Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sermon for April 3, 2011; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 16:1-13
“Little Pebbles”
April 3, 2011

I have a question to ask. It’s not meant to put anyone on the spot, so you do not have to answer.

How many people read their Bible once a day? How many read it at least once a week?

I ask because sometimes you’ll hear someone make a statement or a decision which they think is biblically based, but is actually pretty far from it.

There are so many ways to see and experience things. There’s the way we think we see them, the way the world tries to make us see them, the way God sees them.

Often times, these realities are so completely different.

For example who we assume to be the right one to lead, to get the job done, or to change history.

The world has a pretty clear view: virile men, with money, from the right background, with the right education, with the right wife.

There are variations and there are the exceptions, but the world view of who is pretty straight forward, from president to CEO to senior pastor.

Yet, the biblical narrative, if you truly take time to read it and take it to heart, gives us a different view.

Yes, it is a view that is still very patriarchal, but it is a view that the one who God chooses to lead, get the job done or change history is not who we would immediately expect.

A close biblical reading shows that God does not always call forward mighty mountains of men and mighty mountains of women, but that often time God moves through little pebbles of people.

Those who you would pass by on the street, ignore or assume they wouldn’t amount to much.

As we soon discover, it’s not so much what they have done in the past, but what God will do through them in the future that will matter.

So let’s take a journey. First, Sarah. An older woman unable to produce an heir.

At a point of her life when she should be retired and playing golf, God calls her and Abraham to move cross country so that she could have a son.

As foolish as that may sound, that’s just what they do. And after 25 years of waiting, Sarah gives birth to a baby boy named Isaac, making her the grandmother to both Jews and Christians.

Gideon. When we first meet him in Judges 6, he is the furthest thing from a mighty warrior. Instead, he is under a tree, doing the work of a woman, the self-professed weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe.

Yet it is he who God calls to lead the army, to blow his trumpet and to make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Mary. An insignificant, unmarried girl engaged to an insignificant blue-collar worker in an insignificant little town who would carry a child so seemingly insignificant that no one minded that his bed was an animals’ feeding trough.

In today’s reading there is David, the eighth son of a nobody from Bethlehem. A boy stuck outside watching the sheep, whose own father thinks nothing of excluding him.

Yet it is he that God will call to become the greatest monarch the Israelites would ever know.

Each of these people, if you had met them face to face, would at first appear to be little pebbles of people. But through each of them God changed the world.

So let’s take a deeper look, and see what we can learn about the people God would call forward.

Today’s story begins during a dark moment of the people’s history: their current ruler, Saul, has become an embarrassing disappointment.

So God steps in and tells Samuel that now is the time to select a new King.

God is very specific and tells Samuel to go to a little known city called Bethlehem. There he is to find a man named Jesse. We don’t know much about Jesse; his wealth or his stature. But we do know his family had a questionable pedigree.

His ancestors included Rahab, a prostitute; Tamar, a well-known adulteress; and Ruth, an immigrant.

His was the kind of family that today’s media would have a field day tearing apart.

It was from this family that God would select the next King. Samuel invites Jesse and his sons to a sacrifice and one by one each son walks past him.

Apparently, Jesse was the Joe Kennedy of his day because he had some good looking sons. The first one goes past; Samuel sees his height, his stature; assumes he has to be the one God wants as king.

But God says “Na-ah. This isn’t a beauty pageant. I’m not judging these guys by their looks, but on the contents of their heart.”

Seven sons walk pass and none of them are pleasing to God. Seven sons.

Samuel asks if all the sons are present, and although the narrator does not state it, you can gather a sense that there is a hesitancy in Jesse’s voice “Well...there is the youngest. But he’s out taking care of the sheep.”

The boy comes in; the youngest of the eight, a son not even considered by his own father worthy of being part of the beauty parade.

What does God say? “By golly! That’s the one. Anoint him now.”

Now, there’s an irony here because after all this talk of not judging by appearances, you’d expect the boy to be a bit on the homely side, like a Richard Nixon.

But how he is described? Handsome, with beautiful eyes. Ruddy.

Ruddy is a nice way of saying that he looked like someone who worked in the sun and with his hands. So perhaps he’s a little more Tom Selleck or Hugh Jackman then JFK or Robert Patterson.

So, a bit of the story’s irony is that God will not choose a leader based on his looks, but God would not exclude a person for their looks either.

But the true weight of the story is this: that Israel’s history will be bound up in this boy.

A boy who is not an established royal figure or scholar or entrepreneur, but the 8th son of a man descended from immigrants and immoral women.

And it is this boy who is called by God to lead the people through unlikely trials and successes.

This underdog who triumphs, this outsider who makes good, this outcast who rises in power from the margins.

This boy, tucked away with the sheep will become the one whom all others will be measured against, the royal messiah until the true Messiah comes along.

This boy will bear great leadership traits of being charismatic, idealistic and fearless.

He will also have some very human flaws. He will at times be raw, pragmatic, self-serving and calculating. And in one story he will break half of the commandments.

Still, this biblical understanding of how David took the stage and how God directed the show is a story to remind us that what God sees is not always what we or the world sees.

God sees the heart, God sees the will, God sees the character.

God finds possibilities for grace in the most unexpected and unlikeliest of people.

God has the freedom to choose what appears foolish in this world to bring about wisdom, to use what some consider weakness to create strength.

God is free to choose what is low and what is despised to bring about change and transformation.

God did so with the disciples, God did so with the cross and God most certainly did so with the empty tomb.

In closing, today’s scripture reminds us that God does not always call forward mountains of men and mountains of women, but that often times God moves through little pebbles of people.

Those who you would pass by on the street, ignore or assume they wouldn’t amount to much.

It’s not so much what they have done in the past, but what God will do through them in the future that will matter.

Sarah, an elderly barren woman who gives birth to a nation.

Gideon, an unsure washer of wine presses who becomes a mighty military man.

David, a forgotten son who would become the greatest King the people would ever know.

Mary, yet another unwed mom-to-be who would give birth to the Messiah.

To the world’s eyes, little pebbles of people, but as time and history would show, mighty mountains of men and women.

And we, and the Kingdom of God, are all that much better because of it.

Amen and amen.

(Please note: Much of my words on page 6 are taken from the finely written commentary on Samuel written by Birch in the New Interpreter’s Bible, pages 1094-95. I thank him for so wonderfully creating a thematic blueprint on which to add my own touches.)

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