Saul’s Inferno, 1 Samuel 28:3-25


Download Audio

Download Text

 

“Saul’s Inferno

1 Samuel 28:3-25

January 5, 2020

Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service

Pr. Nicoletti

 

We’ve been away from Samuel for almost a month now, but this evening we return to First Samuel 28:3-25.

 

As we have seen the rise of David since chapter sixteen, so we have also seen the decline of Saul since chapter thirteen.

 

Saul has been in rebellion against God, and ultimately unrepentant in that rebellion, for the last fifteen chapters. In our text tonight, we see where that has led him.

 

And so, with that in mind we turn to First Samuel 28:3-25.

 

Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:

 

27:3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of Yahweh, Yahweh did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by Yahweh, “As Yahweh lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since Yahweh has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 Yahweh has done to you as he spoke by me, for Yahweh has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of Yahweh and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore Yahweh has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, Yahweh will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. Yahweh will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. 22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. 24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

 

This is the Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)

 

Let’s pray …

 

Lord, let your saving hand be close to us,

for we have bound ourselves to your precepts.

We long for your salvation, Lord,

because your law is our delight.

Give our souls life, that we might praise you,

and help us now through your word.

We have each gone astray like lost sheep.

As we come to your word now, we ask you to seek us.

For we have not forgotten your word to us.

Grant this, we ask, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:173-176]

 

We have here, in many ways, the low point for King Saul.

 

We have seen his decline over fifteen chapters now. In a few chapters from now we will come to Saul’s death.

 

But this is the spiritual low point before Saul’s death.

 

The events themselves show us how far Saul has gone.

 

But as I reflected on this passage, what struck me even more is that the narrative itself gives us more than just a narrative … it gives us a picture of Saul’s spiritual state at this point.

 

And as we get this final picture of Saul’s spiritual state, a pattern emerges.

 

What we see in many areas of his life, is that in light of his unrepentance, as an act of judgment, God gave to Saul what Saul had been sinfully grasping at. And then we see that what Saul had sinfully desired and sought, in the end actually gives him the opposite of what he had hoped for.

 

We see that in a number of areas. But we can begin by considering the root issue that has led to Saul’s downfall: his relationship to God’s word.

 

Saul’s sin began when he disregarded the Lord’s command through Samuel regarding the sacrifice … and then he intensified that sin by defending his decision rather than repenting when he was confronted.

 

Saul’s sin then went further when he disregarded God’s word regarding the Amalekites, and once again he defended rather than repented of his decision when he was confronted.

 

Saul’s central sin was that he did not want to be constrained by the Word of God. It was from this sin that everything else flowed – all other sins and all other disaster. Saul chafed at the directive word of God. He wanted to do what was best in his own eyes.

 

Saul wanted to be free of the commands of God … and now … in chapter twenty-eight … God has given Saul what he wanted. God has gone silent. God is not telling Saul what to do.

 

Saul lists all the ways he might receive direction from God: in a dream, through the priests using the Urim and Thummim, through a prophet. But by going silent, God is simply giving Saul what Saul has asked for for years.

 

Saul rejected the word of God, so God will refrain from speaking to Saul directly in a dream.

 

Saul killed the priests at Nob who had the ephod, in chapter twenty-two, so it is no surprise that that route is no longer available to him. And Saul had opposed the prophet Samuel – even sending troops to his camp of prophets in Ramah in chapter nineteen. And so it is no shock that since Samuel died, no other prophet has been sent to Saul to assist him.

 

Saul has disregarded, attacked, or killed every messenger God has sent him so far. And finally, as an act of judgment, God gives Saul what he so clearly seems to want: silence. God stops speaking to Saul. He lets Saul do what is best in his own eyes. God gives Saul what he has sought.

 

And we see almost immediately that what he has sought does not give Saul what he had hoped it would – but instead it gives him the opposite.

 

Because Saul, without the authoritative guidance of God, now sees just how ignorant he is of what to do next. When left to rule according to his own judgment alone, Saul does not experience the security and the peace he had expected … but he is immediately racked with fear and insecurity. Saul has no idea what to do.

 

God, in an act of judgment, gave to Saul what he had sought … and the very thing Saul sought became his undoing – giving him the opposite of what he had hoped for.

 

And this same pattern is true of all sorts of aspects of Saul’s life in chapter twenty-eight.

 

We’ve begun by considering guidance. But in addition to that we could also consider power.

 

Saul sought to be the chief power in Israel, without having to answer to anyone else – not Samuel, and not Yahweh. And God has given him that. But once more, rather than feeling the rush of power, Saul is presented in our text tonight as feeble and helpless.

 

In addition to that, Saul has been obsessed with his own position and prestige – growing murderous at having David get more credit than him in any area of life. But now God has led David away from Saul. Now none threaten Saul’s prestigious status within Israel. But far from glorying in his position even more, we see Saul in our text tonight removing the signs of his position himself – removing his own royal robes so that he will become anonymous, rather than distinct, as he goes to visit the medium.

 

In addition to that, Saul has been focused on preserving not just his own position, but also his own dynasty. He has been determined that Jonathan would succeed him, and he has been filled with anxiety that David might take Jonathan’s position. In response, God has led David away and left Saul in charge of his own house … but we learn in verse nineteen that it will be under Saul’s leadership, with David nowhere in sight, that Saul’s heir will be struck down and killed – putting an end to Saul’s dynasty.

 

In addition to that, Saul has been determined to have a kingdom for himself – a people who are his, who revere him as king, and praise him above all others. And God has withdrawn any domestic rival from Saul – David has left Israel and is among the Philistines. But without rivals, far from being surrounded by adoring subjects, Saul seems profoundly alone in this passage. He has driven so many people away from him in his need for primacy, that while many still serve him, there are few who would admire him, and few if any who are close to him.

 

And finally, in addition to all that, Saul has been resistant to Yahweh’s house and Yahweh’s table. He refuses God’s commands through Samuel regarding the sacrificial meals of chapter thirteen and he declares war on Yahweh’s house in chapter twenty-two. But now, far from reigning at his own table, in his own house, according to his own commands … we find Saul obeying the commands of a pagan spiritual medium … making peace with and dwelling in a house of the dead … and feasting at a table of demons. [Leithart, 156]

 

Again and again the pattern we see is that in judgment, God lets Saul have what he is seeking, and Saul, as he receives what he sought, finds that it undoes him rather than bringing him what he most deeply desired.

 

Saul has had countless opportunities to repent. But he has refused. That is clear even here. Saul’s desire to hear from Yahweh might seem like repentance … but in the same story, we watch him consult a pagan spiritual medium, in defiance of God’s law, and in a blasphemous irony, in verse ten Saul swears in the name of Yahweh that he will disobey Yahweh, in an effort to convince the spiritual medium to sin against Yahweh. [Firth, 292] Saul has not repented.

 

And in response, God allows Samuel to speak to Saul through the medium.

 

Of course that whole scene with Samuel raises a lot of questions for us as modern people. It is clear that in this case Saul really did communicate with Samuel. As to whether that was something the medium had truly done before with others, or even how it might have worked, the Bible leaves us with silence where we are so curious to know more.

 

Some commentators take the woman’s surprise in verse twelve as a sign that she was not used to actually communicating with the dead [Leithart, 154n3]. Others have linked her surprise to her realization about who Saul was, and have pointed out that while the Hebrew Scriptures condemn necromancy, they do not deny its possible effectiveness [Firth, 292].

 

In any case, at least in this instance God allows Samuel to speak to Saul. And Samuel tells Saul what should already be clear to him – that he continues to be an enemy of God. And that now, God will rip the kingdom from Saul.

 

God will rip the kingdom from Saul … but as we have seen, he will do even that by means of giving Saul what he has been seeking all along: independence from God. And so left to his own wisdom and his own power and his own devices, Saul will oversee the battle that leads to his own death, the end of his dynasty, and the defeat of his people.

 

God will carry out his judgment in and through Saul’s sin.

 

And we need to appreciate that this is not an unusual thing for God to do.

 

This is, in fact, a typical way in which God brings judgment.

 

Augustine, in his Confessions puts it like this – he says that “Every disordered soul is its own punishment.” [I,12,19]

 

And Augustine didn’t come up with that idea himself either. The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter one, says three times that God’s response to those who have rejected him, has been to “give them up” to their own sinful desires. [Romans 1:24, 26, 28]. In other words, Paul says that God has often let people have the sin they sought, and the sin was, in many ways, its own consequence.

 

“Every disordered soul is its own punishment.”

 

When God wants to bring judgment, he often does it by giving people what they seek in their sin – by giving them up to their own desires.

 

The Book of Samuel gives us a picture of that here in chapter twenty-eight. Here we see Saul after he has been given up to his own desires.

 

And with that, the author of Samuel shows us Saul with all the illusions surrounding his sin stripped away.

 

It’s easy when we see someone surrounded by all the signs of success and power, that when we see their sin – their pride and self-centeredness and violence – we still fail to see their true state … but we imagine them happy, and successful, and whole … we think of their sin even as a blessing to them.

 

But God in his providence, and the author of Samuel in his telling, in order to help us see Saul as he truly is, strips all the illusions of success and achievement away in this chapter. We see Saul here stripped of his royal court. We see Saul stripped of his royal robes and the prestige of his office. We see Saul stripped of his military might.

 

The appearance of Saul is stripped away, and we are left here with the reality of Saul.

 

And we see Saul for what he is: he is alone, he is afraid, he is helpless, he is without hope. This is what his sin truly looks like. This is what his sin has made him into.

 

This chapter of Samuel reminds us that we sometimes need to look at the spiritual reality of sin – to see it for what it is – in order to remind ourselves of why we must fight it – why we must resist it – why we must repent of it – why we must flee from it.

 

And as I thought of that truth, I couldn’t help but think of Dante’s Inferno.

 

From September 2017 through May 2018, over the course of eight months, the high school Sunday school class and I here at Faith read through and discussed Dante’s Inferno.

 

I really enjoyed it. I think if you asked them, you might get some more mixed reactions.

 

But our focus in studying Dante’s poetic telling of a journey through hell, was to better see and appreciate the ugliness and foolishness of sin.

 

Dante himself, in a letter written in 1316, explained that his poem was supposed to be read in the same way that the Bible was read in the Middle Ages – meaning that it had not only a literal meaning in terms of the story, but also an allegorical meaning, along with two other kinds of meaning. [Hollander, xxx-xxxii] Our focus in the class was on the allegorical meaning, and the conviction that in the Inferno Dante was giving us an allegorical study of the nature of sin. Dante, in other words, was not claiming to give anyone a map of hell so much as taxonomy and an analysis of sin.

 

Dorothy Sayers, in her very helpful commentary on the Comedy, points out the important interpretive key that in Dante’s Inferno, the punishments presented for each kind of sin is not some arbitrary penalty that must be paid for an infraction of the law, but rather that “The ‘punishment’ for [each] sin is simply the sin itself, experienced without illusion.” [Sayers, 102]

 

Sayers goes on to admit that Dante does not follow this pattern with “mathematical rigidity in every circle” of hell in the Inferno – but the dominant pattern in each circle is to give an allegorical picture of the sin, stripped of its illusions – to show how the sin is in many ways its own punishment.

 

In other words, Dante does in his Inferno what the author of Samuel is doing here in chapter twenty-eight. Or, to put it anachronistically, in our text tonight we have Saul’s Inferno.

 

As I thought about this pattern, I thought a good way for us to meditate on and apply the core concept we see in First Samuel twenty-eight might be to take a brief, birds-eye tour of some regions of Dante’s Inferno, and consider a few ways that our sins – the sins that entice each one of us – are also their own punishment, their own torture, should God turn us over to them, and allow us to have what we seek.

 

There are many different pictures of such things in Dante’s Inferno – the eighth circle of Dante’s hell alone has ten sub-circles – ten trenches. So we will not consider them all, but merely a few representative areas that might help us consider our own sin.

 

Early on, one of the first circles Dante encounters is the circle for lust. And there he sees a great wind that drives souls all around, back and forth, without ceasing. “The hellish squall,” Dante writes, “which never rests, sweeps spirits in its headlong rush, tormenting, whirls and strikes them. […] Here and there, down and up, it drives them. Never are they comforted by hope of rest.” [V.31-33, 43-45a]

 

Dante is giving us a picture here of lust as it truly is – lust as its own penalty.

 

The illusion of lust – the lie behind all temptations to lust – is that if we indulge it, if we give in, if we pursue that which is forbidden, then we will find rest – then we will find satisfaction. That’s the lie behind every form of lust – every temptation, every draw to sexual immorality or pornography or infidelity – the promise of satisfaction and sated rest.

 

But Dante is not so foolish as to believe that that’s actually what lust will give us. Instead, Dante strips the sin from its illusions and shows it as it truly is: a never-ending wind, that left to itself, should we give ourselves over to it, would carry us away forever and never give us rest – never give us satisfaction. Because lust is never satisfied. And the more it is indulged, the more the desire and the agitation for more indulgence increases. Dante holds that truth before us and reminds us that lust, in the end, becomes its own punishment. The more we pursue satisfaction from it, the more unsatisfied we become.

 

From the circle of lust, Dante goes on to the circle of gluttony. And here we must not think only of overeating in some narrow sense, but of all the ways we are tempted to make comfort and pleasure our highest good, the chief thing we pursue.

 

In her commentary on Dante, Dorothy Sayers notes that “Gluttony (like the other self-indulgences it typifies) often masquerades on earth as a warm, cozy, and indeed jolly kind of sin.” [Sayers, 107]

 

But again, Dante knows that it is not truly so. And so in the circle of gluttony we see souls wallowing in the muck, under a cold rain. They don’t interact with those around them, but each seems isolated to himself, and they all are tormented by a ravenous beast that looms over them.

 

With this, Dante reminds us that gluttony – the relentless pursuit of pleasure and comfort, is not a warm and cozy sin – it is not a sin that brings great satisfaction – it is not a sin that draws people together. But left to itself, stripped of its illusions, should God give us over to it, we would become cold and disconnected, ruled by a ravenous beast inside who never lets us rest – never lets us find relief.

 

The sin is, in many ways, its own punishment.

 

Next, Dante makes his way to the circle that contains the greedy – both those greedy for money to hoard it, and those greedy for money to spend it. And in that circle the two groups – the greedy hoarders and the greedy spenders – circle each other while carrying stones, and then suddenly come together and throw their stones at one another, the spenders of wealth yelling “Why do you hoard?” and the hoarders of wealth yelling “Why do you squander?” [VIII.25-30]

 

Greed gives the illusion – it tempts with the lie – that if we just had a little more, then we would be satisfied – then we would be happy.

 

But Dante, with his picture here, reminds us of the truth. Greed – whether a greed that wants to store up goods for power or security, or greed that wants to spend goods for comfort or status – greed, in whatever form it takes, will not be satisfied, but will always be distressed so long as there is wealth out there that is being used in a way the greedy man or woman doesn’t think it should be used.

 

In other words, the greedy don’t just want to control their wealth – they want to control all wealth. And short of that, greed will never be satisfied.

 

Dante’s guide Virgil explains it by putting it like this – he says, “All the gold that lies beneath the moon, or ever did, could never give a moment’s rest to any of these wearied souls.” [VII.64-66]

 

Greed will not be satisfied, but will only torment a soul with desire for more. The sin, stripped of its illusions, is its own punishment … for sin never gives the rest that it promises.

 

In the circles for wrath and for violence we see souls who never cease to lash out at others, or who live in boiling blood – because anger that lashes out sinfully at others, while it tells us that if we just allow it to attack the one who has provoked us, then it will be satisfied – in truth it only grows every time we give it free reign … every time we lash out we lose more of our ability to restrain ourselves … every time we allow our blood to boil, we become people whose blood more and more easily boils. The sin consumes us – the sin becomes its own punishment.

 

At the same time, when Dante sees those who express their unrighteous anger by sinfully and bitterly stewing, he presents us with souls fixed in the slime underneath a river of murky water. And from their submerged positions, bubbles rise from their mouths as they sing “We were sullen in the sweet air that in the sun rejoices, filled as we were with slothful fumes. Now we are sullen in black mire.” [VII.121-124] Bitter, stewing anger calls a soul to make its home in the muck and slime, even if sweet air and sun are offered to it … and in that way, once more, the sin becomes its own punishment.

 

Later on, in the trench of hypocrites, Dante sees souls who are wearing cloaks that are “gilded and dazzling on the outside” while on the inside “they are of lead,” weighing down terribly on the one who wears it. “Oh what a toilsome cloak to wear forever!” Dante exclaims. [XXIII.64-67] Because that is what hypocrisy is like. The more we enhance the image on the outside, the more the deception, the inconsistency, the lie that we are living, becomes a weight to our soul on the inside. Until we are gilded and dazzling on the outside, while collapsing under the weight of our hypocrisy and self-loathing on the inside. The sin itself is its own punishment.

 

And at the end of his journey, Dante comes to the circle for treachery – for those who betray the people to whom they most owe their loyalty. And those souls are locked into the ice-cold frozen floor of hell. Because treachery and betrayal are sins where we are ice cold to those to whom we most owe warmth – and as we embrace such sins, our souls too become like ice – hard, cold, and unfeeling.

 

As Augustine put it, “Every disordered soul is its own punishment.”

 

And so, as Dante walks through these circles, he raises a prayer to God and asks him “Why do our sins so waste us?” [VII.21]

 

“Why do our sins so waste us?”

 

That is the question Dante is led to as he considers the results of sin in our hearts and in our lives.

 

That, in many ways, is the question the author of Samuel raises as he looks at where Saul’s sin has brought him.

 

Our sins are their own penalty. Our sins can so waste us. Saul had his. Dante had those that threatened him.

 

What is it that threatens you?

 

What is the sin … if you’re honest … that could most easily consume you – that you could find yourself embracing to your destruction?

 

Maybe it’s the resistance to submitting your life and your will to the words and the commands of the Lord, as it was for Saul.

 

Or maybe it’s something more like one of the sins we considered from Dante: lust, or gluttony, or wrath, or greed, or bitterness, or hypocrisy, or even cold treachery.

 

Or maybe it’s something else.

 

But what is it for you?

 

Can you identify it?

 

And once you do, can you push yourself actually to see it as it is? To strip it of its illusions – of all the lies it tells you, until you see it at its root … and when you do, can you see what distress and desolation it would bring into your soul and into your life if you should really embrace it from the heart – if you did stop resisting, and stop fighting back? Can you see the kind of person it would make you into in the end? Can you see the despair it would grow in your soul? Can you see how it would deliver on none of its promises, but only leave you alone, and afraid, and without hope?

 

Because that is what sin does. That is what it offers us, ultimately.

 

Every sin – every disordered soul – is its own punishment.

 

That said … why on earth are we talking about this this evening?

 

What’s the point? Why so dark? Why so grim?

 

Why did Dante write such a dark work? Why did the author of First Samuel write such a grim chapter?

 

Well, one of the reasons they wrote what they did was so that we could see, even just a glimpse, of what our sin is, and where it leads … and then be horrified at it.

 

And then, being horrified by the true nature of our sin, we could turn back to God and ask for his help.

 

What Dante calls us to – what the author of First Samuel calls us to – is not the response of the stoic man or woman, who heroically turns from sin to virtue on their own and pursues it in isolation. That’s not the goal – that’s not the alternative that Dante or the author of First Samuel is promoting.

 

The alternative is to turn again towards God, and ask him to save us – to ask him to strengthen us in our pursuit of him.

 

After all, every time we embrace sin – whether for a season or just for a minute – we are turning our backs on God.

 

And the call of all that we have considered tonight, is to turn back to God again.

 

We all sin. We all give in to sinful desires … desires that, were we to make peace with them, were we to embrace them, would make us like Saul – would make us like the souls Dante imagines in his Inferno. But as Martin Luther has said, the Christian life is to be a life of repentance. We are called to repent again, and again, and again.

 

David sinned greatly … but he repented and fought against his sin again – never laying down his arms, never giving up and embracing his sin for good.

 

Saul sinned … and made peace with his sin.

 

By showing us the result of Saul’s path, our text tonight is a call to arms for all of God’s people, to see our sin for what it is, to turn to God in repentance, to turn to God for forgiveness, and to turn to God for the strength and power to fight against our sin going forward.

 

And in the midst of all that is a reminder … that no matter how far we have gone … no matter what we have done … if we repent, God will accept us back.

 

In Luke fifteen Jesus tells a parable about a young man whose sin became its own punishment.

 

The young man wants freedom and pleasure. He insults his father by demanding his inheritance before his father’s death, and he abandons his family, and he pursues the life he wants. And in the end, it brings him not fulfillment and joy, but leaves him broke and broken. And he hits a low point – where he is feeding pigs for a living, and he is so hungry that he longs for the pigs’ food.

 

He had wanted a life of freedom and indulgence. He was allowed to pursue that life of freedom and indulgence, and it brought him to this low point of humiliation, isolation, powerlessness, and hunger.

 

Then Jesus says of the young man: “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

 

Jesus, in Luke fifteen, tells this parable in order to tell us how God, our Heavenly Father, will respond to any who turn from their sin and return to him.

 

We may have sinned greatly. We may have debased ourselves and brought shame upon God’s name with our sin. We may be wallowing in the muck – whether publicly, or privately.

 

We may not be worthy to be called God’s son or daughter … actually, we can go stronger than that and emphatically state that we are not worthy to be called God’s son or daughter.

 

But even though that is so, Jesus reminds us that if we would repent and turn back to God, he will come running to us, and embrace us, and begin a celebration … because we have come home to him.

 

The first step though, as Jesus puts it when describing the young man, is that “he came to himself.” And so must we. We need to see our situation clearly. We need to see where our sin has brought us.

 

The young man in the parable eventually sees, as he longs after the food of the pigs.

 

Saul, for as low as he had sunk, never saw where his sin had led him … and so never turned back to God.

 

Dante holds before us pictures of our sins, as they are, without illusion, so that we too might come to ourselves, and turn.

 

What sin or temptation in your life do you need to see more clearly for what it is?

 

Whatever it may be, Jesus calls you to turn from it, and towards him. If it is sin you have indulged in, he calls you to turn from it and ask for his grace. If it is sin that you are tempted with, he calls you to turn from it to call on him for help and strength.

 

Jesus calls us to see the sin in us and around us for what it is … and then to run once more to God our Father … confident that as we do, he will run even faster to meet and embrace us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This sermon draws on material from:

 

Augustine, The Confessions. Translated by Maria Boulding. Second Edition. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012.

Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, translated by Robert & Jean Hollander (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2000).

Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Hollander, Robert. Introduction and Notes in Dante Alighieri, The Inferno. Translated by Robert & Jean Hollander (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2000).

Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.

Sayers, Dorothy L. Introduction and Notes in Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy 1: Hell. Translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1949).