Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Bp. Ann Tottenham, deputy Bishop Visitor of OHC
RCL – Proper 6 B – Sunday 14 June 2009
1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
The election in Iran has been much in the news this past week. There has been great excitement both there and in the USA about the fact that they held a democratic election.
Now it seems that the rejoicing was premature because the election was rigged in a very blatant way leading to protests in the streets. Violent conflict seems inevitable.
This morning I am not going to contemplate at any length the place of the ballot box in a theocracy other than to say that the whole question of how to determine God’s choice of leader calls to mind today’s reading from I Samuel. In this story of choosing leadership in a theocracy, the Lord incites Samuel, the prophet and man of God, to overthrow King Saul and anoint his successor. It’s a wonderful story: we all enjoy hearing about a dark horse being chosen over the more obvious and more favoured candidates.
When Jesse’s oldest son appears, the Lord gives Samuel a clear standard by which to choose, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature . . . for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” This is good advice we in western democracies would do well to pay more attention to the inner virtues of our candidates. Despite these inspiring words, it should be noted that when David the youngest son is brought before Samuel, all the scriptural account records about him is, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” (I Sam. 16:7 & 12)
We now know, of course, that this was the beginning of the career of the great King David who, like us all, had his up’s and down’s. The State Department would not have approved of this method for the choice of leader, but this story reminds us that there is no perfect human system for determining God’s will. Nonetheless, God can and does work through some of the most unlikely leaders. We and they, as well as the great King David, can do “infinitely more that we can ask or imagine” if we are open to working of God’s spirit.
In a not too-graceful segue this leads me to point out that David’s experience in the scenario of his anointing was one of those sudden, dramatic moments in a human being’s life in which everything changes in the twinkling of an eye. From shepherd boy to king in an instant; from the lowest position to the highest in kingdom. It is the kind of human experience which leads us to pray in the funeral liturgy that God will make us “deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty” of our lives.
As the we look back over the year since the last Chapter meetings to mourn our losses and give thanks for our blessings, the theme of the sudden event after which things would never be the same stands out The Mount Calvary fire the most obvious instance but other incidents from the shock of personal and collective bereavements to the collapse of the stock market came upon us unexpectedly, caught us unawares when we were not ready.
Of course, through even the greatest, most earth-shaking change God is with us. God remains faithful to the covenant even – and maybe especially- when we are traumatized, dazed and grieving. It is when we are most aware of our human weakness and frailty that we are most open to the power of God working in and through us. This is where we find God at the heart of every disaster, loss and setback not as the one who judges and punishes but as the one who binds up our wounds and gives us the power to bring life out of death, light out of darkness, good out of evil.
Today’s reading from Gospel of Mark (4:26-33) consists of two small parables which also illustrate the nature of God and God’s Kingdom. In the first one there is the mysterious growth of the seed which is scattered on the ground. Without the sower doing anything and without anything apparently happening, a fruitful harvest is produced.
In the pre-scientific era the appearance of a bountiful crop from a handful of seeds was seen not the result of a force of natural growth as we would understand it today, but as but one of God’s miracles and a mystery to humankind. Similarly the mustard seed which becomes a huge shrub big enough for birds to nest in, shows the miraculous power of God to bring something enormous out of a tiny seed.
These parables were first told by way of encouragement to the early followers of Jesus to trust that the kingdom, already at work in Jesus’ ministry, will in God’s own time be shown forth and come to fruition. It’s a message of encouragement we too need to hear and also a reminder that the coming of the kingdom is not under our control.
We are an impatient, results-oriented people who want action and we want it NOW.
Br. Randy told me about the building of the cathedral at Assisi; explaining that one of the things for which it is notable is the speed with which it was built – only 60 years!
I’m not suggesting that we act like the seeds in these parables and just lie around underground waiting for God to work a miracle! I am suggesting that coming to know the will of God in a particular situation or generally in our lives takes time.
Like the sower we may sleep and rise many times before we can see the way forward.
As it is with the seeds, it’s often a mysterious process: it appears that nothing is happening but somewhere within our hearts? Our souls? Our brains? God is at work within us. This is not an invitation to passivity and delay but an invitation not to be taken in by the “faster is better” culture in which we live. Time for prayer, meditation, cogitation is important.
Because these activities are generally invisible to others and even to ourselves we will invite criticism from others and we ourselves may even feel guilty for not being decisive.
Faster is indeed better in a critical life-death situation and some times we declare a situation a crisis or an emergency in order to dash off and do or declare something decisively. The media particularly apt to demand action in what they have decided must be a crisis.
Generally waiting on the Lord produces better results and moves the kingdom of God one micro or nano step further ahead. This is as much a miracle for us as the change from mustard seed to huge shrub was for our forebears in 1st century Palestine.
Gradually, gradually, as slowly as building an enormous gothic cathedral, we are born again in Christ as we grow out from the waters of baptism into the new life of the kingdom of God.