Sermon 3.15.2020

Scripture Lesson:  1 Samuel 16:1-13             

Sermon: Chosen

Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Yes, I am one of those crazy people who love to watch political debates and the more candidates the better!  I saw every one of the primary debates before the 2016 election.  I was fascinated by that wildly long row of candidates lining the debate stage.  Who were all of these people?  What did they have to offer?  How did they interact with each other?  And as time went on, there were fewer and fewer podiums on the debate stage.  It was a very interesting process.

We do not have cable tv, so sometimes I had to get creative to watch the debates but I was determined not to miss a one.  I discovered an app called Periscope.  With Periscope, you send live video from your phone out into the world for whoever wants to watch.  People all over the world are sending live streaming on Periscope all the time.  And people all over the world are watching.  So, I would find someone who had their phone set up in their living room videoing their tv which was showing the debate.  The way Periscope works, you see the tv and can watch the debate.  You also see the person’s living room and you can hear the people talking as they watch the debate.  Commenting on the debate.  Mentioning the doctor’s appointment the next day.  Offering to get a drink for someone.  And while all of that is going on, the people watching this live feed on Periscope can chat with each other and they do.  They comment on the debate.  They ask the people streaming to turn up the volume, etc.  So you have at least three levels of things going on and it is very interesting.  So that is how I watched many of the debates leading up to the 2016 election.

Figuring out how to do this got me a lot of points with my kids who were very impressed that I watched the debates in this way.  So, there you go!

Little did I know that 4 years later there would again be debates to watch that

would start with a long parade of candidates lining the stage that would then get shorter and shorter.  Yes, I have watched most of the debates this season but, to be honest, to me they are not as revelatory or as entertaining as the ones of the last presidential election cycle.  

It is fascinating to watch how we choose a president here in the United States.  This week my oldest son informed me that only one thing matters.  What is that one thing?  Charisma.  Hm.  I guess he hasn’t read the analyses that cite height as a crucial factor.  You have to be tall.  That’s why Senator Marco Rubio wore shoes with lifts in the last primary contest.  Size matters.  Clearly we have not yet learned the lesson from Star Wars:  “When judging people, size matters not.” But I think we can also agree that charisma and height alone will not a president make. There’s another necessary component    money.  No money, no nomination.  Period.  And, evidently, there is another crucial characteristic necessary to be president.  An anatomical feature that defines a person as male.  Sad to say.  But that’s where we seem to be in our leadership selection process in this country.  

Well, the story we heard this morning is a story of another method of leadership selection.  It’s a more autocratic method.  Not really anything democratic about it.  Israel has demanded to have a monarchy and God has capitulated.  God selected Saul to be the first king of Israel and had the prophet Samuel anoint Saul.  Everything seemed to be settled.  Israel got a king and God chose the right man for the job.  Fast forward and we are told that things are falling apart.  Evidently, Saul was not up to the job.  There is a crisis of leadership.  There is the threat of invasion and take over by the Philistines.  It’s all on the verge of going down the tubes.  God decides to change course.  There has to be immediate drastic action.  There must be a new leader creating a new future for the people of Israel.  God must see that they are rescued.  God must insure a new future for Israel.  

As we heard it this morning, God recognizes there is a problem.  Plan A has failed.  A drastic change must be made immediately.  So God changes course.  God abandons what is not working.  God is no longer committed to power arrangements that are bankrupt and that have failed.  The prophet Samuel is still stewing over the debacle with Saul.  Samuel is immobilized by grief.  They had such high hopes for Saul.  But God has moved on.  God is getting on with creating a new future, a viable future, a vibrant future, for Israel.  God exercises enormous freedom and creativity.  God doesn’t just stand back and let things tank and make excuses.  God is intervening to chart a new course for Israel’s future and this involves anointing a new king and the prophet Samuel is going to do God’s bidding, like it or not.  

And that is what we heard about this morning.  Understandably, Samuel is afraid for his life.  Saul is still king.  For Samuel to anoint a new king while there is still a king on the throne is treason.  But God sends Samuel to anoint a new king.  In Bethlehem.  Bethlehem?  An outlying backwater of a town.  To Jesse.  Jesse?  The smallest clan of the smallest tribe of Israel.  Really?  There’s no political cache in that.  No pedigree.  No royal lineage.  Nothing of note.  But Samuel goes under the guise of offering a sacrifice.  When he gets to Bethlehem the people are nervous, skeptical, and worried.  What is this official from the capital doing here?  They only come when they want something.  What will he take from them?  

Samuel is there to anoint a new king.  Jesse struts his sons in front of Samuel.  One by one beginning with the oldest.  All seven strapping young men.  Can we imagine them lined up on a debate stage?  But none of them will do.  Is there another son?  Oh, well, the youngest, a child really, watching the sheep.  Get him.  The smallest, the youngest, the unheralded, the least likely, the outsider, the underdog, the nobody, the marginal one, anoint him, God tells Samuel.  As Jesus will later teach, the first will be last and the last will be first.  God exalts the humble.  Saul was tall and handsome and look how that turned out.  God is ready to try something new.  And with David, God gets a dynasty, an Empire.  The throne is passed to his son, Solomon.  David is remembered as the greatest king of Israel.  The messiah will come from the line of David which is why we are told of Jesus being born in Bethlehem of the house and lineage of David.  We don’t want to overlook that David turns out to be a complex character.  Yes, he is honored as the greatest king in the history of Israel but as one commentator describes it, he is also a “bloodthirsty, oversexed bandit.”  [New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2, note 113 citing John L. McKenzie, p. 421]  But who could have known that when this ruddy youth was plucked from the pasture and anointed as the future king.  

We see these same kinds of themes in the story of Jesus.  He is a nobody.  Born to nobody parents from a backwater village.  Born in a stable among the animals. Not a person of prestige and money from a political family in the capital.  Jesus is another example of the freedom of God that we see in the Bible.  We are shown how God exercises freedom of choice.  God is not limited by our criteria and imaginations.  God sees with the heart.  And God can use anyone and everyone to create new possibilities for a new future.  God is not restricted by the past.  God is not confined by previous power arrangements.  God is not bound by entrenched assumptions and traditional channels and systems.  The God we encounter in the Bible is free.

This God is so invested in our future, in the joy and wellbeing of humanity, in the flourishing of Creation, that God willingly goes in new directions and chooses unlikely people from unlikely places to lead the way. 

Like the story of the anointing of David, we, too, are living in a time of crisis.  Well, maybe we should say, crises.  Pick one.  Global warming.  The Corona virus.  The immigration/refugee crisis.  The global inequality crisis.  The opioid and addiction crisis.   The erosion of democracy crisis.  The morality crisis.  The technology crisis.  There are plenty of indicators that we are in a time of drastic change.  We barely have to open our eyes to see that the power arrangements that govern our lives are bankrupt and are failing.  This story from Samuel, even though it is couched in monarchy and patriarchy (there is no woman present for this leadership selection process that we are told of),  still this story shows us that we are free to abandon what is no longer working and exercise our enormous freedom to create a new future for ourselves and for those who will come after us.  

In the story we heard, we are told of a God that sees with the heart, sees what is in the heart.  What will people of the future say about what was in our hearts?  What will they see of our intent, our will, our pattern of loyalty, our character, our inclinations?  When they look back at us, what will they see of our hearts?  Do we really care only about the economy?  

This story invites us see ourselves as the unlikely people, in the unlikely places, that foment the revolution disrupting current power arrangements to secure a new future for humanity and for the planet.  God sees with the heart.

And, yes, I will be watching the debate tonight.  And I hope we will all be voting on Tuesday.  Amen.  

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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