A sermon for Proper 6
1 Samuel 15:34- 16: 13, Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 20, Psalm 92:14, 11-14, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 4:26-34
What in the world happened to Saul? Last week’s reading ends with Samuel anointing him King, albeit with some reluctance. Today Samuel is grieving over Saul, and that just doesn’t sound good. Then God sends him off to Jesse’s because God “has provided for myself a king …” Let’s back up a bit for more of the story.
Last week, God tells Samuel to grant the elders wish for a king. Then we skip forward a couple of chapters until Saul is called forth, from his hiding place in the baggage and is anointed king. Saul initially meets with great success, defeating Ammonites. He son Johnathan ambushes and defeats the Philistines. That’s good news, except that it inspires the Philistines to come after Israel. The people cry out, Samul agrees to come out of retirement and offer a sacrifice. However, he is some days late arriving, and Saul offers the sacrifice instead. No big deal, except that it is, it is not for kings to offer sacrifice, it’s kind of like the separation of powers in the US Constitution. Either way, Israel is eventually successful though it is a mess of a thing. Saul goes on to successively defeat the Moabites, the Ammonites, Edom, and Zobah. One day God tells Saul to utterly destroy Amalekites. He does; well, he almost does.
He burns the city to the ground, kills everyone, except the king, ~ and the best of flocks and herds. When confronted by Samuel, Saul tries to say herds and flocks were saved for a sacrifice. Samuel asks “Does the lord prefer sacrifice or obedience?” (15:22 ff) At this point God rejects Saul as King because he does not listen, does not obey.
So God sends Samuel off to anoint a new King. We know the story, the endless procession of Jesse’s strapping sons. God’s admonition to look rightly, upon the heart. Calling David in from tending the sheep. The smirking description of David’s ruddy appearance, and beautiful eyes. Finally, the rush of the spirit upon David as Samuel’s anoints him. We know the story. We’ve made it our own.
We made it our own, just as we have adopted the parables of scattered seeds, and the mustard seed. David Lose notes that because parables have a tendency to point out something we’d just as soon not see, we make them our own and then we domesticate them. (Lose) Have we done the same thing with the story of David’s calling?
When was the last time you thought about why Jesse and the elders are frightened when Samuel appears? Remember, Saul is still king. To anoint a king, when a king is on the throne, is treason. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner), (Brueggemann) It’s the stuff of The Game of Thrones.
And of course, there is the wee wrinkle of Jesse’s pedigree. I mean you want your king to come from a long distinguished tribal and family line. Well ~ Jesse’s grandmother is Ruth. You remember Ruth? She’s a Moabite, not Jewish, a foreigner. His grandfather is Boaz. His heritage includes Tamar, an adulteress, and Rahab, the prostitute, who lets the spies into Jericho. And Oh yeah, both of them are Canaanite, foreigners. This is not stuff royalty is made of; it’s not the classic royal family. (BIRCH), (Brueggemann) It kind of draws us back to the mustard seed parable when we realize that in Jesus’ day mustard is an invasive plant. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) Back some weeks ago, the Gospel reading was Jesus as the good shepherd and the sheep-fold. I think we touched on how in the Old Testament shepherds are symbols for kings. So here we have a story of Samuel out looking for a king, and about the only place he doesn’t look is among the shepherds. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) And we shouldn’t be surprised that God chooses the youngest son. Remember Able, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph? All of them are youngest sons, who are favored over their older brothers. I have got to wonder why Samuel just doesn’t ask for the youngest shepherd, up front. One other thing, the length of the process is curious. All seven sons are singularly paraded out for Samuel. And it must have taken quite some time for someone to go get David from the fields. I begin to wonder if there’s not some gleaning here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point to God telling Samuel “the LORD looks on the heart.” We know the heart is a muscle, an organ in our bodies. We also speak of the heart as a type of emotional relationship center, as in “I love you with all my heart.” In Samuel’s day, all inner organs had similar meanings. The heart was the center of thinking, reasoning, planning, conduct and action; it is the center of spiritual activity the seat of conscience. It is distinct from the soul, though the two can be in synch with each other or at odds. Its importance is revealed in the Shema “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your might.”
The flood story links the thoughts of the heart to the evil of man, which causes God to be sorry God made man. (Gen 6:5) (Sakenfeld), (Orr) Perhaps the parable of … the story of David reveals something about the importance of our hearts to God, and to each other.
Karoline Lewis asks what this morning’s parables tell us about the Kingdom of God. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) I’m beginning to wonder what the story of David’s anointing tells us about our relationship with God? And not so much from God’s perspective, but Samuel’s. Think of it this way. The elders wanted a king to fight their wars for them. Saul does, but that doesn’t work out. The psalmist, perhaps David, pens a victory celebration in Psalm 20. In the same lyric, the psalmist puts more faith in the presence of God, than the presence of chariots.
On Friday in the news was a story about the House defeating fast-track authority for an international trade negotiation; and the continuing debate about congressional authorization for military action against ISIS; and simultaneous critiques of the President’s plans with regard to ISIS. We continue to seek power within the established patterns of power.
[W]e fail to look for possibilities of grace and hope beyond the traditional channels of power, influence, and success. (Brueggemann)
We don’t trust God to find a new path to a new future among those hiding in the baggage or tending the sheep, or the marginalized and disposed. In our own doubts and distress do we really believe God sees grace in us, or for us? We still look to the traditional places for solutions to individual, local, national and global problems. We don’t look to the very far a-field, we don’t look to the youngest possibilities. And I admit, it’s not an easy path to discern, because the youngest may be ancient, and that which is furthest away may be nearest to us.
So having taken the delightfully giddy story of David’s anointing and brought us around to looking into the mirror darkly, where are we? And that’s the real question isn’t it. Where are we? All this unpacking of scripture and reframing sullied perspectives isn’t about Samuel, Saul, Jesse’s family line or David. It’s all about us. It’s about us looking for, listening for how God is calling us into the future. Will we look at nontraditional long shot prospects? Will we see the very new, very old opportunity? Do we really trust God with our future? I believe we can, for “… we are a people called to walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and as Paul say “… everything has become new.”
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Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher A Life in Parables. 14 6 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Pentecost 3 B: Preach The Truth Slant. 14 6 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net>.
Nam, Roger. Commentary on 1 Samuel 15:34-16: 14 6 2015.