Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
I recall a friend of mine sharing her struggles getting her youngest child out of his crib and into a regular bed. Perhaps there are some parents out there who can associate with this particular adventure! I know it brings back some rather unpleasant memories in my mind. The boy’s new bedroom has a NASCAR theme with the bed itself shaped like a racecar. The wallpaper is full of brightly colored cars. His name printed on a car hangs on the door. All things a little boy should love, right? Well, maybe. The first night that the boy was supposed to sleep in the “big bed” he cried and cried. His parents finally let him sleep in the crib in the nursery. A few nights later they rocked him to sleep and then carefully placed him in the racecar bed. They awoke in the middle of the night to find that the boy had somehow crawled back into the crib. The parents then removed the crib from the nursery. Dad tried falling asleep with the boy on the racecar bed. After a couple of hours Dad awoke alone, to discover that the boy was in bed with Mom. After a few weeks of frustration, my friend told me that she had found something that had finally worked. They set up the racecar bed in the nursery. The little boy seems quite content in his new bed, as long as it is in the old familiar spot.
I specifically recall trying to teach my then 19 year old daughter how to drive a car with a stick shift. It too was not an easy task. Maren dropped hints that she was not real comfortable with a stick shift. She asked me about how I would feel if she caused an accident or ruined the car. She reminded me that her old car in Utah, which we sold when we moved, was an automatic transmission. I remember our driving experiments down the side roads and in church parking lots. We ended up buying my wife Laura a new car and my daughter inherited her old car with automatic transmission.
The Scripture lesson this morning is a wonderful story about the anointing of David as the future King of Israel. Saul, the reigning king, had fallen into disfavor with God because he had failed to follow God’s direction in battle. So God sent Samuel, the judge and spiritual leader of Israel, in search of a new leader. Samuel went to Bethlehem, a place that we know quite well from another story later in the Bible. There he was told to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the future king.
The sons came out, one at a time. It was like an audition for a part in a high school play. The first was Eliab, strong and tall and handsome. Samuel was certain he was the one. But God said, “Pay no attention to his good looks.” Another brother came out, then another, and another. In all seven sons of Jesse paraded before Samuel. Each seemed capable of being king. Each was rejected by God. Finally in desperation, the young David was brought before Samuel. “This is the one,” God says. “Anoint him as King of Israel.” And Samuel did as God asked him to do.
At first reading, we might find ourselves linked with little David. It is a lovely little Cinderella story. He is the underdog. He is at first glance, nothing special. But he is chosen by God. We like to think that God does not judge by outward appearance but by the heart. With that divine logic, we too can be chosen for something special in our very next breath.
But when I read over this story this week, I found myself aligning with the task of Samuel, the one who had to anoint the future of God’s Kingdom. That was the tougher job. Samuel was the one who actually had to act upon God’s vision and call. He had to learn something new, to challenge his assumptions and comfort level, and to put himself in a vulnerable place. Samuel had to do God’s work in a difficult time. He really didn’t want Israel to have a king and he knew a king would just cause big problems. He had actually hoped that one of those big, strong sons of Jesse would be the one God chose and everything would be easy. But God kept challenging him further and further. He had to wait until little David stepped forward from the fields to find an option. Discovering God’s presence in the mess of his prophetic task was not an easy thing to do.
Did you notice how reluctant Samuel was to do all of this? “How can I do that? If King Saul hears that I am running around looking for a new king, he will kill me!” What God wanted him to do was at odds with his own assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, talents and abilities. Samuel didn’t think he could be the kind of prophet that God wanted him to be in this kind of situation.
Just like Samuel, we are called to anoint God’s intention in our world today. It is difficult to be called to be the presence of God in the midst of challenges and obstacles of this virus and isolation and fear and worry. We look for easy answers; we might doubt our ability to do what is needed; we might prefer that such difficult task be given to someone else. We might hope that our times and our call would be made different, altered to something we can handle with more ease and assurance. It is hard to be the faithful person we want to be when our lives and our world have been turned upside down.
Samuel’s situation reminds me that there are clearly two different orders involved in the life of faith. One is faith we can readily see and measure and understand. This is the faith of anointing the bigger and stronger brothers. Just as I prefer living in a world where there are sports on television and live trivia in bars and restaurants each night, we would prefer to be God’s presence in a more conventional and more convenient way these days, a way that assures us of our comfort and capability. But then God reminds us that God can work through the Davids of the world, acting and speaking in surprising ways to bring God’s way into being. Just as in our time, we wait for game changing cures and miracles- God is working through important but unnoticed things- the brave and tireless service of doctors and nurses; the relentless research of scientists; the words of kindness to friend and strangers; the phone calls and notes to those who are alone; and the smallest act of compassion that we might not think is so important. And God calls those like Samuel, and like us to anoint times of fear and uneasiness with ways of living that promote light and life, peace and understanding, justice and righteousness, mercy and compassion.
We are people who are called to anoint God’s way in a time that is uncertain and frightening. We may fear the strength of the darkness. We may doubt our ability to handle the task. We may be reluctant to understand how there is anything we can do that might help bring forth God’s way. Like it did the prophet Samuel, the old demands our loyalty and tries to discourage us from stepping out in faith. But God’s future awaits in our future. We are called to anoint with each word and action.