Sunday 3rd of June 2018
Today is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost. Previously these Sundays were called ‘Ordinary Sundays’ and in the book of common prayer tradition, ‘Sundays after Trinity’. The modern terminology gives greater emphasis to the importance of Pentecost than Trinity Sunday. The Sundays after Pentecost conclude at the end of November with the celebration of ‘Christ the King’. This concludes the church year and a new cycle begins with the season of Advent.
During the Sundays after Pentecost the focus of the Gospels is on the teaching of Jesus and various encounters and things he did, including his miracles. Generally, the readings have a loose thematic connection but also follow their own sequence, but not totally sequential. In other words, there will be times when the passage for the current Sunday will have skipped ahead to some extent. As we are in year B, the gospel readings are from Saint Mark.
For the old Testament reading, this Sunday is the 1st of 11 Sundays where we read through the 1st and 2nd books of Samuel. This is followed by only 2 Sundays with excerpts from the book of Kings.
The Epistle for the next 6 Sundays is from 2nd Corinthians.
Introduction to the book of Samuel
In the online site ‘Bible Study Tools’, the writer says of the books of Samuel
“1 and 2 Samuel are named after the person God used to establish monarchy in Israel. Samuel not only anointed both Saul and David, Israel’s first two kings, but he also gave definition to the new order of God’s rule over Israel. Samuel’s role as God’s representative in this period of Israel’s history is close to that of Moses (see Ps 99:6; Jer 15:1) since he, more than any other person, provided for covenant continuity in the transition from the rule of the judges to that of the monarchy. “ Https://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/1-samuel/
In these two books, Samuel is portrayed as a true prophet who hears from the Lord and the words he hears from God are fulfilled.
The transition to establishing the monarchy in Israel was complex. To understand the complexity, we need to realise the historical situation. The time was long before the birth of democracy in Athens. Kings were seen to have a divine power from the gods of the culture of which they were the King. The Lord through Samuel did not want Israel to have a king as it could be damaging to the theocracy. But the Israelites insisted and the Lord relinquished and gave them a king. It was to be a theocratic kingdom. This type of kingdom can still be seen in the British monarchy where the Queen is the temporal head and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head. The Queen appoints the Archbishop from a list of names which protocols determine whom she will choose.
There is another interesting phenomenon recorded in these books which is the role of bands of prophets and their prophetic frenzies. When Samuel anointed Saul, in the process of him becoming king, Samuel gave him these instructions:
5 After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim,2 at the place where the Philistine garrison is; there, as you come to the town, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy. 6 Then the spirit of the LORD will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person. (1 Samuel 10:5 – 6)
This is a phenomenon that we don’t necessarily see today in most churches, although it might apply to some Pentecostal churches. We do well to reflect upon what this phenomenon might be and what it might mean for us and our life in the church and particularly in worship.
The historical period that these books cover and this is only an approximate chronology, is from the birth of Samuel in 1105 b.c.e to the end of David’s reign in 970 b.c.e. (B.C.E. stands for ‘Before the Common Era. A.D. now being generally described as the ‘Common Era’)
1 Samuel 3:1 – 10
Today’s passage from 1 Samuel 3, follows the story of his birth. His mother, Hannah, was one of Elkanah’s two wives, but she was barren. In a story that has parallels to the birth of John the Baptist and also, to some extent, Jesus, she prays fervently that she might have a child. With the help of Eli, the priest, her prayer is answered and she gave birth to Samuel, having promised to dedicate him as a Nazirite. She promised the Lord ‘until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants,5 and no razor shall touch his head’. (1 Samuel 1:4 – 5).
After Samuel’s birth, Hannah dedicated him to the Lord leaving him in the service of Eli the priest. Chapter 2 opens with Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving which has interesting parallels to the Magnificat of Mary, Jesus’ mother. (Luke 1:46 – 55)
Chapter 3 is the authenticating of Samuel’s call as a prophet and his standing with the Lord. There are a number of important insights for us in this passage to contemplate and reflect on:
- The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread
This helps us to realise that there can be times in our lives and in human life when God seems to be absent and there is no clarity. We don’t necessarily understand the purpose, just as the people of Israel did not understand why they had to experience hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt before God sent Moses to liberate them, so we don’t understand why there are times when God seems absent. The Bible is full of encouragement to us to persevere, knowing that one day God will respond, just as he responded to Hannah in her time of desperation and the Israelites in their time of need. Reflect upon Paul’s encouragement in our Epistle reading, as another example.
- Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
This causes us to reflect deeply on what it means to ‘know the LORD’ and have the Word of the Lord revealed to us. We, as human beings, tend to read history backwards and in so doing, make a lot of assumptions. The Reformation emphasis on the Bible as the ‘Word of God’, or as in the Anglican churches 39 articles, ‘God’s Word written, can be misleading. We can put too much focus on the written word. It is not clear what written Scriptures Israel had at this time. The Ark of the covenant contained the stone tablets upon which were written the 10 Commandments. Scholars debate as to whether the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, traditionally regarded as being written by Moses were in existence at the time, that is whether they were written by Moses. This is a complex debate which we cannot go into here, but I am of the opinion that Moses wrote some parts of possibly all of these books but that later editors completed the process. Certainly, there were oral traditions which these books were based on. What is clear is that the phrase ‘the Word of God’ had quite a different meaning to that which it came to have, particularly at the Reformation and the understanding of God’s Word written.
In the context of this passage it seems to point to recognising God’s Voice or recognising how God speaks to us. This theme is one of the central themes of the whole Bible. Put simply it is about how we know God and how God communicates with us.
Space does not permit me to explore this in detail, except to touch on a few of the profound moments on this theme, revealed in the Scriptures.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve communicate directly with God. After being tempted by the devil, their relationship with God seems to diminish as symbolised by them experiencing God as walking in the garden. This diminishment or separation becomes even greater after they are cast out of the garden of Eden.
When Adam and Eve are tempted by the snake, in Christian tradition seen as the devil, they listened to another voice and consequently disobey God. It is interesting that in the Hebrew, the word for snake is ‘nakash’, one of its meaning is occult whispering voices. Consequently, we see human beings faced with a fundamental choice; of learning to listen to God’s voice and not other voices that are not of God. Thus learning to recognise God’s voice is one of the fundamental themes of Scripture.
After their banishment from the garden of Eden, we hear no more about Adam and Eve, but the scriptural stories focus on people who hear from God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Elijah et cetera. One of the main themes of the books of Kings explore how to recognise a true prophet. The prophet Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets and because of the way he was taken into heaven, was expected to return before the Messiah came. It was Elijah who heard God speak in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). The Hebrew word for the still small voice is ‘demamah’, which is an onomatopoeic word referring to a soft murmuring sound.
It is also important to note that the whole biblical process of determining the Canon of Scripture is a discernment process as to who reveals or speaks God’s Word.
The coming of Jesus adds another whole dimension. The book of Hebrews begins “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,” (Hebrews 1:1 – 2)
John in his 1st letter begins by saying “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life”
This leads us to the text that is the pinnacle for our reflection upon the Word of God and that is the prologue to John’s gospel.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,1 and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.2 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,3 and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,4 full of grace and truth. (John 1:1 – 14)
In Greek there are two main words for word: logos and rhema. They are like two over lapping circles where logos at its heart means the word that is life, but also of the thought or feeling that many words describe, or the meaning of a passage of many words but also to a lesser extent the spoken word. Rhema refers mainly to spoken words but also thoughts or words in the mind.
In the prologue, it is a Greek word ‘logos’ that is used.
Ultimately, for us as Christians, having the Word revealed to us is to experience the Word of God, Jesus, within our very being, as our true life.
Thomas A Kempis, in his 14th century book ‘the imitation of Christ’, says of those who experience the word
“Those to whom the eternal word speaks are delivered from uncertainty. From one Word proceeds all things, and all things tell of Him; it is He, the Author of all things, who speaks to us. Without Him no one can understand or judge aright. But the man to whom all things are one, who refers everything to One, is enabled to remain steadfast in heart, and abide at peace with God.”
In terms of modern theoretical physics and how they are now able to detect the resonance of the ‘Big Bang’, it might be that this is the energy of the Word of God, the logos.
- Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
It is good to pause and pray and meditate on what Samuel’s experience might have been as the Lord came and stood there and also the extent to which we give God space to speak by us listening in our times of prayer.
If we were to read on in the 3rd chapter of the 1st book of Samuel, to verse 20, which is a lectionary option, we hear that the word given to Samuel is to tell Eli of God’s punishment on the house of Eli, for the sins committed by his sons. It seems a very harsh punishment, yet in the light of the harshness of the punishment, Eli’s response is extraordinary “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.” (1 Samuel 3:18)
2 Corinthians 4:5 – 12
we reflect upon
- being slaves for Jesus sake, submitting ourselves to God in Christ.
- our experience of the light of God in our hearts
- the mystery of our baptismal life where we die with Christ in order to rise with him or as Paul says ‘carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies’.
As is so often the case in Scripture a few words can be laden with meaning. When Paul says ‘for it is the God who said, “let light shine out of darkness” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, he touches into the very nature of God and the light of God, who is the Word referred to by John in his prologue.
To speak of the light of God leads us into deeply mystical reflections. There is the eternal light of God, which is uncreated and it is the light, it is the life of everyone who comes into the world. That light is our very life. There is also the created light of God, when on the 1st day of creation as recorded in the book of Genesis God said ‘let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3). This is not the light of the sun and moon that we are familiar with for these lights were only created on the 4th day. This is a created light that is experienced as a manifestation of the eternal light. It is a light that permeates the whole of creation as part of the uncreated light. The Jews describe it as the ‘Shekinah’ , the glory of God. As Paul prays in Ephesians,
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, (or that you may see his light) you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God6 put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:17 – 20)
Finally, Paul in speaking of us carrying in our bodies ‘the death of Jesus’, speaks of the mystery of our suffering in this life. Not only do humans suffer for their own sins, which are part of Christ’s sufferings, but we suffer for the sins of others that we might ‘have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’.
Mark 2:23 – 3:6
we meditate on:
- the authority of Jesus as described earlier in this chapter where Jesus says ‘that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ (Mark 2:10) and how in this passage the ‘Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’
- how we reflect upon the words of Scripture looking for the deeper meaning whereby apparent contradictions are resolved.
- How do we experience the phenomenon that Jesus described as ‘hardness of heart’.
In the light of our reflections upon the Word of God, we see how Jesus calls us to look deeper into our understanding of life. Jesus, the Word of God, holds all things in unity. Hence his summary of the law to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself’. He calls us to see the whole of Scripture, the whole of life in the light of God’s love. We do well to reflect upon how hardness of heart might affect the way we interpret the Scriptures.
For some reflections upon how we experience the Word of God in prayer and meditation. See the pamphlet on my website https://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/c93.a7d.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Prayer-Meditation-ed2016-a5.pdf