Sermon Seeds: Come Peaceably
Sunday, March 19, 2023
Fourth Sunday in Lent | Year A
(Liturgical Color: Violet)
Listen to the Podcast
1 Samuel 16:1-13 • Psalm 23 • Ephesians 5:8-14 • John 9:1-41
1 Samuel 16:1-13 in conversation with John 9:1-41
Rend Our Hearts (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
Understanding roles holds critical importance when assessing power–the distribution of it as well as the execution of it. Power itself is neutral in value; how we employ power determines its moral and ethical valuation as well as practical implications and impacts. All power has a source. Theologically, we trace all power back to Creator. Through Spirit, power is distributed, and once delegated to another, the ability to exercise power is released. We have power, all of us to some degree, that often connects to the roles we assume.
The story articulated through First and Second Samuel is about power, which is not surprising considering that the lead characters in the narratives are the kings of the unified nation of Israel. Before the kingdom is divided, we receive the story of how the people clamor for a human ruler to lead them and the aftermath of the Holy One granting their dubious request.
The first king, Saul, does not need a long time to demonstrate his unsuitability for the role. He seems like a fine choice at first, but as the pressures and powers of rule weigh upon him, Saul proves unequal to the task. He goes it alone and does not rely upon the One who anoints him and holds inexhaustible power. Rather, Saul depends upon his own power and might, which is finite and antithetical to his call to leadership.
The focus passage meets us at the point of transition. It’s time for a new king, and while Samuel, the prophet and former judge chosen to be instrumental in kingmaking, seems stuck on his grief over Saul, God is ready to move on. Another king is in sight, the roles are about to change, and the new leader is to be identified.
It is interesting to note that Samuel is presented as the primary decision maker in the appointments of both Saul and David. When Solomon came to power, David played a crucial role—his endorsement ensured Solomon’s succession. The key influence was neither prophet nor priest although both were involved, as Nathan and Zadok supported Solomon and Abiathar acted for Adonijah. It is likely, therefore, that Samuel is pictured as having recovered his power from Saul and handing it over again, this time to David. Payne (“Apologetic Motifs in the Books of Samuel,” pp. 57–66) argues that Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon all had power handed to them and in none of these cases was that power usurped. In fact, all of these leaders, particularly the first three, are seen as being given to the nation by God.
Mary J. Evans
All of the characters in this power narrative are instrumental. None were a bad choice; each is chosen by God–anointed and appointed. Does God have bad judgment in picking leaders? Or, is the very premise of sovereign human leadership the problem? Is there anyone capable of ruling well? Are we meant to be ruled by sibling human beings when even the Righteous and Sovereign One leads by invitation and encouragement and not decree?
The stress that each leader began well is represented as an important apologetic motif in these books. The early kings may have failed, but that failure was not because they lacked the potential to succeed. “In every generation, . . . Yahweh had not only overruled to benefit his people but had provided them with rulers of the right character and calibre and with every potential of success” (p. 65). Thus the failure of the monarchy was not to be blamed on any inadequacy in God’s choice. It is possible that alongside this apologetic motivation is a further reflection that, in the case of human beings, all power corrupts.
Mary J. Evans
When Samuel enters Bethlehem, he is asked about his intentions. The elders ask, “Do you come peaceably?” In Hebrew, peace/shalom means more than the absence of conflict. In fact, true peace may require direct confrontation of conflict to achieve resolution and restoration. Peace happens alongside wellness and wholeness, justice and righteousness, belonging and community. Peace is everything as God intends it to be. To come with peace means we come with and in the kindom of God. Is this how we show up in the world?
The question reflects fear of the misuse of power, which is in opposition to peace. The elders likely recognized Samuel as the one who anointed Saul, who turns out to not be a leader who enabled peace. This is no idle question; it’s an accusation based on the available evidence and fruit of Samuel’s efforts.
Perhaps, the question also serves as a plea, a hope born from need and desperation. Will peace be restored? Will Samuel show up as an instrument of correction from a clear and pervasive problem?
That is of course the plan. A new leader needs to be identified, and the Holy One has led Samuel to Bethlehem and to the sons of Jesse, an unknown character. What follows reads like a parade of contestants for the role of king. There’s no reason to believe that Jesse or his sons know that they have been invited to anything other than a religious observation. While they might consider themselves honored guests, there’s no indication they even suspect they might be considered as the next ruler of the nation.
Someone has to be left behind to care for the sheep…to keep the flock together and to fight off predators. The eighth and youngest son, David, receives that assignment. Much interpretation assumes that he is left out of the privileged occasion as a negative value judgment on his person. That might be true. It may also be the case that David was chosen to keep watch over the family’s most prized resources because he was the most capable of doing so and doing so alone. Rather than being the least valued, perhaps he was the most trusted.
In the same way, God chooses David for the high position of trust. He will succeed Saul as king in expectation that David will succeed where Saul failed. He will bring peace where Saul brought chaos, but we know that the journey toward peace will not be without external and internal challenges and crises. Yet, the text strongly suggests that David’s heart, in the integrated Hebrew understanding of intellect and emotions, is what God has found qualifying.
The instruction to Samuel not to look at the outward appearance to judge who is the man fit to take on the kingship but to look at the heart is often held up as an example to condemn superficial judgments. The story, however, may complicate what is being meant. What exactly is it that Samuel sees in David’s heart? Does he see the qualities that will lead to David’s downfall as well as those that will allow him to rise to the kingship in the first place? The narrator of Samuel almost never gives us a glimpse into David’s inner thoughts and motivations, although other characters are laid open to us at times. It is this that gives him his core of mystery, which is both alluring and at times disturbing and which has made him a character that different generations have been able to rewrite to fit their notions of what kingship might be.
Hugh S. Piper
David, like Saul, experiences conflict within his role as ruler. He too will abuse his power with grievous and deplorable results. He will lose his way, yet he will also become known as a man after God’s heart. His general orientation and attitude toward his own power is that it is to be used for God’s purposes. A man irresistibly drawn to creating beauty through his psalm writing, praise dancing, and desire to build a magnificent dwelling place for his Sovereign God will be forced to shepherd a people through a hostile transition of power and war with neighboring nations. Peace does not come without conflict or resistance.
The gospel reading reminds us how ardently some of our siblings object to the realization of true peace in the world. A blind man receives his sight but some are more concerned about what he or his parents have done to contribute to his condition to find hope for his healing. A blind man receives his sight but some are too busy trying to find out all the details of the miracle to rejoice in his healing. A blind man receives his sight but some are more occupied objecting to the miracle worker to see the possibilities of well-being and wholeness this healing offers all. A blind man receives his sight and reveals himself to be the one most attuned and receptive to the kindom coming through and in him. A blind man receives his physical sight while those around him lack the vision necessary to recognize the Chosen One in their midst. They’d rather keep their power than to pursue God’s peace.
The United Nations has units that it deploys in the most fraught, violent, and politically tenuous places in the world. They are identified as Peacekeepers. They are trained in a variety of functions as the roles necessary to establish and secure the possibility of peace shifts based on dynamic conditions. They send peacekeepers to places that are rife with conflict at the same time “UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles: consent of the parties; impartiality; and non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate.” (https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/what-is-peacekeeping) In other words, they go to places receptive to peace, and they come peaceably.
Peace does not come through avoidance. Peace does not come passively. Peace demands hard work and commitment. Peace requires showing up consistently, relentlessly, and powerfully for the kindom of God over the kingdoms of this world.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Audre Lorde on the Vulnerability of Visibility and Our Responsibility, to Ourselves and Others, to Break Our Silences”
For Further Reflection
“They joined hands.
So the world ended.
And the next one began.” ― Sarah J. Maas
“I met an old lady once, almost a hundred years old, and she told me, ‘There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And Who’s in charge?” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft
“I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us.” ― Veronica Roth
Evans, Mary J. 1 and Samuel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Piper, Hugh S. “1 & 2 Samuel.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/what-is-peacekeeping accessed March 8, 2023
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Engage the gathered assembly in Join the Movement’s Courageous Conversations: A Lenten Antiracism Journey
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 • Psalm 23 • Ephesians 5:8-14 • John 9:1-41
Find the full text here: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=27