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This Week's Sermon !

June 17, 2018

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
Psalm 20
Mark 4: 26-34

Chosen to Serve

Just about everyone in the Commonwealth knows who is supposed to ascend to the trone when Queen Elizabeth II dies. Her son, Charles, the Prince of Wales is supposed to be hern morekm successor. However, we do know that sometimes the one who is supposed to become king or queen does not. George VI never planned on being King but when his older brother Edward abdicated, he was thrust into the role and his ten year old daughter then became next in line.

The rules about who is next in line are very clear. The people who care, know these things; even the people who don’t really care also know the basics! Throughout the history of many countries the issue of succession to the throne has been controversial, divisive, and, of course, on more than one occasion, the cause of war.

How many of you have watched the tv series “Outlander”? For those of you who don’t know about this show, the primary setting of the first seasons is the time leading up the 1745 Battle of Culloden, the last ditch attempt of the highland Scots, or Jacobites, to take the throne back from the British, for the Stuart King, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. From the highlander point of view, the battle was a total disaster, lasting less than an hour. Most of the Scottish soldiers who did not die in battle were immediately executed. Such is the result of rebellion; the price for treason is high!

I’ve known the story of the anointing of the boy David as king for about as long as I can remember. But what I did not realize until I was much older was how risky it was for just about everyone for the prophet Samuel to go out and anoint him.

Even though Saul was the FIRST King of Israel, they all knew how these things worked in other nation states. A son of the king became the next king and other people didn’t go around expressing an aspiration to be the king.

As the biblical story tells us, Samuel also knew how things worked. He knew it could mean his death, prophet or not. According to the text, it seems that God guided him to trick everyone into thinking he was merely going to offer a sacrifice. There would be no harm in that! But he is going to he home of Jesse with some very unterior motives! As we heard, David was certainly not Samuel’s first choice. He was operating on the wrong set of assumptions. In the end, the youngest son, the boy David, is presented to him. He realizes, with God’s guidance, that this young boy is the one. Samuel anointed him and is on his way.

Next come some more stories many of us learned in Sunday School. We are told that following this event, David kills Goliath whose people have been a thorn in the side of Israel for some time and he eventually earns a reputation as a musician whose music is able to soothe the king’s troubled spirit. By this time he is living in the palace and is “best buds” with Saul’s son Jonathan!

I suppose that these days he would have been considered a “mole” or a “one child sleeper cell”. Saul had invited his replacement into the palace only to have this young man take over the throne!!! To make a very long story shorter: after Saul’s death, David’s supporters recognize his right to the throne and together they eventually defeat Saul’s son in battle and David becomes King over all of Israel.

There is a lot going on in and behind this passage. You may remember from last week that the people had begged for a king. They wanted to be like everyone else; all the “real nations” had kings. Saul turned out to be the prime example of the warning, “you better be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.” Saul’s reign was troubled and eventually God rejected him, which was why Samuel was led to anoint David. The King might have been above the human laws but was subject to the laws of God like everyone else.

I think that we need to remember that as this passage begins, Samuel was probably grieving. His own expectations over Saul had been dashed. Perhaps Samuel felt that he had let the people down. Perhaps he had even mixed up God’s message in the first place and Saul was never meant to be king! But, after Samuel’s personal pity party had gone on long enough God told him to “get up and get on with it! Go and anoint the one I will tell you about!”

When we meet David in this passage he is the “kid brother” given the menial task of the keeping of sheep. He had not accomplished anything; he was too young to have anything but potential. Perhaps the lesson from this is that “the good thing is that God looks at our potential instead of our accomplishments. “

So, three thousand or so years later, what does this passage have to say to us?

I cannot help but think of the Magi who arrive in Jerusalem looking for the “one who is to be born King of the Jews and go to the palace instead of following the star. Samuel assumed the oldest, most capable of Jesse’s sons, would be the choice for the next king, but this was not the case. The magi were surprised that the King in the palace knew nothing of this child; and would have been doubly surprised to find him born to poor parents displaced by the census.

Time and again in the biblical story the ways of the world and the ways of the God of Israel clash. It’s not about God’s favour resting on the “biggest and the best” but most often its about the underdog being the one chosen to be the leader, to show the way.

It’s about the life of risk and trust.

No one knows more about risk and trust than the farmer. Jesus used examples from the everyday lives of farmers and fishers as he sought to teach them about the way of abundant life. In today’s passage he talked about the normal cycle of planting and waiting. You plant and then you wait. When it comes to mustard the size of the plant is out of all proportion to the seed that is planted. I don’t know about the farmers around here, but on PEI mustard was a weed (a very much hated weed) and before more widespread use of herbicides, picking mustard was a job for kids.

Perhaps the people of Palestine grew the kind of mustard people wanted for a cash crop. The mustard we buy in the grocery store must be grown somewhere! Perhaps though, that’s not really relevant. Sometimes, when it comes to seeds, the result is out of proportion to the size of the seed.

Jesus’ parables left people scratching their heads and wondering, “What’s he getting at?”

Taken together, perhaps what these passages tell us that the life of faith is not about equating success in the world with success in the realm of God. The ways of God are about a radical equality where all will have enough and none will be in want while others live in the lap of luxury. The life of faith isn’t all about us though; it does not depend totally on us. All we can often do us to sow the seeds and then trust that they will grow.

Few species of trees grow fast enough for those who have planted them to truly enjoy them but that should not discourage us from planting trees or from trying to influence the world to be a little more like Jesus’ vision for the world.

The life of faith is not about success; its about living as much as possible if the vision we hold is a reality. Many people I know work hard to given their children a better life than they had as children. But what if we lived as if all the children of the world were as important as our own children.

In the 1990s Sarejevo became embroiled in war. That beautiful country was bombed to shreds and its people devastated by divisions. One day a little girl walking on the street was severely wounded by sniper fire. A man rushed up to her, scooped the child up and pleaded with a reporter to take her to the hospital. ‘You have a car,’ the man begged. ‘Please won’t you take us to the hospital?’ What could the reporter do. He loaded them into the back seat of his car and began to drive.

“After a minute or two, the man said urgently, ‘Please hurry; she is still living!’ The reporter drove on. A few minutes later, the man in the back seat said, ‘Hurry please, she is still breathing!’ Soon, they pulled up to the hospital, but unfortunately doctors could do nothing as she had died on route to the hospital.

“The man and the reporter went into the restroom together to wash the child’s blood from their hands. ‘Now comes the hardest part,’ said the man. ‘What is that?’ asked the reporter. ‘Now I have to go and find that little girl’s father and tell him she is gone.’

“The reporter was stunned. ‘But I thought you were the father! I thought she was your child!’” (I think this sermon illustration originated in a sermon by Will Willamon) “‘Aren’t they all our children?’ the man replied.

What if people of faith marched to the beat of a different drummer? What if people of faith tried to see the world as it should be; as a gift for the benefit of all creation and not to be exploited by some at the expense of the many. What if people of faith gave up trying as hard as you can to get ahead of their rivals but instead put their efforts into proclaiming the message of Jesus - care for the poor, the love of God for the marginalized, and for all of creation.

The people of Israel found out that being like everyone else was not ultimately the key to true success or happiness. What if we followed Jesus, sowing seeds and trusting that in time the growth would be beyond our expectations.


1995- 2018 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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