Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thinking about Samuel and Moses, and Preaching

I preached yesterday from 1 Samuel 8, which tells about how Israel got its first king who was named Saul. This part of the Biblical story has always held my attention, because it explains that it was the people, not God and not the prophet, Samuel, who wanted Israel to be governed by a king. Up until that point in Israel's history, they had been led by "judges," who were usually appointed by God to administer justice and preside as priests over the people. I say "usually" because it was also the custom for an appointed judge to appoint his sons to succeed him in the office of judge.

Now, this role of judge/prophet/priest was fashioned after the most important judge/prophet/priest in Israel - Moses. But, Samuel, unlike many of the minor judges between Moses and him, was a heavy-weight. He was like Moses in many ways, as he was in "close communion and conversation" with God,the Lord of Israel. And, like Moses, the Scripture gives very close attention to the unique circumstances of his birth and upbringing. For Moses, it was that he was born in a time of persecution of Israel, and instead of being killed at birth in accordance with the law promoting genocide of Hebrews, Moses was hidden in the bullrushes and saved, and then adopted by the daughter of the king of Egypt and raised in the royal household. For Samuel, he was born to a woman who had been barred, but whose fervent prayer for a child was granted by God. And, this woman dedicated this first-born son to the service of God, and he was adopted and raised by the old priest, Eli.

There is irony in the life and mission of both Moses and Samuel, because each is called to declare judgment on the household they were raised in. For Moses, it is the judgment of God against the king of Egypt who was oppressing God's people with a cruel bondage. For Samuel, it is the judgment of God against the corruption of the priesthood in the household of Eli, whose sons had turned away from God and taken bribes instead of fairly deciding cases in Israel. In Moses case, though, it is outright warfare between the king of Egypt and Moses; but, in Samuel's case, Eli faithfully raises Samuel to follow him as priest, and Eli accepts the prophecy of judgment against his house.

In Moses' case, he follows God's commands and appoints a worthy successor to himself in Israel, Joshua, who will lead the people as a priest and military commander. In Samuel's case, he follows in God's ways, but fails to raise his own sons well. We don't know what happened, but Samuel appoints unworthy successors to himself, because his own sons are like the sons of Eli before him: they don't follow in God's ways; they pervert justice by taking bribes and handing out decisions on cases to whomever will pay the most.

One other thing about Samuel is that two important biblical books are named after him: 1 and 2 Samuel. This part of Israel's sacred history is marked as the period of Samuel, not the period of either Saul or David who served as king during the life of Samuel.

Well, I will end this reflection on Moses and Samuel, and continue next time with the discussion of what it meant to move from being led by "judges" to being governed by "kings." This is a fairly difficult thing to understand (I tried to cover this in the sermon and interpret it, but the sermon took a long time and probably left a little more confusion than understanding on the table yesterday). I guess I have always been somewhat confused, but intrigued by this section scripture. Sometimes it is important to spend time with those sections of scripture that don't produce simple rules for living or clear illustrations of what God is like. The reality we face is complicated, and it would serve us well if we would learn that scripture deals with that complex reality as well. But, to do that, we have to be able to acknowledge that scripture often doesn't neatly reflect our church doctrines and confessions, but does reflect the mysterious and somewhat confusing presence of God in human history. When people begin to sense that the Bible really speaks about this reality we are experiencing, they will endure some confusion for a time in order to find something real, something that leads them to an experience of the living God in the midst of their living.

As I continue dealing with this part of Israel's history for the next few weeks, I am hopeful that my preaching will lead to this type of interest among those who attend services. But, it will take some real interest in the Bible and even more than that it will require people to be at a point where they are looking for more than traditional religious teaching. At some point, I got fed up with the same old ways of speaking about God and faith and this reality we live in (nonetheless, I continue to speak often in these tradtional ways, because a new language hasn't come). I simply don't find many types of traditional church language very helpful. I'll say more about this later. But, I continue to find inspiration in the Bible. It is more raw, more real, more confusing, more liberating. It gets us back to the roots of religion, to the roots of what the relationship between God and humanity is all about.

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