Scripture - 1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13 (NRSV)
34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
16The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then 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. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Well, I read this passage one way a couple weeks ago when I was looking ahead to see the lectionary texts appointed for this Sunday - and by the time I sat down to craft this message for today the world looked different, with global summits and peace talks, primary elections and continued family separation at the US-Mexico border, now with biblical justification. The complex web of our political reality intersects our moral sensibilities as people of faith, and I don’t know about you, but this past week I have felt overwhelmed by the weight of the news, wondering where is God in the midst of everything that’s happening in our world right now - not just in the stories that get filtered onto our television screens and Facebook feeds, but also in the private struggles and griefs that it’s so easy to lose sight of in the midst of the bigger political picture.
But what we have in our text this morning is a bigger political picture. King Saul’s reign, while it started out peaceably, did not go well. You can read a bit more about the specifics in earlier chapters of 1 Samuel, but things really started going downhill when King Saul started disobeying God and lying to Samuel about it. It’s a pretty brutal story - but in essence, King Saul continually edited God’s commands for his own purposes and as a result, we read that God was sorry that God had made Saul king over Israel and sets out with Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel.
Such an anointing, however, has to be done under the radar, for fear of King Saul. So a plan is laid by which Jesse of Bethlehem is invited to a sacrifice, and God tells Samuel that one of the sons of Jesse will be the next king.
Jesse presumably knows what’s going on as he makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel, for each time one goes by, Samuel says “The Lord has not chosen this one.” I’ve always imagined this passage being where the boys are lined up one by one by age and height and brawn, and there’s a growing look of confusion on Jesse’s face as each one is passed over for kingship.
God’s standards, however, aren’t based on appearance or height any outward display of power -- God does not see as morals see; God looks on the heart.
When they get to the end of the line, Samuel asks - “are these all your sons?” to which Jesse acknowledges, “well...there is the youngest...out with the sheep…” as if it didn’t even occur to Jesse that the littlest one might actually be The One. When David is brought out before Samuel, it is noted that he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome -- which was always a bit ironic to me, that there had been a point made about not looking at the outward appearance and instead seeing the heart and the first thing we know about David is how he looks.
But this is the one - God gives the word, Samuel anoints him, and the spirit of the Lord comes upon David, though he would not be king in actuality for many years yet.
We have in this text a collision of private lives and public events - a twisting turn where Jesse and his family are swept up in the unfolding narrative of divine leadership over Israel. God’s anointing of one leader and rejection of another, the people wondering what place they may find themselves (after all, when Samuel comes to Bethlehem, he isn’t greeted with sounds of rejoicing, they were trembling, wondering if Samuel came in peace or not).
With all this uncertainty - what is Samuel here to do, what will change with David as king, what is God doing among us - two things stand out - God is surely present and God’s spirit is at work. God’s presence and active knowledge of the hearts of the people led God to move in new directions, opening up opportunities from the least likely of places - a small shepherd boy whose own father didn’t even think was worthy for consideration for kingship.
As I think about our world today, and consider the ways that our political landscape has created fear and division among people and how our collective moral compass has strayed, and as I read this text about shifting power from the outwardly strong to the one who is the the least, I believe God is at work. I’m not suggesting that God is appointing world leaders and moving people about as if on some divine chess-board, but consistently - throughout scripture - we find God’s presence in the poor, the weak, the underdog, the lonely, the least, and forgotten - and we find God choosing people in those places as agents of God’s greater work of redemption and restoration of our entire world.
If we read further on in the story, we know even David wasn’t the best of kings when it came to personal and family relationships and the impact that had on others - that even he was vulnerable to corrupt uses of his power and didn’t always make wise choices...and yet scripture remembers King David as a man after God’s own heart.
God chose Moses - an escaped fugitive and stutterer to be the one to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.
God chose Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, to be the one to offer shelter as the Israelites were scouting out the promised land - and she even gets a mention in the Gospel of Matthew’s lineage of Jesus.
God chose Jeremiah, a young boy, to be a prophet - speaking God’s truth to power - in the midst of a tumultuous period in the history of Israel and Judah, including the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon.
God chose Mary, a young girl from the backwater town of Nazareth in a minor province of a people oppressed by the Roman Empire, to be the one to bring God’s own son Jesus into the world.
And Jesus chose 12 unlikely men - fishermen and tax collectors - those who weren’t considered important or worthy - and some who were even despised - to be the ones closest to him, loving them, discipling them, and entrusting them to be vessels of the Holy Spirit in carrying out the good news of God’s Kingdom.
And God also chooses us.
Our text reminds us, God looks beyond the outward appearance - and looks on the heart. And on seeing our hearts, invites us to participate in the work of building God’s kingdom - a kingdom of peace, of justice, of compassion and forgiveness, of mercy and love, of hope and healing and wholeness - a kingdom that we pray is established here on earth as it is in heaven. While we’re far from it, and while events in the world around us or even events in our own communities and relationships can cause us to feel disheartened about the gap that exists between where we are and where God yearns for us to be, the invitation is always there for us to be the ones to together step into that gap and live as kingdom people, creating that peace and hope and healing for those around us. But it takes an open and receptive heart, a willingness to surrender to Jesus and God’s deep love for us, and a commitment to building the practices of peace, hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, and love that are at the foundation of life in God’s kingdom.
God is present with us in this day and age and God’s spirit is still at work, in the places where people have stepped up to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations, in the places where people have loving conversations with those with whom we disagree, in the places where people engage with those who are different than they are, in the places where voices are raised to offer a different way forward, and in the places where people choose to live a life rooted in the Gospel.
God sees our hearts - and God chooses each of us to bear that message of hope and peace, to weave it into the fabric of our daily lives, to offer it as light when the world around us gets dark. It is our calling as followers of Jesus - as those who are trying to live God’s love for the world - to do so in all areas of our life -- and to join with others who are trying to do the same.
This is something we do together - we cannot do this alone - and so in closing I would invite us to turn in our black hymnals to page 2242 - Walk With Me - this call join together to build the land that God has planned where love shines through. I invite us to stand and sing as a way of committing ourselves once again to living as God’s people, bound together, to be a living sign of that message of hope and new life. Let us sing together.
*Hymn - Walk With Me (FWS 2242)
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.