Third Sunday after Pentecost Year B

Sunday 9th June 2024

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, 7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me,1  from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

 10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle2  and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

Israel’s Request for a King Granted

 19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

We reflect on:

  • the role of Samuel
  • how the Lord interacted with the people of Israel, including outlining to them the consequences of having a king other than the Lord.
  • Theocracy, that is the rule of God in the world, and how it can be implemented.

Fundamental to the story of Israel are the covenants God made with them:

  • the covenant with or promise to Noah, which was a commitment to all people, not to destroy nearly all life again.
  • The covenant and promise to Abraham
  • the covenant and the law given through Moses and up to the time of Samuel, administered by the judges.

It could be argued, that a pure theocracy is based on everyone directly obeying God with no need for mediators, administrators or governments.  Israel was perhaps closest to it up to the time of Samuel, although they were bound by the covenant with God and God’s laws given through Moses. Even with the anointing of Saul, as King, it was the Lord’s intention that the king was God’s representative who would be guided by the covenant, the law and the prophets, from time to time.

The ideals of democratic societies might seem closest to the foundations for theocracy, but practically, this has not proved the case historically. None of the democracies in the world today, are pure democracies, but rather are a balance of a variety of complex issues within each nation. Beginning with Magna Carta, in England, the question of who is head of state and what powers they have, vary considerably.

The stated aim of the Islamic state to have a worldwide caliphate is one modern radical expression with the ideal of a theocracy. But again it is mediated in that it is based on the Koran, Shariel law and the accepted successor to Mohammed, the Caliph.  As seems always the case in human life, divisions within Islam, means that there is currently no universally accepted Caliph.

For us personally, given the experience of Samuel in chapter 3, where he was called by God and learnt to speak with God, whatever the future might be, we have a personal responsibility to seek God’s guidance in the way we live our lives and as Christians to work for the coming of the kingdom of God. A kingdom that is already present with humanity and discoverable within our own being and in our relationship with others, but is yet to be fulfilled.

2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Living by Faith

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.  For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

We reflect on:

  • the spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture,
  • how we speak from what we believe
  • our experience of the resurrection, our hope to be raised with Jesus, to be in his presence and the form that we will have, ‘a building from God’.
  • how faith spreads
  • our experience of our inner and outer nature
  • our experience and understanding of what is seen in what is unseen

As we can see from the points above, as usual there is so much to reflect on.

The authority and nature Scripture was touched on in last week’s commentary on Samuel and the Word (Logos).

Christians are often described as witnesses to Christ. One of the most important issues to reflect on is how we witness and what we witness to. Many Christians tend to witness by quoting Scripture and or doctrines/teachings of their particular denomination. Some who give great emphasis to the need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, make that the foundational experience that they witness to. Personally I believe the Christian journey is more complex and subtle. We need to witness to what we experience spiritually. But as Jesus said ‘do not throw your pearls before swine’, we have to be careful of the context in which we witness to our deeper experiences.

The film ‘90 minutes in Heaven’, available on Netflix, is a good example of the challenges of witnessing to our deeper experiences. The film based on the book and a true story of a Baptist pastor, Don Piper tells the story of Don’s amazing journey. He was killed in a car accident and dead for 90 minutes. There is some question as to whether he had really died, as some commentators describe it as ‘Near Death Experience’, rather than actual experience of death. Certainly the medics who attended the accident, believed he was dead.  A pastor Onarecker, who happened to be held up by the traffic jam that the accident caused, prayed with Don and he returned to life

A considerable portion of the film is devoted to Don’s painful recovery process.  Towards the end of the film, Don reveals to a pastor friend that he did not want to talk about his experience in case people would think he was mentally unstable. It is then that he describes his experience of heaven before returning. The film had shown a small portion of this experience near the beginning.

I could relate many situations and ministry, where people, both devout churchgoers and people who don’t describe themselves as religious, have had experiences that we would all gain much from. In terms of what heaven is like, which is a theme of this reading, in many subtle ways they corroborate Don’s story. I will deal with these in another post on the topic.

Perhaps it is suffice to say, that Jesus said of the resurrection ‘For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels2  in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ (Matthew 22:30 – 33)

In this passage, Paul talks about our ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ nature. Elsewhere, he speaks of how we are ‘body and spirit’ or ‘body, soul and spirit’. There is much that could be written on this but I will witness to an experience that I had just the other day where I learnt to use my spiritual body or spiritual nature to move my physical body. This was a huge step forward for me in life. In deep prayer, we can experience how our spiritual body renews our physical body and yet of course it does not last, otherwise we would not grow old and eventually die.  But our inner nature is renewed and is growing all the time as we journey to know God as God already knows us.  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Another critical issue of faith that this passage raises is what we mean by ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’?

This is a central concept of the Nicene Creed: ‘we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.’

Note the phrase of all that ‘is’. This statement establishes a unity before stating a dichotomy. Consequently, ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’, need to be seen as relative terms. We might say that ‘unseen’ really means things that we don’t normally see, but can see sometimes, as with Don Piper, but things that one day we will see.

The research of theoretical physics has given us insight into many aspects of the universe that were once ‘unseen’.

The Christian hope is that one day we will meet the Lord face-to-face, or as Paul says in this reading, we will be in the presence of Jesus.

Mark 3:20 – 35

and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The True Kindred of Jesus

 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters3  are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We reflect on:

  • as mentioned above, that when people see or experience things that are not normative to their worldview, they often see the person causing or related to them as ‘gone out of his mind’. Obviously this is very complex and one of the key concepts is that discernment needs to be exercised.
  • Do we ascribe any reality to the world of Satan and demons and if so how do we experience them, if we do?
  • How do we understand what is meant by ‘blaspheming against the Holy Spirit’?

The tragedy of our society is that people who have genuine experiences, like Don Piper, can be seen as having lost their minds. It is true that some people with mental health issues, have delusional experiences. But modern science, especially psychiatry, has gone too far in the opposite direction and often labels people as mentally ill, who in fact are having genuine spiritual experiences. Samuel might well been locked up today!

I think it’s fair to say, that there is more about the daemonic realm, in the new Testament than in the old Testament. Beginning with Jesus encounter with Satan when he was fasting in the desert, the power of Satan and demons is regularly dealt with by Jesus. Not that we should go looking for the daemonic, but we need to be aware that we can be influenced, affected and even in some cases, possessed by demonic beings. Having said this is important for us to realise that if we experience a daemonic attack, generally we can repel it in the name of Jesus.

In the Last Supper discourse as recorded by John, Jesus describes the power of Satan but also how his death and resurrection will ultimately end Satan’s power.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people5  to myself.” (John 12:31 – 32)

This is one of my favourite passages in the whole of the new Testament. Not only does it speak of the ultimate overthrowing of the power of evil, but it speaks of the universal impact of Jesus death and resurrection. This text cannot be emphasised enough ‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’.

I have often wanted to go to a baseball game in America and sit beside somebody who is holding up a placard John 3:16 ‘“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’. I would like to hold up a placard John 12:31 – 32.

In terms of the sin against the Holy Spirit, there has been much discussion throughout the history of the church as to what this means. Put simply Jesus seems to say that to call something that is holy, evil, is to sin against the Holy Spirit. This should be a warning for us as it affects every area of our life and particularly what we believe and what we claim to be God’s truth.

Carlton Pearson, in a film on Netflix ‘Come Sunday’, goes through a life transforming experience that costs him the mega Pentecostal church that he had built up and for a time, his ministry. He has since rebuilt his ministry on a completely different foundation.

Carlton Pearson’s ministry was initially based on the premise that whoever had not accepted or experienced Jesus in their life, would go to hell forever. One day whilst watching television and nursing his young child, he saw scenes of children in Africa dying of starvation. He reflected on what hope they had and how they could be saved. Through this his whole perspective changed and he felt that God was saying to him, that everyone was saved. The role of Christian ministry was to help people recognise this. Most of his church and his peers could not accept this change. If we gave more emphasis to Jesus saying, as quoted above, ‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’, we might well come to believe is Carlton Pearson did.

For myself the teaching of eternal damnation is a sin against the Holy Spirit, a sin that denies the essential love of God for all people. The complexities of this issue I will deal with in another post.

Giving emphasis to John 12:32, an inclusive text as opposed to John 316, which on face value seems an exclusive text, raises an important issue of scriptural interpretation. Exclusive text are important for our development and to challenge us, but ultimately, they are overridden by inclusive texts.

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