Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
“Well, there’s my youngest boy — but I doubt you’re looking for him. He’s just a shepherd.”
You can almost hear the overtones in Jesse’s voice as he dialogues with the great prophet, Samuel, can’t you? Saul — the tall, handsome, strike-fear-in-the-hearts-of-our-enemies king of Israel is on his way out. The search is on for his replacement.
Like any good call committee, Samuel and the people he represents are pretty sure THEY know what they want. What God wants may be something else entirely.
We most likely want to be very careful in our discerning of “God’s will” in our lives — the Eliabs in our lives do look awfully good sometimes. If we can, though, it’s always best to hold out until God says to us, “Now there you go; that’s what I really had in mind.”
Verse 6 seems to center this selection in its relationship to the first reading. God always helps God’s “anointed.” When God is in the midst of our choices and the direction of our lives, there is help (regardless of the number of chariots and horses we may have — or not have — at our disposal!)
What a great image: God is the one who is tall enough to break off a sprig from the topmost branch of a “lofty cedar.” Having recently returned from some vacation time among the redwoods of California, I imagine just how impossibly high the top of one of those great trees looks to be from my location down on the ground.
God’s reach is impressive, indeed!
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
Whenever I read this text, I hear the strains of Eugene Butler’s excellent choral setting, “It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks Unto the Lord.” (see a sheet music sample here, if you’re interested)
God’s presence with us is not on the clock; steadfast love in the morning, faithfulness by night — all set to the music of the lute, the harp, and the lyre. What a deal!
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Several great theological “one-liners” in this passage:
- “we walk by faith, not by sight” — very apropos when considered with the first reading
- “away from the body, at home with the Lord” — a concept that brings much comfort, eh?
- “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” — says it all, really
The kingdom of God — its spread, its flourishing, its end results — is so far beyond our control or even our imaginings that it’s hard to describe. But, as usual, Jesus’ parables do a pretty good job.
Our work matters; what we do as laborers in God’s field is important. But, ultimately, if you want to see just exactly how much it all depends on you or me, consider that God works whether we are awake or asleep. Our efforts are mustard-seed-sized in the totality of the kingdom; they could be blown away by the slightest puff of wind.
And, yet, God chooses to bless them and grow them — at times — beyond our wildest expectations.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
There’s a favorite story in my family about my grandfather Reid Chilton, who was just absolutely crazy about playing baseball. When he was a teen-ager, he lived with and worked for his uncle, a holiness preacher who didn’t hold with the foolishness of ball playing. One day Uncle Arrington knew that Reid was scheduled to play in a baseball game, so he put him to working sowing peas in the cornfield. (For the non-gardeners: this was a common practice years ago, pea vines didn’t harm the corn and grew up wrapped around the stalk.) Uncle Arrington said, “Finish sowing those peas and you can go.”
Reid was devastated, he knew he didn’t have time to plant that whole bucket of peas and ride his mule over to Dry Pond for the ball game. As he worked and fretted, he came upon a burned out stump in the middle of the field. He looked around, saw no one was looking, dumped that whole bucket of peas in the stump and covered them with dirt. He ran out of the field, showed the good reverend his empty bucket and rode off to play ball. Things were fine until several weeks later when Uncle Arrington was cultivating the field and came upon a stump over-flowing with pea vines! Grandpa always finished that story by looking wistfully into the distance and muttering, “Who knew peas would grow in an old stump?”
“. . . the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” (Mark 2:27-28) “
There is a difficult lesson here for those of us in the church who have a hard time letting go and letting the work of God take its natural, God-given course. Jesus says to us that we are to plant the seed and let God worry about the growth. Jesus says we are not responsible for making the church grow. Jesus says we are not responsible for making sure everybody “gets saved.” Jesus says we are not responsible for making the Kingdom of God a smashing success. Our job, our responsibility, our calling, is to plant the seed and reap the harvest. God is responsible for the growth.
Faith is often defined as trust, and in this case, faith is trusting that the things we do for God will turn out all right, in God’s way, in God’s time. Faith is keeping on with the work of the Gospel and trusting that in God’s own time the crop will grow, even if we never live to see it. Faith is, in part, letting go of our control over the results.
We live in a world in which people afraid of losing control; or more correctly, of letting someone or something else control their fate. We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a goal – after all, as Yogi Berra said, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else. We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a plan – a well-defined outcome and a strategy for achieving it. In the church, we create five year plans and mission strategies. Minister’s magazine are filled with analysis of what we must “do” to reverse the decline in membership or to increase giving or to have the best Christian Education program in town.
Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God; the work of grace and mercy and compassion and peace with justice in the world; works with a totally different outline. These parables remind us that we are called to do the work; indeed we are called to do the work to the best of our ability; but they also remind us that the ultimate purpose and outcome of this work is not in our hands but in God’s. Which is, I assure you, a reality that is both frustrating and reassuring. It is frustrating for those of us who don’t like to wait, who like to be in charge and in control of our own fate and destiny, who like to see progress being made, who like to be able to measure and calibrate and control. But it is also reassuring and liberating to know that, in God’s eyes, success is not judged by the size of the harvest but by the faithfulness in sowing seeds.
In our churches, we are planting seeds in God’s field, cedar sprigs on mountain tops. What they will be has not yet been revealed, but of one thing we can be assured, God has not finished the work God began in us.
We are like that stump in the cornfield just before the eruption of growth; the seeds have been planted, the ground has been cultivated, the fertilizer has been put in. We have done and continue to do our work. Our calling today is to keep doing our work and to trust God to work in and through us to grow the Kingdom.
Amen and amen.