him? really?

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

One of the signs of a true story—a real story—
is that you jump in right in the middle of it.
Things have been happening before you clued in:
relationships, events, conversations, hopes, disappointments.

In today’s text of a true story—a real story,
we jump right into grief:
Samuel’s grief, God’s grief, presumably Saul’s grief.
Things hadn’t worked out—for Israel—
for Israel with that king they had wanted so.
And it had become obvious that things hadn’t worked out.
And folks were sad about that.
And God was sad about that.

But another sign of a true story—of a real one—
is that nothing stays the same.
Everything’s always changing.
And so, we don’t stay in grief,
and Samuel, who lingers there, who clings to it,
is admonished.

God says, “How long will you mourn?”
Now remember, God had mourned too,
but to everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
How long will you mourn? How long will you look back?
I rejected Saul” (now that’s a whole nother sermon—
that has as much to do with Saul rejecting God,
as God rejecting Saul).
God goes on, “Now fill your horn with oil
(because a king would be anointed with oil
and the oil would be carried in a horn)
and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem.
I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

God rejects what is
and chooses what is to be.
The choices we make, individually,
in the unfolding of history matter to God, yes.
But so does the bigger picture—
so do the bigger systems.
History matters to God—
Politics matter to God.
Budgets matter to God.
The culture of a time matters to God.
They are all assessed.
They are all evaluated.
“Is this a part of my vision?” asks God.
“Is this a part of my work?”
Now hear me oh so very carefully here,
I’m not saying the purpose of a national budget is to do the work of God.
I am saying God notices, and I am saying God responds.

So God indubitably notices,
and I was reminded of this again this week,
that “[o]ur military spending is equal
to that of the rest of the world put together.
The combined military budget of Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria
is less than 4 percent of our budget.
The U.S. planned military spending in 2012 is $671 billion
while China’s budget is $106 billion”
(http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/7536-preaching-peace-in-a-timid-church#.T-bhExyu_0g).
Whatever we think of that,
what do we think God does?
Do we think God thinks what we spend on violence is obscene?
God rejects what is
and chooses what is to be.

“Be on your way which is my way
to and through Bethlehem.”
And the middle of this story from the Old Testament
slams into the middle of another story
into the midst of our story—the faith story we claim—
the story of the way to and through Bethlehem.

History matters to God,
and God is moving in history,
and God is moving history—
toward God’s vision of what is to be—
a vision we believe most clearly lived out in Jesus Christ.
God rejects what is
and chooses what is to be.

And Samuel’s nervous.
As he well should be.
It gets a little tricky when God intrudes into politics—
and expects God’s followers to as well.
Not perhaps the best career move
to publicly be about the anointing of a new king
when there’s already a king—with an army—
and already a little sensitive about his kingship.
It’s a risky venture to bring the priorities of God
into the raw and awkward twists and turns
of the national and the international picture—
even if you’re biblical Israel.

God reassures Samuel,
tells him to take a heifer with him,
and to tell people he’s on his way to offer a sacrifice.
Now, that’s not a lie,
but it’s definitely not the whole truth and nothing but the truth—
so help you—hmmm!
Sneaky God!
“See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

And as nervous as Samuel was,
so too were the elders of Bethlehem.
They were clear too
that there were some serious potential consequences
to having Samuel in town.
Time and time again,
this story weaves together political reality
and the consequence of following God.

Consecrate yourselves, Samuel tells the elders.
I’ll consecrate Jesse and his sons
(Was Jesse an elder? We’re not told.)

“And come on over to the sacrifice,” he invites them all.
“Y’all remember about sacrifice, don’t you—
that it’s about more than just an animal?”
And Samuel went and prepared.

They arrived, we’re told, but we’re not told who they is.
The elders? They were invited, but are never mentioned again.
Who responds to an invitation to sacrifice?
Who responds to the invitation to be a part of something new—
to be on the way of God?
Was it just Jesse and his sons?
Or were there a few elders there too—
who caught a glimpse of possibility—
a whiff of hope they deemed worth sacrifice?
Would we be there? Would you?

Now Samuel was immediately impressed with Jesse’s oldest boy, Eliab.
You’ve considered that we’re considering David
in the year of a presidential election, haven’t you?
Ah, so much to anticipate!
Among which are the presidential debates—
during which, at some point, we will find out, I guarantee it,
we will be told, which of the two men, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney,
is—taller.
It’s quite likely, we will also be told the percentage by which
the taller of two candidates wins.
(And how many times someone blinks factors into all this as well.)

All of which leads to one of two possible conclusions:
a/ taller people make better leaders—
which I’m biased against—
the idea that height is indicative of anything other than—height—
how tall someone is.
Though, have you noticed,
we ask everyone how tall they are—
no matter how short they are?
a/ taller people make better leaders,
or b/ we are an incredibly shallow people—
which I find I’m also biased against.

But I really can’t come up with a third option.
I’ve tried. All week. I’ve asked other people.
I’ll welcome any insight you have here.
But my ruminations on this—and not just this week,
and through other aspects of our culture as well,
lead me to believe we have to go with:
we are an incredibly shallow people.

Now, that’s not just us.
And it’s not just characteristic of Samuel.
It’s apparently a human trait
to be impressed by the superficial—
by someone’s height, by someone’s beauty,
by someone’s status, wealth, strength, position, lineage.
But God looks at the heart.
God looks at a person in light of God’s persistent vision of what can be
and how an individual fits into that … or doesn’t.

“And now, consider Eliab
in his swimsuit by Ocean Surf.
Eliab likes surfing and playing the cello.
He still lives with his father,
and leaves as much of the work as possible to his younger brothers.
In his spare time he goes to church
and works on saving the world.
Notice the height on this man, ladies and gentlemen.
Notice his fine head of hair, the firm jaw line, the tight belly,
and how little he blinks.”

“And now making his appearance, Adinadab—
in a Speed—never mind!”

We told Audra a year or so ago
that we had noticed how she kept her eyes open.
She didn’t know that expression,
and we explained it meant that she didn’t miss much of anything.
And she said she had learned it from a friend of hers at school who never blinks!

Ten children at PASSPORTKids, will be coming back this afternoon.
Thirteen youth are going to PASSPORT mid-July.
It is part of our mission—our calling—our responsibility
to instill in them—
to teach them—affirm for them—model for them
some of what it means to be on our way on God’s way—
some of what it means to cultivate the discipline
of seeing more than just appearance—
of assessing more than the apparent—
of valuing more than the appealing.
We are a shallow people,
but we can cultivate the disciplines to be less so.

And these are some of the things camp—PASSPORT camps try and do—
along with stressing non-competitive recreation—
the importance of affirmation and working together,
of needing to include everyone, look out for everyone,
to always look for the bigger picture,
and to be aware of and embrace the sacrifices needed
to make the kind of deep progress we’re called to make.
Naive? Maybe so,
but it is God’s way and in the end, we’re told, it’s what will be.

“So as fine a head of tall, flat jaw,
are these all your sons?”
“Well, there is still the youngest,
but he’s out keeping watch over the flock.
We entrust our sheep to the youngest.
He is trustworthy. He is responsible.”

Shepherd, you see, is not just what David was before being anointed.
Something about being a shepherd
remains constitutive of what it means to be king,
at least, in the understanding of Israel,
and remains key to what is still our understanding of leadership
in the biblical tradition.

“Send for him,
and, by the way, we will not sit down until he arrives.”
Now there’s an image—
all of them standing around … waiting—
for a considerable time.
You figure David wasn’t necessarily watching the sheep
right where Samuel happened to be offering sacrifice.
And so we have this image of Jesse and his seven sons—
the magnificent seven—tall, strapping specimens all—
and maybe some of the elders of Bethlehem—
standing there—
shifting their weight—
heavy sighs—
waiting.
(Whistle Jeopardy song.)

Some of you will know that scene from the Blues Brothers
after Jake and Elwood have led most of the Illinois police force on a merry chase
into Chicago, and they leave their car (which collapses)
and enter the Richard J. Daly building to pay the tax assessor of Cook County
the $5,000 needed to save the orphanage.
The police, state troopers, SWAT teams, firefighters, Illinois national guardsmen
and military police surround the building.
The snipers take their place along the rooftops,
and SWAT teams rappel down the building.
Tanks move in.
And all this frenetic activity is interwoven with scenes of
Jake and Elwood in the elevator with the elevator music
on their way up to the whatever floor.

After all that action—with all that action still going on all around them—
all the expectation and anticipation and questions the story has raised,
we have some time.
We have some time to consider.
We’re waiting.
What are we waiting for?
Really.
Are we really waiting for the way of God—
on earth as it is in heaven?
Are we truly waiting, along with all creation,
for the revealing of the children of God?

We have some time to consider.
What are we waiting for?
We’re waiting for the youngest son.
Why are we doing that?
That doesn’t make much sense.
But it is part of the way God works—always has.
We’re waiting for an eighth son—
not the seventh—not one of seven—
the eighth.
Not part of what’s complete,
but part of God doing a new thing.
We’re waiting in Judah—
outside the reach of the northern kingdom, Saul’s bailiwick,
outside the existing circles of power.
We’re waiting in Bethlehem—
not a part of Samuel’s circuit as prophet.
We’re waiting for the son of a shepherd,
not the son of wealth, as Saul’s father was described (1 Samuel 9:1).
We’re waiting for someone whose great-grandmother “was Ruth,
an immigrant Moabite woman (Ruth 4:17) … [whose]
[great]-grandfather was Boaz, whose ancestors included a Canaanite woman
who was almost executed for adultery (Tamar, Genesis 38)
and a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho (Rahab, Joshua 2)” (NIB, 1100).
We’re waiting ….

The boy arrives—finally.
“Him? Really?”
He’s handsome—very handsome, but he’s not tall.
He’s not named until now in the story.
You notice?
He’s been the focus from verse one, but named only now.
And nothing is said to him.
Nothing is said by him.
And he’s not consecrated.
You notice? He’s anointed.
He’s different—set apart—chosen by God.
He’s on a mission from God.

God cares about our actions.
God cares about our times.
And God is working toward a particular future.
We are a part of that work,
or we are not.
Doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not God loves us.
It simply means we either stand for love or we don’t.
We either stand for justice or we don’t.
And we have the even clearer perspective offered in Jesus of what God expects.
We either feed the hungry or we don’t.
We either clothe the naked or we don’t.
We either visit the sick or we don’t.
We either free the imprisoned or we don’t.
We are with God on the way,
or we are in the way.
It is just that clear.
It is just that blunt.

God’s will will be accomplished.
So we’re either working for the future—working for what will be,
or we’re hanging on to what will ultimately not be.
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

So it’s about keeping our eyes open—
not blinking.
Because at the most unexpected time,
in the most unexpected way,
history will fold itself back to and through Bethlehem—
into creation singing of peace for all.

At the most unexpected time,
there will come the opportunity, I promise you—
there will come the opportunity for you
to manifest God in your world—our world—
for you to manifest forgiveness—
for you to manifest grace—
for you to manifest love—
for you to manifest God.

You see it’s about believing not just that God offers us an alternate vision—
but that God is in history—taking initiative
that God is at work—
and that we are a part of that working.
We’re on a mission from God.

Now we’re still waiting—
waiting for God’s vision to unfold in history—
waiting for the revealing of the children of God
acting in ways to redeem and transform.

And all around us there is frenetic activity.
All around us there is violence and injustice
even as there is beauty and compassion.
All around us there is pain and deprivation
even as there is sacrifice and possibility.
All around us dreams die and hopes shrivel
even as dreams are clung to and hopes persist.
All around us the priorities of God are ground into the dirt
even as they flower and bloom.
And here we are … waiting.
Believing that as we wait here,
and as we work,
we are part of the great story of God’s profound hope.

One of the signs of a true story—a real one—
is not just that you jump in right in the middle,
not just that everything changes,
but also that you jump out right in the middle of it.

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