RCL Year B:
25th Sunday after Pentecost November 14, 2021
1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Summary of the Text
Ministry is arduous. While it is difficult to deal with the day-in, day-out dramas that can come from dealing with people, imagine the grind of constantly sacrificing animals and doing the ritual cleaning and wardrobe-exchanging necessary to just go back and do the same thing again. If you’ve been preaching from Hebrews in this season and you haven’t done so already, then you would do well to read Leviticus 16 and the tedious process of sacrifice in the tabernacle. Imagine what it would be like to do that, knowing all the while that these sacrifices “can never take away sins.” Now, imagine people preferring that to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus!
It’s a wonder that the Jewish priests did not immediately convert to The Way after being given this proposition, but at the same time, it’s nice to be needed. As much of a grind as it was to do the sacrifices, it paid the bills and kept people reliant on the priests. After all, what other job prospects did the Levites have?
As is common in Hebrews, this passage has an abundance of Old Testament images that merit attention but would be difficult to succinctly convey in a sermon. A preacher could dwell on Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of God,” implying that unlike the Jewish priests, he had authority to remain in the Holy of Holies. One could also emphasize the “footstool” image, suggesting that Jesus is not only at the right hand, but is actually sitting at the right hand atop the ark. This is profound—and frankly scandalous—for someone to suggest to an audience of people considering remaining with traditional Judaism as opposed to Christianity.
At this point, however, the author of Hebrews has already progressed the case to the point of Jesus being both high priest and once-for-all sacrifice, so this is the coup de grace for those still following the argument. In the apologetic cycle of explaining both Jesus’s humanity and his divinity, this is the point at which they connect in maximum glory—a glory that he even offers to us while we are still “being made holy” (v.14).
In this context, the quotes from Jeremiah 31 (v.16-17) call attention to a contrast that may not have occurred to people over several centuries and still may not occur to us today. Having the law written by God on our hearts and minds could suggest a human capacity to be perfect under the law. If that were the case, then any sin would seem egregious and inexcusable. It implies that instead of learning the law, we are designed for its keeping and could only violate it intentionally, flaunting the gift of God.
Nevertheless, there are still “sins and lawless acts” that God will “remember no more.” This makes no sense. Surely God would remember writing the law on our hearts and minds and would thus take note of sins and lawless acts. There are two ways to reconcile these verses:
A) God wrote the law on our hearts and minds and stopped paying attention, or
B) God is so taken by one example of perfection as to allow that example to stand as compensatory for any other violation.
It is remarkable how often our actions suggest that we believe option A, when the answer is clearly B, as the author of Hebrews has thoroughly explained (albeit in a more technical than emotional sense).
Option A obviously leads to antinomianism, whereas option B can be understood by anyone who has small children. Parents often find themselves scolding and correcting all day long, only to be smitten with a single act of generosity or display of sweetness that becomes the lasting memory of the day. One perfect act that displays the values that parents work so hard to instill can wipe countless examples of misbehavior from memory.
The passage continues with another astounding proclamation: that we—normal, everyday people—have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place. As demonstrated in the atonement rituals in Leviticus, the high priest himself could only enter with trepidation, even having a rope tied around his ankle in the event that he is smote by God’s glory and his body needs to be dragged out by other priests. By contrast, Jesus has opened the curtain to a “living way” that he, as high priest, invites us to enter alongside him.
In v.22, the author returns to Jeremiah’s heart and mind imagery, noting that the heart on which the covenant is written will not be detached from the law but will naturally draw near to the one who has kept it. Doing so allows for a cleansed conscience (the word is more like “soul” than the previous “mind” but is still helpful in pairing v.22 with v.16-17).
The close of this passage provides an excellent option for a benediction and lays out the behavior reflective of the sincere heart and cleansed conscience. We do not avoid one another, we pursue love and good deeds, and we hold fast to the faith. Moreover, we know that just as Jesus has himself been vindicated, we will receive our vindication in him, or perhaps more accurately, his vindication upon us. Both of these are part of our “being made holy” in v.10. We receive this holiness in Christ’s body, and we pursue it as Christ’s body, encouraging one another towards it through the help of the great paraclete, the Holy Spirit.
Pastors in ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians will recognize 10:24 and its association with the denominational value of “our mutual spurring.” In v.24, “spur” is the Greek word παροξυσμός, which means “incitement” or “irritation.” The only other use of this word is the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:39). While the use in Hebrews 10:24 is obviously more positive and is even translated as “stimulate” by the usually more literal NASB, it is a reminder of the discomfort than can often happen when we live in community and hold one another accountable, or when we try to get one another off our couches and into the world.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
Superficial views of God and His holiness will produce superficial views of sin and atonement. God hates sin. It is His uncompromising foe. Sin is vile and detestable in the sight of God . . .The sinner and God are at opposite poles of the moral universe.”
“Covered by the Blood”
On a Saturday in September, 2013, one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in history took place in an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Four Gunman, part of the Al-Qaeda affiliate al Shabab, took the lives of 67 people, with over 200 injured. It was by all accounts a horrible disaster. But one story of the shooting ended up receiving media attention. It was the story of a young mother named Sneha Kothair-Mashru. Sneha was at the mall having coffee with a friend when the gunfire began.
Having dropped to the floor she heard a cell-phone going off near her. Not wanting the gunmen to come closer, she reached under the person next to her to silence the phone. It was at this point that she realized the man next to her was bleeding heavily.
“When I put my hand under him that’s when I realized that this guy had been shot because he was bleeding,” she told NBC News. “He was bleeding heavily. There was a lot of blood there.”
At this point, the woman made a difficult, life-changing decision. She decided to smear the blood of the man on her own body, in hopes that the terrorists would assume she was dead and they would “pass over” her body.
Her grisly camouflage probably saved this woman’s life.
“I’d love to know who he was, because I think his blood protected me, saved my life,” she said.
Stuart Strachan Jr., source material from NBC News
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Hebrews 4:14-16
Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Come, Let us worship the Lord!
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Prayer of Confession
Marvelous and merciful God, Your Son modeled leadership and servanthood for us. But we confess we have elevated our desires and plans over Your will for our lives and for Your world. We want authority and power over others to use for our own purposes. Forgive us for our half-hearted devotion and our double-minded attention to Your way. Remind us You desire servants first and foremost. Enable us to serve in the name of Jesus, the One who came to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. In His name we pray. Amen.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
Assurance of Pardon
Psalm 116:5 & Colossians 1:13 & 14
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In Christ we are forgiven!
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.