Sermon preached at Mattins on the Second Sunday before Advent (17 November 2019) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Mattins on the Second Sunday before Advent (17 November 2019) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

The Canon Pastor reflects on the life of Samuel and the importance of being open to change and to new possibilities. 

Samuel had grown up before God from his early childhood. He is honoured by Jews, Christians and Muslims. A deeply godly man, he had led Israel as prophet, priest and judge during challenging years of the nation’s defeat and occupation followed by its liberation and an extended period of peace.

As he become older Samuel appointed his sons as his successors; but they didn’t follow in his ways. With external threats looming, the elders of the nation decided that a more unified, central government was needed. Despite Samuel’s sense of personal rejection and his attempt to persuade them otherwise, the elders demanded that Samuel appoint them a king, so they could be like other nations.
So Samuel oversaw the choosing and anointing of the very first king of Israel – Saul. But all did not go well and the time came when it became clear that Saul’s position was no longer tenable. The words that precede our first reading are these:

‘Then 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.’

‘There is nothing permanent, except change’ wrote the philosopher Heraclitus.

Samuel had been through many changes over his life and ministry; bereavements, occupation, liberation. He had adjusted to his own changed role and he’d played a significant part in creating a monarchy for Israel. 

Samuel had ridden many changes but now he grieved. The Hebrew verb, the same form used when Jacob believed that his son Joseph had died, usually refers to mourning rites for one who has recently died – though Saul yet lived. 

Samuel had anointed and guided Saul as the first king. Now he mourns the loss of this long-time friendship, and perhaps his own sense of disappointment and failure in guiding Saul.

Perhaps you know this daunting experience of transition and the need to find the resources to reach towards new future possibilities. As those who study and work with transitions tell us, because we like to live with the illusion that we are in control, even positive changes can unsettle and disturb us, plunging us into melancholy which can surprise even ourselves.

There is much to be gleaned from our passages about responding to change and transition but I want to highlight just one: staying open to the new possibilities God is shaping, especially when they may not be what we might expect.

A wise person said that we struggle most with change when we become fixed on what we have lost or fear we will lose, and forget to focus on what will also be gained. These two positions held in tension – grieving and hope – time to weep and mourn, to laugh and dance as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it – bring balance in times of change and transition.

Samuel is asked discern and anoint God’s successor to Saul as king. This is no small matter and would carry great risk. It would also ask Samuel to look beyond his own expectations.

As we heard, one after another of Jesse’s sons are brought out, yet it would be the youngest, the one deemed to be of so little account that Jesse had left him looking after the sheep, who was God’s choice. 

David - who would transition from sheep fold to royal palace;

David, the watcher of the flock who would compose perhaps the most well-known of all Hebrew scriptures, Psalm 23, which begins ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’; 

David, from whose line would come Jesus. His birth, generations later, would be announced to shepherds on these same hillsides above Bethlehem.

Sometimes in the midst of change and transition we do well to look for the unexpected treasure hidden in the field – that which may not fit our own assumptions and plans. 

This is not about fatalism but is about remaining open to what God has in store; it’s about trust. It’s about refusing to let the sense of ‘should’’ and ‘ought’ and ‘might-have-been’ rob us of God’s gifts of delight and contentment when our carefully constructed plans turn out not to match reality.
‘It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent’, said Charles Darwin, ‘it’s the one that is most adaptable to change’.

May God kindle in us the courage and trust which awakens our spirit to adventure. That holding nothing back we may find unexpected treasures. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, ever more. Amen.