Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
1 Samuel 16:1-13
God’s conversation and calling for Samuel functions on many levels; in the context of today’s readings, it is most likely about “seeing what God sees” and not what we are prone to focus on with our own eyes. It might be fruitful to discuss a bit about how God’s perspective differs from our own. What can God “see” from God’s vantage point over life that we might not be able to? How do things look “down here” on the ground as compared to the view “up there” from on high?
Of course, the real place that God looks is “on the heart.” What does this evocative phrase mean, do you think? When God looks “on” or in to any of our hearts, what does God see?
There are very few texts in the Bible that are as well-known (and, one might say, well-worn) as Psalm 23. Yet, like so much else of scripture, there is always something new to be seen. Personally, I had never thought about the depth of the darkness in v.4 — traditionally translated as “the valley of death.” Here, it is the darkest valley. Either way, not much light!
Combine that with the previous statement in v. 3 — “God leads me in right paths…” I may not be able to see a thing because of the darkness that surrounds me (literally or figuratively.) But, I don’t have to find my way alone, anyhow; God (who has excellent night vision, one must assume) is choosing the path. My feet will not slip!
Do you have any personal experience with trying to find your way in the dark? Have you ever slipped and fallen because you couldn’t see where you were going? How helpful would it have been to have a guiding, steadying hand to lead you along?
Another great text about dark and light — and about seeing and not seeing. I love the emphasis in v. 10: “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” In other words, don’t feel bad that being a Christian (and acting like one) doesn’t come with an instruction manual — at least not one that is readily digested in Seven Secret Steps to Spiritual Success or Ten Tremendous Truths to Help You Triumph or some other contrived-sounding sermon title you may have heard!
The spiritual life takes work, discipline, effort — and time! Paul was famous for comparing growth in the Christian life to that of a newborn baby. Babies have to find out what is good for them — and, when they do, they’ll let you know about it! If you’ve had some setbacks in your spiritual walk, join the crowd! Believe it or not, even your pastor has not gotten it right all the time. Pastors are, in fact, sometimes a sorry lot of sinners who stand as much or more in need of redemption as their church members!
In the meantime, with the light the Lord has given us, we try to help one another “find out what is pleasing to the Lord” — and then we do that. It’s a good plan.
How have you been helped along the way by another Christian to do something that made your spiritual life stronger — and, perhaps, more pleasing to the Lord?
Man, oh, man…is there lots to talk about in this story!
It’s so long that one of the best approaches I know is simply to read it — I like having members of the study group “read around the table,” taking a few verses at a time, or having different people read the “parts” of different characters — and then to comment on what you’ve heard.
What do you think the blind man learned from his experience with Jesus during this story? What about the parents of the blind man; what did they think, feel, and/or learn from this encounter? What is going on in the minds of the Jewish rulers, who are obviously getting more and more upset with Jesus? And, finally, what additional comment do you think Jesus himself would offer if you could have talked to him right after all of this happened?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“The disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?Jesus answered them, “Neither this man this man nor his parents sinned . . . “ John 9:2-3a
Seminary professor Haddon Robinson tells the story of a young woman who talked to her pastor about her sin of pride. She says, “Pastor Jill, every Sunday I come to church and look around and think to myself that I am the prettiest girl in the church. I try to stop but I just can’t. Am I horribly sinful?” Pastor Jill looked at her and said, “No dear not sinful; just horribly mistaken.”
In today’s Gospel lesson, the disciples come to Jesus to talk, not about their own sins, but the sins of others. Wondering whose sin caused the young man to be born blind. Jesus tells the disciples that they are horribly mistaken. We all understand their question. All pastors have gone to visit the hospital after someone has had a heart attack or a terrible auto accident or a diagnosis of cancer and the question comes, “What did I do to deserve this?”
A few weeks ago my mother called me with what she calls “a preacher question.” She has a pastor, but since he’s a part-time at their church she doesn’t want to bother him, so she calls me, assuming I have more free time, I suppose. She said, “Help me know what to tell Bill Smith’s grandsons. He was 61, died this week. They’re 6 and 9 and always sit with me in church. They want to know why God killed Grandpa. What do I tell them?”
My son, told me over dinner a few years ago that God was punishing him for going off his Lenten discipline. He had given up fast food for Lent but had dinner in a Burger King on the way to a basketball game and got food poisoning. I really couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not, but told him his worst sin in this case was blaming God for fast food.
In the wake of the earthquakes and tornados and tsunamis and other natural disasters, some TV preachers always decide they have to figure out what sins the people had committed that caused God to punish them.
And to all of this Jesus says, “You are horribly mistaken.”
The most important theme of Lent is “turning to and fro with God;” turning from fear to faith, from sin to grace, from the world to God, from the dark to the light. And focusing on the sinfulness or saintliness of others distracts us from paying attention to our own relationship with God; our own turning to and fro.
In the early Twentieth Century, The Times of London, a newspaper read all over England,indeed all over the world; invited famous writers to answer the question:
What is wrong with the world? In response, they got many long essays spelling out the problems and also, as a bonus, the writer’s assessment as to who was to blame.
God, the Devil, the Church, the Communists, the Fascists, White people, Black people, Asians, Hispanics, the Jews, the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese, the Moslems, and the Americans. It was women, men, “The Older Generation” and “These Young People Today.”
Christian writer GK Chesterton wrote:
What is wrong with the world? I am.
We all sometimes need this reminder, because all of us are sometimes “horribly mistaken”about the sins of others and the sins of ourselves. We have an unfortunate tendency to believe our sins are easily forgiven, but those of others, well, “…not so much.”
In the series of novels about the small town of Harmony, Indiana, Phillip Gulley’s Quaker preacher often reminds his parishioners that, “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Although those of us who are Lutherans remember Luther’s words about being “saint and sinner at the same time;” we often act as though our saintliness is better than that of others and our sinfulness not as bad. We appear to believe that, if it were only our sins that mattered, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross; just a good, stern talking to would have taken care of it. It was the sins of others that caused Christ to die. But we are “horribly mistaken.”
And the Good News is – God knows who we are, God knows what we have done, And God loves us anyway. And there is no mistaking that.
Amen and amen.