Saturday, 13 June 2015

How can I know I really matter?

1 Samuel 10.1-8

There are two deep desires that many of us have

1. We want to know that we are significant

We are told that we are unique and special, that we matter and are worth it.
But we see through the hype. If everyone is special then how can I be special?

There is this deep need for us to know that we are significant, that we are not just a cluster of atoms, which have randomly come together, for a millisecond of eternity, surrounded by other clusters of atoms,  which have randomly come together for their millisecond of eternity. 

We want to know that we really are significant.

And so we dream of what I would call the Susan Boyle moment – one moment they are laughing at us, treating us as a joke, as if we don't matter and the next we are receiving a standing ovation. Or it might be the dream of winning £93m in the lottery, being spotted by the scout, buying the bigger house, having the boss take us to one side and tell us ‘You are marked for big things’.

We think those things will show that we are significant.

2. We want to know that God is there

The two are connected. If God is there and God notices us, we are de facto significant!

We hear others tell of stories of amazing coincidences, of how God met with them and touched them – and they just ‘knew’ that God really was there, that they were loved, a child of God.

Both those things happened to the person mentioned in our reading today

Saul lived about 3000 years ago. He was physically tall, but that was his only distinguishing feature. He wasn’t a warrior or politician or priest. He didn’t come from an important family or a significant tribe. And when we first meet him in chapter 9, he’s doing a vital task! His dad has asked him to find some lost donkeys.

But two things happen:

1. Saul discovers he is significant

In 1 Samuel 10.1, Samuel takes a flask of oil, pours it over Saul’s head and says, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?’

The background to 1 Samuel 10 is this. The people of Israel lived as 12 tribes united by common worship of God and the law of God. They were ‘ruled’, if one can use that word, by a prophet who was also their judge. In 1 Samuel, the prophet is Samuel.

But the people were not satisfied. They looked at their neighbours and saw they all had kings. And they wanted a king, especially as Samuel was growing old, and nobody quite knew what would happen when he died.

So they come to Samuel and say, ‘Give us a king’.

Samuel is a bit miffed. If you read chapters 5-7 you will see that God was looking after his people quite well without a king. And God says to Samuel, ‘They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting me. But they ask for a king, and I’ll give them a king’.

Meanwhile Saul, the son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin, is out looking for the donkeys. He comes to the land of Zuph, and learns that Samuel is in the local town. He goes to ask the prophet if he knows where the donkeys are. You did that in those days. Please don’t come to the vicar and ask him where you left your keys. In fact if you could tell me where my keys and glasses are I would be very grateful!

But Saul gets a bit more than he bargains for.

Samuel tells him he doesn’t need to worry about the donkeys. They have been found. He then invites him to the special dinner for local VIPs – held because Samuel is in town - and instead of sitting in the place of honour himself, puts Saul in the place of honour. And the following morning he anoints him King.

My friends, the highest honour that this world can bestow on us will not give us that sense that we are significant. If we are plucked out of obscurity to become somebody famous, it won’t satisfy that desire. If we are given one of the most important jobs or tasks it won’t satisfy that desire. We will always be looking for the next big calling or moment or thing.

Only God, one who is bigger than us, can satisfy that desire that we have for significance.

When a person comes to Jesus, when you put your trust in Jesus and choose to follow him, when you receive him as the Son of God and allow his Spirit to come into your life, you become significant. You become a child of God. John 1:12, ‘To all who received Jesus, he gave them the power to become children of God’.

It does not matter whether, in the eyes of the world, you are big or little, a nobody or a somebody. When you receive Jesus you are plugged into eternity. And as the life of eternity starts to flow through your lives, so you begin to see yourself and others and creation in a different light. You begin to know that you are unique and significant, that you were known by God from before creation began, that you have a glorious eternal destiny and that you really do matter. And although you are probably never going to be Prime Minister or be famous (but go on and surprise me) - God has a special calling that is for you. You are significant.

Oh, and by the way, you also begin to see that others are significant!

2. Saul discovers that God is there

God has called Saul to a major task, and Saul needs some convincing that this really is God, and not just Samuel having a laugh

And so Samuel tells him three things that will happen.

First, people will tell him that the donkeys have been found;

Second, different people will be carrying some sacrificial offerings and will give some of them to him;

Third, he will meet a group of prophets dancing and playing instruments and the Spirit will come onto him and he will begin to prophecy with them.

And what Samuel says happens. Saul meets someone who tells him the donkeys have been found; some pilgrims on their way to make a sacrifice give him some bread; and he meets with the group of prophets.

If something like that happened to us then we would know that God is there. We would never doubt God again. 

Well, things like that do happen.

I think of another Saul, who lived 1000 years later. He too was called to an incredibly difficult task. God says to him, ‘I will show you how much you must suffer for my name’. And he too had an amazing experience of God. He heard God’s voice, was blinded and then healed in the name of Jesus. That was the Saul who became the apostle Paul.

And I would hope that most of us could speak of times when God was so real that there was no question of doubting him. If you do experience times like that, try to remember them. Maybe even jot them down in a journal. We are very good at forgetting. When things are not happening and God seems distant, we forget what has happened and start to doubt again.  

But I’m not sure that the three extraordinary ‘God-incidences’ are the main point of 1 Samuel 10.  I’m not sure that they are the main evidence that God is there. I think the main point comes in verse 6 when Saul is told, ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person’.

The promise of God, and the evidence of the reality of God, is that when a person puts their trust in Jesus, the Spirit will come into us and make us new people. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come’. (2 Corinthians 5.17).

The Spirit will work in us and will begin to change us. He will show us those areas in our lives that are not right, where we need to change. He will give us a desire to serve God.

And the Spirit will equip us for service and give us the courage to do what is right. He will grow those lovely fruits, character traits, in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He will give us that assurance that we belong to God and that we can cry out to God as we might cry out to a dearly beloved father. Even when coincidences don’t seem to happen, or prayers are not answered as we wish, the rubbish happens or it seems that we are wading through treacle, we will know that God is there.

And when the Spirit comes, and we are changed, then we begin to discover what it is to be really free. In verse 7, Samuel says to Saul, ‘Now when these signs meet you, do whatever you see fit to do, for God is with you’.  St Augustine echoed that thought: ‘Love God and do what you will’. The point is that the person so gripped and controlled by the Spirit of God will want to do the things of the Spirit of God.

I suspect that few of us here will meet with a prophet who will tell us that we are going to become Prime Minister or the next big thing or that we are called by God to do some work that this world considers important and for which it gives great honour.

But that might be a good thing. Saul had been given a great task and a new heart. He was persuaded that God was there and God was in this. But he was not obedient to God. Possibly the task or responsibility went to his head. That is another talk for another time. All we need to know here is that the story of Saul ends in tears.

But it doesn’t need to.

In the Church of England we have a confirmation service.
At the confirmation service, the candidates publicly declare their faith and the bishop anoints them with oil, just as Samuel anointed Saul. The bishop then lays his or her hands on your head, and says ‘Mary, Ray, God has called you by name and has made you his own’.

The anointing and laying on of hands is a physical expression of a much deeper reality. It is a mark to show that God is there and you matter to him. It is the physical expression of the truth that was carved into the very fabric of the universe when Jesus died on the cross that you are eternally significant.

The confirmation service is your coronation service as a prince or princess of heaven.

Could you indicate if you have been confirmed? When I was a teenager it was the expected thing to do, quite often irrespective of whether you believed or not. I’m grateful that is not the case now. But we have gone to the opposite extreme: very few people come forward for confirmation. So if you haven’t been confirmed could I urge you to think very seriously about being confirmed. Come and have a talk with me if that would help.

You see, if you are a believer, then it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been confirmed, and it makes no difference to how you stand in the faith. But I do think that you are missing out on one of the very precious gifts that God has given his people through his Church.

It is an outward sign of the inward reality that God has given you his Spirit, that he has made you a new person and called you to a task.

It is an expression of the reality that God is there and that you are, in Christ, as a friend of Jesus, unique, honoured, precious and significant. And he loves you.

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