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

Is the Lord Among us or Not?

Our Old Testament reading draws us into a terrible tense situation. Moses and the people of Israel are in the desert, without water. While the story may not seem very relevant to us, at first sight, the question that is asked, ‘Is the Lord among us or not’, is very relevant. It is a question that has been and continues to be asked over and over again. Is God here with us, during the crisis we find ourselves in or not? Where is He in all this?

During this time of tensions; distress; lack of prospects, just as it was felt in the story of Moses, we may all ask that question at times silently or not so silently, when doubts are kicking in, or anger, when again, restrictions are tightened…and we are thrown into isolation, once more

Yet, we are urged to stand firm in our belief that God is with us, that God is love.

How that faith can shape our lives now?

This is how Paul, in all its detail, describes love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Here we have it… Love spelled out, love as God shows it in His Son Jesus Christ.

It is because God loved us first, with His perfect love, that we can love. He is the source, and therefore it is of crucial importance to stay close to Him. One way of putting it at this time is, when everything happens online, is that we need to stay online with Him; be insistent that the connection doesn’t get lost. Awareness of His presence, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

That is what He longs for, and that is why He gave us the greatest commandment, as an anchor in the storms of life:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-40)

Is it easy to love…? Is it easy to be what is described by Paul, to be patient, kind, not insisting on our own way…?

Years ago, I had a friend who said to me she needed lessons in love. She recognised, felt, her inadequacy particularly when it came to love someone.

To love someone can be hard. When it is always assumed, not valued, taken for granted, not appreciated, or even scoffed at, rejected. All these different possibilities are realities in life. You may have your own experiences.

Yet, it is the ultimate purpose of our lives, given by God. You could say that it is everyone’s mission to love and with God’s help it is not a mission impossible.

Hearing the story of Moses, you may feel for him as his mission seems pretty much a mission impossible. But he learned a lot, from and with God while He found himself thrown into the most impossible situations. And that is why the story can be encouraging to us, for when we find ourselves in impossible situations.

The story also reminds me of the time, long ago, when I was the lucky one who got the job as team leader when working with young people. Having been singled out from my colleagues, I found myself between them and a management committee to which I was accountable. But the management committee was divided, fragmented. A difficult time, yet never without God’s help.

We find ourselves in difficult situations. We find ourselves in a fragmented world. And this where God offers His oneness. We can count on Him, just as Moses could in the desert, when He asked for His help. We can count on Him, when we ask Him for help. It says specifically in the book of Deuteronomy,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

What that means is that in Him we see perfect wholeness, loyalty, faithfulness to us. Being Love, God does what He does, out of love and with love comes solidarity. God’s solidarity is what He offers to us in times that we struggle; when life gets though.

In our story we see that God helps Moses and the people of Israel, when they are stuck. God’s help comes, but in a very strange way.

Moses is told to take his staff and strike the rock on which God was going to stand. How much sense does this instruction make in the middle of the desert?

Still, Moses did as he was told; even though it did make no sense at all. And so God received from Moses trust and obedience, even though Moses did not understand God’s way.

We see the ultimate obedience to God in Jesus in our New Testament reading. An obedience that comes from humility, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Humility. How does that fit in this world where the emphasis lies on confidence, achievement, control? How can humility have a place in all that…?

In the book of Proverbs, there is this beautiful saying:

Before destruction, a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour. (Proverbs 18:12)

That honour will be given by God Himself alone, after humility. Jesus says:

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29)

Christ humbled Himself like no one else. In Him God came from His high throne in heaven into the world and so He let go His Glory; in order to be a servant; prepared to serve; completely available to God and people. And He did not change His mind when the suffering and death on the cross came nearer and nearer.

Even that night of His arrest, when He knew He was about to suffer and die, He celebrated the last Passover with His disciples, the Passover that celebrates and honours the God who set Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Set free through the blood of His Son. That is what we are.

Jesus remained faithful, loyal to the One who sent Him into the world and so God was able to achieve His purpose through His Son.

That loyalty, that is what God desires from us, His children. Loyalty to Himself and to each other, in response to His loyalty and faithfulness to us.

Is the Lord among us or not?

That is to be discovered by ourselves, not once or twice, but over and over again, when we are open to Him, when we face our own vulnerability and lift our eyes to Him. Just as it has been done by those who went before us, in faith: our parents, grandparents, their parents, and before them Moses, the other prophets, the Psalmist, the disciples when they looked at Jesus, and all those after them throughout the ages. It is to be discovered by ourselves so that, what once has been said by Job in his suffering, can be said again and again, in humility from within the heart:

I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.(Job 42:5)

Amen