Of Oil, Donkeys, and Bread

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1 Samuel 10:  1 Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance? 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?” ’ 3 “Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. 4 They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them. 5 “After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (ESV)

This past week Caleb Walcott sustained his classical exam in Classis Georgetown. Such times are always times of celebration for they reflect both a long path that has been walked and the completion of an important part in seeing God’s call on your life. When ordination comes, we see that call again reflected when the form speaks of hearing in call of the congregation the call of God himself. 

The call of Saul to the place of king has me wondering about calling and sustaining calling, both the call to start a new church or the call to strengthen an existing congregation. When I look at Saul’s call it is filled with confirmation. Samuel, the leading prophet and judge anoints him on God’s behalf (which pastor wouldn’t like that kind of credentialing?). Then he is given confirmation in a way that would make Gideon jealous: two men talk to him about his donkeys, someone offers him two loaves of bread, he meets prophets and he himself prophesies by Yahweh’s Spirit. All of this confirmation of his call.

Yet, the confirmation doesn’t stick. At least not in terms of Saul living out being the right kind of king, one who rules under God. Saul forgets his calling and truly becomes like one of the kings of the other nations. He seeks to manipulate God to his way rather than being bent to God’s way.  (By the way, if you keep reading in 1 Samuel 10 you find that Saul hides himself among the baggage. When the people can’t find him we read, “So they inquired again of the LORD, “Is there a man still to come?”” [1 Samuel 10:22 ESV]. It is the first hint that there is another king to come. But the words also make an interesting connection to the question of John the Baptist, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”” [Matthew 11:2–3 ESV]. To the people of Israel who asked for the wrong kind of king, God would send another. To John the Baptist who was hoping for a king of judgment, God sends the message, “The king has arrived.”) In spite of all the confirmation of his calling, Saul loses his calling and finally loses the throne.

I wonder about the calling of pastors in this light. How do you sustain God’s call in your life? To what are you called? If you read the two forms of ordination that we typically use, there are some significant differences in the flavor and calling represented in them. But beyond that, do you view your calling as being a chaplain to the congregation, a theologian in residence, a leader who calls people to God’s mission, or something else?  Has God’s call on your life changed over the years as the church has changed and the culture has changed? Certainly the ministry I am involved in doesn’t look like the ministry my dad (Milton Doornbos) led in Hudsonville in the 1960s. In fact, the church I lead as lead pastor has changed so many times in its 20 years of existence that my original calling and work have changed in significant ways. 

For all the new people stepping into ministry, how about some wisdom from those who have been living out their call for the past 5, 10, 20 or 50 plus years. How has your call been kept alive without oil, donkeys, and bread — which don’t seem strong enough to hold a person anyway.

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