... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 3 Year B
Message June 14th, 2015

Discernment: Scripture as Crystal Ball

Text: 1Samuel15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2Corinthians5:6-10,11-13; Mark4:26-34

Perhaps one of the most difficult issues for humanity is the issue of discernment and particularly so for Christians. No matter which culture, civilization, geographical location or situation in time, each and every person is faced with making decisions, and often those decisions are a matter of life or death. To the very earliest humans, the dilemma of which berry or plant to eat might mean the difference between health and survival or disease and death. And while such basic issues of dietary needs are mostly behind us, humanity still faces issues which could propel us forward or drop us back into some dark hole requiring years of reparation. Without a doubt one such example was and is the residential school decision of some 130 years ago. Whatever the impetus was to introduce that system, the choice was one in which a right discernment was lost on us. True, that such a system was common place in England in the 1600’s and 1700’s evidenced by Dickens’ novels. True, it had been thought expedient by a white Anglo-Saxon culture. But to foister a program from one culture onto another lacked discernment, lacked compassion and lacked an understanding of what should have been due and decent diligence. And so we don’t get too comfortable about 2015 we have only to look at each and every political issue, be it the Middle East or the Far East, I North America or here in Muskoka-Georgian Bay. Whether it is how we deal with ISIS or journalists using their work contacts for personal gain, or whether you are for or against a generating plant, each and every one requires a discerning process which will result in a positive or negative outcome. Oh that we could have a crystal ball which would tell us the results of each option and the best one for which to opt!

Speaking of crystal balls, I remember going to a circus and several of the venues featured people offering to tell your future by reading cards or gazing into a crystal ball. My parents told me they were just charlatans trying to dupe people out of their monies and there was no such things as a way to predict the future. Yet the more I read, the older I became the more experience I gather, the more I have come to see that we do have a crystal ball and a way we can better discern where we ought to go, which choices we should make and which side of any issue we should back. That crystal ball is scripture. Unfortunately it is never straight forward nor is it “crystal clear”. However if you ask of it the right questions; if you discern similarities to the past, if you focus on the right perspective, the proper course of action eventually makes itself evident. Notwithstanding that we would like to have the answers immediately if not sooner, history shows us that the time-line if often much longer than we would care to admit. The issues of inequality of people and slavery have been with us probably since the beginning of societies and yet it still took us as Christians almost 2000 years to realize the fault of our ways, that all people are indeed equal in the sight of God, that slavery is indeed abhorrent to our Lord and that we need to refocus our human perspectives. The issue of residential schools has taken us some 130 years and then the issues around the use of fossil fuels will possibly take us centuries to negotiate. And perhaps closer to home and more pertinent and immediate to us is how do we make church relevant to our society and how do we become meaningful to our communities?

Discernment constantly confronts us and more especially the people of God as we have not only to decide what is good for human relations but have to make decisions that are faithful to God. And often being faithful to God might seem to be counter to being faithful to the human condition. Many environmental issues immediately spring to mind as examples of faithfulness to God in the long run over against faithfulness and economic sense to humanity in the short term.

Discernment is the common thread of all four readings today, warning us about judging on the basis of outward appearances while encouraging us that as people of God we have been given eyes and ears to see and hear so as to discern in new and different ways; to see and hear God’s desire for us and for the world. The new and different ways are never spelled out in detail and it never functions without risk. But the new eyes and ears are those of faith and by faith we trust in God.

The story of Samuel is a story of discernment, faithfulness to God and understanding one’s place in the grand scheme of divine will. God had bowed to the wishes of Israel and chose a king to lead them out of the oppression from the Philistines. Samuel thus anointed Saul and had become close to him. However Saul disobeyed God, elected to listen and act according to the wishes of the people. In turning away from God Saul had sealed his own fate and Samuel grieved for him. Despite his grief, despite his friendship to Saul, Samuel none-the-less continued to obey God’s will and when commanded to go anoint one of Jesse’s sons, he went. Realizing that Samuel was close to Saul, Saul’s confidant and friend, we now can understand the cautious greeting he received from the Bethlehemites who had been somewhat less supportive of Saul. And I’m sure Samuel would probably have preferred to have avoided them as well. But went he did, knowing that he was about to anoint another king for Israel even though Saul still ruled. And he went to Jesse and seeing his sons felt sure that the eldest would be the one to be anointed. Not so! It turns out that it is the youngest, the smallest and the least matured whom God selects and we are told, “Do not look on his appearance…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” The lesson: beauty is often only skin deep; issues may not be what they first appear, consequences of decisions have long lasting ramifications. Unfortunately we often miss the lesson looking to the obvious or the quick fix or the personal gain and throughout the ages this has been documented in our racism our materialism our consumerism and all other forms of idolatry.

The psalmist of Psalm 20 understood the ramifications of choice, and while the psalm reads like a benediction beseeching blessings and righteousness it lays out the foundational truth that those who delight in their own prowess, their own powers and capabilities, the amassed wealth strength and materials will eventually falter and fall. Only the righteous survive for real hope lies in the name of the Lord God. The theological basis states that God is more powerful than any constructed human technology. God provides means for the disenfranchised to overcome the oppressor, the weak to defeat the powerful, or the poor to win over the rich. The example related to the first reading is God’s promise to liberate the chosen children from the powerful Philistines. God had promised Saul that he would lead him to victory but God had later rejected Saul. But the promise was kept. The young small boy David would stand up to and slay the quintessential warrior Goliath proving God’s faithfulness and countering human egocentric sufficiency.

It is this pride in self-sufficiency that Paul admonishes the Corinthian community urging them to walk by faith and not by sight. What appears to be success in the world around is only transitory and will collapse. What is lasting and truly meaningful is one’s life in Christ. What seems to be success for the world is failure and while we are in this world Paul encourages his listeners to be focussed on the real home: our lives in Christ. In this regard our ways of thinking in the here and now are changed so as to become a “new creation”. As we live in the world as visitors holding onto our homes in Christ we gain new strengths new insights and are empowered to work to bring into our temporary residence the truths and discernments of our real homes. Discernment is a gift from God in Christ and true Christians are to use that gift to lead guide and bring God’s will to bear in the world around.

The parables of the Gospel are no less important or powerful as we are bidden to see the paradoxes of the kingdom. What at first seems small and insignificant becomes large and the most important. The seeds of truth will germinate and will grow. The truth will eventually become evident and God’s children will understand.

Discernment is the greatest issue confronting people, particularly the people of God. We do have the closest thing to a crystal ball and we must learn to use it effectively efficiently and thoroughly. It is not without risk nor is it 100% because we are human. However it is the best we have. Scripture and the lessons in it can guide direct and lead us. That is the relevance not only for us but for our communities. That is what we need to get out there and we do so by our lives our words our deeds and our actions. May God give us the strength to accomplish His will.