Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost - June 17 2018

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 17, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 2:23-3:6

God was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.


Saul spent most of his reign fighting Philistines. Finally, the Philistines withdrew for a time, and Samuel told Saul the time had come to avenge the Israelites who had been killed by the Amalekites when they escaped from Egypt.  Samuel told Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, down to every man, woman, and child, their flocks and herds and beasts of burden, and to burn all their crops.  They were to become as if they had never been.

Saul did not do this. Yes, he slaughtered almost all the people, and almost all the animals, but he too King Agag prisoner and brought Agag and the best of the animals back to his home.

When Samuel challenged him, Saul said he had brought them home to sacrifice to “your God.”  That’s an interesting pronoun, isn’t it?

Samuel said,
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as obedience to the voice of the Lord?

Surely to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.[1]

Then Saul admitted his sin, but Samuel said it was too late.

So “Samuel grieved over Saul.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

This isn’t the end of Saul, however; the Philistines returned and we do get the story of Goliath, and anointing of David, but David won’t become king just yet.  And Samuel continued to be a thorn in Saul’s side, although they never met in person again.

It’s not even clear that Saul knew Samuel had anointed a new king, but he did know he himself had lost favor.

It drove him nuts.  He was paranoid, jealous, untrusting, and afraid.

Because God was sorry.

The only other time God is reported to be sorry was after the flood – and the rainbow became the symbol of God’s vow never again to destroy creation for the wickedness of humanity.

Which is just as well for us, because certainly humanity can be very wicked indeed.

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!

Wait, what?

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?[2]

How do we make things right?

I find myself at a bit of a loss for words this day.  There is a great wickedness abroad in the world – a wickedness that tells us we must hate in order to survive and prosper.

This is the voice of despair and fear and it is the siren song of evil.

Survival is not the goal of our lives – the goal of our lives is the living God.

And he has told us what is good – to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

It is not justice, nor is it mercy, nor is it humility, to tear children from the arms of their parents who are trying to escape from some corner of hell and requesting asylum.

We are not immune, nor are we innocent, if we remain silent when cruelty becomes the way we enforce our laws.

We are not innocent when we remain silent when others speak words of hatred and bigotry.

We are not innocent when we remain silent when rapacious greed is rewarded but the poor go hungry and creation itself is fouled.

“Whatever you do to the least of these my children, you do to me.”[3]  “Whatever you do NOT do for the least of these, you do not do for me.”[4]

A good friend reminded me the other day that most of the OT, and all of the NT, were written by people who were being oppressed by kings and emperors at the time, by the fiat of rulers and kings, all of whom were focused on their own privileges and rank and riches and positions and status.

We, as the Body of Christ, are also called to be like Christ, and to care for those who are oppressed and abused and impoverished and sickened by those in power.

Frankly, there are days when I do despair of the good news.  But to give in to despair, as Saul did, is a form of idolatry – one that says that evil is stronger than good.

And that’s just not true.

The kingdom of God is like seed that someone has scattered on the ground, which sprouts and grows, no one knows how, first the stalk, then the head, then the grain in the head, and then the harvest.

The kingdom of God is HERE.

The kingdom of God is at the border.

The kingdom of God is in the prisons.

The kingdom of God is in the homeless shelter and the hospital.

The kingdom of God is with the refugee and those who seek asylum.

And he kingdom of God is in our hearts, too, praise God, so that we may not fear and not despair, but stand up against injustice, stand up for mercy, and remember that God is good and wills our good and the good of all creation, and that, even if we are fallible, we were made for the good.

God was sorry about the flood.

God was sorry about Saul.

But God is not sorry now, because God knows that “justice will roll down like waters in a mighty stream” upon a dry and desolate earth, and the people of God will rise up and cry Alleluia!, and the prodigal will be welcomed home with infinite mercy and love.

And that, my dears, is our strength.


[1] 1 Samuel 15:22-23

[2] Psalm 137:4

[3] Matthew 25:40.

[4] Matthew 25:45.

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