The two books of Samuel are painfully realistic in their description of events from before the birth of Samuel to the time of David’s death. There are a series of beginnings that mark the ends of some things, and endings that mark the beginning of new things. The book reminds us that each birth eventually leads to a death, and each thing that comes into being will also have an ending. Some endings are transition points, and some are final exits. What matters is what happens in between the beginnings and endings. The readings for this Sunday will be the beginning of Samuel’s story, a story that begins the ending of Eli’s line, and raises questions about what God does. What are some transition points in our lives, and what are some of the exit points?
The story for November 18 was:
Look at these plants. Late last winter, these plants were seeds. They sprouted, grew, and bloomed. Two of their flowers grew into the two peppers that are hanging here. Inside the peppers are seeds that could grow, eventually, into new plants. Successive is a word that describes events where one thing follows another. In this case, the seed is followed by a sprout which is followed by a plant which is followed by blooms which are followed by fruit which are followed by new seeds. This kind of process is called succession. Each thing becomes what it was meant to be, and then its time comes to an end so something new can begin. If we cleared all of the houses and roads away this area and left it alone for a long time, we would see another kind of succession. First there would be many short-lived plants: stink weed, fireweed, and so on. Then we would see grasses starting to grow. Grass seed is very small, and it needs protection. When a grass seed is underneath fireweed or dandelions, the leaves of these plants give the grass seed protection, and it can get a good start. The kinds of grasses that grow naturally around here send roots deep into the ground, and slowly crowd out some of the short-lived plants. Other longer-lived plants like prairie crocuses and lilies also get established.
There are also small trees like willows and saskatoons that will start growing here. They would be followed by aspen trees and occasionally spruce. Eventually this area could become an aspen woodland with a mixture of trees dominated by aspens along with grasses and other plants. Because this area naturally has some really hot and dry summers, eventually a forest fire would burn through here, and it would start almost over again, but the grasses will be among the first plants to grow again. The climate and soil of this area create a natural goal for plant communities. Next Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday, and it is about the empire of God that Jesus gave as our destination. We are in the middle of a kind of human succession, where we are building one kind of community that makes it possible for the next kind of community to get started. I have a story about one stage of succession in a human community.
John and Gail were grade 3 students in a school in a community that was changing. When they started school, all of their classmates had been born in the area. By Grade 3, families from other countries had started moving in, families from places like the Philippines, West Africa, and Korea. Some of their classmates started being nasty to these new students and John and Gail thought that was wrong. John was good at academics and Gail was the best athlete in Grade 3.
They decided to do something, and what they did was start a Rainbow Club to welcome these new students. Both John and Gail were seen as leaders by their classmates, so their classmates also joined the club, and most new students in Grade 3, and Grade 2, found a way to become accepted in the school. At the older grades, there was still a lot of bullying, and John and Gail couldn’t do much about that, but they did what they could for the younger children. By the time they got to Grade 6, their school had developed a reputation for how well students from other countries could fit in. In fact they fit in so well, they helped the school win more in sports and in academic competitions like spelling bees. John and Gail had helped their school become more like the Empire of God that Jesus described.
We are made to eventually want to live in communities where everybody is accepted, appreciated, and able to succeed. We are not there yet, but we are succeeding at moving forward in a process of human succession, thanks be to God.
Loving God, open our hearts, minds, and hands to helping your Empire be part of our communities. Amen
The message on Sunday was:
Endings and Beginnings: 1 Samuel 1/2 2012/11/18
An old Jewish story tells of a spiritually gifted boy and his father. It was clear to their community that the boy had a special connection to God. One day a rabbi who was famous for his spirituality and wisdom was visiting a nearby town, and the boy begged his father to take him to see the rabbi. The father reluctantly agreed and they set off. When they came to a bridge, their horse started to refuse to cross. The father took this as a sign from God and turned around. The son became very sad and died shortly after. The father stopped one day at a tavern and saw the devil talking with some others. He heard the devil describe how he tricked the father into turning around by upsetting his horse. He went on to say that, if the boy would have met the rabbi, he would have been the Messiah that everyone desired. Some wonderful beginnings are passed by, and some possibilities for ending bad situations are missed. Even when we miss some possibilities for good changes to our lives, God keeps offering new possibilities.
In Natalie Sleeth’s “In the Bulb There is a Flower”, the third verse begins with “in our end is our beginning”. Every day brings endings and beginnings, with the endings opening the way to new beginnings, and the beginnings opening the ways to eventual endings. What matters most is what happens between the beginning and the ending. A healthy dose of graciousness helps the endings, the beginnings, the new endings, and the parts in between.
Let’s begin with the story of Samuel. This is one of several stories that can be very hurtful to couples trying to have children without success. In our story, Hanna makes an offer to God, an offer that includes the gift of her first son should she be able to conceive.
And she is successful. She gives Samuel to the shrine at Shiloh, and she has more children. This part of the story provides a solid foundation to claiming Samuel’s special relationship with God. As a child, I loved this story, especially God’s call to Samuel in the night. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if God would call me like that? God did call, but not in such a dramatic fashion.
We have stories of struggles some couples have in conceiving, and I suspect this story could be a hard one for them to hear. I believe God occasionally intervenes in events in the world, but I doubt God intervenes in matters related to pregnancies. In the story we heard today,
Hanna’s childless status ends, and her status as a loving mother begins, a mother who almost certainly feels sadness in the separation from her first born, evidenced in her bringing him new clothes each year.
Samuel goes from being a happy infant to a child growing up in the shrine, then that status ends as he becomes God’s new prophet/judge and priest for the Jewish people. His life marks the transition of the Hebrews from a collection of tribes who fought with each other almost as often as they fought others like the Philistines to a people with a King, and finally to a people with a kingdom. David’s unification of all the people happens after Samuel’s death. It is important to know that, according the author of Samuel, God did not want the people to have a king or a kingdom. God wanted them to be a free people whose lives were grounded in God instead of being ruled by a king. But, knowing what people were like, God helped choose good candidates for the role of king. The two books of Samuel have many examples of times when God pointed to a helpful direction, and people made other choices with painful consequences. The parts in between really matter.
In our lives we have many endings and beginnings. It used to be that the first day of school put an ending to free play every day. Junior high marks an end to having most classes in one room and the beginning of the need to learn complicated timetables. Getting attached to a special other marks an end to singleness and the beginning of a relationship that can grow with us. The birth of a first child ends a time of deciding daily what a couple will do after work. Before children, Bonnie and I could drive for 2.5 hours to Edmonton after school for an Educators for Peace meeting, have supper afterward somewhere, and drive back to St. Paul to teach the next day. There are many endings and beginnings in our personal lives. Being gracious through them makes the endings less sad and the beginnings more rewarding.
Who here remembers BA gasoline? How about Studebaker cars, probably the best built cars of their time? I still miss Buckeye rootbeer, sold at our local drivein by the glass or by the gallon — better than A&W or Barq’s by far. I drive a Pontiac — they are not being made anymore. Then there is the Commodore 64, Apple 2e’s, and Underwood electric typewriters. Yugoslavia became several countries, and the Northwest Territories has been split into Nunavut and the NWT. When we moved to Calgary, Forest Lawn, Montgomery, Bowness and Midnapore were independent communities. The sheep farm where we fished the Bow is now Quarry Park, and thousands of people enjoy a space that used be mostly enjoyed by at most a couple dozen fishermen.
St. Matthew’s used to be West Calgary United Church, and West Calgary United Church started as West Calgary Methodist 102 years ago.
As we go forward, may we choose our endings and beginnings well so that what we do, the difference we make in the world, will give honour to the creative and loving presence of the Spirit.