Sometimes when I read the RCL, my first thought is, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” This week is surely one of those. (Find the texts here.) There’s the whole mess of Samuel telling Israel what God wants for them and Israel insisting on their own way. There’s the alternative reading with Adam running around naked and embarrassed. 2 Corinthians chimes in with what might be words of hope and comfort if I can decide what the passage really means. And then we get to Gospel reading and it’s not a pretty one. Jesus is accused of being possessed then he proclaims forgiveness for all except those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,” and he claims a new family right in front of his family of origin. These texts are not fun nor are they pretty. Roll up your sleeves because preaching this week is going to be messy.
In the messiness I keep hearing the old adage, “Everything happens according to God’s will.” Personally, I think this is one of the most detrimental statements anyone can make. My mother’s recent death makes me particularly sensitive to this statement at the moment. My mother didn’t die because God willed it; she died young because she smoked way too much and didn’t take very good care of herself. I believe God had something else in mind for her but she never quite got there.
If you were to ask Samuel if everything happens because God wills it, he’d likely laugh at you. He told the people what God wanted and even gave a detailed description of what would happen if they did their own thing. And, yes, they insisted on having a king. Is that what God willed for the people of Israel in that moment in time? Good thing God could come up with a Plan B.
Adam and Eve had a little problem with following God’s will as well. And we all know how that turned out. So does God always have a back-up plan for those times when we can’t or don’t do what God wants us to do?
How about the way people responded to Jesus, thinking he was possessed when he went about doing God’s will? Was his response to the accusations God’s will? Was choosing a new family for himself God’s will? Could it have all gone differently if people were paying closer attention to what God wanted?
I guess these texts really make me want to ask what it means to seek God’s will today as individuals and as congregations. What is God’s will for us? What happens if we choose something God would rather we didn’t? What happens if we are able to discern and embrace God’s will? Is it possible to know for sure what’s God’s will and what isn’t since prophets like Samuel aren’t here to tell us?
What are you thinking about these texts? Will you tackle the question of God’s will vs. human will and how God responds when we choose to do our own thing? Or is the Spirit guiding you in another direction? Please post your responses, link to sermons or blogs, and generally share your thoughts on preaching these tricky texts.