Lection - 1 Chronicles 16:19-22 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v. 19) When they were few in number, of little account, and strangers in the land, (v. 20) wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, (v. 21) he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, (v. 22) saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
A hero or heroine in a literary or dramatic work is a central character or figure who often displays courage in the face of crisis or an act of self-sacrifice for the greater good. The African American church has a rich legacy of heroes and heroines. We are people who sailed across seas of siege and slavery, traveled through deserts of despair and disenfranchisement, yet stood up and bore light amidst shadows of suffering and sorrow. In the courage of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, in the writings of Ida B. Wells and Samuel Cornish, in the preaching of Jarena Lee and Gardner Taylor, in the ecclesial engineering of Charles Adams and Jeremiah Wright, Jr., in the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jo Anne Robinson, in the scholarship of James Cone and Renita Weems, in the political perspicacity of President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama, we see the evidence of freedom-fighting, faith-full heroines and heroes, anointed and appointed by a gracious God.
God uses heroes and heroines to be agents of our liberation. This Sunday, we celebrate and give thanks for the contributions of contemporary heroes and heroines who testify to God’s faithfulness and inspire us to also use our gifts to serve in the march towards God’s beloved community.
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: I Chronicles 16:19-22
Part One: The Contemporary Contexts of the Interpreter
I grew up in Oakland, California in the home of two heroes, Mondre and Diane Moffett. Ours was a musical family. Everyone played an instrument and, at any moment, we could expect jazz and gospel melodies to sound from the speakers in our living room. There is one song I used to hear growing up that guides my understanding of heroes and heroines. First made popular by Nat King Cole and remade by his daughter, Natalie Cole, the song is entitled “Unforgettable.” This song has captured the hearts of multiple generations, because in some form or fashion, we all have an experience with the unforgettable. When it comes to our heroes and heroines, they are “unforgettable” because their impact on us is so profound that time and distance cannot erase the indelible imprint they have made on our souls.
These individuals are not only the towering figures who speak from the platforms of public history, but they are often the heroes and heroines who cross our every day paths and leave a stamp on the pages of our personal memories. These unforgettable heroes and heroines are people like my grandparents, Vivian and Larry Givens, who helped rear me. They are people like my parents, Mondre and Diane Moffett, who taught and provided for me. These are aunties and uncles who mentor us, sisters and brothers who support us, spouses who love us, teachers who believe in us, friends who encourage us and pastors who nurture us. These unforgettable heroes and heroines are Sly and the Family Stone’s, “everyday people,” and John Legend’s “ordinary people,” who are possessed by the Holy and appointed by the Almighty. Through their efforts and examples, we are inspired to be the people and the community God has called us to be.
Part Two: Biblical Commentary
Borrowing material from Psalm 105:12-15, I Chronicles 16:19-22 is part of a psalm of thanksgiving written in fourth century B.C.E. to a post-exilic Jewish audience. Much like people of the African Diaspora in the United States who were captured by a foreign empire, the people of Judah had been captured by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C.E. Families had been ripped apart. Communities had been devastated. The temple, the centerpiece of their religious and social life, had been destroyed. Homes were plundered. The best and brightest religious, scholarly and political leaders had been ousted from position. By fourth century B.C.E., the aftermath of the Babylonian exile left the Hebrew children in the process of rebuilding their lives.
Like the Hebrew children, congregations are filled with people in rebuilding seasons. The collapse of the United States economy has yielded high unemployment rates, credit defaults, and home foreclosures at an all time high. These realities necessitate collective and personal change. The book of Chronicles has a word for rebuilders: sometimes our past can be a compass for a brighter future. As such, Chronicles is written to provide Israel continuity with her historical and spiritual past. It’s a past where the divine Hero miraculously acts and uses human vessels to free God’s people from destructive powers.
The same God, who empowered Israel’s past heroes and heroines in the faith, will be the same God who will empower those who are willing to be heroically used for the Divine today.
I Chronicles 16:19-22 is part of the hymn David appoints Asaph and his Levitical kindred to sing after the homecoming of the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the tent David pitches for it in Jerusalem. The homecoming of the ark is the first step toward building the temple that will be finished by Solomon. The ark’s installation in Jerusalem signifies God’s presence and, therefore, calls for celebration and commemoration of God’s saving presence in the history heralded in the hymn.
This history spans the ages from Abraham to Joseph, through the descent into Egypt, the Exodus, the wandering in the wilderness, and climaxing with the gift of the promised land as referenced in I Chronicles 16:18.1 In recalling this spiritual heritage and God’s faithfulness, the biblical text celebrates two kinds of heroic personalities that are relevant for our contemporary preview and help to inspire our heroic efforts today.
First, the narrative points us to a God who is the ultimate Hero. When one thinks about the saving work of Yahweh operating in the life of Israel, it is not a leap to understand God as the ultimate Hero (capital “H”) of heroes. For when the ancestors were wandering in the wilderness, few in number, it was the Lord who was their advocate, assuring their freedom and security. Verse 21-22 says, “He allowed no one to oppress them, he rebuked Kings on their account.”
Second, the narrative points us to heroic people, used as human agents to carry out the will of the Divine. For instance, a large portion of Chronicles concerns itself with King David. David lays the groundwork for the great temple that will be built by his son, Solomon. In addition, the ancestors of Israel who wandered as a small clan among foreign nations are identified as Yahweh’s anointed, verse 22 saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm" (italics mine).
Here, the text is clear that we are not our own agents, but we belong to God and are agents of God's divine will. When we allow ourselves to be claimed by the One who created us and to be used according to his purposes, we too can be heroic vessels. Like diamonds are refined in the fire or pearls are made by the agitation of the oyster, heroes and heroines are made in the heat of hardship. As Dr. King told us in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Human progress never rolled in on the wheels of inevitability, but on the tireless efforts of men and women willing to be co-workers with God.”
The Hero/Heroine Hallelujah!
Through our efforts and willingness to work with God, we can make a difference despite the difficult realities of injustice, discrimination, pain, and hardship we face in the world. We too can be heroes and heroines if we are willing to be co-laborers with God. We can leave an unforgettable imprint on our era. Calling on all heroes and heroines; you are the one you have been waiting for. Hallelujah, you are here for such a time as this.
Do not feed intoa theology of heroism that is a spiritual veil for political and social ideologies that justify oppression and have historically been the catalyst of cruelty, crusades, and colonialism. God is a different kind of Hero. God is the Hero of the underdog. God looks out for the least, last, lost and left out. Dr. James Cone reminds us that “God grants power to the powerless to fight here and now for the freedom they know to be theirs through Jesus’ cross and resurrection.”2
The descriptive details of this passage include:
Sights: Wanderers in the wilderness; the topography of the wilderness; unfamiliar foreign territory; and
Sounds: God’s rebuke; different languages and customs; and noisy creatures in the wilderness.
III. Other Materials that Preachers and Others Can Use
A group of failing schoolchildren in Kaolack, Senegal, once asked Viola Vaughn to help them pass their classes. Today, Vaughn has a program spanning six locations and helping over 1000 girls succeed in school. For this and other remarkable stories highlighting ordinary people who make extraordinary impact, see CNN’s website for information on their annual program, CNN Heroes. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/index.html
Be intentional about using intergenerational examples. Young people are heroes and heroines, too. Remember the student sit-ins (e.g., the Greensboro Four), children marches (e.g., 1964 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama), young people who were willing to hand in their Wills before boarding Freedom Rides in the south, even a young 26 year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, demonstrate that there are no age restrictions to being a hero or heroine.
Considering the indiscretions of David and the many times the Lord rebuked the patriarchs and matriarchs in faith, we must yield to the fact that the heroic human is never a perfect vessel, but an instrument striving to be faithful and touched by the grace of the Ultimate Hero. Thanks be to God that our flaws do not outmatch God’s faithfulness! Our mistakes do not outweigh God’s mercy!
Dr. Billy Hawkins was diagnosed a “slow learner” and put in special education classes. However, when he was a sophomore in high school, providence put him in the path of a principal who saw his potential. This “slow learner” went on to earn a Ph.D. from Michigan State University and become president of two colleges. Now the student who was once helped by a hero is serving as a hero to somebody else. Helping others is contagious! Online location: http://www.recordpub.com/news/article/4531757 accessed 28 November 2009
1. Braun, Roddy L. Word Biblical Commentary: Vol 14, 1 Chronicles. Dallas, TX: Word, Incorporated, 2002. p. 192.
2. Cone, James. God of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1974. p. 183.