Rev. George N. Miller
1 Samuel 16:1-13
June 14, 2015
Summer is here, and with it the afternoon storms, the gnats that hover by doors, and plenty of opportunity for folk to complain about the heat.
One of the many things I do love about summer is that Vacation Bible School is right around the corner.
Christian Ed, under the guidance and imagination of Joanne, is busy, busy, busy preparing for this season’s selection, based around the theme “Praying with Jesus.”
Makes me a bit nostalgic for the 1st VBS I was part of, back in 2006. We called it Little Star Vacation Bible School. And it was an endeavor.
Not having offered one before, we went big: a 2 week program, 7 hours a day, five days a week, serving 3 meals a day, averaging 9 children a day.
Like here, we had children ages 4 to 12, black, white, Hispanic and mixed, reading, worshiping, playing and learning God’s Word.
The first week was a great week, a busy week, an invigorating week; an exhausting week. We entered the 2nd week saying “What where we thinking.” Are by the end we were tired. Capital T-I-R-E-D. Tired.
But for a group of 1st timers, we enjoyed working with the children. Just like here, there was a synergy present. We sang songs, did projects, discovered how the stories of the Bible fit together.
And I received fresh insight into scriptures, because as often the case, it is the adults who end up learning from the children.
Each child brought their own gifts. There was the athletic one, the spiritual one, the intellectual one, the sensitive one, the artistic one, and the dancer.
There were two boys who started Bible School quiet and reserved. Both had been raised in a household in which they were the only boy, surrounded by sisters; neither had been in a school setting for too long.
By the end of the 1st week, they bonded like brothers, finding in one another a playmate they could race and crash toy cars with, put together puzzles and chase around trees.
Quiet and shy no more, they become boisterous, vocal and playful.
It reaffirmed to me that you can’t always know by looking at someone what you are going to get or what you can expect.
You can make your assumptions, you can guess really hard. Sometimes you’ll be right; sometimes you can be 100% off base.
And often times we fail to see as God sees.
That’s what we catch a glimpse of in today’s reading.
First- some back story. Originally God did not plan for God’s people to have a human king. God wanted to be their king.
That was what made Israel so unique. They were people who were united not by race or economics or politics but by their relationship with God and the covenant God had made with them.
The Israelites were not a nation in the classic sense: they were a people. God was their King and God spoke to the people through priests and judges.
At the time of this story, Samuel was the last of the priests, but he was getting older, so the people demand a king.
This made God unhappy.
But the people looked around and saw that every other nation had a king. They didn’t want to be unique- they wanted to be just like everyone else.
So they asked Samuel for a King to govern them.
But God says to him “Sam, buddy, don’t take this so personal. It’s not you they’re rejecting-it’s me. And I’m not surprised because this is what they do.
“Even when I freed them from Pharaoh and parted the sea, they still turned their back on me and worshipped a golden cow. Can you believe that- a cow?”
“So Sam, dear Sam- listen to them, give them what they want.
So under God’s guidance, Samuel anoints Saul as King. Saul is tall, good looking and impresses the heck out of everyone, winning his first few wars. But soon Saul begins to do only what Saul wants to do, blatantly disobeying God.
When this happens, Samuel has the unfortunate job of going to Saul to let him know he blew it, and that he has lost his position of King.
Samuel is saddened by the turn of events, and God has divine regret over the choice of Saul. After a period of mourning passes, God sends Samuel out to anoint the next king.
Where will the new king come from?
Perhaps a place like Massachusetts. What large, metropolitan city will he dwell? Perhaps a place like Boston. What family will he be a part of? Perhaps one like the Kennedys.
Nope, nope and nope.
Samuel goes to Bethlehem, a little do-hicky of a town, and visits the unknown family of Jesse the sheep-herder.
The equivalent of going to Lorida and stopping at that store that has a sign saying it sells Gulf shrimp but you never see any cars in the parking lot.
So this is where God will find the next king? Is this a cruel joke, or a divine teaching of how God does things in God’s way?
As if this story is far-out there enough, the choice of a king involves a male beauty pageant in which, one by one each of Jesse’s boys strut their stuff down the runway in front of Samuel.
First is Eliab, the oldest son who is incredibly handsome. Naturally Samuel assumes he must be the new king. But God says “Na-ah. You’re looking at appearances; I’m looking at the heart.”
Brother after brother walk past Samuel; seven sons strut their stuff and they all fail to be the one.
Then, Samuel asks the father, “Are you sure I’ve seen all your sons?”
“Well,” says Jesse, “There is an eighth boy, the youngest. He’s out in the field with the sheep.”
“Well, bring him here,” Samuel says.
In comes young David, reddish-brown from being in the sun, and God says “That’s it! He’s the one. Stand up and anoint him.”
Interesting, entertaining story, no?
One that seems to simply show us that God does not see the way we see, that God does not do things the way we would expect, and that God sees us much differently than others do.
In our eyes, Jesse’s 1st born son with the JFK good looks should have been king.
But it’s David, the eighth son, who was chosen.
God’s ways can surely be odd, to the point we have to wonder if sometimes God just likes to play games with us.
A young boy, from the shrimp store, in Lorida, as the new King? C’mon, God, c’mon.
But that’s basically what happens here.
So one question we ask is “How does God see?”
What was it in David that God did not see in the seven previous sons? What traits, gifts, talents did David have that the others did not?
According to 1 Samuel, David was strong enough and brave enough to kill wild animals with his hands. So he has a warrior quality.
David knew how to play the lyre, so he’s a musician. And we know that when he faced Goliath, David was steadfast and fearless.
Those are all great traits in a soon-to-be-king.
But when David grew older, he spent part of his life as a deserter, a pseudo- Robin Hood and an adulterer who had Bathesba’s husband killed.
So David had his bad qualities as well as his good. So what was it God saw in him?
...I think back to that first Vacation Bible School. There was a day when the kids were being taught about Noah and the ark, so all of our activities were water based.
What could be better on a hot summer day than to end class with a friendly water balloon fight?
So, as the kids were inside learning their lessons, I was outside the church, filling up each stretchy piece of balloon with water from the spigot.
The children begin singing upstairs and I
distinctly heard the voices of the two boys who had originally started off the week being so quiet.
I look down at what I am doing, and this thought came into my head: what if it wasn’t about what David already had inside, but what God knew he could fill the young man with?
Maybe life isn’t always about what is already in the balloon, but what can be placed within the balloon.
Balloons, when left in the bag can appear to be nothing of value; just bits of color and stretchy rubber. They appear to remain nothing until something is placed inside.
Balloons can filled with breathe, and be transformed into something you can play with. Fill a balloon with air and then you can paint on it, or draw silly faces on it, or use them as party decorations to brighten up the walls.
A balloon can filled with helium and tied to a string, or allowed to float freely up into the heavens.
A balloon can be filled with rocks and used as a weight…or a weapon.
Or a deflated, colorful, stretchy balloon can be filled with cold water on a hot summer day and used for great fun.
You can find wonderful ways to break them apart, slamming them against the concrete or gently squeezing them to let the water slowly spring out.
Once filled with water, balloons can be used as an invigorating, playful means of cooling off, running around, having fun and enjoying life, no matter how little or big of a kid you are.
Was that the secret to God calling David as king?
That it wasn’t about David knowing how to play music, or being courageous or being able to battle beasts with his bare hands?
Was it that God knew he could fill David with the Spirit and that God would be able to work through David, with David, and for David?
Samuel anointed David and in the decades following David proved to be a raw and charismatic leader, a warrior, a lover, a theologian.
But at one time, David was simply a nobody- an eight child.
But through the eyes and actions of God, David becomes the greatest king the people would ever know, the archetype to which all other kings and the future messiah would be based upon.
May we too learn a bit more of how to see each other, and to see ourselves, through our Father’s eyes.
May God teach us to see beyond looks and into the hearts and possibilities of others.
Thanks be to God who sees what we are capable of becoming, to the Son who unites us as adopted sisters and brothers, and for the Holy Spirit which fills us up in ways we could not begin to imagine.
Amen and amen.