go what His Hand began.  And that is why we will have Christmas again.

Amen

kingship vs Kingship

Dilemmas, we all know them. Someone says this about them:

‘It is difficult to manage the thoughts in our heads with the feelings in our heart…because only one of them is right.’

Einstein had his solution: If your head tell you one thing and your heart tell you another, before you do anything, decide first whether you have a better head or a better heart.

We all find ourselves struggling with dilemmas, small ones and big ones. My heart melts when I see a puppy, but my head says, ‘No, don’t give in’.

Our New Testament reading gives us the struggle that the apostle Paul has with the conflicts within himself. It’s the last paragraph of a passage where he spells out what causes the conflict between His love for God and sin that, he says, lives in him. He, Paul, who always loved, with all that is within him, the God of Abraham, Isaak and Jacob, Paul wrestles….A Dutch bible commentator says: ‘The dyke of his faith is undercut by the seepage water of sin’.

But then…Paul’s joy, when he thanks God for Jesus Christ, who breaks through that impasse: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Less than two months now, before Christmas. Whatever the restrictions and changes will be, the reason why it will again be Christmas remains unchanged. That reason is that it was God’s initiative, driven by pure love for the world; for his suffering world, to break through its darkness, as a light that started to shine from within that insignificant stable in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem. That takes us to our Old Testament reading. It is where Samuel is sent to, by God, for a mission. And that mission is to anoint a new king for Israel, a king with which king Saul was to be replaced.

Saul was the king that had been given to Israel by God, when Israel asked for a king. But Saul turned out to be a king that did what he wanted, not what God wanted. And because of his disobedience to God, Saul was rejected by God.

God too has regrets, as it says in an earlier chapter:

“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.. (1 Samuel 15:11)

So Samuel was sent to anoint the king with which God wanted to make a new beginning. In Bethlehem, that was where that king was. All very well, but to do that while Saul is still king, that was risky. No wonder Samuel wasn’t keen:

‘How can I go? If Saul hears, he will kill me’

but God offers the reluctant, scared Samuel a solution:

‘Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you’ (1 Samuel 16: 2,3)

Samuel knows only so much, so little of how God will help Samuel complete this mission. God tells him only very little about His plan. He only tells Samuel what he thinks Samuel needs to know.

Isn’t that a situation we often find ourselves in? In our personal lives. In the church with all the changes? We do what we feel we have to do. But just as God was building something new for Israel then, with Samuel, so He is the One that builds something new with us, now. Our efforts are to be given with the awareness that God Himself remains the creator of new things. As the Psalmist says,

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

Everything we do, has to be done from within that humility towards God.

So Samuel does as he’s told, he goes to Bethlehem. When the people in Bethlehem, the elders, see him they wonder why a prophet has come to their town. So they ask, ‘Have you come in peace?’ ‘Yes, I have come in peace’, Samuel replies, still unsure and unsettled.

And then he meets Jesse with his seven sons. Eliab the eldest, a tall young man, is the first one passing Samuel. Seeing Him, Samuel thinks, ‘he must be the one. He must be the new king’. However, Samuel got it wrong. He was misled by what his eyes saw and therefore was corrected by God:

No, Samuel, don’t look at his appearance. It’s not about what human eyes see. It is about what I see. And I don’t look at outward appearances. I don’t look at what is obvious to human eyes. I look at the heart.

The second son comes forward, the third, fourth, fifth, sixth…None of these were God’s chosen one. Well, it must be the seventh then. But no…The new king God had in mind was not there.

What now? What is this? A failed mission? Has Samuel come all the way to Bethlehem with a heavy heart for nothing?

‘Are these all your sons, Jesse?’

‘Well, there is still one, the little one. It can’t be him. He looks after the sheep’.

‘Call him, Jesse’, Samuel says.

They were all ready to start the meal, but they couldn’t, because the little one wasn’t there yet. Samuel, Jesse and the seven sons of Jesse had to wait for the eight son of Jesse.

Eight is, in Jewish thinking, a number of God. We have seven days. Our eight day would be Sunday, which is the first day.

So we don’t have an eight day, it’s not on our calendar. But in the bible, crucial things happen on this eight day. Israel’s sons get circumcised on the eight day, including God’s son Jesus. In Luke it says,

 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

When the little David arrived, the child of Jesse that didn’t count, this is what God said,

“Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16: 12,13)

It makes sense that it was Jesse’s eight son with whom God wanted to make a new beginning. It doesn’t make common sense, but biblical sense. The eight day in the bible is the day of a new beginning. It stands for God’s time, a time of the highest order, when a reality from that highest order enters our lives. When He begins something within us and with us; something that we never could have thought of ourselves.

The Spirit of God rushed upon David from that day forward…Does that mean that David was the perfect king? No. David too was human. Like Paul, David struggled with sin; with conflicts like all of us do; in which we all can be stuck.

But David let God correct him. David had to be the king to God’s own heart, by remaining the humble shepherd he was, in his heart

There is not one dilemma, not one struggle that God doesn’t know about; from which He doesn’t want to save us. But we have to let Him do it His way. To be able to do it His way, God needs that what we don’t like, our humility…

What God saw in David’s heart was humility. That’s what made him the opposite of king Saul. With that humility God started to build something new in Israel. For through David, God pointed at and  started to build a kingship that was of the highest order, His own Kingship. For from David, the shepherd in Bethlehem, generations and generations later, the little Jesus was born, in the same Bethlehem, the King of all kings, the Shepherd of our lives.

Amen