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The prophet is speaking!

As I write this, California is drowning. 19 people have died there since the "atmospheric rivers" began the week after Christmas. The Rose Bowl was played in the rain - I NEVER remember that happening. As of January 13, 10 people were confirmed dead in the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia on January 12. Tornadoes are usually associated with summer thunderstorms - they don't happen in January. Or didn't.

The prophet Mother Earth is speaking. Are we listening?

I've been reading the books of Samuel these last few weeks. Samuel was dedicated to God by his mother Hannah. He was raised in the Temple by Eli after Hannah surrendered him. The first book of Samuel in the Bible is about Samuel the prophet. When Samuel was an old man and his sons were scofflaws, the Israelites demanded a king to bring peace and justice. God said to Samuel, "Well, if that's what they want - they should be careful what they wish for!" That is my paraphrasing, by the way. God was not pleased that Israel wanted a king because, after all, they had God.

Saul's father had some donkeys that wandered away, so he sent Saul and a companion out to find them. They couldn't, so sought out the seer that was in a nearby town . That seer was Samuel. The Lord had advised Samuel the day before that a young man would be coming to him, and as Saul approached, the Lord said, "This is the one." So Saul, out searching for donkeys (which returned home before he did), became king of Israel. (My telling is WAY oversimplified!) Samuel told Saul which signs he should look for to prove that Samuel really was bringing the word of the Lord and told Saul to go to Gilgal. Samuel would meet him there to present burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being. Samuel would come on the seventh day. (1 Samuel 10)

So the people, being people, sinned, and whined, and complained about Saul. Here was Samuel's response:

But when you saw that King Nahash of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ though the Lord your God was your king. 13 See, here is the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; see, the Lord has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the Lord and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well; 15 but if you will not heed the voice of the Lord but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king. 16 Now, therefore, take your stand and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. (1 Samuel 12:12-16. NRSV).

Because it was harvest time, Samuel asked God to make it rain, which God did, and the people "feared the Lord and Samuel that day." (1 Samuel 12:18).

The people were afraid that God would smite them, but Samuel assured them, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart, 21 and do not turn aside after useless things that cannot profit or save, for they are useless." (1 Samuel 12: 20-21.)

Ultimately, Saul failed God. Before arriving at Gilgal, Saul proved himself to be a great leader in battle, and Israel rejoiced in their new king. (1 Samuel 11). Saul was able to prevail against the bitter enemies of Israel because the hand of the Lord was upon him. When he got to Gilgal, he waited for Samuel, but Samuel didn't come and didn't come, and the people began to "slip away" from Saul. So Saul presented the burnt offering and the sacrifices of well-being. Surely this would be pleasing to God, right? Nope. As soon as he was finished with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. "What have you done? ... You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you." (1 Samuel 13), because remember, Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel. Samuel told Saul that God was prepared to establish Saul's kingdom over Israel forever, but now, because he had disobeyed, his kingdom would not continue. I can imagine Saul thinking that it didn't matter who did the sacrifices, as long as they were done. God wasn't playing games - what God said was what God wanted.

Saul did continue to rule Israel for quite a while, and God selected another to replace Saul: David. David became a member of Saul's household, and Saul alternately loved and despised him. Saul developed what I have heard described as bipolar disorder, and in his paranoia sought David's life. This is the rest of the book of 1 Samuel - quite an adventure story!

1 Samuel ends with Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua killed on the battlefield. Saul was badly wounded and pleaded with his armor-bearer to run him through with the young man's sword so that the Philistines wouldn't kill him and "make sport" of him. The armor-bearer refused so Saul fell on his own sword, and the armor-bearer followed suit.

2 Samuel begins with David receiving the report of Saul's death - a little different from the end of 1 Samuel. Now, David had been pursued and threatened by Saul for some time, and David had had several opportunities to kill Saul himself. Because Saul had been anointed by the Lord, however, David refused to kill him, and preferred to move to safety and then let Saul know how easy it would have been for David to do him in. At this particular battle, David had been separated from Saul's army, and was off fighting his own battle. A man came to David and said he had escaped from the camp of Israel. The man reported that Saul and his son Jonathan, a person dear to David, had been killed. David asked how he knew, and the man said that he saw Saul leaning on his spear - presumably pierced by the spear - and Saul asked that the young man come and kill him for he (Saul) knew he was dying but was still alive. The young man honored Saul's wishes and killed him. He then brought Saul's crown and armlet to David.

Today, we might consider this a mercy-killing. Euthanasia is legal in some countries, as is assisted suicide for those who are dying. I don't think it is legal in the United States - it is still a debate with no easy answer. I know that if I were Saul in that situation, I would appreciate being dispatched quickly by someone from my own camp, rather than being left to die a long slow agonizing death. I am guessing the young man thought the same and anticipated that David would appreciate his actions. David did not. David had the young man killed and cursed him: "Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, 'I have killed the Lord's anointed.'" (2 Samuel 1:16)

In 2 Samuel chapter 2, there was a "contest" between Abner and Ishbaal, followers of Saul, and Joab and the servants of David. Of course, the contest was to the death. Ultimately Abner killed Asahel, who was Joab's brother. After several hundred people were dead, the men grew tired of their sport and called it off, but Joab determined to kill Abner.

Over the years there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David. Abner was strong in the house of Saul but determined to make an alliance with David. David received Abner and believed that Abner meant what he said. Unfortunately, Joab got Abner alone and stabbed him to death. This presented a dilemma to David - Joab was too powerful for David to put him to death, so David cursed him, and wept over the grave of Abner. which convinced the people of Israel that David, the king of Judah, hadn't participated in the assassination of Abner. This was the beginning of the reign of David over a united Israel (this is all really confusing!).

Ishbaal, Abner's friend of the deadly contest and son of Saul, was frightened at the death of Abner - with good reason. Rechab and Baanah set out and came to Ishbaal's house while Ishbaal was resting. They crept into his bedroom and killed him. They thought they were avenging David, so they brought Ishbaal's head to David. David was again not pleased:

“As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, 10 when the one who told me, ‘See, Saul is dead,’ thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag—this was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 How much more, then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house! And now shall I not require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?” 12 So David commanded the young men, and they killed them; they cut off their hands and feet and hung their bodies beside the pool at Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:10-12)

As I thought about this the other day - so much blood and gore, which I don't enjoy reading about - you won't find me watching horror movies for that very reason - I wondered what these stories are trying to tell us. It occurred to me if we put Samuel and David in the metaphorical place of God, we see how people thought they were pleasing God, but failed miserably - just as Saul thought he was pleasing the Lord and didn't, and the killers of Saul and Ishbaal thought David would be happy with them. How often have we done something that we thought would be pleasing to God, but was, in fact, not what God wanted at all?

In the Mosaic laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, there are rules laid out about when sacrifices should be offered, who should offer them, what animals were to be sacrificed for which kind of sacrifice, and how they were to be done. God took delight in the pleasing aromas of the sacrifices. But in Isaiah, God has grown tired of the people thinking sacrifices were enough:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or of goats.

12 When you come to appear before me,[b] who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more! 13 Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:11-15)

People have been getting it wrong from the beginning of time. We are still getting it wrong.

In the book of Luke, Jesus says,

52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52-53)

Recently, Jay heard someone comment that he was surprised that Jesus actually came to divide, not unite. I don't read this that way. I think Jesus is saying, "You have to choose. If you follow me, those you love may turn against you. It won't be easy. - it will require sacrifice." Joshua 24:15, which Jesus would have known well: 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

What does all of this have to do with Saul, David, Abner, Ishbaal, and all those other guys? I think that we have gotten so caught up in what we think is pleasing to God that we have forgotten to follow God at all. I think that we have chosen the easy path of ego, power, popularity, and wealth that we aren't really following Jesus at all. We think we are, and then are surprised when God says, "Your sacrifices stink." Just like Saul, Saul's killer, Joab, Rechab and Baanah.

I think of that as I think of the prophet Mother Earth. Don't look her up in the Bible - she isn't there, at least by that name. This prophet is telling us that we are running out of time. We are not treasuring the gifts of God, the creation of God, the beloved of God. We are treasuring our own stuff, and think it is pleasing because we are getting rich and powerful. But God finds our sacrifices to have the same stench as industrial smokestacks.

We insist that the earth and everything on and in her is ours for the taking. We need Lithium for our electric cars and smartphones? Mine the sacred lands of the Paiute Indians in Nevada. Need oil to power all the other vehicles, manufacture plastics, and heat homes? Drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Need natural gas? Frack the hell out of the mountains - never mind what that does to water supplies. Coal? Dig down, down, down. Pollute the water ways. Kill the miners.

Heating homes is good. Plastics have their uses. Electric vehicles are supposed to help reduce climate change by reducing carbon emissions. These are all good things, but at what cost? Our sacrifices stink.

What will it take for us to turn our thermostats down in winter and put on a sweater? Turn our thermostats up in summer - surely, we'll get used to the higher temps (I'm looking at you there in the mirror, Kathy!).

Do we really need to drive so much? Have you seen how crowded the parking lots at grocery stores, Walmart and Costco are on the weekend? What if we got together in our neighborhoods and decided to pool our grocery shopping? Maybe Kathy goes this Saturday - get your lists to me by 9 AM because I will go to the store at 10:30 AM. I'll let you know when I am home. Maybe Kathy goes to the grocery store and Rosemary goes to Costco. then Patty does the "short run" on Wednesday for milk, bread and other perishables, and next week we rotate. I know, I know, it takes too much planning, it isn't convenient, etc etc. But you know what? It isn't convenient to be in California this month, either. We thought California would fall into the ocean after an earthquake - now I think it might just wash away. Do we really all need to drive to work? How about school? There are perfectly good school busses sent out to bring the darlings to school. Why do we have to drive them?

The thing is, we all have to make choices. We need to be listening for the powerful prophetic voices of our time. We might not like what they have to say, but they are speaking for God and God's creation. We need to choose this day who we are going to serve, and we'd best be damned sure that our sacrifices and gifts are pleasing to God, not just ourselves. How do we know they are the voice of God? Are they calling for justice for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed? That is the voice of God. Or are they preserving power and wealth for a select few? Those are false prophets. When Greta Thunberg calls for climate justice, she is calling for justice for those who are most likely to be affected by climate change, and those who have no voice. I believe she is a prophet for our time.

I am trying to accept that I can't change the world - I am no Greta Thunberg, and I hope she is successful. I can contribute to world change, though. I can reduce my driving. I can eat less meat. I can vote for people who support pro-environment legislation. I can learn to think for myself, and to think critically. I can put my head together with others to see what answers we can come up with, and then take it to prayer to listen to God. I can read, and study, and wonder.

Here is what God desires:

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove your evil deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil; 17 learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

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