Hope you can make it this Sunday, July 8th as we welcome Rev. Amanda Crice. Amanda is not only a great preacher, but a good friend and dedicated young servant of Christ at our Wesley Foundation at UT Martin. 

Glimpses of Grace and Truth...As Israel grew toward becoming a nation, their many “mistakes-made” and “lessons learned” are highlighted in the Old Testament story of Samuel.

You remember how bad Israel was defeated by the Philistines, losing 30,000 soldiers plus their nation’s highest ranking leaders (Eli, Hophni and Phineas). But the biggest loss of that battle was when the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant. Samuel quickly shifted the story into the labor and delivery room where a young woman in very hard labor heard the news about the battle. She heard about the deaths of her husband and family members, and about her nation losing the Ark of the Covenant, as she went through the final, very troubling stages of childbirth. With her dying breath, she named the baby, Ichabod (Hebrew term for God’s glory has departed). 

Before long, the people were begging Samuel to give them a king (like other nations). So he finally gave in and anointed King Saul to lead them. Despite having a king, they were still harassed by other nations like the Philistines. Then one of history’s most famous battle stories happened as a young, soon-to-be hero, David, defeated the giant Goliath and the Philistine armies. 

After overcoming their greatest rival, Samuel begs us to notice that our greatest enemy is sometimes the enemy within. For King Saul, it was the enemy within himself that made him so afraid of losing power and influence that he plotted to kill their national hero, David, whose best friend was the King’s son, Jonathon. For Israel the nation, it was the enemy within itself where soldiers were forced to choose sides between their King Saul and their war hero, David. As military leaders faced off against each other, and soldiers fought fellow soldiers, everyone was hoping they were fighting for the right side but also wondering “Why are we even fighting?” As Israel’s civil war (against itself) ends and the dust settles, 1 Samuel ends and 2 Samuel begins as the writer highlights a most important lesson: battles usually end with one side “winning,” but even the biggest of winners walks away with less than they had. David walked away from that battle as the clear winner, but his song of lament is about the deep loss he felt over the death of Jonathon (and even Saul). 

As we celebrate our nation’s Independence (which was won amidst great loss), we must remember two lessons from Israel. First, our covenant relationship with God could never be taken away by any enemy, big or small, but it could be forfeited by anyone anytime. Before long, Israel realized that in the midst of their loss, they had found a more Godly, and much more capable leader in Samuel than they’d ever had in Eli and his sons. Samuel reminded the whole nation that losing the battle and losing the Ark did not mean they had lost God, but that they must see those as signs that they’d forfeited God’s covenant. So he urged them to repent of their sin and return to God and the covenant. Second, as we celebrate July 4th, picture the fireworks with a deeper meaning. It’s fortunate that our fireworks are bright, beautiful, and pretty much harmless, but we must remember that the “rocket’s red glare...” witnessed by F. Scott Key at Ft. McHenry and so, so many soldiers on real life battlefields were anything but harmless. It is good to celebrate things like July 4th with picnics, fun, and even fireworks, but we must not forget that our freedom came at a high cost paid by others on a battlefield where everyone walked away with losses. As followers of Jesus, we must yearn for Isaiah’s vision of the day “when swords are beaten into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4), and the justice, love, and grace of God flows into the world through His Church. That’s a victory worth celebrating for all nations, and one that we as Christ’s Church long for. 

Hope to see you Sunday in Christ: Ed, Will and the First UMC Family