Thought for Evensong: Sunday 20th June 2021

Third Sunday after Trinity

Psalm 18, 1 Samuel 4: 1 – 18 and Luke 7: 1 – 10

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the name of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so I shall be saved from my enemies. Psalm 18: 2 and 3

So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 1 Samuel 4: 4

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at (the centurion), and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’. Luke 7: 9

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity

‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, runs a well-known adage. However, quite often, when life circumstances become difficult (as many have found over the past year), what do we do? Often, we forget God, forget to pray and try to get out of the problems our own way, using our own resources. Then we wonder why things become worse, not better. Today, we have two contrasting readings, one that shows how not to go about solving a challenge and then how to do it the right way. 

Our Old Testament reading occurs at the end of the forty-year period when Eli the priest was judge over Israel. Not unlike the present circumstances in Israel, where Palestinian terrorist organisations periodically challenge Israeli military power, the Philistines have attacked Israel and killed four thousand troops. In these dire circumstances, the elders appear to blame God for their misfortune and call for the revered ark of the covenant to be brought from the temple in Shiloh where it was kept for safety. Treating it as a talisman that would guarantee victory, news that the ark was with the Israelite army indeed brought fear to the hearts of the Philistines. But what happens? The Philistines prevail, the Israelite forces are routed and the ark of the covenant is taken into captivity. You may notice that the reprobate sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, were complicit in this foolhardy exercise of trying to win good luck for their army – there was certainly no effort to engage with God or ask for His divine help. Hophni and Phineas are among the dead, and the overweight Eli keels over and dies with shock at the news of the defeat. This is the example of how not to cope with adverse circumstances in our own strength.

In contrast, our reading from Luke 7 comprises a delightful account of a Roman centurion and a sick slave. Three points are noteworthy in this story: firstly, it was rare for a Roman to approach someone from a foreign and ‘inferior’ race to intervene, so he used the Jewish elders as intermediaries; secondly, it was unusual for a Roman to be in such sympathy with a foreign faith (Judaism) as to fund the building of the synagogue, although Cornelius in Acts 10 is another example of a ‘God-fearer’ gentile; thirdly, it was unusual for a master to value the life of a slave. The centurion must have felt Jesus was someone special and sent from God who would be capable of healing his valued slave, but still feels somehow unworthy to approach him. Such is his faith though, he knows Jesus can heal his servant without even seeing or touching him, and Jesus is astounded at the centurion. In fact, he holds him up as an example of faith, shaming the likes of the Pharisees who constantly questioned and doubted Jesus, even though they had the advantage of a Jewish religious upbringing and were supposedly watching for the Messiah to come. This example of such conviction of faith by the centurion gives us inspiration in how to approach life’s problems; he knew where to go to find help.

‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, should be the motto of every Christian, in the sense that prayer should be our first rather than the last resort. As our Collect expresses it, we should use that hearty desireto pray as our prime resource, so that we may be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities. 

The psalmist had his priorities right in Psalm 18. We have to recognise God’s sovereignty and power, and place our absolute faith in His salvation. Then, instead of blundering into danger trying to sort out our difficulties as Hophni and Phineas did in 1 Samuel 4 (with their superstitious trust in a religious artifact), we should approach God in confidence that He is listening and will save us from our enemies. Knowing Jesus is there for us interceding on our behalf, in faith we should pray, remembering the words of Hebrews 6: 19: ‘We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.’

Kevin Boak, Lay Reader

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