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Seeds of Hope

Old Mystic, June 14, 2009
1 Samuel 15:34 ~ 15:13

Summary

The story of David’s early anointing as the king of Israel while he was young, unaccomplished, and just a shepherd exemplifies how God calls and empowers people regardless of their background and appearance to introduce change and fulfill God’s purposes in history. As David was a seed of hope for the future of Israel and of God’s universal kingdom, we are also called, as God’s mission is expanded to all in the New Testament, to be seeds of hope for the building of that kingdom.

Sermon

How many bumper stickers with the line “I’d rather be…” have you seen? Probably, quite a few. They express that playful side of the human spirit that desires to be doing something enjoyable instead of dealing with the daily pressures of job, household, and other responsibilities. Some would rather be fishing; others sailing, or skiing, or flying. I must confess that some could be a little challenging for me like “I’d rather be skydiving,” for example. I’m inclined to more quiet activities, so I’d rather be reading or painting. At any rate, when the pressure builds up, when the task is difficult, when the job is risky, in all honesty, who wouldn’t be doing something else?

When I look at the text of David’s anointing to be the king of Israel, in spite of the risk of speculating too much about an ancient text that does not account much for specific human reaction, I can’t help but think that David’s response could have been, “Me? The king? I’d rather be shepherding.” We know by reading his Psalms how much David enjoyed nature and how by being in contact with God’s creation he had developed such a wonderful relationship with the Lord. Why would he leave the peaceful slopes and meadows of Judea and a tranquil life of contemplation enjoying God’s company to take over the reins of a nation constantly in war with their neighbors? Yet David was confronted with a calling; it was God’s calling.

Samuel was a very special man. His life was a miracle since Hannah, his mother, could not have children so she fervently prayed and prayed to God to grant her the joy of bearing a child; just bearing him, because she would dedicate him completely to be raised in the temple of Shiloh, in ancient Samaria, under the wing of Eli, the priest. Samuel was brought up to be a priest, a prophet, and a judge. And so he became the kind of leader that walked with God; that had a powerful and profound connection with the Lord, and that was appointed to lead the nation of Israel, God’s people.

The task was not easy for Samuel. He was dealing with a nation that was paying too much attention to the customs, religious practices, and the political structure of the neighboring nations. Samuel believed that they had the perfect form of government being God the ruler acting through the priests, prophets, and judges. The people, however, they were fascinated with the glamour of kings. So they wanted a king. To Samuel’s chagrin, God granted them their wish in spite of being a rejection to seeing God as their ruler; they were going to have a strong man, someone who they could be proud of; they would have a king who was head and shoulders above the rest.

And so was Saul; but he was not a good king. He did not fulfill God’s expectations, his motives were no the right ones and in the final analysis he was not the faithful servant-king he was expected to be. As the priest who had reluctantly anointed him, Samuel was now facing the difficult task of dealing with a complicated transition, one that in the end would not come about easily. But Samuel was diligent in being obedient, faithful, and committed to God, so he went to look for the new king under God’s instructions. Once again, Samuel was confronted with change.

Change is difficult. We all prefer the familiar, the habitual, the “way things have always been” or “how we do things here.” Most of us favor safe structures, solid foundations, and the clarity of fundamentals. When things get difficult, we want to go back to the basics, or to the “good old ways” that have served us well in the past. But even when the retrieval of the ideas or the ways of the past is possible, these are never be the same; they will be always re-shaped and transformed into actually new ways or ideas that are useful and relevant to new realities. We live in a dynamic and changing world and we are facing new challenges that require faithfulness. But faithfulness grounded in a relationship with the Living God where we do not encapsulate the Living God in old, familiar patterns, but we submit to the surprises He has in store for us. Faithful leadership is leadership that responds to a calling from God that implies taking risks. And change is risky but it is risk we have to tackle. After all, as they say, change happens.

I am not sure whether Samuel was a person who would resist change. We know he was faithful and would do what he had to do. And his instructions were precise; he had to go the small town of Bethlehem and look for a man called Jesse who had many sons and he was supposed to offer a sacrifice with this family. Having Samuel coming to worship in his home must have been really something special for Jesse but he couldn’t possibly imagine what was bringing the beloved prophet/priest to his home nor would Samuel reveal to him what he was about to do. But Samuel knew that he had to choose a king from Jesse’s sons and anoint him as king of Israel and so the pageant began. And Samuel was impressed by Eliab yet he heard God’s powerful admonition: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Seven sons of Jesse paraded before Samuel’s eyes but none of them was the one; God was looking for the right heart. But there was another son; one that was not accounted for, who was underestimated perhaps because he was young and ruddy, though he was handsome and had beautiful eyes. Besides, he was a shepherd because someone, not up to greater things, had to take care of the flock. “Are all your sons here,” Samuel asked Jesse. “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep,” responded Jesse. And when he was brought in and Samuel saw David he knew the he was the one God was calling.

God calls people and, not to romanticize or spiritualize this story to an extreme, we should be reminded that God has had the very practical idea of building his kingdom with volunteers; with workers, or servants, or the saints who, according to the letter to the Ephesians are the ones who are being equipped “for the work of the ministry, for the building of the body of Christ.” God’s calling is not just for some special individuals endowed with unique gifts; God’s calling is for everyone who has a heart for God. Many of us we will just do little things that with God’s blessing and anointing in turn will be great things; many of us are indeed seeds, small seeds that will give spiritual life to others; seeds of hope.

God calls people and looks on the heart, not on appearances. It is not about credentials, or attractiveness, or charm, or charisma; not even training and education. Any of those traits is good but not absolutely necessary. Indeed, all the training and education in the world cannot make someone God’s worker unless his or her heart is in the right place. God call people no matter where they are; there is no job too big or too small; we all are called to sow seeds for the kingdom.

When David came into the room where Samuel, his father, and his brothers were gathered, God spoke to Samuel and said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” And when David was anointed with the oil, the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him and he began a long journey to eventually become the great King David. His life was not perfect; he made many mistakes, he suffered losses, and did things that were very wrong. Yet, God was with him and honored him as his servant.

The events of Pentecost continue to remind us that the anointing of the Holy Spirit and God’s calling are for all. They are gifts from God. When we go about our lives, no matter where we are, or what we do, we are God’s servants, workers, volunteers, God’s people, who are empowered to bring hope to the world, most of the time by doing what we know, but very often also by accepting some daunting challenges. Whatever the circumstances, we are endowed with God’s Spirit to measure up to the task.

It is not by chance that we are here. We have been granted the privilege to be part of this adventure, this beautiful community, this challenge we call the church. And the responsibility we have is by no means small. God could have chosen angels to do the work around here but, look around, we are the angels! Though we can acknowledge our limitations and admit that we are very human. But in spite of those limitations, or if we come to the realizations that we are no angels, we are still God’s seeds of hope. In one of the other Lectionary readings for this week we find Jesus teaching the parable of the mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds out of which a large tree will grow, and he compares the kingdom of God with this seed. It may look small but it will grow. So is with us. We may feel small, or inadequate, or too young, or too old. Yet God calls us and empowers us for change; we, the small seeds, yet seeds of hope.

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