Sunday, November 19, 2017

sermon for November 19


The reading

Isaiah 9:1-7

1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this

The message

I didn’t use most of this sermon this morning.  Throughout the week, I just kept feeling like I was not exactly saying what I wanted to.  I felt like it was just too informational, sharing facts that you could look up in bible study notes or on websites.  As much as I value knowing the context and history of a reading, I wanted to focus on something much more significant, what this reading means for us today in our darkness.  I preached without this manuscript and focused on a few points. 

I honestly had a hard time figuring out what this text was about, what word there was for us today in it. I do not say that too often, since it’s kind of my job to know these things and I don’t like standing up here saying I don’t know how to do my job.  On Monday, I read through it and thought, oh, that’s easy, it’s the scripture quote we see on Christmas cards all the time, with the words  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace written over snow covered winter church scenes, nativities, stars, decorated Christmas trees or other familiar holiday sites.  By Wednesday morning, I was still stuck, so I turned to some commentaries and online groups.  There I was met by statements from scholars like “this is one of the most mysterious passages in Isaiah” and fellow pastors writing “I have no idea what to do with this reading” or “im going to use another text”. Aside from helping me not feel alone in my confusion, not much else there.  

One of the most odd aspects of this reading is that things that will happen in the future are written about as though they occurred already. This passage in written in a style or part of grammar known as the present perfect. For Isaish, if God shows him it will happen, it is as good as seeing it happen.  That is why the prophet talks of events that will happen in the future as if they occurred already.  That is how we should live our faith.  

This prophesy is for the people in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, a small corner of the kingdom of Israel, a place know as Galilee of the gentiles.   Galilee was a significant city in Israel, with diversity and strong religious faith. In contrast, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali,  was seen as less spiritual and less pure, a diverse place, significant but not exactly faithful. There were many non-Jews in the city and many people who followed other religions.  There was a series of bad things that happened in the area, defeats and disasters, that lead people to think this place and its ways of life were not pleasing to the Lord.  The areas immediately around them were taken over by the Assyrians who established their own cities there. This was not a place where light was expected to shine, if God were to visit the world, this would not be the first stop. (Centuries later, we learn, Jesus the messiah, would be born in an unexpected place, a barn in Bethelelm, to a poor, unknown family)    

People who try to see the Old Testament outside of a Christian context suggest that the hero figure in this reading, the wonderful counselor and prince of peace refers to King Hezekiah, one of the great leaders of Israel, with a long, faithful and successful reign.  King Hezekiah, as much as he did, unlikely but may be called wonderful counselor or prince of peace, but would definitely not be called “mighty God or everlasting father. 

When a passage starts with the word “but” or “nevertheless”, it’s probably important to read the verses before it.   In Isaiah 8, we learn what the darkness is that had covered the land, blinding the people and sending them to seek help in all the wrong places.  Isaiah 9 is talking about a very specific type of Darkness. The people were not so happy with God’s answers or speed and they were seeking guidance and advice from other places, namely some types of divination (psychic things like reading tea leaves, cards and communicating with the dead).  They did not even realize they were in darkness.  
 In Isaiah 8, we hear  Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living,  for teaching and for instruction?” surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn!  They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry; when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their gods. They will turn their faces upward,  or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

The contrast between darkness and light is a familiar theme in the bible. We see it here with the prophets and we will see it throughout John’s Gospel when we start that book in a few weeks.   Darkness means things that are hidden and uncertain, things that make us anxious.  Once the promised person comes, divination, guessing and all that will no longer be necessary, once the wonderful counselor comes, he will make God’s plan known. 

While the Prophet Isaiah is writing about a very specific issue, today, we have dug out all kinds of new caves, places of darkness, places where people go unnoticed, where people are crying out for someone to see them.   Today, we have people in economic, digital, drug induced and social darkness. We have a opioid crisis, we have online bullying, mass shootings, individual shootings, a lot of people in prison, a lot of inequality, a lot of  racism, a lot of people left out or ignored, a lot of doubts, of each other and religion and everything else.  

Against this, we have a promise The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. One of the most aggravating experiences I have is when people say “you don’t understand, you don’t get it, you have not been there. It bothers me partially because it’s annoying to hear but mostly because it’s true.  I glance by most of this darkness, offering a word of prayer or time of listening but not much else.  We have to stop trying to be the light and let ourselves see the light. Today, we see the light in the midst of the darkness, the place where it shines the brightest. 

The next time you send a Christmas card, saying  The light has shined in the darkness, a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, remember it might be going to someone desperate to hear that news.    

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon for November 12



The Reading

Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24

1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2 And he said: The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.

5:14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the 
Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

5:21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The messsage
Today, we start a series of readings on the prophets that will take us from now until Christmas Eve when we start the Gospel of John.  We have completed about 2 months with the Old Testament books of the Torah or law and history.  We have heard the stories of God calling people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel and King David.  We ended this series with the story of King Solomon, given a time of peace and building the first temple in Jerusalem and the Prophet Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal, a god worshipped by many of the tribes that surrounded Israel. During all of these years, political, social and religious life for the people of Israel is one  of chaos, there are moments of great victory and depressing defeat, years of peace and joy and years of war and anxiety. They are helped by faithful and efficient leaders and set back by downright terrible, faithless or ineffective leaders. Throughout all this time, the covenant that God made with Abraham, the agreement that if you keep my commandments I will be your God and you will be my people, is always part of decisions, religious and social life.   

The work of the prophets stretches over a few hundred years, from around 800 years before the birth of Jesus to about 400 years before Jesus birth.  Their recorded books include the works of 3 major prophets and 12 minor prophets. This division is not based on importance, simply on the length of the books, Prophets like Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the group or school known as Isaiah left long works of 30 plus chapters, while prophets like Amos, Jonah and Habakkuk left only a few pages.   There are also the recorded words and actions of prophets like Elijah and Elisha in the historical books.   

The word Prophet simply means God’s messenger or someone who speaks God’s word to the world.  Each one shared condemning words on the ways of the community, addressed the growing level of compliancy or going through the motions in worship and faith,  dire warnings about things to come and joyful news of restoration in the midst of great suffering, confusion or anxiety. They spoke at difficult times, as the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians,, as God left the city, as the people were exiled and their faith forgotten, as they lost wars to powerful enemies, lost lands and lived in self-inflicted inequality that went against God’s law and God’s vision for a diverse and equal world.

The prophets, as diverse and different as they were shared 2 great promises, 1: God has not forgotten God’s people or God’s promises and 2: God would do something extraordinary to restore the world. (a promise fulfilled in the birth of Jesus centuries later)  There are no promises that bad things will never happen to good people in the world. Instead there are warnings acknowledging that they will and that God will be present in that suffering. There are no preoccupations with the end of the world.  Instead, the prophets are very concerned with how people lived here and now.  It is also important to realize the prophets did not share their opinions, their well-researched observations or the ideas of their favorite teacher, they share a word from God, news that came in visions, unexpected encounters with the Lord and callings they did not seek. These are inspired words.    

For context today, to help understand what the prophet’s work was like, we can ask and wonder things like what will Pastor Frank Pomeroy of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas say this morning as they gather, if they gather, for worship in the place where almost 30 people were killed at church service last week.  What will God’s word to that community be, will anyone show up to hear it.  What news can be shared with a community that has lost so much. What about the 10s of millions of other people gathered at church right now, who feel a little less safe, who are looking at strangers or new visitors with great suspicion, who are locking doors that were never locked before.  I have my opinions on what should be said and done and I think they are really awesome and brilliant but prophesy is not about opinions. Instead of sharing them, I will simply promise to pray about it and wait to see what I hear.     

No one should look forward to hearing from the prophets.  No one should leave church feeling good about how things are going on in the world after a Sunday with them.  Even the prophets of ancient Israel, whose work was an accepted and understood part of religious life and government, end up hated, ignored, dismissed as liars, angry, killed, hungry, isolated, tired, exiled, hanging out in a whale, too depressed to move or crying under a small tree. 

Today, we meet Amos:  He was one of the few prophets who worked during a time of relative  peace.  He shared the word of God during the very long reign of King Jeroboam II ( 788-747). This was a time of peace during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel gained a lot of land and great prosperity.  A few elites in Israel had accumulated great wealth and personal empires as they captured and maintained control over huge amounts of the things God had given to the community.  This led to great injustice and inequality.  By manipulating debt and credit systems, and abusive loan practices wealthy landowners virtually enslaved a great number of their neighbors.   

Amos, an outsider from a small village in the Southern Kingdom, a shepherd doing work no one else wants to do, is give the word to speak out against this system.  Amos’ words are not nice.  They are violent and nasty.  He warns people living in great comfort and peace that they will be defeated and thrown into exile, he tells the religious leaders in the temple that God hates their practices and rejects their offerings, he condemns the nation of Israel for allowing such great inequality to persist and for being so greedy with the gifts of God .    There is a famous encounter between Amos and Amaziah, the high priest at the temple in Bethel. Amaziah is angered by Amos’ words (as was anyone in power or wealth). Amaziah tells on Amos to the king, accusing Amos of being a false prophet and speaking for himself.  He tries to rid the kingdom of this annoying voice of judgment and change, saying  “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there;  but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom”.  To this Amos shares a series of curses even Martin Luther would be proud of  “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,  and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’ Standing in the way of prophesy, trying to stop God’s word from being heard, is a dangerous business. 

Today, we hear Amos’ words a lot.  Every time someone says “our thoughts and prayers” are with the victims of a tragedy or disaster and then does nothing to change the things that lead to it or do anything to help with relief efforts, we think of Amos’ words.  Every time someone urges us to say thank you to veterans or sings a special song for them but does nothing to help those who are having a hard time returning from service and war, we think of Amos words.   I have not said too much about our actual texts this morning, we hear it all the time. We sit with it all the time. Amos’ words on inequality, meaningless worship and the justice of God have not changed, they would be just as rejected and poorly received in our world as they were in his.  We would assume he was pointing at other people, at other groups, nations or churches, we would yeah that’s right and assume this word was meant for someone else. We would make posters that proudly declared Let justice roll like water, without thinking about what we do and participate in and stand quietly by and watch or considering what that Justice would do to our lives.   Prophesy is about listening and then doing.   The meaning and power in today’s reading is not about this 10 minute message or hour worship, it’s what we do after it, its about what we do because of it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sermon for October 29



The reading

1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13

5:1 Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David. 2 Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, 3 "You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. 4 But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. 5 So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, "Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.'

8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 2 All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3 And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. 4 So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 5 King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 7 For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 8 The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 12 Then Solomon said, "The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever."

The message 

For the 500th time, Happy Reformation Day.

Today, we mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses, a call to debate with the Roman Catholic Church about the sale of indulgences, authority of priests and forgiveness of sins. As much as we imagine a big scene or great spectacle, nothing seemed out of the ordinary that morning 5 centuries ago. As a monk and university professor in Old Testament, publically posting ideas for debate was a normal part of Luther’s work, it was his job. Luther’s words were way more vicious and confrontational than the usual call to debate and the newly invented printing press allowed him to widely share his ideas like no protester ever before. 

The Reformation was not one man’s battle against the Roman Catholic Church.   Luther’s opponent was sin. You were not polite or civil when you confronted evil and sin. The Reformers  were confronting  the most dangerous of sin, one that had captured the church. They were fighting sin that was pretending to be the word of God, deceiving people into thinking it was the word of God.  The very church, entrusted by Jesus to share the comfort of the Gospel, to share God’s gift of faith in the saving power of his death and resurrection, were doing the opposite. The church was abusing this authority to raise money, putting a price tag on God’s free gift. 

Luther originally thinks he is doing the church a big service. He believed that the Pope and religious authorities in Rome did not know about the abuses that were going on regarding the sale of indulgences. This fundraiser to build St Peters was creating tremendous emotional and spiritual pain for faithful people.  Luther never really intended to divide the church. It seems like he expected the 95 Theses to be a welcome correction, an enlightening and frightening note on the sorry state of the church that would inspire or force change.  In some ways, that actually happens. In the 1540s and 1550s, the Pope and political leaders hold a series of meetings called the Council of Trent.  While rejecting Protestant Theology (by surprisingly narrow votes in some cases) and defending Roman Catholic traditions and beliefs, they also cleaned up a lot of the abuses and injustices that the Reformers were protesting.

With the help of other leaders, being connected to and concerned with people and their use of existing media, the 95 Theses, a routine part of academic and religious life at the time becomes the Protestant Reformation. Over the past few weeks, in preparation for today, we have looked at our readings and different parts of the faith that inspired and grew out of the Reformation.  We looked at Luther’s catechisms, biblical commentaries and other works.  If you missed church, forgot things, or were here but just not listening, all of the things I said can be summarized in the first words of our opening hymn: The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,  That is the inspiration and meaning of the Reformation in 9 familiar words.

Foundations are important, especially if you like being in building that do not fall down or part of a church that makes sense.  In our reading today, we learn that David was not a good foundation for the temple. King David lead Israel for 40 years, uniting the northern and southern kingdoms and defeating all of their enemies in war. He receives the promise that the Messiah will come from his family line and composes many of the Psalms. One thing David does not do is build the temple.  David planned to and wanted to but in 1 Chronicles 22, we learn the word of the Lord came to David, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of peace. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name.  David plans out and instructs his son Solomon on how to build the temple but does not see the project started and never prays there.    Solomon was not a good foundation for the temple either.  The only reason Solomon can build the temple is that God creates and enforces an unusual time of peace.  

Luther is not a good foundation for our church.  That’s a strange thing to say in a Lutheran Church. Thankfully our church is not built on Luther, it’s built on God’s grace, expressed through the life death and resurrection of Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  There were many ridiculous and outlandish things Luther claimed.  Being the church’s foundation was never one of them. In 1522 Luther writes I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians. Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 3:4-5 would not suffer that the Christians should call themselves of Paul or of Peter, but Christian. How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name? It should not be dear friends. Let us extinguish all factious names and be called Christians whose doctrine we have. The pope's men rightly have a factious name because they are not satisfied with the doctrine and name of Christ and want to be with the pope, who is their master. I have not been and will not be a master. Along with the church I have the one general teaching of Christ who alone is our master.  In other words, The church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.   

The only reason Luther eventually allows and tolerates the designation of ”Lutheran” is that it becomes necessary to distinguish Protestants from one another  (In the years after 1517, there is a great deal of disagreement among Reformers around the sacraments and other theological issues).  Luther does more than his fair share to fuel these fights. He called people names, unrelentingly attacked opponents, said outrageous things and exaggerated political and social events to support his points.  Even other reformers, united in the war against sin, but disagreeing with Luther on particular issues were mocked, made fun of and called morons (or Luther’s favorite, a bag of crap).  Luther was listened to. In cases like the Peasants revolt of 1525, when he changed sides and supported the nobility, Luther’s aggressive words led to death for people.
 
In 1546, at the funeral service for Luther, Philip Melanchthon, another pastor professor who taught with Luther and an integral leader of the Reformation, celebrates and lifts up Luther’s accomplishments, things like translating the bible into German, confronting the Roman Catholic Church, writing the catechisms and composing hymns.  Melanchthon also addresses Luther’s severe words,  Some by no means evil-minded persons, however, express a suspicion that Luther manifested too much asperity (roughness). I will not affirm the reverse, but only quote the language of Erasmus, “God has sent in this latter age a violent physician on account of the magnitude of the existing disorders” Melanchthon does not make excuses for Luther’s words, he simply observing  that the world was so sick with sin and corruption, the cure needed to be violent to drive those things away. 

Despite all the people Luther considered enemies and called morons or bags of crap, the real enemy was sin. Some of the most insidious forms of sin or tools of the devil were the ideas that we could save ourselves from sin by good works and the pride that caused people to overlook Jesus and find other foundations.   The only way to confront that sin was the word of God clearly shared and the waters of Baptism that contained God’s promises, The only way to get rid of those sins was telling the news Christ is risen from the dead, A few fancy papers from the pope cannot stop sin, trying our best to be okay people cannot stop sin, feeling very sorry for being bad cannot stop sin, taking monastic vows cannot stop sin,   The only tools we have to stop sin are the declaration “because Christ is Risen from the dead, your sins are forgiven” and the words “I baptize you in the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, the promise that you are part of the kingdom of God because Jesus dragged you there, while you were kicking and screaming and trying to get away. For Luther any foundation that was not Jesus Christ our Lord, any attempt to maintain the church that did not have water and the word, those things were all too weak to withstand sin and had to be destroyed so they could not deceive others.  

Perhaps, more than anything else, that is what we celebrate today, Luther as an example that with the church’s one foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord and with the power of water and the word,  we can make things different.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sermon for October 22



The readings 

1 Samuel 16

1 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." 2 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.' 3 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." 4 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?" 5 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. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." 7 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." 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." 11 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." 12 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." 13 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.

Psalm 51

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

The message

This morning, we hear the first moments of King David’s story.  As Saul, Samuel and David participate in the religious life and political leadership of Israel, it will be a story filled with conspiracies, civil war, failure, a war between David and his own son, political chaos, repentance, victory and the building of the kingdom of Israel.  Martin Luther wrote a lot on King David, assuming he was the author of Luther’s beloved Psalms and seeing him as a model of repentance.  If we could pick one thing that started the Protestant Reformation, it would be repentance or getting rid of sin, taking away the things that separate us from God.  Before getting into that part, I wanted to share some background on Today’s reading.  Last week, we heard the first time God spoke to Samuel and our Reformation theme was accepting God’s will and ultimately recognizing that God is in control of the world and the church. I wanted to fill in some gaps between the call of Samuel and the anointing of David.

A few years before today’s reading, God sent Samuel to anoint Saul as the first King of Israel. After some time of service (about 2 years), the Lord rejects Saul as king.  This rejection is because Saul disobeys the Lord and does not really repent. Saul offers a sacrifice to the Lord that appears to be offensive (for reasons that are unclear).   Saul also directly disregards a word from the Lord. He told to completely destroy the Alamakites and all of their belongings. Saul gathers his army, goes to war with the Alamakites and completely defeats them. At that time, Saul and his soilders notice, “wow, these people have really nice stuff”. Saul takes the best of their sheep and cattle and takes Agag their king alive as a prisoner.  When confronted by Samuel, when asked “why did you not follow the Lord’s command”, Saul explains his actions “ I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice”. This admission of guilt is rejected (Samuel basically says “what didn’t you understand about totally destroy” and “what sort of king listens to the people over the Lord”).  Samuel tells Saul “the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel”. This rejection will played out slowly over the next few years.    

After this Samuel asks for King Agag to be brought before him and proceeds to ritually execute him by cutting him into pieces.  With that done, we come to today’s reading.  Samuel, who is upset over the fate of Saul, reluctantly follows God’s command and goes to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel. Now, there is all sorts of political and religious conflict.  Saul is still king and obviously would not be happy to learn Samuel is off anointing a new king.  Samuel goes to do this work with fear and is greeted with suspicion. Everyone wanted and expected Jesse’s first born, the very kingly looking Eliab, to be God’s choice.  God did not care about external appearances and this is not a democracy. David, the last of Jesse’s children, the one Jesse did not even bother to bring to the meeting, is chosen. After this David manages to enter a position in the court of King Saul.  David is called up due to his musical skill at playing the lyre, a sound that Saul believes will soothe his tortured mental state. Like everyone else, the very suspicious Saul, does not see the last born, small musician as much of a threat. He unknowingly establishes his replacement in a position of power.   Once in, David becomes a great military leader and when Saul is killed in battle, David becomes King.   We will look at the life and work of David as king during our bible study after church.  For now, I’ll just say David did his share of bad things, perhaps failing even more than Saul. The contrast between them often looks at what they do after their sins.  Saul makes excuses and goes through the motions of repentance, saying what he believes is the right thing.  This is little more than a public show, getting the God stuff out of the way so he can move on the more important business of being king.  David on the other hand, always knows why he’s king, he was given this authority by God.   In the pleading of psalm 51, in David’s seeking God’s help and expected that this grace will change things; we see an example of true repentance. 

In his preaching and teaching Martin Luther frequently looked at biblical figures as examples of God calling people to repentance and showing them his mercy Luther often looked at King David as one of those examples of repentance and receiving mercy. Luther understood David as the author of the entire book of Psalms, so a lot of what he looked at regarding him centered on them.  (from Robert Kolb)   For Luther David was 5 things 1- The author of psalms that proclaim God‟s Word and lead  his people in praise. 2. An ancestor of Messiah. 3. A classical  example  of  repentance (seen in  2  Samuel  11- 12  and  Psalm 51). 4. A model for Christian living as a ruler (Psalm 82). And 5.An  instructor  in  how  to  read  the  Bible  (especially  in  Psalm 119). We’re going to focus on number 3. Repentance goes back to the very start of the Reformation. Personally Luther found the sacrament to be lacking in sharing real comfort or announcing real good news.  As a monk, he would often go to the sacrament only to be left wondering if his sins were truly forgiven.

 Luther’s 95 theses, whose first posting 500 years ago, we commemorate this year,  is about repentance. They start by condemning the inadequate model being used by the Roman Catholic Church and explaining the cross centered gift of  grace God gives us.  The first 3 theses

 1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" ( Matthew 4:17 ), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.    2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy. 3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

Luther starts his debate with the church that ends up splitting the church by saying the entire life of believers is one of repentance, of knowing and acknowledging our sin so that we can experience true grace.  For Luther, the church was not teaching and distributing true forgiveness and grace, it was dealing in some lesser, pathetic thing.  Repentance was left up to human whims and the sale of papers. For Luther repentance was a life long work, a constant remembering you are baptized, you are loved by God, you are forgiven because of Jesus death and resurrection,  repentance was not a ritual we did, it was something God’s word did to us, It was not a one time thing, it was a way of life, repentance was not a work, it was a gift from God that let us experience God’s grace  Throughout the 95 theses, These two versions of repentance are set in contrast to each other and the reader is invited to ask, which one sounds better, which one sounds like God’s word.