A Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 7, 2015
(1 Samuel 8.4-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:5; Mark 3:20-35)
In the famous trilogy ‘Lord of the Rings’ there is a poem entitled All that is gold does not glitter. The second line is particularly memorable: ‘Not all those who wander are lost’.
Israel wandered the wilderness for an age. After crossing the Jordan they became a warrior people. Now times are relatively peaceful.
They have wandered but never been lost.
After all, Israel has the ultimate leader: God. Cloud. Fire. Plagues. Parted seas. God successfully led Israel on an impossible journey. They have moved from a God-promise to a mighty and growing nation. These once nomadic people now fill cities across recently acquired enemy territory.
Under God’s leadership Israel has done well.
Of course, God also used other means to guide. Prophets: men and women who were – mostly – faithful conveyors of the instruction of God.
And Samuel was one of these.
Yet as he nears death the people grow nervous. They know how his sons work: Cynical. Selfish. Aggressive. No one wants them in charge.
So a plan is hatched: convince the great seer to appoint a king. They look over the border rather than up to heaven. There is no request for an alternative prophet.
Their eye is fixed on a king ‘…like the other nations’.
In prayer Samuel deciphers their motive. The rejection is targeted not at Samuel, but squarely at God.
It is not a new development. This has been happening since the day God guided from the clutches of their Egyptian captors. Israel tried lesser gods on numerous occasions. They forgot their faithful and powerful leader regularly.
And so Samuel spells out the demands a king will make. It is a long and sobering list: he will take sons, daughters, land, slaves, resources, produce, and livestock. In essence they will be entering again into slavery – the very oppression God freed them from.
Despite the alarming parallels between God’s description of a king, the expected behaviour of Samuel’s sons, and perhaps even their time under the rule of Egypt, they are steadfast. They ‘refuse’ to listen to God’s proven mouthpiece: ‘No! We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also might be like other nations…’ The repetition betrays their deepest desire: Israel wants to be like the gentiles.
And God humbly relents. The tried and faithful king of heaven exchanged for an untested, unknown, king of earth.
This is not as isolated a deal as we may initially think. Our gospel reading reminds us that Jesus – well before the cross – also knew rejection.
Jesus’ miracles are being widely discussed. Vast ‘crowds’ are gathering. Even a simple meal is becoming a challenge.
It is not all positive, however. Opinions are also being formed: ‘He has gone out of his mind’; ‘…by the ruler of demons he casts out demons’. People are talking. Jerusalem’s scribes are coming.
And so is Jesus ‘family’. The term is somewhat disputed here. It could easily imply Jesus’ blood relatives. It could also, however, be pointing to the disciples. Both are ‘near ones’. Insiders filled with questions.
Whoever ‘they’ are, however, it is clear that their intent is to ‘restrain’. It may be for Jesus’ protection. Perhaps to protect others. In both scenarios belief in the madness of Jesus is catching on.
Are there echoes here of Israel’s belief in the madness of following God?
Jesus’ response to all this is wonderful: an invitation to gather; a sober, considered parable. No dancing around the issue; no ignoring the growing elephant planted in their midst. Jesus fingers the absurdity of these claims: ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’
Is this really what the scribes believe? What convinced them that this good worker is really the disguised devil? What fears have so shut their eyes to heaven’s visitor?
Jesus addresses their untenable claim: divided houses and divided kingdoms fall.
And so do bound ones.
Those who should see more clearly are unable to identify the very Spirit of God in Jesus’ every move. In his own uncomfortable words they are: ‘guilty of an eternal sin’.
Is theirs a chosen blindness?
Jesus’ relatives arrive soon after. It creates the opportunity to point to the relationship Jesus enjoys with his faithful hearers: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
The devil-plunderer is inviting others – including you – to join him.
But if you do, know this: ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ To join with God is to become God’s wanderer.
The Apostle Paul certainly has. When we first meet Saul he is one of the pharisee’s prodigies. A life of promise, power, and riches is his for the taking.
Yet an unexpected encounter with the resurrected Jesus on his way to imprison and murder Jesus-followers made him one of God’s precious Spirit-following wanderers.
It is no career. Meeting Jesus moved Paul from a position of apparent influence to a dangerous life of uncertainty. He now stitches canvas together. Tent making fills his stomach. A man on the run equipping those on the move.
Perhaps sewing gave Paul time to think. Tents and buildings. Temporary and permanent. The ever-present possibility of his body’s destruction and the hope of a resurrected eternity. Maybe people come for Paul’s services who are unsettled. People who hope one day to settle.
Out of all this Paul encourages the community of Jesus-followers in Corinth to embrace this life’s sojourn in the hope of heaven. He is not in denial. He openly describes the groaning and nakedness of God’s people.
But he also describes the building of God. For me the pinnacle is Paul’s hope that ‘…what is mortal will be swallowed up by life’.
And until then we are guided. Not usually by fire and cloud but by the untameable ways of the Spirit. The presence of God guaranteeing the promise of God. Wandering but not lost.
After all, you are far too precious to be forgotten. You are the ultimate plunder stolen from the Jesus-bound strongman.
And don’t you ever forget it. But even if you do, God won’t.