Proper 6(B): Ancient & Modern

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By: The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly

“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Well that’s a relief! Discipleship is not a beauty contest! That means there’s hope for me after all! Preachers who choose 1 Samuel as their text will find fertile ground for proclaiming the Gospel over and against the pseudo-Gospel proffered by our culture, which insists on the idolatry of the perfect waist or bust size; the perfect skin tone or hair style; the perfect trends in fashion and style. There is an endless supply of material available for preachers whose people need to hear a word spoken against consumerism.

There is also plenty good room in this text for the preacher to focus on the character of the heart, and what God requires of those who seek to follow. This text cuts both ways. Yes, God does not focus on our outward appearance, but God does focus on our inner character and condition. It’s much easier to mask and dress up the former than it is the latter. In fact, one could argue that at least part of our culture’s obsessiveness on outer appearance is rooted in feelings of shame or guilt or inadequacy about the content of our character.

What are we to make of God’s choice of the younger and “ruddy” David over his older (and customarily preferred) siblings? There is something of a pattern here. God also chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Gideon over his older siblings. There are echoes here of Hannah’s song, and even a faint whisper of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, where God acts to lift up the lowly. Where we see a meager shepherd, God sees a King in the making!

If the preacher is planning to continue along Track I for a few more weeks, or for the rest of the season, there is also plenty to ponder in terms of preaching a series on 1 & 2 Samuel. One potential starting place might be to focus on the fact that, at the moment David is anointed King, there is another King of Israel who is alive and well: Saul, whom God has rejected.

The symmetry between the anointing of Saul and the anointing of David is striking: God commands Samuel to anoint David, just as God earlier commanded him to anoint Saul. Saul had sinned, leading to God’s rejection of him. David will also sin grievously. The Spirit of God rests upon David, just as the Spirit rested upon Saul. David will rise to supplant Saul, and in so doing, bear witness to the will of God being accomplished, despite the fickleness and capriciousness of God’s servants.  

1 & 2 Samuel portrays the radical growth and expansion of Israel from a lowly tribe of Hebrews into a geopolitical force. As Walter Brueggemann noted in his watershed commentary on the books of Samuel, there are three distinct factors at work in this transformation: political power, social pressure, and technological possibility.[1] This text wrestles with questions of international diplomacy and military action, the development of infrastructure, economic policy and wealth distribution, land use policies, and the emergence of socio-political factions and policies. Those who treat this ancient text as if it has no wisdom to impart do so at their peril. Indeed, as patient, careful, and imaginative preachers will discover, 1 & 2 Samuel is every bit as timely and contemporary as the Sunday newspaper headlines!

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “1 & 2 Samuel” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching James L. Mays, Series Editor (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 1.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly is the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (DMin, MDiv, & Certificate in Anglican Studies). In his elusive moments of spare time, he enjoys running, reading, and cooking–though not at the same time! Husband to Elizabeth, he is also the editor of

2nd Sunday after Epiphany(B): Unexpected Calls

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

By: The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a colleague who I have only met a couple of times. The email said, “Dear Jerrod, I heard about the virtual rosary gathering and I wondered if we could set up a time to talk?” The message felt somewhat innocuous on the surface. However, my anxiety heard it as, “We need to talk.” That dreaded phrase that no one wants to hear and that incites both fear and anxiety about the possible content…. I tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to manage the anxiety, but we scheduled a time for a phone call. The day came and I rang the individual on the phone not certain of what I was going to hear on the other end of the line, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tenor of our conversation. She had laid out before me her own experiences of the holy and how she had heard God’s voice at work in her own life. It was a deeply spiritual moment.

We never know how or when or through whom God will speak. I have regularly found that it is through individuals that I most rub personalities with that God speaks into my life. Maybe that’s just me.

Earnest Holmes once said, “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.”

If life is a mirror and we see in the world what we see in ourselves, it raises a provocative question about how and where and why we find God in the places we do or in the places we don’t. When we find the prickly edges of ourselves that is when we are most prone to realize why they are prickly and attend to them. In the passage from First Samuel 3, God speaks but Samuel isn’t prepared to hear it. God calls out and Samuel being so limited in his scope of thought can only imagine that it is his master Eli. This passage is a beautiful metaphor for all of those places where God is speaking in our lives, but we haven’t yet tuned in to realize that it is God’s voice. God speaks in our lives through some pretty unsuspected people and situations.

This year has been so very difficult for all of us. We’ve been on lockdown. Businesses have folded, jobs have been lost, people have been sick and died from this virus. Trying is not a good enough word.

I work day to day as a hospital chaplain at the Alberta Children’s Hospital here in Calgary. In my work, we often talk about people experiencing a series of losses as “complex grief.” Anyone who has made it through this year knows well what complex or compound grief is. It is one grief stacked on top of so many others. We have had to adapt to a world where we can’t safely gather with friends, or family, or work family. A world where it seems like each day brings harder news not easier news. But it is important for us to remember that even in the midst of fears and anxieties God is still speaking. I know how hard it is to believe that in the midst of tremendous fear. God is still reaching out God’s arms in love to bring the whole world within Christ’s saving embrace.

I hope that as you look at this passage you will find the truth of God’s love stronger than the fear and anxiety that we might generate. Look into your own hearts and hear the voice of God. You might hear it in the cry of the baby behind you in church or in the neighbour who just can’t seem to mind their own business. If we look and listen for God’s voice God will make God’s self known to us as God has done for four millennia. Anytime God’s people were lost and couldn’t find their way, God called out. May you have eyes to see and ears to hear what the spirit of the living God is speaking to you today.

The Rev. Jerrod McCormack is the Site lead for Spiritual Care at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. He is also an honourary assistant at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Calgary, Alberta having been ordained priest just a year and a half ago. The mountains are a second spiritual home whether it’s sunny and warm or snowy and cold. God is always present but never is it more easily visible than on the top of the mountain.