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 (5:6-17)
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
“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul?’” (1 Sm. 16:1)
For two hundred years, ever since the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan, they had had no king but YHWH. Then, in the reading that we heard last Sunday, the people began to cry out to the prophet Samuel to give them a king “so that we also might be like other nations” (1 Sm, 8:20). Samuel clearly recognized that, in doing so, they were disregarding the fact that God has chosen them precisely so that they might not be like other nations, so that they might be different. Despite Samuel’s opposition to what the people were asking, but in accordance with God’s reluctant agreement, the prophet had anointed Saul to be king of Israel.
Over the years, Samuel and Saul’s relationship had become more and more complex. Sometimes Samuel was supportive of Saul. At others, he was his strongest critic. But now, God had come to regret the divine decision: “God was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” Samuel knew what had to be done, but still he had developed some sort of sympathy for Saul. He knew that change had to come, but he also knew how difficult it would be. As the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, pointed out over 400 years ago, “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” Change is almost always hard. And so Samuel grieved over Saul.
Yet now it was time to put the past, with both its positive and negative aspects, aside and to look toward the new thing that God was doing: to David, recognizing that he, too, would bring both positive and negative aspects to his role as king. The past was past. It was now time to move on into God’s future and to Israel’s future as well.
Even for such a great figure as the priest and prophet, Samuel, it was difficult to leave the past behind and to walk forward into an uncertain future. In this case, he was being asked to put his trust in God’s choice of a young boy with no experience other than watching out for some sheep, while the rest of his family took care of the important business. David had no obvious qualifications at all to be king. Yet with the passing of time, Samuel would come to recognize in David the qualities that would stand as the standard for judging all of Israel’s kings for centuries.
It is always hard to leave the past behind, at least our own past. We seem to be able to recognize that the ideas and approaches with which the generation older than we are grew up are no longer helpful or useful today. But it is a lot harder to recognize that the ideas and approaches with which we grew up might also very well be no longer helpful or useful today.
Over the years, for example, it has become commonplace in churches for us to acknowledge that we have to leave behind the ways of being the church and of the ways of serving as the church in the world that are associated with the relatively conservative 1950s. That is a hard thing to do for those among us who came of age and who became engaged in the life and work of the church during that era.
It is a lot easier to move away from that approach for those of us who are a few years younger and who came of age and who became engaged in the life and work of the church during the relatively more progressive, or more liberal, 1960s and 1970s. But what is harder for us to acknowledge is the fact that the age in which we grew up is also past, and that we also need to leave behind many of the ways of thinking and acting that we adopted during that era. Yet in the church and world of 2015, the approaches and the practices and the ways of thinking with which we are comfortable, approaches and practices coming out of the 1960s and 1970s, are just as out-of-date and ill-suited to the church today as the approaches and practices that came out of the 1950s. That comes as a shock to many people. They can see it in others and their thinking, but they find it much harder to see and accept it in their own. And when they recognize their own need to put the past behind and move on, they find themselves joining with Samuel in grieving over Saul.
The bad news is that we often are not sure exactly what to do or exactly what approaches to take to prepare for and move into the future. The good news is that, “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.” Ultimately, the growth of the kingdom of God is powered by God and not by us. It’s not that we don’t have a critical role to play: we certainly do. That’s why God has called us. That’s why God has commissioned us. But ultimately, it is the Spirit of God working in us and through us – and sometimes, even despite us – that brings about the growth of the kingdom.
I am sure that Samuel would have felt much better if he had been able to look into the future and see in David, not an inexperienced, young shepherd boy, but a valiant warrior and proven leader. And I am sure that we would feel much better if we could look into the future and be able to see what one hopes are positive results of our efforts. But the growth of the kingdom just doesn’t work that way. As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
It is also easy to be overwhelmed by the great work for which we have been called and sent: the work of transforming the world, remaking it in the image of what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” How few of us there are. How limited our talents are. How limited our resources are. It seems that we can do so little.
But maybe that’s all that it takes. Maybe all we need are our little mustard seed, our willingness to plant and nourish it, and a lot of trust in God who gives the growth. As the great anthropologist Margaret Mead observed: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
What is your “mustard seed”? What gift or ability, however small it may seem, has God given you to make the world a better place, to put your faith into practice, to help build up the kingdom of God? And when are you going to stop grieving over Saul and go out and plant that mustard seed, nourish it, and use it so that God can give the growth?