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A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at Clarence Presbyterian on August 2, 2020.


ANOINTED WITH OIL

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.  I Samuel 16:13

        

        My approach to this Sunday’s sermon will be a little different from the usual.  On most Sundays, the sermon takes its focus from a familiar Biblical story or a text.  Most people listening in the pew or online have heard the story or the text before. It is my task as preacher to try and bring a fresh interpretation in order to inspire us to a deeper relationship with God.

This means on most Sundays I try to hone the message to one or two primary lessons from the Scripture.  Many passages can teach us several important truths-but on any given Sunday it is helpful to focus on one core insight. 

Today is different.  This summer we are looking at objects found in the Old Testament that teach us spiritual truths.  Most of these objects have been familiar to us- the fruit in the garden, the rainbow and Jacob’s ladder are all things we would have encountered if we went to Sunday school as a child.  The object for today is one that I never heard about in Sunday school. I have never preached a sermon about it.  So instead of trying to shape this message in a very focused way, it may seem a little scattered.  It may feel more like a lecture than a sermon. I’ll let you decide that.

Our Old Testament lesson comes from the early days of Israel having a king.  The people called on the prophet Samuel to provide them with a strong ruler.  He chose Saul to be king.  But after several years it became clear that Saul was not the right man for the job.  Samuel looked for another.  The Lord led him to the home of Jesse who had several sons.  They were brought before Samuel and we are told then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.

Our object for today is the horn of oil. The oil in Samuel’s horn was not petroleum or whale oil.  The oil in the Old Testament almost always refers to olive oil.  There were lots of olive trees in many parts of Israel.  If you were able to visit Jerusalem today one popular place to visit is the Garden of Gethsemane.  This is where Jesus spent his last night on earth.  The Garden is full of olive trees that are nearly 900 years old.

        It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of olive oil in the first century.  It was considered one of the necessities of life.   The olives were harvested in September and October.  A productive tree could be expected to yield from ten to fifteen gallons of oil each year.  The olives were picked before they were too ripe and the best fruit was either trodden out with bare feet or crushed with a large stone.  There were various stages of purification depending on the quality of the oil and how it would be used.

        In one stage the pulp was transferred to wicker baskets and gently shaken to and fro.  The baskets served as strainers and the oil was collected in jars.  Some of this oil would be skimmed off the top.

        In a second stage the olive pulp was heated and again put into a vat.  Pressure was applied by means of large beams which were attached to heavy stones.  The resulting oil was allowed to stand for a period of time to allow the sediments to settle before the oil was poured off.

        Olive oil played an important role in many aspects of life in the first century.  It was used in cooking.  Many of the dishes prepared over the fires included the use of olive oil.  This oil was one of the four basic items needed in the pantry of the time.

        Olive oil was also used to provide lighting.  Before flashlights, electric light bulbs, or Kerosene lamps, olive oil was used in small ceramic lamps to provide illumination.  One of my college professors was an archeologist who specialized in oil lamps.  When he took a group of us to the Middle East, we spent long amounts of time in museums looking at lamps made out of clay.  Many were small just a bit bigger than my hand.  They had a bowl that held the olive oil and a spout where the wick would be placed.

        Another important use of olive oil was in anointing the body. Different scents would be added to the oil and used to put on the skin.  Anointing was done for a variety of purposes.  

        Anointing was done as part of personal hygiene.  It was thought to be especially important after bathing.  Oil was put on the skin to protect it from the sun. It was a sign of cleanliness.  Jesus reflects this practice in the Sermon on the Mount when he tells us that when you fast “to anoint your head and wash your face.”  Anointing was part of a person’s proper grooming.

        Anointing was also a sign of honor.   When one anointed a guest in one’s house it was a sign of respect.   An example of this is found in the Gospels when Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus used an expensive perfumed oil to anoint Jesus’ feet and she wiped them with her hair.  This was an extravagant illustration of honoring a guest.

        Anointing was also used as a sign of being chosen by God.  In our lesson from the Old Testament, Samuel anoints David with oil as a sign that he had been chosen by God.  This understanding of anointing continues to the present time in the coronation ceremonies in Britain.   There are still quite a few monarchies in Europe and the East. There are kings and queens in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and others.   These monarchs take their thrones by the taking of an oath.  The monarchs of Britain are crowned in a religious service in which they are anointed.  It symbolizes that they have been chosen by God for this office.

        This meaning of anointing has important implications for our faith.  The Hebrew word for anointed one is messiah and the Greek is Christos.  Jesus is Christ, God’s anointed one.

        Another use of olive oil was medicinal.  Oil was widely used in healing.  It had the effect of softening wounds.  It was also thought of as a sign of God’s protection.  We find various passages in the Bible where oil mixed with wine is suggested for helping with the healing process.  There were a whole host of other essential oils that could be mixed with olive oil to help promote health.  

        So far I have given you a history lesson and while it might be interesting your reaction might be so what.   What does anointing have to do with me living in 2020?

        During much of the five hundred years of Protestant history we have ignored the practice of anointing.  In the Presbyterian Church of my childhood there was never even a mention of the practice of anointing and what it might mean.

        This began to change in the middle of the 1960’s as the liturgical renewal movement that was inspired by Vatican II began to influence all Christian traditions.  In the two most recent Books of Common Worship that are to shape Presbyterian worship, anointing with oil is found in two sections.

        Anointing is part of the service baptism.  When a child is presented for baptism by their parents, or a person presents themselves for baptism, there is a liturgy that includes a presentation of the person by a representative of the congregation.  Then questions of commitment are asked of the parents or candidates.  The congregation then joins in reciting the creed that represents the faith in which we baptize.  There is then a long prayer over the water and the candidate is baptized in the Triune name of God.  

        The new practice follows the water being place on the head.  I put oil on my thumb and then make the sign of the cross on the forehead and say

        Child of the covenant, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.  

        The anointing with oil is just like Samuel’s anointing of David centuries ago.  We are marked as God’s servant and claimed for God’s kingdom.  No matter what happens in our lives, through all the ups and downs of life, nothing can change our core identity as a child of God.  The water and oil mark us as God’s own.   In his catechism developed for Geneva the founder of the reformed tradition, John Calvin included these words:

Question “How do you know yourself to be a son of God in fact as well as in name?”

Answer: “Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” 

        A second change in our Book of Common Worship is to include a service of healing and wholeness.  This service was developed in part trying to live out the words found in our lesson for today from James.  We read “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

        The service of wholeness includes Scripture, prayer and laying on of hands and anointing with oil.  In this service we pray this prayer:

Gracious God, source of all healing, in Jesus Christ you heal the sick and mend the broken. We bless you for this oil pressed from the fruits of the earth, given to us as a sign of healing and forgiveness, and of the fullness of life you give.  By your spirit, come upon all who receive this ministry of compassion, that they may know your healing touch and be made whole, to the glory of Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen.

        I then take oil which we have on a shell and place it on the forehead of those who have come forward and say:

May the God of all mercy forgive you your sins, release you from suffering, and restore you to wholeness and strength. Amen.

        To me this service expresses a very deep meaning of God’s grace.  The word salvation comes from a Greek word for salve or anointment which was used to treat a wound.  I believe anointing with oil teaches us that salvation means healing.

        All too often, when we western Christians talk about salvation, we speak in very narrow judicial terms.  We teach that we have failed God through our sins.  We are found guilty and we are only forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  If we trust in Jesus our sins are forgiven.

        That formula is not untrue.  We do receive forgiveness through Christ.  But the concept of salvation is much broader.  The power of Christ brings healing.  Jesus brings healings in all phases of life.  

        Salvation means the healing of all relationships and brokenness.  God’s grace heals our relationship with God, with each other and with ourselves.  May we be open to the message of anointing with oil.  As the old hymn tells us “There is a balm In Gilead, To make the wounded whole. There is a balm In Gilead To save a sin-sick soul.