Preached by Sarah Wolf
Last week, Betty led us through the Israelites’ cry for a king and the subsequent anointing of Saul. Betty spoke in her sermon of the human tendency to "choose human power in place of God’s power." And in today’s Scripture, we see what can happen when that choice is made. Immediately preceding today’s passage, Saul refuses to follow the Lord’s instructions fully which leads to the Lord’s rejection of Saul. While this grieves Samuel deeply, the Lord, while sorry that Saul didn’t work out, still isn’t too surprised that it didn’t, and quickly moves on to finding a new, and most importantly, a worthy king.
What follows is a series of events in which Samuel has to repeatedly place his trust in the Lord that he will remain safe and that this new king will be revealed to him.
Somewhat like Saul, Samuel has several moments of doubt or questioning of the Lord’s directions. First, Samuel grieves over Saul. The king has been rejected by God – who will be the leader now? God, in perhaps a chastising voice says, "How long will you grieve over Saul?" God has moved on, it’s time for Samuel to do the same. And then, when God tells Samuel to go anoint the new king, Samuel, knowing the danger God is putting him in, asks, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." But, God already has a reply for Samuel, "Take a heifer and sacrifice it to the Lord." God is quick with a solution.
And then, comes the biggest test of Samuel’s trust in God comes. The parade of potential kings begins. As one by one, Jesse presents his sons before him, Samuel thinks, "Surely THIS ONE will be the king!" He looks at each one and quickly assesses him for the qualities he thinks would be valuable in a king – this one is tall and handsome! This one looks like a warrior! This one went to college! And yet – the Lord passes on each one.
Then God says 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." With this explanation from God, Samuel has to trust that the right king will be provided. When the last of seven has passed, in a move reminiscent of Cinderella, Samuel turns to Jesse and asks if there might be another son elsewhere.
Jesse is a little perturbed…he does have a son, but he’s the youngest, the scrawniest…surely he is not the person whom Samuel seeks. Now, the text does not make it clear that Jesse is even aware of why Samuel has asked to see all of his sons. Perhaps if he was aware that Samuel was looking for the next king, Jesse’s protests would have been even stronger – surely you don’t want David! He can’t lead a people! He’s too young! Too little! He can barely see over the sheep!
But – Samuel insists.
And in comes David, in his shepherd’s clothing, perhaps dirty and smelly from tending the sheep, confused as to why he was called into this special gathering of his father and brothers and the famous Samuel. And then, this young, scrawny shepherd’s boy is chosen by God, and anointed to be king. We don’t know what exactly David was thinking. If he knew that he had just been anointed to be king, he might have had some doubts as to his eligibility or worthiness. His protests might echo his father’s – "But I’m too young – too small! I don’t know the first thing about being a king! Who am I that a people might follow me?"
"…..for the Lord does not see as mortals see; …. but the Lord looks on the heart."
This passage should come as a relief to us. The Lord does not look at us, what we wear, the cars we drive, the grades we get, the sports we play…the Lord looks on our hearts. The Lord has this form of x-ray vision, that looks past our facades, past the ways in which we present ourselves to the world and looks instead, to the workings of our hearts, the ways in which we love ourselves, love each other, and love God. Instead of selecting David’s brothers, who on the surface, might have seemed like entirely better candidates, the Lord looked inward, to David’s heart and knew immediately that David would be the king for Israel.
Remember, on the surface, David seemed an unlikely leader. Walter Bruggemann writes that David was an "unknown, unvalued shepherd boy" and that the story ends with David fully established as the ‘shepherd of Israel.’ The story "draws our attention to the one outside the completed number, the one who surely is an outsider. The eighth son is the youngest, surely unimpressive, with no claim to make and no credentials to present."1 The only credentials, are those known to God. And God has seen into the boy’s heart and knows that he is indeed worthy.
The lectionary pairs this text in First Samuel with a selection from 2 Corinthians 5. In this passage, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that because of Christ, we can be confident because we walk by faith and not by sight. I feel like this is a pretty bold statement. I mean…great for Paul if he truly accomplished solely walking by faith – but, like Samuel and David, there have been moments in my life, and I think it’s safe to say that there are moments in everyone’s lives in which doubt plagues us, in which we question our worth and our significance, in which we are in need of the Spirit to gently remind us of who has called us in the first place.
One year while I was in college, the youth group went to Hyde County to build a house, and I tagged along, even though I was a little nervous. I was nervous because I had recently pulled a muscle in my back and I was worried that doing heavy lifting and carpentry work would aggravate the injury. I told Paul Ransford this before we left and he assured me that there would be plenty of work for me to do.
And for the first few days, there was a lot of work that I could do. I spent a few days helping others build the deck on the outside of a house, hammering board after board into place. One day, though, the work became a little heavier. Instead of participating with the rest of the group, Paul handed me a machete, and told me to take out the sawgrass bushes underneath the house. And I stood there for the better part of an afternoon and hacked away at several sawgrass plants, wondering if I should be worried that our youth minister keeps a machete on the floor of his truck.
At some point, though, while I was casually swinging this giant machete and randomly getting cut by the blades of sawgrass, I started to wonder whether or not I was needed on this trip. Could this house get built without me hacking away at this plant? I suspected so.
The next day, my worries about necessity increased. You see, the house we were building was a true coastal home – it was going to be built up on stilts. This was the day that we would organize into teams to hoist up the wall frames. Paul divided us up into four teams, one for each wall and we would pull as hard as we could on the attached ropes to lift the walls up into place. I knew right away that I could not do this job. I knew that with my back, it was a recipe for disaster. I went up to Paul and asked him what I could do. Paul looked at me and said, "You’re on water duty."
For the rest of the day, I walked up to every single person on a fifteen minute rotation to make sure they had recently taken a water break. By the end of the day, when people saw me coming they would just yell, "Yes, I’m hydrated!!"
On that long, hot, coastal North Carolina summer day, I could really identify with David. Westminster had assembled a team of experienced builders and strong high schoolers and there I was, educating everyone on the importance of hydration. I stood there several times that day, wondering what it was that I had to offer the group, and I started to wonder if my peers were looking at me and thinking the same. Why is Sarah here? Can’t she do any real work?
Later that night, I spoke with one of the adults on the trip and voiced my frustration with how the day went. After letting me go on and on for a while, she reminded me of how the various parts of the body of Christ had different functions and that if I hadn’t been out there that day, many people might have suffered from some form of heat exhaustion .What I learned that day, was the necessity to walk by faith. I learned that what can seem incredibly insignificant, can turn out to be so much more. The simple act of offering water to busy workers enabled important work to continue.
In a few moments, we will commission the Vacation Church School leaders and the Youth for their summer mission, and as a former participant in many of those activities, I have a few words for you.
At some point this summer, you might find yourself to be Samuel. There you will be, in a small group of strangers in Montreat or Massanetta, and you’ll wonder…who are these people? What will I possibly learn from them? Walk by faith, my friends. Trust that the Lord has brought you together for such a moment as this. That the Lord has hand-picked these strangers to bring insight and the love of God into your life and so that you can bring insight and the love of God into theirs.
At other times this summer, you might find yourself to be a David. Who am I to be on this mission trip? Who am I to lead this group of kindergarteners all day at VCS? Who am I to volunteer to pray at the end of small group today? Walk by faith, my friends. Trust that the Lord has called you to mission this summer – be it with our sisters and brothers in Appalachia and Asheville or with our shorter in stature sisters and brothers at Vacation Church School. God has called you to this summer of mission, maybe to do something as seemingly insignificant as being the water person or helping at the craft tent.
But through it all, know that the Holy Spirit guides us on our journey.
At the end of this anointing story, we are given a Pentecost-like image. We are told that "the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward." The Spirit was with David from that point on, and the Spirit will be with each and every one of you this summer, working in and through you. Pointing out the ways that we can serve Christ and love each other. And for those of us staying closer to home this summer, the Spirit will work in us also, reminding us to pray for our youth as they work, learn, play, and pray.
For both Samuel and David, walking by faith would prove to be an important, yet difficult aspect of their lives. For Samuel, it was listening for the Lord’s instructions as he set about organizing and tending to the Israelites. For David, it would be listening for the movement of the Spirit as he learned how to be Israel’s king.
And for us, what will it be? How will we learn to walk by faith and not by sight? Please remember, there’s a learning curve, friends. Once the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David, he wasn’t made into a perfect king right then and there. David failed, mightily. But the important thing is, God knew what was on David’s heart and knew that David loved God would do his very best to follow God.
That’s our call, too. That though we might fall, we will constantly pick ourselves up off the floor and continue to trust in the Spirit that we might learn how to walk. And though it may be baby steps at first, and we’ll have our doubts at times, with the Spirit’s help, I pray that we will soon become confident in our strides, ready to go out and serve the Lord. Amen.
1. Bruggemann, Walter. Interpretation Series, First and Second Samuel, 119.