A Reading from the First Book of Samuel (15:34-16:13)
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel. The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, *
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
2 Send you help from his holy place *
and strengthen you out of Zion;
3 Remember all your offerings *
and accept your burnt sacrifice;
4 Grant you your heart’s desire *
and prosper all your plans.
5 We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the Name of our God; *
may the Lord grant all your requests.
6 Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed; *
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.
7 Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, *
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.
8 They collapse and fall down, *
but we will arise and stand upright.
9 O Lord, give victory to the king *
and answer us when we call.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17)
We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. [Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.] For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (4:26-34)
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and 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. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel. The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out. ” (1 Samuel 15:35 – 16:1)
Samuel had not had an easy life. He had been born to an elderly couple, Hannah and Elkanah. In fulfillment of a promise that his mother had made to God, she had given him, when he was still a young child, to the priest, Eli, to raise to be his assistant and to become a life-long priest and servant of God. When Samuel grew up and assumed a prominent leadership role in Israel, he faced tremendous obstacles as the people struggled for survival during multiple attacks by their enemies and as he struggled to keep them faithful to God. By the time that Samuel had grown old, his sons had proven to be corrupt and unfit to succeed him. Then, as we heard in last Sunday’s first reading, the elders of the people rejected God’s vision for Israel by demanding that Samuel appoint for them a king so that they could be like other nations.
Despite his personal opposition, Samuel once again did what God called him to do. He appointed for them a king: Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin. At first, Saul was able to do what the people wanted him to do: to lead them to victory over their enemies. But soon, he began to respond to the demands of the people rather than those of Samuel and of God. Later, he would begin to break down mentally and emotionally, becoming paranoid and sinking into deep depressions. It became obvious that Saul was no longer capable of serving as king. Samuel clearly saw the handwriting on the wall even before God told him that Saul’s reign must come to an end.
Despite the fact that Samuel had opposed the idea of Israel having a human king to begin with, he had resigned himself to the new reality. He had anointed Saul and had interacted with him on God’s behalf for years. And, when it became clear that Saul was no longer God’s choice and that his time as king would have to come to an end, “Samuel grieved over Saul.”
Grief is a natural part of human life and, it seems, of at least some other creatures’ lives as well. We grieve at the death of those we love. We grieve when injury or serious illness or the debilitating effects of old age deprive us of some of the abilities and freedoms that we used to enjoy. We grieve when certain phases of our lives come to an end, or when we lose our jobs, or when places or relationships that were an important part of our lives are no more. And some people grieve even when other significant aspects of their lives change. We certainly see that in churches, where people often become more attached to “the way things used to be” than they do in most other parts of their lives.
There are, for example, some in the Episcopal Church who have moved from parish to parish, trying to find some church that still does things the way that they did half a century or more ago. Among the breakaway churches, there is one in the Dayton area that bases its worship on the 1662 English Prayer Book. (Maybe the American Revolution is still too revolutionary for them!) Just about five minutes from here is a Roman Catholic parish that has reverted to a form of the Mass that was used, in Latin of course, prior to the Second Vatican Council. Churches in other denominations experience similar attempts by people to avoid change and to retreat into the past, or at least into the past as they imagine it to have been. Some people grieve and try to resist change as if, by refusing to acknowledge it, it will simply go away. But life just doesn‘t work that way.
Change is inevitable, but change can be difficult and painful even when it is handled well; and it can be handled well. Former St. Mark’s parishioner, the Rev. Judith Doran, has developed a specialized ministry in this diocese, serving churches that are moving from a full-time to a part-time clergy presence and helping them through that transition. Our own Deacon, George Snyder, spent nearly three years serving three churches, two of which were going through a similar time of change, and the third of which was in the process of closing completely. All of these changes can be difficult and even painful. All can bring grief.
But grief over “what was” need not be the end of the story. As Samuel was grieving over the end of Saul’s kingship, God pointed to a new beginning: “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out.” The time for looking to that past was over. It was now time to accept the new reality and begin again. It was now time for Samuel to set out once more, focusing not on the past but on the future. And the future in this case, proved to be far brighter than the past had ever been. It began with the anointing of God’s chosen one, David, to reign as king.
I wonder: in what parts of our lives, and in what parts of our lives as a church, might we have allowed ourselves to become stuck in grief for what once was? In what ways have we stopped there, holding onto nostalgic memories of life as we remember it. That “as we remember it” part is important, too. I’ve always like the definition of nostalgia as “a longing to return to a time that never was.” Is that where we still live, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – in the past, maybe even in an idealized past that never really was?
If and when we do, maybe God is calling to us, just as God once called to Samuel: “How long will you grieve over Saul? Remember the past, learn from it, treasure it, give thanks for it – but then get up, get ready, and get moving on what I have planned for you now and in the future.”
That is a hard thing for us to do – for some people more than others. It is hard, among other things, simply because we can’t see what is ahead; we can’t always see where we are going. The past we see in our memories; the future, we don’t. But then, for people who trust in God, whether we see what is ahead is not the most important thing. What is of prime importance is that God sees what is ahead, where God is leading us. As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”
It is by faith that we make our small, usually tentative, first steps into the future, trusting not in ourselves, but in the one who leads us, the one who is at work in us making all things new. And just as those who followed Samuel found themselves amazed by Israel’s great new beginning in David, we too might find ourselves amazed at the great new beginnings that God is making among God’s people in our time. And with St. Paul, we might find ourselves proclaiming, with wide eyes and open hearts, with praise and with thanksgiving, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”