When God’s chosen first king of Israel, Saul, faltered and was unable to do the job, God had to choose someone else. Saul was, after all, human, and we humans falter and fail at times. So, the Bible stories tell us, God sent Samuel, who had anointed Saul as the first king, to find the next king. Saul was very fond of Samuel, and was also scared of the consequences of acting behind Saul’s back. But God told him to go as if he was sacrificing, and to check out the sons of the man Jesse. Jesse had 8 sons, though only 7 were with him at the time. Samuel looked at the oldest, who was tall and handsome, and thought he surely must be God’s choice. But God told him, no, do not look on outward appearance but on the heart. Samuel went through all 7 sons, and yet God rejected them all. Samuel asked if there were any other sons. "The youngest (the runt, says The Message Bible) is out tending sheep," answered father Jesse. Samuel sent for this young boy, and when Samuel saw him, God told him this was the chosen one. There, in front of his very astonished brothers and father, Samuel privately anointed the boy David as the next king of Israel. His public anointing would come years later after much turmoil.
There are two other stories about the choosing of David. In the next verses in chapter 16, Saul, who was exhibiting signs of mental illness, sought someone to soothe him by playing music on the lyre. Someone suggested David, the son of Jesse. Saul came to love David, and whenever the madness came upon him, David would play to comfort and calm him. Then, in the story everyone knows, someone was needed to defeat the giant Philistines, with a challenge against the biggest one, Goliath. Little David was the last one anyone would expect to defeat a giant. He was still a boy, and he had only a slingshot. And yet he slew the giant with one stone. So, three stories, the holy Trinity number, told of God’s choice of David as the great king of Israel. He was handsome, yet there was nothing spectacular about him, as he was still a boy. Yet God looked into his heart and saw potential. We know from later stories that David was not a perfect person or king. Yet God chose him, a lowly shepherd boy, the eighth, not the sacred seventh, son, to lead a nation. God seems to have a habit of choosing the least likely to do great things. Think of Moses, who said he could not speak to people, or Mary, an unwed teenage girl who was chosen to birth Jesus. God chooses those we might not choose.
Last week at Westminster, we had the privilege of hearing the hymn author Mary Louise Bringle preach and speak to us. In her talk after church about how she writes hymns, including the one she wrote for our 50th anniversary, she introduced us to a hymn she wrote that will be in the new Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory To God. Her hymn is called "God is Calling Through the Whisper," and it goes like this:
God is calling through the whisper of the Spirit’s deepest sighs, Through the thrill of sudden beauties catching us by surprise. Flash of lightning, crash of thunder, hush of stillness, rush of wonder, God is calling – can you hear? God is calling – can you hear? God is calling through the voices of our neighbor’s urgent prayers, Through their longing for redemption and for rescue from despair. Place of hurt or face of needing; strident cry or silent pleading, God is calling – can you hear? God is callng – can you hear? God is calling through the music of sublime and human arts, Through the hymns of earth and angels, and the carols of our hearts. Lift of joy and gift of singing, days and nights our praises bringing. God is calling – and we hear! God is calling – and we hear!
In this hymn, Mel Bringle captures many of the ways that God’s calling, God’s choosing of us, is manifested – We can recognize God in the wonders of nature, creatures, or people that draw us toward them. But we can also see God in places of hurt in hospital and nursing homes, and in cries for help from our neighbors on the street corners or in shelters, as well as in places of worship and study like this one and our neighbors across the street at Markham Chapel. God calls in "flash of lightning, crash of thunder" loud, obvious ways, but also in "hush of stillness, rush of wonder" quiet, subtle ways. It can be very hard to hear God. We have to be listening.
Lots of other voices and noises of the world may call louder than God calls us. It is too easy to get distracted by and be attracted to the choices around us in the world, all so accessible through TV, computers and smart phones. But "the days are full of evil," said our text. And God made us with free will, the ability to choose how we live our lives. How or what we choose has to do with how we care for ourselves, our very souls, as well as for one another. All humans seek something- a centering, peace, joy, love, success, whatever we may call it – to make our lives feel complete. It could just be that our seeking is a response to God’s choosing us, if we but listen in the right ways. During Lent, and at the Women’s Retreat a couple of weekends ago, we have been learning new ways to pray and to listen to God to guide our choices in life.
Thomas Moore, a Monk and author, wrote a book in 1992 that became a NY Times bestseller. The title is Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. The fact that such a book would be a best seller shows that we all seek something or Someone to care for our souls, and the souls of others. In the book, Moore says: "Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle; quite the opposite; it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be. The human soul is not meant to be understood….To some extent, care of the soul asks us to open our hearts wider than they have ever been before, softening the judging and moralism that have characterized our attitudes and behavior for years. " Moore says we tend to want to cure the soul, rather than to care for it, because cure implies the end of anything that troubles us, while care means we need ongoing attention.
And we do need ongoing attention, for our bodies and our souls, for ourselves and for all those who are our neighbors. God can choose us, God can call us, yet we can ignore God’s call, and go astray, just as Saul went astray. When Saul strayed, God chose someone else to do the job, and Saul was lost. Choosing God seems the right path. But it takes work, precisely because we do have free wills.
Our Ephesians passage talks about choices, both good and bad, that we can make in life. God has chosen us to be "children of light," it says. Yet we can choose to take part in "the unfruitful works of darkness." A lot of the choices of the world are appealing, but unhealthy in the long run. The author refers to some of them earlier in this letter – lying, stealing, evil talk, slander, malice, which seem obviously bad – but he also mentions anger and bitterness, things we all experience. We can choose to stay with these feelings, or we can choose the softer ways of "the fruit of the light," – joy, peace, patience, kindness, love. How we live is a choice we make.
I read a story this week about a 92 year old woman who was legally blind. Her husband of 70 years died, and she had to move into a nursing home where others could care for her. The woman working at the nursing home greeted her, and accompanied her, on her walker, towards her apartment. The young woman started describing the room as they made their way there. "I love it," said the old woman, with great enthusiasm. "You haven’t even seen it yet," said her escort. The older woman replied: "That doesn’t have anything to do with it. Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up…. I have a choice. I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with parts of my body that no longer work, or I can get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life." She went on, "Old age is like a bank account. You draw from what you have put in it. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in my memory bank. I am still depositing."
I don’t know about you, but I want to be like her. I choose to be happy, and to follow a God who brings joy and peace into my heart, no matter what happens in life. Choosing God does not make everything perfect. Care of the soul means being able to face what life brings more than it means fixing all the problems. But choosing God leads to places that earthly things just cannot give us. Choosing God leads to loving life, living in peace, finding joy in all circumstances, and sharing all of this goodness in the name of the one who shares himself completely with us at this table.
Scriptures like Psalm 139 tell us that God chooses us before we are even born. God chooses us. The big question then is, will we truly choose God? Ask yourself that once again as we prepare to approach the table.
Glory be to God. Amen.