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1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 72; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 17, 2018 – Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Happy Father’s Day to everyone. It is good to dedicate a day to a special and vital relationship in our society. They have led the way and made mistakes, triumphed and faced hard times.
They showed us what it is to be alive in the world and tried to pass it on. In the Bible, we have a whole people trying to tell us what it is to be alive in the world as they try to pass on something as important as life itself…the accumulated wisdom of an age.
When the people of Israel began to write their history down, their nation had been totally defeated. They were facing cultural extinction.
But they knew how precious their witness as a people in the world was. They wanted to send it forward into a world that they could not see. It is a love letter to the future…to all who will receive it.
And they told the whole story…the good and the bad and the ugly. It was important for them to tell all those who survived somewhere what they had done right…but it was also important for them to tell where they thought they had gone wrong.
I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. when I was going to law school at Georgetown. The law center was at the foot of Capitol Hill and I rode my bike or walked back and forth every day across the plaza in front of Union Station.
There are chiseled panels all across that great public building that greeted all the travelers to the capital city in the day before air travel and automobiles were tablets of wisdom.
It is still a hub of transportation, the second busiest train station in the nation with just under five million visitors a year, and the messages it send from 1907 to 2018 are meant to be savored.
My favorite said, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. So it is in traveling. A man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.”
And that is what the Nation of Israel was doing through the magic of the written world. They were sending wisdom through time. They were bringing home knowledge to all who would accept the beauty of their truth…to all who could see the truth in their beauty.
This is the way the world is now, they conceded, but it wasn’t always this way. Our people have done something that is incredible in the sight of humankind.
It is hard to imagine now, as you look back from Babylon or some more distant time, like our own, but it was wonderful. Time and time again, what was Good triumphed over that which was powerful.
So there is, somewhere in the world, somehow in the universe, a power that is stronger than physical might. You cannot see it with your eyes, but you can see it affect the outcome of great events.
The cause of freedom is the most powerful catalyst in the world, transforming great armies into clumsy obligations. Pharaoh lost his army as Israel gained its freedom, and he did not lose it at the hand of the Israelites. It was something greater than that.
Their re-entry into the land that God had promised Abraham was an act of faith. They should not have succeeded, looking at it from a worldly point of view.
But they did, and again, it was something stronger than they were, something more powerful than their armies, that seemed to bring victory after victory within their reach.
Frederick Douglass, the freed slave who spoke and wrote eloquently for emancipation all his life observed that Abraham Lincoln was willing to compromise on the issue of slavery.
He would have sold the slaves down the river if that would have saved the Union. At the outset of the Civil War he believed the great burning issue of his day was the inviolability of the nation established by the founders.
But the slaves had to be freed before the nation could go on. Lincoln himself saw this irresistible progression of events and said he felt like he was merely the instrument of some great hand guiding events.
Samuel felt that way, too, as he found himself anointing David, the youngest, the shepherd boy, the least likely, as the next king of Israel. He had anointed Saul, too, in spite of his misgivings that they should have a king at all.
We read only a part of the story this morning, but the larger text tells a larger story. Samuel doesn’t want another king, but the Lord has grown weary of Saul.
To anoint David is to rebel against the king he himself anointed, and that king is not likely to receive the news kindly. This is treason and traitors are put to death.
God tells Samuel to take a heifer with him and to tell anyone who asks that he is coming to offer a sacrifice to God at Bethlehem. Invite Jesse to bring his sons to the sacrifice.
Samuel arrives at Bethlehem and he invites Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice. They all pass before him and the Lord tells Samuel that each of them, in turn, is not the one.
“Do you have any more sons?” he asks and Jesse says there is just the youngest and we left him home to tend the sheep while the rest of us came to the sacrifice. “Go get him,” Samuel says, and once again, when David appears, the Lord picks the one least likely to be the greatest herald of the faith Israel will ever know.
He will unify the nation, move the capital to Jerusalem, secure the borders and establish a peace that will provide a place for the great learning of the Jewish experience and culture to become a way of life that will last for hundreds of years.
This pattern of the one least likely being the chosen one of God runs through the Bible, from Jacob to Moses to Samuel to David to Jesus and Paul.
The Lord enters into our lives in unexpected ways…we read in First Thessalonians that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
We are to be attentive…to be watchful. Christ tells us in Matthew’s account to keep our lamps trimmed in anticipation of the coming of the bridegroom.
He is telling us to run our lives through that part of our mind that we use to process information over time. It is only with the accumulated wisdom of many ages that we can hope to arrive at the right conclusion even when our information seems incomplete, vague or contradictory.
So it is, too, with the ministries we seek to establish to make our community stronger and more vital. Annual Conference this year was the 51st and last of the Yellowstone Conference, which was established in 1968 upon the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren.
It was also the first meeting of the Mountain Sky Conference, as of about 7:00 p.m. last Saturday. In our end is our beginning, we have just sung, and so it is with this new governing structure for churches in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. We are now the largest annual conference in the worldwide United Methodist Church, and still the smallest, or among the smallest in terms of membership.
Our conference staff in Billings has all been laid off, so we will begin to knit new relationships with the conference staff in Denver. There is a lot of talent in the Rocky Mountain Conference and I am looking forward to learning more about it and growing into the new resources we may come to enjoy as a result of it.
Our apportionment formula has changed to become 13% of our adjusted gross revenue. I think this will result in a slight increase in our assessment, but it will not go into effect until January 1, and the exact number will not be known until then.
We have a clergy pool that now covers four states instead of a state and a half, but the Bishop has been making appointments across old conference lines for three or four years now.
We are all Westerners. That has not changed. We are providing worship and ministry to our local communities in innovative ways and I was struck by the fact that of the five local church ministries featured in video clips presented at the conference, two of them were a free clothing store in Billings, much like our Threads program in Bigfork, and a community meal that a church offered once a week…much like our Thursday suppers. We are thinking alike.
I also have learned quite recently that our district superintendent will once again be calling our charge conferences and it appears that we may need to change our planned date for next Sunday. That may not happen, but I want you all to know that our ‘official’ charge conference was last January, when we agreed to my salary and a church budget.
The one we have scheduled for next Sunday…is not one that is official for conference purposes…but it is the one we have when everyone is here and the decisions we make in the middle of the year have always been in accordance with what the January conference decides.
We are much like Samuel these days …seeking to hear God’s word and to bring it to life in our community …finding new needs, new challenges, and new ways forward.
Our calling is to the local mission field and I am grateful for the way people have ‘turned to’ and helped that grow steadily. We have learned many things.
At the same time, we have inspired much possibility thinking, among our members and in the community beyond. I was presented with a new idea that I have mentioned to many people and that I shared with the Pastors Association last Wednesday.
People in the Bigfork area have medical appointments in Kalispell. I am becoming aware of the fact that the older we get the more often we have appointments. Someone was giving a ride to a friend of the family a little while ago and found out he had been calling Uber to get to his appointments. Last year he spent $8,000 on Uber rides to medical appointments.
Wouldn’t it be great, the person said, if the churches could get together to do provide that service? Because we have launched our meals program and it has continued to be a valuable part of the community, no one at the Pastors Association dismissed it.
I didn’t ask them to make any decisions…only to think about it for now. We are a Can-Do congregation. As we succeed and grow in little ways, we encourage our neighbors to join us, and we make it possible for our community to grow in big ways.
Of all the communities I have lived in and the congregations I have been in or served, when it comes to getting something done, this is the one.
Of all the options we had as of annual conference this year, merging with Rocky Mountain to form the Mountain Sky Conference was the one.
Now we continue to serve and grow. We grow because we are willing to serve and we are increasingly able to serve because we have grown. There are many churches that you might look at before us to see good things happening and good visions being cast into the future.
There are many parts of the country you might look at to find a place where the church is into the Word and into the world.
We are, after all, such a small church and such a small conference in such a big land. Surely we are the ones least likely to be called into ministry in a world-changing way.
But every time I think like that, I ask, “Lord, what is it that you want to do through me today?” Then I try to listen for the answers to come, like they came to Samuel.
I might be wrong, but what I think I hear, again and again, is “This is the time. This is the place. This is the lake that draws love to its shores and launches it. This is the one.”
Let us continue the work we have been about, always asking for God to direct us and always listening for that direction…and each day let us get up from our slumber to walk together through another 24 hour period.
Let us keep our lamps trimmed. When we wonder what day it is that the answers to our prayers will come, let us assume every minute of every day that this is the one. Amen.