Sunday, October 22, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”

“How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it he’ll kill me!”

“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

“Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Then Samuel left and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text today from first Samuel opens with this words from from first Samuel opens with these words from the Lord to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?”

These words give us a hint that not all has gone well with the first king of Israel--the king we learned last week that Samuel would anoint. The king demanded by the people so that they could be “like all the other nations.”

In the time between last week’s calling of Samuel and today’s lesson, time has, once again, passed. Samuel’s sons--who would have been expected to move into his role as prophet-judge over Israel--have perverted the system, just like Samuel’s predecessor, Eli.

The people have used this systemic corruption to make a demand of God for a king. The political threat of the neighboring Philistines continues to over them. And, instead of having faith in God’s ability to prosper or even sustain them as a nation, they demand through Samuel that God give them a human king. 

God decides to give them what it is they think they want. In 1 Samuel 8, God says to Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request--everything they ask of you--because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

So, Samuel does. But he warns them what a monarchy will look like: a military draft, forced labor, taxation, and eventual tyranny (all of which will eventually come true). The human king they so desperately want so they can be just “like all of the other nations” will eventually become their oppressor.

Saul is anointed by Samuel as king over Israel. There are indications at the beginning of Saul’s story that his masculinity was an important factor in his choice. That his “height” and his “physical prowess” were important in the choice, even though he was from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe of Israel. And, although, he began his reign as king with a humble heart, it was not long, before arrogance and his ego began to take over and he began to make choices that were not consistent with God’s instruction.

Soon, everything began to fall apart.

It is here where our story today picks up. Samuel is grieving Saul’s disobedience. But, God has already moved on, deciding that Saul’s monarchy will not continue. So, God directs Samuel to go to Bethlehem. That there, in Bethlehem, Samuel will find the new king and anoint him.

As Samuel approaches Bethlehem, the village elders approach him. They are nervous. It is never a good thing, in their mind, that God’s prophet is coming to their village. Yet, Samuel assures them that he is there in peace--that he has come to make sacrifice to God. He invites them to prepare themselves for the sacrifice--to make themselves ritually clean--and to join him. Samuel also invites Jesse to make sacrifice. Jesse, grandson of Boaz and Ruth, and a descendant of Perez, son of Judah. Jesse’s line can be traced all the way back to Judah. Jesse, who’s name means “man of God.”

It is from Jesse’s lineage--from his sons--that Israel’s new king will come.

Samuel sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and thinks, “This must be him, right in front.” Perhaps it was his appearance, perhaps he looked as Samuel thought a king should look, perhaps tall and handsome--the way we like our leaders to look.

Yet, he isn’t God’s choice. God says to Samuel,” Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature. Because I don’t look at things like humans do. I look beyond appearances. I look at the heart.”

So Samuel continues. Son after son, he moves through Jesse’s family. When he reaches the seventh one, the last one there, he says to Jesse, “Are there any more? Is that all of them?

Jesse says that there is. One more. The youngest. The one that is out in the pastures keeping the sheep.

Samuel asks Jesse to send for him. When he arrives, Samuel sees that he is ruddy-looking (remember Esau?) and that he had beautiful eyes. That he was good-looking. God, though, saw his heart and said to Samuel, “He’s the one! Anoint him!”

Samuel took the oil he’d brought with him--the ram’s horn full of oil--and poured it over the youngest son’s head, anointing him as the new king of Israel. Our text says that “the Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.”

David would go on to become the greatest king that Israel would have. And, it would be through David’s line, through his lineage, that another, even greater, King would come. A Messiah.

How do we make sense for ourselves of this story? How do we make our own meaning from it? How does it inform us today in the 21st century? After all, the days of kings and monarchies, of warring neighbors, of oppression and oppressive structures, are gone or nearly gone! Aren’t they? We are so much more enlightened than the Israel of the past. Aren’t we? We don’t choose our leaders--or anyone else, for that matter--based on outward appearances! We don’t look to our leaders to be our very own, self-selected saviors! Do we? We certainly don’t reject God, failing to trust that God will prosper and sustain us! Do we? 

Do we?

I think we do. I think we are not all that different than Israel. I think we look at outward appearances because we want to be just like everyone else. And, I think we fail, regularly, to look inside and see the heart of others.

God does. God sees the hearts of others. God sees our hearts. Even in the midst of doubt and fear and failure, God sees our hearts.  And God loves us anyway. And God promises to prosper and sustain us. If we only believe it.

A few years into his monarchy, David--this great king of Israel--tripped up. He made some huge mistakes. When Samuel confronted him, he realized how deeply he had abandoned God and wrote this prayer:

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
    scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
    set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
    give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
    or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
    so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
    and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.

Today, after worship, we will hold a congregational meeting. At this meeting, we will elect our leadership for the next year. We will approve our budget for next year. And we will begin to envision where God is leading our congregation. Next week we will commit to funding that vision. And in two weeks, we will celebrate our 20th anniversary and invite our entire community to participate in that vision.

Where do you see yourself in that vision? Are you perhaps, like David, suffering from once-broken bones, blemished and gray, trying to survive the chaos of your life, feeling as though you have been tossed out with the trash? Or are you, perhaps, like Israel, believing that God can’t be relied upon, that we can only rely upon ourselves.

May we learn from Israel and trust that God has in mind to prosper and sustain us. May we pray like David that God might breathe holiness in us and put fresh wind in our sails! May we do the work of God--teaching rebels God’s ways so that all people might find their way home. Back to a God who loves them. And who loves us. Deeply.

May David’s prayer be our prayer. May God continue to make fresh starts in us so that we might continue to sing songs to God's life-giving way. Amen.

Preached October 22, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 51:10-14; John 7:24.

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