This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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It marks the end of a weekend of celebrations to mark the historic Platinum Jubilee of our queen, which happily coincides with another Christian festival that’s the Pentecost ... Jewish festival, which Christians have hijacked. When we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the new group of Jesus followers gathered in an upstairs room in Jerusalem all those years ago, following the resurrection. Now trying to come up with a sermon that does justice to all of these occasions isn’t easy. Looking into the Bible, there are plenty of times where the people celebrate a new king, where people are filled with a Holy Spirit, when a group of people coming together celebrate one of those many religious feasts.
My message today is a simple one. It’s about faith and service. It’s about recognizing that it’s God who somehow uses circumstances beyond human circumstances and control. My message is about celebration and about obedience. It’s about God’s continuing story about wanting to work with the creation that he has made to restore this world. When I put it like that, I guess we could be here for a long time, but I’ve got a birthday to celebrate as well. Here we are today, together, gathered. I’d like us to simply look at how it is that God trusted someone to take on a bigger task, a bigger task than themselves, and how that someone trusted God enough to help them with it.
I don’t know if you have ever felt overwhelmed by a situation or a task in hand, thinking that God must have chosen the wrong person if that was the ask. Thinking that God have definitely chosen the wrong person, and this is definitely is not the right job. Certainly, in one of my previous roles, I remember walking home every evening from school after yet another 10, 11 hour day drained from working with angry parents and angry children, and angry teachers wondering what an earth I was doing. I know that I prayed for help, and I know that I prayed almost every day, “God if you came to give life in all its fullness, why on earth am I feeling forever drained about doing this thankless dreadful job?”
I remembered that this thankless dreadful job paid the mortgage, allowed me to give to charity, enabled me to have a decent standard of living as well as help me sleep quite well at night. At times we can often do nothing except for carry on until God changes the situation. Looking back to, not that I was there, December 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated, his brother the Duke of York became King George VI, something that he didn’t expect. I suspect something that he didn’t relish. One man’s decision changed the course of history, his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, then just nine years old, a lover of horses and dogs was looking forward to enjoying a carefree life as a gentlewoman.
Now she was to become the Queen of England and the Commonwealth many years later. By some fluke of history and by one man’s decision, she was now destined to become the longest of all British reigning Monarchs in British history. Who’d have thought it? How does one become a Monarch? How does one prepare to become a Monarch? For our queen back in the 1950s, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Jeffrey Fisher wrote a little book called A Little Book of Private Devotions, short daily meditation with Bible readings and prayers, which he gave to the queen to use from the 1st of May, 1953, right up until her coronation and perhaps this little book formed who she was to become.
Helpful words found in the Bible wisely chosen, examples of how Jesus Himself treated people, as well as prayers, often from King David, perhaps all shaped the calling of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor to such a high position of commitment and service. Her Christian faith being the bedrock of her life. What a different scenario we find here in 1 Samuel. We meet Samuel, who’s been given a little snippet of information about who God wants to be anointed king. King Saul’s son is not going to automatically become king. There’s no divine right that the son automatically takes up the title in this story. Saul has been bad and is no longer to be king.
This favour is to be bestowed upon one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem, but as becomes clear, not the eldest son, which might be of the assumption. God uses his high priest and prophet Samuel to discover that the next king who would unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and through whom the promised Messiah, who we know as Jesus would finally come. This new king would be someone who’d be totally different. Samuel, the high priest seems worried about going to Bethlehem to seek out this new king because the present King Saul might discover his purpose for visiting the town. God in his graciousness walks Samuel through what’s going to happen and says what’s going to happen step by step.
God knows that even though he’s a priest, Samuel has natural human concerns about anointing a king behind the present king’s back. Samuel knows that God has rejected Saul as king. Poor Samuel can’t be in a worse position having brought bad news to Saul about being rejected as king. Then in the next moment being asked by God to find the new one, who’s going to take his place, but yet in his goodness, God says, “I will show you what to do.” In other words, are you going to trust me? Are you going to trust me? I wonder whether on this Platinum Jubilee weekend, whether our queen has gone to God at times of difficulty where God has stood by and said to her, “Are you going to trust me?”
Maybe you can look back on your life and perhaps your faith life, where there’s been similar replies when you beseech God and all God has said is trust me. How many times in the Bible do we read the words, do not be afraid. 365, apparently, one for every day of the year. In other words, to paraphrase Jesus, trust me. I am with you. Do not be scared because I am here. For Samuel, the priest-prophet, God says the same as he searches for this new king to be found in Bethlehem. How interesting it is that the seven sons of Jesse pass in front of Samuel, but God says no to them all. I wonder what makes Samuel so certain about David or about these seven that all come in front.
Are they all hunks? God says to him, “Don’t consider his appearance or his height.” Some things that people tend to look for somehow in a leader is these things somehow represent success, power, leadership. The Lord doesn’t look at the things that people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Later we are told that David too is glowing with fine health and appearance and handsome features. What is it that sets David apart? Obviously, it’s his heart.
Returning to the story of our reigning queen and her coronation. It obviously wasn’t just one short book of devotion that she read once a day for a month before her coronation that made her believe, or that made her wise and godly in this book, which my mum sent me actually. I do not know if you’ve seen it. Apparently, they’re quite easily accessible. I’ll see if my mum can send a few more up. It’s called Our Faithful Queen, 70 Years of Faith and Service. The author writes that a love of the Bible goes back for generations in the royal family. It’ said that the Queen’s maternal grandmother Lady Strahan, read the Bible for an hour a day to her children, which included the queen mother.
In turn the queen mother regularly read Bible stories to the young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, and taught them to pray. Both girls started their school lessons with half an hour of Bible reading under their governess. Weekly church attendance had been a lifelong pattern for the queen, who is said to keep a well-read Bible by her bedside. It’s not only those religious activities that the queen holds to. It does rather seem to me that she takes the words of the Bible and the actions of Jesus really quite seriously. When opening the general synod of the church of England back in 2010, she made the following remarks.
“What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society,” she said, adding, “At the heart of our faith, stand not a preoccupation with our own welfare and comforts, but the concepts of service and sacrifices shown in the life and teaching of the one who made himself nothing. Taking the very form of a servant.” Our queen who wasn’t in line to take the throne, whose life was changed because her uncle couldn’t continue in his position without the woman he loved, already had a life of faith. Before she was anointed queen, she liked David, became monarch almost out of nowhere.
Back to 1 Samuel, this fine handsome young shepherd David is anointed with oil from a ram’s horn. After God has told Samuel rise and anoint him, this is the one, Golly! W hat a burden! What if Samuel got this one wrong? How did he know? How does one hear the words of God speaking, confirming? Perhaps he recalled God’s words to him as he left for Bethlehem, I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate, trust me. And so oil is poured onto David. God has chosen someone from left field. David was a shepherd. He wasn’t designated from an early age to be a leader. He was just a boy, but God looks at the heart.
Even before King Saul loses his position, Samuel has already stated the future in 1 Samuel 13:14, “But now your kingdom will not endure,” he says to Saul. “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart appointed him ruler of his people because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” Obedience and a heart that follows after God, that’s what God saw in David. Service and sacrifice, that’s what God has bestowed upon our queen, but more importantly than all of these things. The last few words that occur after David has been anointed in the presence of his brothers and I wonder how I would feel if I was one of those brothers, would I be scornful? Would I be joyful? Would I be relieved?
Maybe a bit like Joseph in the Old Testament whose brothers hated him because he was Jacob’s favourite, who got that multicoloured coat. I don’t know. Anyway, the most important part is that from that day the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David, move on several hundred years and the people of God are awaiting the Messiah. They are praying and they are seeking. Along comes John the Baptist who says that he’s preparing the way for one who would come after him. One day he sees Jesus and declares, “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” soon followed by this testimony in John Chapter 1, where he says I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I myself didn’t know him but the one who sent me to baptize him with water told me, the one on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain, is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen, says John and testify that this is God’s chosen one. We see the life, the miracles, the prayers, the teaching, the example of Jesus with power and authority. We see the life of Jesus drain from his body and we see the disciples disappear quietly, wondering what this last three years, was all about. Then suddenly on Easter Sunday, we hear the testimony of the women who are first at the tomb. We hear that Jesus is risen.
He then comes to his disciples, He blows on them and says receive the Holy Spirit, roll on a few more weeks and the Pentecost festival is in full swing with the Jewish people in that Holy City of Jerusalem all celebrating the harvest, 50 days after the Passover feast. 120 of Jesus followers together with the disciples are in an upstairs room. The Holy Spirit descends not like a dove but with what seems to be like tongs of fire upon them. They like David as he becomes king, like Jesus when John sees him like our queen as she is crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey: the Spirit of the Lord comes powerfully upon.
That’s the important part of each of these stories. The Spirit of the Lord comes powerfully upon people. Today that same Holy Spirit is available not just for prophets or kings or queens or archbishops. That very same Holy Spirit whose dynamism was at work in Samuel the priest-prophet who was alive and working in choosing and anointing David as king over Judah and then Israel to unite God’s Kingdom on earth. That very same Holy Spirit who led Jesus through his life and death and resurrection power, who ignited the church into action. That very same Holy Spirit, the part of the Godhead is the very same who works in every one of those who follow Jesus from that day to this.
That’s the secret of the good news of Jesus that he now lives in us, that he helps us, that he’s with us. Today, as he said to Samuel, as he said to his disciples, as he said down through the centuries, trust me. As our Jubilee celebrations begin to draw to a close today and as the bunting comes down later on and those, perhaps we go back to our lives. Let’s not merely return to our lives. Let’s be grateful that God has been gracious to our queen, that she has been long to reign over us, probably because she has been following Jesus all of her life and her witness has been tremendous.
On the birthday of the church, this day of Pentecost, may our lives be just like those 120 believers and the other 3,000 who are added to the church that day when the Holy Spirit came to everyone. Even if you don’t feel that you are in the mood for celebration of the Jubilee weekend, or the Jubilee weekend has meant nothing to you, may you be filled afresh with the power of the Spirit of God. As Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, be being filled, go on being filled with the spirit, speaking to one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, songs from the spirit, sing and make music from your heart to the Lord. Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, may you know that God is with you, with us by his spirit. May we like Samuel and like David, like the disciples and the 3,000 who came to know Jesus that first Pentecost, like Princess Elizabeth on her coronation day in 1953, like countless other obedient followers of Jesus. May we know the anointing of God by his Spirit. May we put our hand into God’s hands as he invites us to trust Him.
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