Preached by Rev. Will Brown, March 26, 2017
Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Standing here before you today, I can’t help but admire this simple but beautiful rose, representing the joyful news that a new baby, Hannah, has been born into Sarah and Brent’s family. They now enter again into that wonderfully exhausting stage of life, with middle of the night wake-up calls, and leaking diapers, and soon enough yogurt in her hair—and in her ears, and down her arms, and on back of her legs…. Seriously, how did you get yogurt on the back of your legs?? Perhaps I am projecting…
Having young children, like many things in life, can be both challenging and rewarding. One of the great upsides is having an excuse to re-watch all the classic Disney movies. It won’t be long before Hannah will get to discover The Lion King, and Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, and other classics… like Cinderella.
One of the most beloved Disney characters, Cinderella ends the movie as royalty, but she begins her story as the neglected sister who is stuck at home doing the chores. With a fancy ball planned for the prince to choose his bride, Cinderella’s stepsisters are eager to make a good impression, while Cinderella is given even more work to do. Diligently she sets about her chores, all the while singing with her animal friends. Of course, we know that her story has a magical and happy ending, but this morning I bring Cinderella up because of this early part of the story, when Cinderella is the insignificant, overlooked sister.
It’s a feeling we can all relate to; I’m sure we all could tell stories of rejection in one form or another, stories of when we felt invisible and discounted. The kid whom no one asked to go to the homecoming dance. The last one picked in gym class, selected as an afterthought because no one else was left. The person who came to church and nobody said hello. At a party, everyone else is laughing and in on the joke, and you’re watching from the sidelines.
That’s where Cinderella finds herself early in the movie, and oddly enough, that is also where we first meet the great King David in today’s Scripture lesson. In time, he will become the great unifier of Israel, military champion, author of so many psalms, Israel’s greatest king. Centuries later, he’ll still be the one everyone remembers and longs for: “if only we had another king like that…”
But we’re not there yet. In today’s Scripture passage, he’s nobody. An ordinary kid.
Instead, our story starts with Samuel, the great prophet and judge of Israel. God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king, saying to summon and examine Jesse’s sons, because one of them is going to be the king. In nervous anticipation, they gather for a worship service, and then Jesse presents to Samuel each of his sons. Well, each of his sons except for David.
David is back at home watching the sheep. Perhaps like Cinderella, he is waiting alone, singing songs with his animal friends! Who knows? What we do know is that, like Cinderella, he didn’t get an invitation to the elite celebration, where his siblings were jockeying to become royalty, but instead he’s stuck at home with the chores. Somebody’s got to watch the animals so the more promising brothers can be presented to Samuel. David is overlooked. Invisible. Out of sight, out of mind.
But God sees. When everyone else, even Samuel, was focused on the brothers right in front of them, God was calling the one that had been overlooked and forgotten.
Does it make you wonder who we’ve overlooked?
Here we are at a worship service, dressed up to present the best side of ourselves, not unlike Jesse and his sons at their worship service. Might God be calling for someone who isn’t here? Who have we overlooked?
I think of the people working the weekend shift at the hospital across the street, who can’t come to Sunday morning worship. Or the young people working minimum wage at restaurants where we’ll get lunch in a little while, or the police officers, rescue squad, military, on-call plumbers and HVAC folks. Or within this building, the people in the nursery, leading children’s church, ushers, sound technicians…
David was watching the sheep so that the others could go to see Samuel. Whose work are we relying on to allow us to be here? Who is it that we may have overlooked, but God is calling and God is using?
Samuel looks at each of the brothers before him and then asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“Well, there’s the youngest, watching the sheep.”
And then there’s this amazing moment in the story. Samuel says to go get him. “We’ll stand here until he arrives.” And then they wait.
And they wait.
And they wait.
Eventually someone finds the flock of sheep, sees David there humming a song to himself, and says to him, “Hey man, they’re all waiting for you”, and so David runs back over. He’s dirty, sweating, out of breath. He finds his dad and his brothers, standing beside some strange old man with a long beard, and they’re all staring at him. The old man walks over to this kid, still panting and looking around, and says, “This is the one.” Samuel slowly takes some oil, pours it on his head, and says, “You’re the new king of Israel.” And then he turns and walks away, leaves town, and goes home.
Standing there stunned, still sweaty and out-of-breath, only now with olive oil in his hair, is that same ordinary teenager named David.
It’s a strange way to choose a leader, is it not? By all accounts, there’s nothing particularly remarkable or kingly about David. It says he’s a good-looking kid, he knows how to be a shepherd—but so did his brothers and everyone else in town who had sheep. He’s simply… ordinary. In no way is he qualified to be an army general or a king.
Think about it. If you were an Israelite trying to survive in Jerusalem, would you want your leader to be some teenager picked at random off the side of the road, with no skills, experience, or qualifications? Of course not! And especially not during a time of war and instability, with dangerous enemies pressing in from all sides. You want your commander to know what they’re doing.
This is a very odd way to pick a king. And for me, it raises the question: how do we choose our leaders? Or to bring it closer to home: how do we pick the next pastor for this church?
What will our future pastor be like? Will she be a strong preacher? Will he have a PhD? Do you anticipate someone with lots of experience, a dignified manor, lots of energy and enthusiasm, a devoted family? Will they be tall, and attractive, with a full head of hair… Or not…
We all carry in our minds certain ideal traits and characteristics that we look for in a leader—and with good reason. We want someone who’s good at what they do. The difficulty is that we can so easily get stuck on the externals. It’s human nature. Even Samuel had to be reminded by God: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The choir sang it for us a few minutes ago: not “he that ruleth over men must be a decisive and charismatic leader”… but “he that ruleth over men must be just.”
And so, as our search process continues, we pray for God’s guidance, because we are trying to follow Samuel’s example: he was listening for who God had called, not choosing for himself. We too are trying to discern God’s calling, rather than relying on our own judgment and preferences.
It’s a hard process, and one that demands a lot of prayer, from all of us. But we trust that God is calling the right person, just as God was calling the right person in King David.
David was the one God had chosen, even though he had been overlooked by his father and brothers, and even though David didn’t seem particularly special or unique. He was just a shepherd kid from a shepherd family, like all the rest.
But even though he was overlooked and ordinary, God chose and anointed him. And then his story takes off.
In the following chapter, David—still unimposing and unproven—will face off with the giant Goliath, and when he does, do you remember what his strategy his? He’ll use his slingshot. Listen to his words of explanation: “[I] used to keep sheep for [my] father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth.” [1 Samuel 17:34-35] He’ll use those same skills against Goliath. He didn’t defeat Goliath with military might, but with the skills of a shepherd, directed by God.
God didn’t need him to be something he wasn’t; God took the ordinary parts of David’s life and used them. David the shepherd.
Because that’s what God needed. God needed him to be a shepherd over the people of Israel, to gather them in as one nation and hold them together. It was David the shepherd who could do that.
It was David the shepherd who would write down those songs he was humming out in the fields, to give us the beautiful psalms that continue to guide our worship and devotion. Like Psalm 23, which begins, “A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”
Who else but David the shepherd could give us those words?
And I think the same holds true for us. Might it be that what God wants from us is the ordinary parts of ourselves that we so easily overlook?
In the story today, when the father, Jesse, comes to present the best he has to offer to God, he brings the sons he think are most kingly. But God was looking for the one who seemed ordinary.
Do we do that, too? Do we discount our own contributions because we don’t seem special enough? Or even within ourselves, do we only offer to God the parts of ourselves that we’re most proud of, that seem most admirable? Perhaps God wants from us the contributions we don’t consider all that remarkable.
There’s work for all of us to do, in one way or another.
Today’s bulletin insert has information about our Intercessory Prayer Ministry, signing up to come in to the church’s Prayer Room regularly to pray for people. It’s nothing fancy; but God uses it.
Or consider the various Circle of Caring Teams, through which church members help others by providing rides, baking casseroles, sending cards, changing light bulbs, making visits and phone calls, … and lots of other ordinary acts of compassion and generosity. They always need more volunteers…
In a month, we have our annual day of service, Operation InAsMuch, when we’ll try to make our neighbors’ lives a little bit better through a host of small projects, unremarkable on their own, but nevertheless used by God to extend and broaden God’s kingdom here on earth.
Perhaps God is calling you to bring the ordinary parts of yourself to help in one of these ways, or in another way that you will discover. Whatever it is that God calls of you, don’t be surprised if the contribution God is asking may not seem all that noteworthy, but it is something God has plans to use.
After all, this is the God who anointed an ordinary shepherd and made him the king of Israel.
It’s the same God who later would speak to some ordinary fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and said to them, I’m going to make you fish for people.
It’s the same God who spoke to an ordinary peasant girl in a backwater town and said, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. … The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David… his kingdom will never end.” [Luke 1:31-33].
God takes those who were overlooked and ordinary, and God anoints them to do God’s work in remarkably ordinary ways.
May that be the case for us too: that whenever we feel insignificant and invisible, we take heart that God sees us, if no one else does; and that when we don’t feel we have anything special to offer, we discover anew that God is calling us anyway, to take the ordinary parts of ourselves and let them be anointed in the service of God. Amen.