This sermon begins our summer worship theme -- A Summer of Welcome:
Over the past year and a half together, and, for some of us, the past 15 years of knowing each other, I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. But there’s one part of my life that I don’t think I’ve shared – my short, but vibrant athletic career.
For two years, back in junior high school, I played basketball, and once, I almost made a basket. Yes, you heard right. In the two years I played basketball, once, I almost made a basket. In the two years that I played basketball, I never, ever, ever actually made a basket. But once, I almost did. I saw my chance. I made my shot. The ball went up in that perfect arc, and sat down on the rim – and it just hung there, and we all waited – would it fall in? – and then it rolled off the basket, back into the hands of the other team. But it was a pretty remarkable moment.
I also tried tee-ball and baseball. I couldn’t really hit. Or catch. Or throw. I did enjoy my time hanging out in right-field – thinking, looking around. But once – when I was 6 or 7 – I hit a home run. Now, I didn’t hit it out of the park. But I did hit the ball. It dribbled off the tee, and I ran as fast as I could to first base. The pitcher ran up and grabbed the ball, and threw it way, way, way over the first-baseman’s head. And the first baseman ran to get the ball. And I ran to second. And the first baseman threw the ball as hard as he could. But instead of throwing it to third, he threw it into far left field. And then as everyone on the other team ran into left field, I ran to third. And then I ran home. And scored. Another remarkable moment.
So with all those remarkable athletic skills, you can probably imagine that I wasn’t usually the first person chosen for the team. You know in school gym class, when the gym teacher would have everyone line up, and they’d choose two Team Captains to do the choosing. And then one by one, the Team Captains would choose, one person and then another, and then another. I didn’t ever get chosen first. I tried not to have high expectations at all. In fact, I got to the point where I’d usually just pray, Please God, please, let me be the next-to-last person chosen. And even with all that, my parents encouraged me and convinced me that the important thing was being a part of the team and doing your best, so I actually enjoyed playing.
But I still can feel that feeling in the pit of my stomach, when I come to a story like today’s scripture, where there is choosing. That’s what this morning’s story is about: choosing. God – through Samuel – is choosing a new king for Israel. And the way the story works itself out is that all the youth of one family are brought out, and then lined up in the field, and the choosing takes place: not you, not you, not you, not you, not you, not you – you. It’s a little too close to home.
But let’s step back just a bit, because this is a very important moment in the life of Israel. God has chosen this people. And they have struggled. God has brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and they complained, but eventually God brought them to the Promised Land. And they possessed the land – but they didn’t have a leader, so they begged God for a King. God said, “You know, I’d rather it be just you and me,” and God reminded the people what kings do – we talked about that last October – kings with power-over will take your land, make wars, and send your children off to war. But the people said, “No we want a king, just like all the other people have.” And so, reluctantly God agreed, and chose Saul – but King Saul ended up doing what kings do. He became an irrational, violent tyrant, unfaithful to God. And so as this morning’s Scripture starts, God has decided that a new king is needed, and God calls Samuel the Prophet to go and anoint this new king.
God sends Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem, and tells Samuel that God will choose one of Jesse’s son. So Samuel goes to Jesse, and has Jesse line up his sons in the field – just like in gym class. And it’s not hard to guess who will be chosen. Samuel is choosing a king here. And, in Samuel’s world, with a king, you almost always go to the first-born son. In fact, the first-born son is pretty much all that matters – he gets the inheritance, the land, the kingship. AND, remember that Samuel is picking a warrior, because Israel will be battling many enemies, not the least of which the Philistines. So it would be safe to guess that Samuel will choose the biggest and the strongest.
So there they are, all lined up on the field – Jesse’s sons – and Samuel turns first to the eldest – Eliab – big, strong, the firstborn – and of course, Samuel thinks, “This is the one. Surely this is God’s anointed.” Wow. That was easy. But God says, “Uh, Samuel, hold on a sec. Not that one.” OK, so Jesse has his next son come over – Abinidab – big, strong, not the firstborn son, but the second – another somebody who is usually chosen first, or second. And Samuel listens to God and then says, “Nope. Not this one.” And the next son is Shammah. No. Not this one. And then one after another seven sons of Jesse pass before Samuel in this line up. Who will be chosen? Which of these strong young warriors will become king?
No one. No one is chosen. And so Samuel sighs and says to Jesse, “Is this it? Are all your sons here?” And Jesse hems and haws, and says, “Well, there is one more. He’s the youngest. He keeps the sheep.” And Samuel says, “Well, this may not make any sense – but send for him.” And Jesse sends for David. The little guy. The youngest. Not a warrior – but the one who keeps the sheep. And plays the harp. You see, David is so unimportant in his family, and in his culture, that his father doesn’t even bother to call him in to line up. He’s not just the last one chosen. He’s not even invited to the choosing. Young David. The little guy left out in the field to mind the sheep while everyone else is invited to the party. Young David. Bless his heart.
And David comes in from the field, and comes forward. And God says, “This is the one. Rise and anoint him. This is the one.” Not the one you would expect. Not the eldest. Not the strongest. Not the biggest. But this is God’s choosing.
And the scripture explains why. God says to Samuel, “You see. I don’t see as humans see. Humans look at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.” And in Hebrew and the Old Testament – the “heart” is really the whole self. “Humans look at outward appearances, but God looks at the whole self.” Now, because we know the whole story of David, we also know that David’s whole self is far from perfect. He may defeat Goliath, but we also know that over the course of his life, David will do some awful things for which he will be very sorry. But even so. God looks at the whole self – and God sees something there – even when the world does not.
So in this story, there is hope for all of us who were ever one of the last ones chosen for the team. There’s hope for any of us who have ever felt left out, or excluded, or different. God sees. God looks to the heart, and knows the whole self, and God sees something where the rest of the world may not.
The question that drives this story is “Whom will God choose?” It drives the narrative. It is the obvious question. And God looks to the heart, and chooses someone unexpected – not the biggest or the strongest or the most entitled – God chooses the youngest one, the one who was left behind to tend the sheep, the one who seems to be the least likely to be king. Now we could stop there. That’s some good news.
But there is something even more important going on here. The obvious question here is, “Whom will God choose?” But it is not the most important question. In this text, the most important thing isn’t WHOM God is choosing. The most important thing is WHAT God is choosing. And I don’t want us to miss this. The most important thing is WHAT God is choosing. In this text, God is choosing to stay in relationship with the people. God has chosen them – You are my people, I am your God – chosen life with them – all their goodness, and all their flaws. And through all of life – the good, the bad – after all their complaining – God says, I still choose you, all of you, in this little guy, this David – I still choose to be your God. And notice this -- that in this choice – God’s choice to be God to the people – no one is left out. There is not a person standing on that field who is left out. They are all still the people of Israel, and here God chooses again to be God – to continue in relationship, to continue in covenant, to continue in love.
THAT’S what God is choosing here.
The New Testament gives us another glimpse of that. I think of that Scripture in Philippians that speaks of Christ, “who being in the very nature God... chose to make himself nothing, [the little guy] taking the very nature of a servant being made in human flesh, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” and then was raised into Resurrection – so that dying with us, we then might be raised to new life in Christ.
When the world was most in need, God chose to come to us in Jesus Christ – to enter into the whole of life with us, all the pain, all the joy, all the suffering, the whole of life even unto death – God chose to be Christ to bring us out of death and into new life.
And in that choice – God’s choice to be Christ – there is this assurance for each of us – in that choice there is this assurance: God chooses you. God chooses you not over and against anyone else. But instead, God chooses you as a part of God’s loving choice to be Christ for the whole world. God chooses to be Christ. God chooses you.
You see, for so long – too long – we have been caught up in this paradigm of choosing that asks the question, “Whom does God choose?” It’s as if we thinkg God has us all lined up on the field and chooses some and not others. Some folks are in, and some folks are out. Because sadly that’s what we do –in our culture, in the church. Throughout the history of the world and the church – far too often – far too often – we have set up this paradigm where some are chosen and some are not – some folks are in, and some folks are out – some are privileged, some are burdened. Men, women, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, those who think this way, those who think that way.
It’s the wrong paradigm, and the wrong question. It is not whom God chooses. It is what God chooses. God chooses to be God. God chooses to be Christ.
In just a few moments, we will ordain and install our new elders and deacons. All of us are chosen children of God; and, in this season, God calls some to particular service. For those who serve in these roles, we’re not called because we are the strongest, or the biggest, or the most powerful – we’re called because God looks at the whole self – sees how we are created to bless the world – each and all of us – and in community, calls us to serve in particular ways. With every person in the whole wide world, God sees a human being created in the image of God – fearfully and wonderfully made – each of us uniquely created and gifted and equipped to bless the world in our own particular way.
Friends, this is some Good News. In God’s choice to be Christ for the world – to enter into the whole of life with us – in that choice – God chooses us again and again – not instead of someone else – but with everyone else. God chooses us as a part of God’s expansive, expanding, eternal choice to be God, to be Christ, to be life and love for the whole wide world.
And that shifts our paradigm. We no longer live in a world where we have to stand in line fearing that we will be chosen last, or that we will not be chosen at all – that we will be left out, not in – that we will be excluded, not included. No, we are freed from all that. Instead, we live in a world where we are called to work ourselves out of that old narrative – where we are called to see ourselves – and everyone else – as God sees us. God looks to the heart, to the whole self. God sees something in us even when the world does not. God calls us to see ourselves as God sees us – loved, and chosen in God’s love – each and every one of us. AND, we are called to see each other that way.
The way God sees each of us. Each of us chosen in love.
When we ask this more important question – What does God choose? – this old image sort of fades away – this image from junior high gym class – lining up in a field to be chosen first, or last, or next to last, or not at all. God has already chosen. God has chosen to be Christ for the world, and in that choice, God continues to choose us again and again. All of us. The whole world.
And within THAT broad and expansive and loving choice. God continues to choose you again and again.
God chooses you.
God always has.
God always will.
© 2021 Scott Clark