Tag Archives: faith

Heroes of the Bible: Three Men and a Furnace


How many of you knew when you saw the title that I would be reflecting on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? One source I read called this story a farce, with everything so exaggerated as to make it ridiculous. As I was reading it I found myself almost laughing at the repetition of the whole list of different officials or the long list of instruments. Farces are fun, but as you are aware the best political cartoons while farcical are very telling. This story is certainly one of the saving power of God it is also a story about three heroes who stood up for what they believed despite potential dire consequences!

This story is from the time of the Babylonian exile. The king at the time was Nebuchadnezzar II. At that time the Babylonian empire had control of vast areas from modern day Iraq, some of Persia, the Holy Land, and , at its height, all of Egypt. It was impossible for one man to rule such a vast area so Nebuchadnezzar had scores of governors, and lesser officials each with their own authority and territory and one of them was Daniel. After having a dream interpreted by Daniel the king was very happy and granted Daniel’s request to appoint his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to high offices.

We pick up here with today’s story. The king had a sixty cubit tall idol constructed and made a decree that everyone must bow down to the idol when they heard certain music  (a long and specific list of instruments and the ensemble) and that anybody who failed to do so would be thrown “immediately” into the furnace.  With the king’s decree in place some of the Babylonian officials noticed some people not bowing down as ordered. This information was passed on to the king, that some Jews were not complying and naming Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who had recently been raised to positions of authority (presumably over Babylonians).

Despite the edict saying they would be immediately thrown into the furnace, the king had the men brought to him. They were questioned and then they were given a choice of following the decree or being thrown into the furnace. They answered first that they didn’t need to defend themselves to him and then that they would not bow to the idol. Just saying that they didn’t have to answer to the King was a major thing, and the they chose the furnace! Furious the king had them bound by his strongest men, the furnace heated to seven times its usual temperature (again an extreme unlikely to be possible), and had them thrown in.

The result was not what Nebuchadnezzar had expected. First his strong men who threw our friends into the furnace were themselves consumed by the fire. Then the king saw those three men, no longer bound and joined by another, walking around in the furnace. Taken aback he checked with others to confirm that he had indeed had three and not four men cast into the furnace. (the comic double take) Then he noticed that while the friends looked just as they had, the fourth man “had the look of a god”.

He called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the fire. They came out with no sign of having been anywhere near a fire. They didn’t even have that nice campfire smell. “Therefore (the king makes a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins…” Dan 3:29

Did these three men have a superpower that made them fire resistant? Of course not! Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, their Hebrew names, went by the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were exiles from Jerusalem, educated, thanks to the Babylonian schools, and friends of Daniel. Through that association they had been named as officials of the province of Babylon. With positions of power they were living well, and yet they were not free to go home to Judah. As God had instructed the exiles, they had built houses and planted crops and blended in with the population of the day. Unlike most of the Jews these three, and Daniel presumably, had not taken up worship of the gods of their Babylonian captors.

For the most part furnaces are used in metaphorical ways in the Bible to represent a variety of things such as; God’s judging and testing, a refining fire to strengthen or to reform the people of Israel, and to represent the presence of God. We also associate that kind of fire with condemnation, like the fires of hell. The type of furnace being referred to in the story is probably one for smelting and refining metals and would therefore be both large and very hot, though I doubt it could be heated to seven times its regular heat without it breaking down. Nor do I think it likely that they had a furnace so large that four grown men could walk around in it.

I don’t think that the idols and furnaces which we face in our own lives are very different from those in today’s story. We have lots of idols and furnaces don’t we? We are rarely ordered to bow down but rather encouraged by clever marketing etc. But there are people in our world today being forced to change religion. In some African and the Middle Eastern countries groups like Boko Haram are actively forcing people, through kidnapping and threats of death, to convert from Christianity and Judaism (or any other religion) to Islam. As Matthew warns in 10: 18, disciples, “you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.” He continues in verse 28 to say, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” For those who endure to the end will come through the furnace unscathed!”

So what was the superpower that these three men shared? What was it that made them heroes? Their superpower was the conviction of their faith. They chose the fire, not because they assumed that God would save them, but because they would not break faith, they would not deny the god of their ancestors. They were what some sources call catalyst heroes. In a way like mentors, they acted heroically but they didn’t change much themselves, rather they brought about change in others. In this story the other is Nebuchadnezzar who, though not giving up his gods, comes to acknowledge and respect the God of Abraham as the only god who could have delivered in this way (Dan 3:29).  In terms of the author’s purpose for this story it seems likely that the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was used as a catalyst to change the Jews to return them to the worship of the Almighty God.

While the steadfastness of our heroes’ was a catalyst to change, it was of course God himself who protected them from the fire in the furnace. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar God doesn’t really need us to worship him as without us he still has the whole of creation to praise him. As to his fiery furnace, we read in the Psalm this morning that God’s fire consumes his adversaries. Our heroes firmly stood on the ground of, and then were cast into the fire for the Almighty God not because they trusted that he would save them, but because they believed that he was the one true god. Nobody enjoys the furnace, the refining process. But when we find ourselves being coerced into worshiping other things let’s join Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in jumping from the frying pan to the fire!

Scripture refereces:

Daniel 3: 1-30

Psalm 97

Matthew 10: 16-33

Nel, Marius North-West University, (Potchefstroom) Daniel 3 as satirical comedy file:///C:/Users/Cathy/Downloads/263-791-1-PB.pdf

Types of Heroes (Adapted from Vogler, 1999, pp. 41–44) http://www.waunakee.k12.wi.us/faculty/lcarothers/ModernLiterature/LessonBeforeDying/Types%20of%20Heroes.pdf

To Stay Or To Go/ Serving One Master


Coda and ShaniI am currently living with my sister for a couple of months and I decided to bring my dog along with me. (he is the little one on the left) It has been interesting watching as they learn to interact with each other as well as with my sister and me.

One of the more interesting things is their figuring out to whom they should be listening. When I tell Coda it is ok to go ahead and eat Shani takes it as her permission as well etc.  Today I was listening from upstairs as my sister did a little training session with the two of them together.  At one point she was trying to get Coda to learn to play dead at the same time as having her dog practice.  It was quite entertaining and I could picture in my head as one would be just about to be rewarded and the other (mostly Coda) would pop up.  My sister told me that one time she called for Coda to do position (between her legs) and Coda started towards her and she looked down and discovered Shani there instead.

This all got me thinking about our struggle to remain obedient and faithful to God. ” ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24) Not to imply that we are dogs, but I believe we are in exactly the same quandary as our two little dogs. Which one are we supposed to listen to when one is saying “stay” and the other is calling “come”?  For the dogs I suspect there is a combination of inclination to follow the one they know the best but often overtaken by the one most likely to give them a treat.

In our society almost everyone in the commercial world is offering treats of one kind or another; fancy car, softer/firmer skin, guaranteed weight loss, popularity etc. Even if falsely advertised, the rewards of our world are right there in front of us. They are visible and we see other people who have them and wish we could as well. Those rewards are lacking though. They do not include a deeper bond with anybody, they don’t involve a greater understanding of self.

God is the one we know the best as well as the one who has given and offers the best reward.  The problem is that the gifts are neither visible nor tangible. While the gift of new life is already given, it is only immediately present if we are choosing to live it.  God’s call is more subtle, quieter, and easily drowned out by the others clamoring for our attention but we need to listen more closely and stay when he says stay, or go when he says to go.

Word of Mouth


Word of mouth

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My family and I have a bathroom renovation project underway and when I was looking for someone to do the work I did as I usually do and asked Dad.  After that I asked my friends on Face Book for their opinions of and experiences with different contractors.  Similarly, when our washer died I put out a request for comments on top load washers versus front load models.  In fact on any given day you can find requests for advice on road conditions, where to go to get things, and whether or not a movie is worth seeing.  None of these things are likely to change our lives but are examples which show that we place greater value on the experience and opinion of our friends than on the advertisements which would have us believe that every product is better than all the other products which in-turn are also better… So what about spiritual questions, things that will change our lives?  What would you seek and whom would you follow?

 

In our Gospel reading today John must have been ‘wired for sound’! He had just experienced what he knew was the highest point of his ministry, he had fulfilled his destiny. It was not his own accomplishment, it wasn’t that he would be thinking what a great job he had done, but it was still a great day.  If it had happened today he might immediately get out his cell phone and tweet something like, “Best day of my life, baptized Son of God, heard God’s voice and saw the spirit, time to retire, can die happy!”

In the other Gospels this is where the baptism story ended and they moved away from the Baptist and the area around the Jordan, one immediately, to the temptation of Christ and the beginning of his ministry.  John chose instead to continue the narrative of Baptist’s activities.  In a sense the author gave him time to tweet and for people to respond to his news.  While the other Gospels gradually reveal Jesus’ identity, John front loads the story with details of Jesus’ true identity.  In very short order he identifies Christ by several of the titles which had been ascribed to him by the church over the years; Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.

 

Last week we read of the baptism itself and today, the actual baptism itself is not narrated in John, we take up the story on the next day. John the Baptist saw Jesus and told all who are in the area just what had happened and how important this man was!  In a tradition in which sacrifices were made for thanksgiving, for atonement of sin, etc. it would have caught people’s attention when the Baptist referred to Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  It may have brought out memories of the Passover lamb whose death and the painting of its blood protected the people in Egypt.  For us, and indeed for the early readers of John’s gospel, this speaks to his crucifixion and resurrection, his atonement for the sins of the whole world.  At the time of the Baptist, however, it may have brought to mind Abraham who said God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice.  At the least it would have indicated his purity but oddly would also carry a picture of weakness; important because of the role of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice, but weak because a lamb is helpless to defend itself from death on the altar.

 

The Baptist had been out in the wilderness preaching and calling people to repentance, but never taking credit or making himself out to be important.  In John’s gospel this event followed a scene in which the Baptist was questioned by religious authorities.  He had denied being Elijah, being The Prophet (Moses), and being the Messiah. He had in fact always been saying, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”  He had never made much of himself but pointed ahead to that man. He explained that he had been baptizing with water in order to reveal the man to Israel.  He related the sight of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remaining on Jesus, and that God had told them this would be the sign of the man who was coming. He made a statement worthy of a court trial, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 

It is likely that most people who heard him talking about Jesus considered it to be at least a bit far-fetched and perhaps attributed it to John’s strange ways.  “After all, he lives way out here away from people and doesn’t eat properly, he was probably delirious with hunger, or maybe he is going mad.  A spirit came and settled on a man and this is the big news? Hardly!”

 

The next day, then two days after Christ’s baptism, two of the Baptist’s followers were there when again he saw Jesus.  Again he identified Jesus and he testified that he was the Lamb of God.  These two men then left John, up until now their spiritual leader, and followed Jesus. Jesus asked them what they were seeking and told them to come and see.  Before he had taught them anything they called him Rabbi which means teacher. They went to where he was staying and spent the day with him.  Only one of the two is named in this account, Andrew the brother of the man known to us as Simon Peter.  Andrew ran off to find his brother and passed on the exciting news, “We have found the Messiah.”  When they got back Jesus identified him by name and says he will be called Cephas’ or Peter.

 

So following the line of information

  1. God tells John of his mission

  2. God tells John how to recognize the one to come after

  3. John witnesses the sign Lamb of God

  4. John tells all who are around Lamb of God

  5. John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God

  6. One of the followers, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Messiah

If we were to continue this line it would lead us all the way to this place and thousands like it where the Word is being proclaimed today.

 

The three readings I chose to use this morning are very different in form, the Psalm being a poem or song, 1 Corinthians being a letter, and John being a story.  They are all about saving help, God’s faithfulness, Christ’s salvation, steadfast love, mercy, and evangelism.

 

 

In the Psalm we read a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from dire personal circumstances as well as the pattern of God’s works of salvation for the people of Israel over the ages.  The author does what most of us would do after being rescued; he gives thanks and praises his deliverer.  He doesn’t do this in private, but in the congregation, he tells everyone! In the 11 verses we read we go back and forth between the personal story and praise to God for his faithfulness, and the communal stories of the past and expectations of the future.  The other feature of the Psalm is that it expresses God’s desire for a relationship with us rather than sacrifices. God doesn’t want the rites of religion, he wants our seeking and having his laws written on our heart.

 

Much of the writing of Paul that is included in the Christian cannon is in the form of letters.  There was a very ordered format for letters in his time and he certainly followed it.  First you introduce yourself, then identify the recipient, give thanks, and then you move on to the content.  Our reading this morning was the introduction to a much longer letter which would address some pretty major issues with the church in Corinth.  Without reading further, however, one would be unlikely to realize there was any problem or concern. The focus here was on their unity in that they were all called by Christ, that they were all empowered by the Spirit, that they all shared the same testimony to the grace of Christ and the faithfulness and steadfastness of God. Paul gives thanks for the congregation which was equipped with the tools they needed to continue this testimony, to pass on the word.

 

So, we have established that word-of-mouth is the most effective way of getting information out to people. Given this it is hard to imagine why do we rely so heavily on the Bible itself to get the Christian message out?  How can we offer Christ and invite people to come and see what a life of following Jesus might be like. (Daniel Ogel…GBod)?

 

People are only willing to inquire about faith and follow if they are themselves open to it. It is spiritual hunger which compels people to search for new possibilities. It is their dissatisfaction with where they are in their lives and in their spiritual life which forces them to go in search of something new.(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com0 John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus, “don’t focus on me or the trappings of the church or liturgy, look to Jesus himself and be open to a relationship with him.  Jesus invited the first two disciples to, “come and see” where he was staying, to actually walk in his ways.  Both of these approaches to seekers are models of evangelism.  “Instead of beating people over the head or intimidating them to confess their faith, John and Jesus point to what God is doing and invite people to check it out. It’s a pretty compelling strategy for faith-sharing and evangelism.”(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com) and far less awkward than starting a conversation with a person by asking them if they know Jesus, or if they are a Christian and then launching into a “sales campaign.”

 

So, what did you post on Face Book this morning before leaving for church?  Did you post that you were going to church? Great! When we share our lives as Christians with people, just as that, our lives, we open a door. If we get out the bat, quote scripture and tell people how they should live and what they should believe, we are more likely to scare them away. What will you post later in the day?  Whether we have good days or bad what people will notice is our patience and hopefulness in God and maybe that will be enough to make them ask where we get that patience and hopefulness and then we can invite them to come and see.

 

 The readings for this sermon were; 1 Cor 1:1-9, Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:19-42

Waves on a Beach And Faith Shared


I recently spent a week at a resort in Mexico.  One morning when we were walking along the beach, on the packed sand closest to the waves, I noticed something interesting. The sand wasn’t really wet looking at all until a wave washed up.  As the wave receded it left a little line which showed where it had reached to and almost as quickly as the wave left, the dark area from wetness disappeared.  While in direct contact with the wave it was wet, but it didn’t last.  I think that is like faith and the body of Christ.  Sure, we can maintain faith when we are away from others of faith.  Many an isolated prisoner has survived through reliance on faith, but without contact, without sharing the faith with others it can dry out.

 

 

God and the Sun


Abbie's sunriseGod and the Sun

By Olivia Hall

In times of doubt, when it is difficult to have faith

and to know God is with you, remember the sun.

Sometimes storms come and the clouds cover the sun.

Sometimes it is hard not to forget that the sun is still up there, shining bright.

But when the dark times come, just look around

to all the beauty in the world that it has given life to

and know, that like the sun,

God is always there, and his beautiful creation is all around you.

Shared with permission, I believe the poem stands on its own without words from me.

Amazed and Rejected/ Rejected and Amazed


 

Amazed and Rejected

 

You go to see a magician.  Friends and colleagues have told you how good a show it is.  At the performance you are amazed or astounded by what you see, or what you don’t see.  Impossible things happen before your very eyes and you leave the theatre shaking your head.  But in the light of reason and your understanding of reality, you reject the magic and wonder, instead you try to figure out what kind of trick was involved?  You refuse to believe that magic was involved. You were amazed, but ultimately you reject. 

 

Jesus returned to his home town after performing a whole series of miraculous healings etc. around the region of Galilee.  We can imagine his meeting his mother at the door and receiving a big hug.  She probably cooked him his favourite meal and welcomed his disciples who had followed him to town.  Neighbors would notice all the extra activity at Mary’s home and would be asking around to find out what was going on.  “Mary’s son and his friends are home for a visit.  The whole family is excited to be spending time with him.”  News about him had been spreading around the region.  He was becoming famous, and now here he was returning to his hometown, someone to be proud of!

 

On the Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and taught, just as he had been teaching crowds on hillsides and lake shores throughout the region.  But this day was different; this was the “church” in which he had grown up.  The people in attendance were well known to him; his neighbours, classmates, childhood friends, and his family. His brothers and sisters, fellow children of Mary were there.  These were the people who knew him the best, whom he knew and loved.  As he spoke, the congregation were first amazed at his wisdom, his insight and the authority with which he spoke.  This was not your everyday teaching and they could feel that. They were astounded, maybe their mouths were agape! They looked around them and saw his proud mother, his brothers and sisters, and remembered him working in the carpentry shop.  They looked at him again.  He was not clothed in fancy robes, had no special aura around him, he had no special credentials, did not make reference to any revered teachers.  Amazement changed to rejection.

 

The town rejected him and Jesus was amazed at their unbelief!  Even though he did know in the back of his mind that, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” What had he been expecting?  Since his ministry began he had been followed without question by total strangers whom, upon first meeting, he asked to follow him.  Gradually his following had been growing to the extent that, a man named Jairus and a sick woman were certain that he could heal a dying daughter and an 18 year illness.

 

I expect we are all familiar with the feeling of being rejected.  You try out for a team or a role and are not chosen.  Most of the time in these cases there is no second chance, no appeal process.  We make proposals, provide information to support them.  At some point we stop and give time for people to process and they make up their minds.  It doesn’t matter how much we believe in our idea, if the other people don’t believe then they don’t.  We can try giving more evidence to prove our case but in the end, it is their decision and if that is to reject the story is over.

 

Rejection stings and often leads to resentment and ends with us giving up.  “There is no point in making suggestions, these people will just ignore them anyway, they never listen to me!”   Jesus knew this sting just as we do but, if tempted at all, he did not speak further to try to convince people.  There was no cajoling, no show of power, nothing.  Similarly, he did not give up.  Undeterred, he simply continued his ministry in other towns. 

 

At home the unbelief of the people meant that no great deeds were done, he healed a few sick people.  This doesn’t mean that his power was reduced, nothing could reduce his power, but because they didn’t believe that it was God’s power they were unaffected.  Hard as it may be to separate the two, it was not Jesus the person whom the people rejected.  In the Old Testament story today, after Saul’s death all of Israel made covenant with David as their king.  He had been great at leading the army and was well known, but he was not accepted as king because he was personally great, rather he was accepted because the people recognized that God had chosen him and led him to this office.  The Jewish people were familiar with prophets like Isaiah speaking to the people in the words of God. The people of Nazareth were impressed by Jesus’ wisdom, amazed by what they had heard or seen of his miracles, but did not see that God had named him His son.  Even the Gentiles recognized that God was the source of Jesus’ power, the unclean spirits had all named him as the Son of God.  The Nazarenes were not rejecting the man in Jesus, they were rejecting the God in Jesus.

 

The people of Nazareth missed a chance that day.  Jesus left and, as he instructed his disciples for their ministries, shook the dust of the town off his feet.  Jesus left, but at no point did he say anything that indicates that they would not be able to change their minds later.  In fact, we know that at least one of his brothers went from trying to drag him home a couple weeks ago, to this week’s rejection, to being one of his followers later on.  Jesus was amazed but he did not reject!

 

I have a friend from my high school days with whom I have renewed contact through FaceBook.  Another friend of mine has commented about how much she likes having the two of us as friends because we are both totally committed but completely opposite; me to God and the church and she to her atheistic views.  I have frequently considered dropping her as a friend as it is most unpleasant reading the anti-religion and anti-God quotes etc.  I haven’t done so though, and 95% of the time we don’t make comments on each other’s posts.  Would I like her to come to faith?  Most definitely!  Do I think that arguing with her and presenting information will change her mind?  No!

 

On its own, no amount of knowledge is enough to bring one to faith…Jesus’ friends and neighbours knew more about him than any of the people he had already helped, more than his disciples, and certainly more than we do.  Don’t get discouraged in your ministry or vocation.  We will all meet with challenges and rejections but we can follow Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.  We go out into our lives with only what we are and what God has given us, we don’t need to pack and prepare, when we are rejected we should shake it off and keep going.

 

As one of Helen Keller’s doctors told her, “permanent blindness.  Deaf. Invalid.  There’s a lot of living to be found within those limitations if you don’t wear yourself out fighting them!”

Amen.

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Psalm 48

Mark 6:1-13

Samuel Anoints David/ It’s Not About Appearance!


Old Testament    1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

New Testament  2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

God was finished with Saul!  While his reign continued into its 42nd year (give or take), it was at this point that God rejected him as King of Israel and secretly chose his successor, the eighth son of a man from Bethlehem.  For the rest of Saul’s life he would have to go back to relying on and taking pride in his chariots and horses.  Chariots break and horses go lame…

 

How do we choose a leader? 

Every couple of years in Canada we have an election of one level of government or the other, and through those elections we seek to choose the best people to make the decisions on behalf of and for the best interests of the country, province, or city.  What do we really know about these people?  We know what they tell us, bragging of their chariots or horses, and we know what their opponents tell us.  Sometimes we also get the scoop from some investigative reporters who uncover interesting and almost always negative or scandalous information which they can reveal in prime time.  This is all a show!  There is nobody involved in the process without a personal stake or a chance for personal gain of one kind or another.  With all the information and media attention the voters are most often just as much in the dark as they were at the start of the campaign.  In the end, not even the candidates really know what kind of leader they will be.

 

My students were writing their exams this past week.  For some this was no big deal as they were well prepared and had a firm understanding of the material.  Some had big gaps in their preparation and were rightly worried coming in to their exams.  Strangely, or not so strangely perhaps, there were those who were well prepared who were panicked and those who were unprepared who were calm and cool.  If you looked in on my classes as they wrote, you would not have been able to identify which students were which.  You might have been able to tell little bit about preferred activities or social class, but not how much they knew nor whether or not they would be able to express that knowledge on the exam. 

One thing no one can know when they look at someone, even their own reflection in the mirror, is their potential to make a positive difference in the world. 

 

As humans we have a natural tendency upon meeting someone new to size-them-up.  Possibly some residual effect from our days as both hunter and prey, we look to see how they measure up in comparison to us.  How likely are they to be a physical threat, a rival in love, competition at work, or even useful to us in some way?  When we do this we make huge assumptions; smaller is craftier, bigger is dumber, stronger is better, small eyes means sneaky, overweight means lack of self-control, slim means obsessed with appearances etc.

 

Samuel was at home in Ramah, having dealt with Saul for the last time.  Given that he had just told Saul that he was finished as King of Israel, that God was no longer on his side, it seems reasonable that Samuel would now avoid any contact with the man who could so easily have him killed.  God, however, sent him on a trip to Bethlehem which would take Samuel right past Saul’s home in Gibeah.  Even more frightening would be the fact that the purpose of his trip was to anoint a new king.  But shouldn’t the new king be the eldest son of the king?  And, why anoint the new king before the current one is dead or at least on his death bed?  God told him to take a heifer with him and to say he was going to make a sacrifice to the Lord.  So, nobody in Gibeah or Bethlehem knew the true purpose of Samuel’s journey and would only come to understand its significance in hindsight after David became king.

 

In Bethlehem, after assuring the local elders that he was not bringing any judgement down on the town, nor its people, Samuel invited Jesse to the sacrifice.  The arrival in town of one of God’s great prophets, the one who anointed the King of Israel and was in regular conversation both with the King and God, would have been exciting and a little disturbing.  Certainly this was going to be a day that would go down in Bethlehem lore for generations.  “Where were you the day when, out of the blue, Samuel came to perform a sacrifice to God?”  Jesse had eight sons, although the Bible only records names for 7, but he brings only seven to the sacrifice, one son would have had to answer, “I missed it all! I was out tending our sheep and didn’t even know about it until after Samuel was gone!”  

 

In order of birth and priority for inheritance Jesse’s sons were; Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, Nethaneel, Raddai, Ozem, number 7 and David.  In our reading from 1 Samuel names are only provided for the first three young men, we only have the names of the others from the lists in the book of Chronicles and it is assumed by that time brother 7 had either died, was childless, or had done nothing of distinction to warrant mention.  Given his lack of invitation to the event and his very low social standing as an eighth son, it is quite amazing that David was the one God chose for Samuel to anoint that day in Bethlehem.  In human terms David was the least appropriate choice.  He was not the eldest son of the king, he wasn’t even related to the king.  Even if one were going to a different family for your candidate, there were seven men in that family more entitled to honour and rank than David.  He was the youngest, the smallest, he was the shepherd.  He was a mustard seed.

 

It is interesting to note that, while this passage is a narrative; people say things, do things, time passes etc., in another respect it is an ongoing conversation between God and Samuel.  Samuel is not sent out on an errand and then left to it.  There is never any indication that Samuel should look for the most suitable candidate for king.  “I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”  Basically he sent him out and said, “we’ll talk later.”  If God was going to tell him whom to anoint, why didn’t he tell him up front…”go anoint the 8th son of Jesse of Bethlehem named David.”?  Instead he remains in conversation with Samuel and allows for each of Jesse’s sons to be presented, and considered in Samuel’s own mind before ultimately being rejected by God.  One by one they pass by, being noted for their appearance, their height, their physical attributes which, of course, were all that Samuel could see.  After Eliab, God tells 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.”

 

As the last of Jesse’s sons passed by Samuel he would have been confused.  God had clearly said that he was to anoint one of these men, the sons of Jesse.  So he asked if these were all the sons and found that there was one left, out looking after the sheep.  This unnamed eighth son was sent for even despite the delay it would cause in proceedings; Samuel made it clear that they would not continue without him.  When David arrives the writer once again goes to the natural human reflex and comments on his appearance.  “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  When I read this, coming as it does on the heels of God saying to stop looking at outward appearances, I did a double take.  If we aren’t supposed to be looking at appearances, then why do it again?  First, as I said, it is a reflex.  There are a couple things about this that are worth noting.  First, if this is the son who wasn’t even going to be presented one might have been assuming there was something wrong with him.  The terms ruddy and handsome may be more of an expression of surprise than the earlier judgement of the more obvious choices.  Still, are we to think that he was chosen because he was good looking?  No!  It may be a stretch, but the mention of his eyes as beautiful seems significant to me.  The eyes are often referred to as the window on the heart and it is by looking on the heart that God judges people.

 

Once David is on the scene God tells Samuel to anoint him, not privately but in front of all his brothers.  And the story is basically over then.  Samuel anoints David, the spirit of the Lord “came mightily upon David from that day forwards.”  It is in this line from the very end of the story when we first hear the name of this newly selected king, David.  And then what?  We never hear how the brothers reacted to their sibling’s anointing.  There is no talk of celebrations, singing or dancing.  Samuel sets out for home and undoubtedly David heads back out to the sheep wondering what all that had been about.

 

If only we could see people, not for their appearance, but for their hearts!  In 2nd Corinthians this is what Paul is urging.  He says that since we are convinced of Christ’s death that all may have life and live that life for Christ, who died and was raised for us we should change our point of view…our paradigm.  “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 I that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  How much better would we be able to choose our social and political leaders?  How much more often would people be able to avoid trusting people who would later hurt them?  How many bullies would be helped because we were able to see that they needed help?  How many of us who get left in the fields with the sheep would get to come to our potential in helping in the world?

 

In his convocation address to the students at York University, newly honoured Dr. Michael Enright gave some great pieces of advice.  For me the one which stood out was, “The next time you give a dollar to a homeless person on the street, take a moment and talk to him and find out his story.”  It takes time, not a glance, to know a person and every person deserves a little time!  Amen.

 

Dinner and Blog Entry in 35 Minutes or Less!


It is a Saturday evening and my family have not yet had supper.  I was upstairs surfing the web on my laptop, my spouse and one child were downstairs watching Green Lantern and the fourth of the household is out.  Sorry…I left out the dog who is sitting on the back of the couch watching the world go by.  When the movie came to an end we decided we should get supper.  On went the oven and in went a frozen tortierre (a kind of French Canadian meat pie).  I set the timer and now have just about 30 minutes to wait for supper.

This kind of quick cook meal is, unfortunately, all too common in our household!  I don’t  even think it is because we are so busy, I was just killing time with the surfing, I could have chosen to put together a homemade and balanced meal.  I didn’t!

I wonder if anyone has done studies to see if people of my vintage (the end of the baby boom) are more or less likely to make meals like our parents did?  OK, like our mothers did! Don’t get me wrong, I love food!  I’m just not very keen to go to the thought, planning, and execution involved in meals like Mum makes.  We will have some raw veggies with the pie and perhaps end up with a yogurt or fruit .

The other thing I wonder, or have a sneaking suspicion about, is whether that desired convenience, and the tidiness of no mess from preparation is what my generation wants from everything in our lives.  Even more-so, what have we set our kids up to expect?  We want to believe in something, but it has to be tied up in a neat little package which doesn’t leave us with any issues or controversies.  I have some acquaintances who have chosen atheism for their parcel, with its nice neat there is no God answer to all questions.  

I have chosen Christianity despite its confusing divisions of denominations, worship styles, and ways of interpreting the Bible.  Our nice neat package?  Um…a rather messy crucifixion and a controversial rising from the dead.  We are very good at making a mess of things, but through Christ’s death and resurrection our package has been prepared!

Sweet and Sour Beats Bland!


My day today started with a resounding thud and went downhill from there. No, I’m not going to subject you to an itemised list of disasters, nor a lengthy rant! I’m sitting here in my car in the sun and reflecting on just how much sweeter the day has become!

Bright things that happened today have been all the sweeter for the sour with which they are contrasted. The beautiful warm and sunny bus duty sweeter after the cold rainy one last week. Visits from grateful students and kids stopping me in the hall to tell me they miss me sweeter because of those who were rude in class.

Sure, my day would have easier without the sour moments, but it would have been nondescript, even boring. I remember when I was pregnant and not feeling well the. Books all suggested a bland diet. This didn’t work for me. I was totally uninterested in eating bland food, and so I didn’t. In the end I went back to my moderatly spicy diet and dealt with any stomach upset may come along.

Without the sour taste of guilt and fear at the cross, the resurection would just be a typical morning wakeup. I don’t think there is really any place for bland in faith. Bland can be the reason people drift away from churches and beliefs which were once vibrant. It doesn’t mean we need to break our the fireworks or anything. It isn’t about creating spectacle, but rather in watching for the sunrise out of our dark moments.

Seven Days Until Easter: Palm Sunday


Today marks the beginning of what many call Holy Week.  This week contains within it the whole of the Gospel message for God’s people.  Today is Palm Sunday.  You know the one, people lined the already busy streets to catch a glimpse of Jesus, or at least to see what all the fuss was about.  In a way it represents the height of our misunderstanding of the role and nature of Messiah.

When a Roman legion returned from a successful campaign the city of Rome held a Triumph.  A triumph was basically a hero’s parade in which the legion in full regalia, and toting along any captives and slaves, rode and marched through the city streets.  It was the only time that a legion was allowed to be in the city en masse.  The people of Rome would be lining the streets, cheering and waving to the conquerors who had either protected them or fought to gain them new territory.  There was no personal benifit for most of these people but it was a great chance to celebrate!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the people held in their hearts and minds all the dreams of the Messiah coming leading a legion of sorts and driving the Romans out of their city and their land.  To them it was a triumph, they seemed to miss or ignore that he was not riding a fine steed, but a young donkey, and he was not armed or wearing armour.  Perhaps we needed to be completely blind to who was really coming into Jerusalem in order for the story to work out properly.

So, even as you wave your palm branch and sing Hosanna this morning, enjoy the party but remember that the real triumph awaits us in seven days time.