THE STORY Week 10. Standing Tall: Falling Hard

SERMON, Sunday June 19, 2016. St Petri, Pentecost 5C, Story Week 10

Saul: Standing tall: Falling hard

Psalm 54,  Galatians 5:16-25,  Matthew 6:19-24

1 Samuel 12:20-2520 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/20160619_message.mp3

It’s timely to hear how God’s people finally got the king they wanted in this part of the Story. We are going to make a choice about a new “king” for Australia soon. It is election time!

We are all called upon to vote for a preferred leader, and vote we should. People are rightly concerned about our country and its future leaders. This is responsible and right for Christians. We should vote. People around the world are still dying for this privilege we have long enjoyed.

Like God’s people of old, after living that long 300 year period of the Judges, we want a leader and a team that make things better for our country. The question is, where will we find it and to whom will we look to help our country stand tall and not fall?

God’s people showed what and who they thought would deliver the goods.

 “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

Right from the start we are in a bit of trouble. God’s people did not look in God’s direction to make their country stronger and healthier. They turned to next door. They looked at the world to keep standing, rather than the Lord and his story with them.

So, we have the “what” the people believe will bring a better country and future: a monarchy – just like every other nation. But what about the “who”?

After a victorious battle, a bright young soldier-leader named Saul appears in the Story and the people love it and him! He stands a full head above all other Israelite men. Saul looks like everything they want to be, and want him to be. They demand that Samuel anoint Saul as the first King of Israel.

Samuel finds this disappointing. So does the Lord, and he says as much. The Lord is the only King of Israel and only living God in the world. The Lord is the one who had given them a life, led them directly through so much, and done it all to make them a people through whom other nations would be gathered into God’s garden of grace and love. The Lord says that this demand for a King and desire to be just like those who don’t know the Lord, is a direct affront to his name; a forgetting of who they are, and a lack of trust in him.

This kingship is obviously not the Lord’s first choice for getting the world back to his blessing and life, but he allows it. He tells Samuel to listen to the people and anoint Saul (1 Samuel 8).

The Lord seems to see that it can work, if the king remains faithful to his calling. That is a big “if”!

The king is called to be the Lord’s representative; the patron of the worship life of God’s people, the leader who ensures the working of right justice within the nation, and protector of the nation. He is not divine or above God, but always under the God as God’s representative, at best.

As Lord Nelson famously said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Will Saul remain faithful? Even for the tall, handsome one this is going to be difficult!

Saul, begins well enough. But after a particular battle he shows his true heart. He oversteps the direct word of the Lord and then lies about it to justify his way. Samuel and the Lord remain unconvinced.

The word of God is alive and active….: it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Saul, in desperation, even dabbles in the occult to try and save his skin at one stage. The man who was tall hears from Samuel that the Lord will reject him as king….and the fall is hard.

Friends, we want to stand tall, don’t we? We want leaders that help us be strong and tall. We don’t want the carnage and grief of gun massacres. We don’t riots, hatred, violence and lawlessness taking hold. We don’t want terrorist attacks. We want the family to be strong and full of love and life. We don’t want greed to rule and corruption to become an accepted way of life. We don’t want the freedom to worship the Lord in joy to be limited or removed.

Same for Israel. But, the truth here is that they looked at the world for their answer more than the Lord and his history of leading and living with them. This begs the question in our troubling times as an election looms….

 “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

Will we look to human means and try to match with the world to stay standing tall, more than the Lord and his story among us?

Will we seek more influence in political power? Better submarines? More secret surveillance. The perfect education? Control of people via the mass media? A more powerful person at top who can really ‘get things done”? More walls to keep the bad people out? More toughness in keeping people of other faiths out?

And in the church? Will we rely solely on better marketing, business principals, firmer rules, bigger buildings or no buildings, better music, more organisation…..?

And who? The best looking candidate for PM? The smoothest operator? The most powerful looking one? And in our church? Will we look for the charismatic pastor, the charismatic youth leader, the gifted singer or musician: Will we entertainment to really pack them in?

We don’t need to rely on these things for the ability and joy of standing tall and avoiding the fall.

We are so much better placed than the people of old. We have seen the Word of Life and heard him with our ears and touched him with our hands and lips.

Jesus the King of all Kings, the Great High Priest, and the One who is the Prophet to interpret all prophets of the past, is with us in the world in the here and now. And he is praying for us always.

He prays that as we live this life in the world he loves, follow him into his world, we are protected from the Evil One and from too hard a testing that is beyond our limits. “Lead us not into temptation” we pray and he prays with us and for us.

Friends, no matter who gets into power and what decisions they make – supportive of the Lord’s way or not, hear this word of promise from the Crucified King who lives to bring his world back to his blessing through us,

11 These things [in the past] happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to human beings. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.(1Corinthians 10:11-13)

God is faithful. He is calling us to trust him when he says that he wants his people to stay standing! He does not want us to fall as Saul fell. He wants us to look to him in all of this worry or anger or mistrust or anxiousness about our country.

We do this by sanding on the foundations of the Word of the Prophets and the Apostles. There the Lord speaks of his ever furious grace, poured out into his world in the crucified Prophet, Priest and King, Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the new King.

Friends, aren’t we meant to be a people who do life distinctively different because we our “what” and “who” are him? Jesus and his way of truth and love is our ‘what’ and ‘who’.

As a result he says that we are meant to be here in the world, but not of the world.

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16)

Aren’t we called not to be formed by the world with all of its human expectations and solutions, but transformed by Jesus Word for living in the world his way?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” (Romans 12:2)

Friends, Jesus is not praying that we be taken out of the world but remain in it, and engaged in the issues of our time – but with trust in him and his presence and promises, not reliant on mere human political and power means.

He is calling us to stand in him and do life in his way. Here is what he prays for you today.

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

We stand tall because he fell hard and rose over us…. and he prays for us and his world always. Vote with confidence in the Lord. Hear him. Love him. Be loved by him.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Chapter 10, standing tall, falling hard

Timeless Truth: Obedience matters.

Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)

Blessing. This was meant to be the distinguishing mark of the people of God. God’s covenant with Israel required obedience and promised ultimate blessing. Yet, the period of the judges is anything but a time of obedience and blessing in Israel. More fitting descriptions are: Barrenness. Blindness. Battles. Bereavement. Blessing was hard to come by in those days. God’s people had abandoned God Himself, and “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Few remembered God’s commands. Even fewer obeyed.

But God always has a few. One was a woman named Hannah. She had long endured the grief of childlessness accompanied by the taunts of her husband’s other wife. On one of her visits to worship at God’s house in Shiloh, Eli, the priest, mistook her devotion for drunkenness. She had poured out her heart first in desperate prayer and then to Eli and vowed that she would dedicate her son to the LORD. Eli assured her that her prayer would be heard. God did give Hannah a son and she kept her word. She named the boy Samuel and took him to serve in the tabernacle under the High Priest, Eli.

God spoke to Samuel one night when he was still a boy. God told Samuel that Eli and his sons would be judged and his priestly line would soon end. And as it always does, God’s word came true, this time through the Philistines. Israel lost their first battle with the Philistines at Aphek and blamed their loss on the absence of the ark of covenant. Their own absence of obedience went unnoticed. They faced the Philistine army again, this time with the ark as their good luck charm and lost both the battle and the ark. Eli had grown old and blind, and the devastating news of Israel’s defeat, the death of his sons and the loss of the ark of covenant left Eli dead on the spot.

Samuel took Eli’s place, but Israel was dissatisfied and asked for a king. Samuel knew better and expressed his opposition. God knew He’d been rejected. Israel knew only that they wanted to be like their pagan neighbors, the very people they were not to emulate. God warned that their demand for a king would be costly; that he would exploit them to the point of slavery. The people ignored God’s warnings and still insisted on having an earthly king to fight their battles. Saul was anointed by Samuel and began well. He was affirmed by miraculous signs from God. He fought the Ammonites and gave God credit for their victory. Samuel reminded the people that God had not rejected them, even though they had turned away from Him. He encouraged them again to follow God and serve him from the heart and God affirmed Samuel’s words with unheard of thunder and rain during harvest.

Saul’s honeymoon as king was short-lived. During another battle with the Philistines, Saul got nervous; Samuel was late. So Saul took his authority too far and took matters—and offerings—into his own hands, violating the role God had reserved for the priests. Samuel confronted Saul; he backpedaled, made excuses, and tried to justify his sin, but wound up losing a dynasty. Saul’s path of half-hearted obedience and fear-based leadership grew longer by the year and more twisted with every step.

God rejected Saul as king. Saul’s reign was Israel’s opportunity to see that monarchy is no better than anarchy when a man after God’s own heart is not on the throne. God had already chosen such a man, an unlikely shepherd boy who would one day become Saul’s successor. His throne would endure and would point God’s people again to the Shepherd King who was yet to come.

Icebreaker Question: Share about a time when you had to admit you were wrong. Was this easy or hard?

  1. Eli’s encouragement helped Hannah move from deep sadness to hope. Share about a time when someone deeply encouraged you.

  2. What can we learn about prayer from Hannah and Samuel?

  3. Compare the three fathers in the story: Elkanah, Eli and Samuel. What were their best and worst traits? Which of these traits do you wish you had more of?

  4. Samuel was probably about 12 years old when God called him to be a prophet to Eli and all of Israel. He was required to speak the truth in love to his mentor and friend. Have you ever been in this position?

  5. The Israelites and the Philistines both treated the Ark of the Covenant more like a good-luck charm than the sacred presence of the LORD. How might people today try to manipulate God for similar gain?

  6. Samuel is hurt when he sees that the Israelites want a king like other nations, instead of recognizing God as their king. Do you ever struggle with a desire to be like the culture around you, instead of letting God rule your life?

  7. You are on the search committee for the first king of Israel. What would you look for in your applicants? What were Saul’s actual qualifications?

  8. How do you think Samuel would have described the “state of the union” at the end of his time as judge? Where do you see God’s grace in his statement after the battle with the Ammonites?

  9. Imagine you have a friend like Saul, who keeps taking matters into his own hands and ignoring what God’s word teaches him. What advice would you give him?

  10. Chapter 10 opens with the beautiful story of Elkanah’s love and leadership of his family. The chapter closes with the story of Saul’s poor leadership of Israel and his self-love. Compare and contrast the leadership styles of these two men. In what ways is your leadership style similar to either one? In what areas can you improve?

In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.

Closing Prayer

#Pentecost5C #Psalm54 #Saul #samuel #StoryWeek10 #1Samuel122025 #Eli

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