Monday, June 11, 2018

Gift and Challenge of Track 1

A year ago, our parish switched from Track 2 to Track 1. In both tracks, the Gospel and Epistle lessons are the same, but Track 2 provides an Old Testament lesson that pairs thematically with the Gospel lesson, but Track 1 moves semi-continuously through books of the Old Testament. When the Episcopal Church switched to the Revised Common Lectionary several years ago, Track 2 was closer to the BCP lectionary to which we were accustomed, so we started there, but, after a few three-year cycles of that, we decided to give the other a try. And, on Sundays like this one, we get to see the benefit and struggle that Track 1 provides.

This week, we will hear the story of the anointing of David as King of Israel in 1 Samuel 16. BUT, before we get there, we will hear two little verses from the end of 1 Samuel 15 that provide continuity with the Samuel story that we have been reading: "Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel." Last Sunday, we heard the people of God demand a king. Samuel didn't like it, and neither did God, but God was happy to give them what they asked for. Samuel let them know exactly what they were getting--a king who would take their property and income for himself and his courtiers--but they wanted a king anyway. So God gave them Saul. All of that happened in 1 Samuel 8 and 11.

This week, we pick up near the end of Saul's reign. Of course, a lot has happened in the meantime, but, to keep the story moving, we pick up at the point when things have gotten bad. We hear that "the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel," but we don't hear why. I wish we had time to go back and read all of 1 Samuel 15 and hear how God had ordered Saul to wipe the Amelikites off the face of the earth and how Saul had decided to spare their king and save the best of their flocks and herds as the spoils of war. There's a fascinating theological reflection to be made on God's demand for total destruction and Saul's decision to hold some back and God's subsequent rejection of Saul, but we only get the slightest hint of it.

Still, that hint is enough to change the way we hear the encounter between Samuel and Jesse's family. Usually, we hear the story of David's anointing isolated from the story of Saul's rejection, but, of course, they are inextricably linked. Even if the preacher doesn't stop to mention it, the congregation gets to hear that the Lord rejected Saul and then sends Samuel to pick a new king. That tidbit adds weight and depth to the dramatic selection process, during which Samuel thinks he has found the right king only to hear God tell him not to judge by outward appearance. That famous line, "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart," sounds different when we've already heard that God was sorry he had chosen Saul as king. It makes us scratch our heads and wonder how much God has to do with it and how much human beings look back and make the connections between human events and divine causation.

Regardless, this Sunday, we face a blessing and a challenge. We get the benefit of continuity and, thus, hear the story of David's anointing in a larger context. But we also have to leave behind the full story of that rejection. The preacher probably doesn't have time to explain why Saul had been rejected and why that makes a difference when it comes to the selection of David. But there's enough there for the congregation to wonder about it, and maybe there's enough there to encourage one or two to open their Bibles and read the story for themselves.

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