Wisdom in Proverbs

Sermon title – Wisdom in Proverbs

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Not one, but two!

Sermon title – Not one, but two!

Please click on the pdf icon above if you would like to read the sermon text.

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

 

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