Spring Cleaning 4
March 26, 2017 Speaker: Matt Benton Series: Spring Cleaning: Getting Your Soul Ready for Easter
Passage: 1 Samuel 16:1–16:13
This morning our Scripture text is a story of power and intrigue. It’s a political drama. We love these stories, don’t we? The West Wing is one of the highest rated shows on IMDB and one of the most watched prestige shows of the modern era. House of Cards, on Netflix, which is an even more dramatic political show, is one of the most popular streaming shows. And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: Scandal. Anyone watch that?
We love to see powerful people being powerful and being flawed people. We love to have the insider knowledge. We love to have the skinny. And it doesn’t stop in tv shows. Who wouldn’t love to know what has gone on behind the scenes at Redskins park these last few weeks? Who wouldn’t want to find out the real story behind a hired then praised then fired General Manager? Who wouldn’t want to find out what they have offered Kirk Cousins to stay and what is keeping Kirk from signing that long term deal?
A couple weeks ago we finished another season of the Bachelor. And yes, I watched. #teamraven. And don’t worry, she will land on her feet. Don’t worry girl, you’re too good for Nick anyway. But if the show finished a couple weeks ago, we are about a month away from US Weekly and People magazine selling thousands of magazines with the promise of getting the inside info on Nick and Vanessa’s relationship.
And what stories get the most readership in a newspaper? Is it the article explaining the minute details of the new health care law? Or is it the article with anonymous sources that talks about the infighting in the Trump White House? For balances sake we could also say the one that has the people only identified as top Democratic aids revealing how lost the party is. Regardless of party affiliation, we want the dirt. We want the gossip. We want the inside scoop.
This morning, the Bible gives it to us. Well, not about Nick and Vanessa. But about the King of Israel, the kingmaker, and God’s pick to usurp the throne.
I’m going to read the story and then I am going to go back and look at the three different main characters and go into some of their backstory. So take the story for what it is and I’ll fill us in on some of the details as we go further.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” 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 to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
On the surface this looks like a fairly standard Cinderella story. Samuel is sent out to find a new king and it winds up being the ruddy younger sibling that becomes the belle of the ball. But it's so much more. Cinderella is a story of possibility, about rags to riches, and about a prince being surprised by love. But this story involves God. And if this story involves God than its about so much more. It's about how we tend to value things and people and how God tends to value things and people. It’s about what we tend to look for and how different that is from what God tends to look for. And it means everything as we begin to turn the corner and head towards Easter.
But to understand that, to really dive deep into this story, let’s look at the characters involved.
Our story begins with God asking Samuel, we’ll get to him in a minute, why he is grieving over Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel. So Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and then dies just before they make it to the Promised Land. Then Joshua takes over and leads them into the Promised Land and leads them in a military conquest of the land. After Joshua, Israel has no leader but God and God appoints an ad hoc leader, called a judge, during a time of great trial. There are a series of judges that see Israel through different threats. Eventually, however, Israel demands that God give them a king so that they can be like all the other nations. And Saul is chosen.
In the ninth chapter of 1 Samuel we meet Saul for the first time in a story about him being chosen as king. And the first thing we hear about Saul is that he was as handsome as any young man that could be found and he was a head taller than anyone in Israel. That’s Hebrew for tall, dark, and handsome. Initially Saul seems like a strong leader and achieves important military victories. But power goes to his head. Throughout Israel’s short history, there has been a division between the political leader and the priests, between those that order the people’s lives and those that mediate between the people and God. Saul was charged with ordering the people’s lives around the covenant. The priests were charged with offering sacrifices on behalf of the people to God.
Power goes to Saul’s head and he believes he can do anything he wants. After a military victory, Saul offers sacrifices to God, taking for himself the priestly responsibilities. God is greatly offended at this as Saul is acting in defiance of God’s will.
Now here’s what we need to know about Saul: he’s everything we would want in a king on paper. He’s tall, strong, charismatic. Strong leader. Good in battle. Keeps the people safe. Aside from a minor overreach, there’s nothing too bad about him. Except at this point he isn’t what God wants. Because he lacks something that God considers very important. But that gets me ahead of myself.
Our story this morning really follows Samuel, who is that title character of this book. The first book of Samuel begins with his mother, Hannah. Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah. Elkanah’s other wife gave him children, but Hannah was not able to conceive. Hannah prayed to God and Elkanah offered sacrifices on behalf of his wife but to no avail. So Hannah prays that if God would give her a child, she will give the child back to God. Then Hannah does conceive and bears a son, whom she names Samuel. She brings Samuel to the temple where he becomes a priest under Eli. When Samuel was a boy, God calls him and tells Samuel he will be his prophet in Israel.
When the people Israel demand of God a king, God tells Samuel that it will be Samuel that will find the king. Samuel is literally the kingmaker. He’s the one that finds Saul. And it’s easy to see why he would have picked Saul. Again, tall dark handsome. Man’s man. And when God rejects Saul, Samuel takes it hard. My guess is he felt like a failure.
But God sends Samuel out again to find another king. So he goes to Jesse’s house in search of the new king. Samuel first sees Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab. Eliab is tall. Handsome. Everything Saul was. And Samuel thinks this is it! But Samuel is still looking with the same eyes, he’s still looking for the same things. And God has something different in mind.
I think the hardest part about being a follower of Christ is to learn how to consistently evaluate things by God’s standard. We’re brought up seeing the world a certain way, evaluating things based on certain standards. Then God reaches into our lives, changes our world, and we realize that does change the way we are called to live. But it can be so hard to fully realize that in our lives. Oftentimes we revert back to our old way of seeing. We become like Samuel. God has sent him out to find a new king and he is looking for a younger version of the old king. God’s doing a new thing here! We can do that too. We can make choices based on old ways of thinking when God is trying to do something new in our lives.
Samuel's shocked as God rejects son after son until there are no sons left. Ummm…what’s going on? I was told I’d find the king here, I’ve looked for the king, and you’ve said no to all of them. I’ve got this final rose to give out here, God, and no suitors. Yes, that was a Bachelor joke.
But Samuel trusts that God knows what He’s doing and asks the question: is there anyone else? And then enter David.
So Samuels asks Jesse if he has any other sons. And Jesse says there is one more, but he’s the youngest and he’s out tending sheep. This already makes him least qualified to be king. In ancient culture the youngest couldn’t usurp the oldest. If a blessing was coming to a member of the family, it was due the oldest member of the family. And we know how David’s own family valued him: he was out with the livestock.
When he enters we are told that he looks ruddy, rustic, but he has beautiful eyes. And God picks David. Samuel and the rest of us must wonder why. God says that he doesn’t judge people the way we judge people. Samuel was looking on the outward appearance, seeing everything Eliab was and everything David wasn’t. God was looking at their hearts.
Now in the ancient world, the heart was not something that was valued. They wanted strength or wisdom. Compassion. Empathy. Caring. Love. Those were not the traits you prized. But they were what God wanted for His people. They were what God prized. They were the things that God said made a good king.
There’s much more to say on each of these characters but sadly we don’t have the time. Instead we need to ask the question of what all this means for you life and what it means in the context of Lent and Easter.
Lent and Easter are about learning to see with different eyes. Lent and Easter are about learning to see what God values and how that is different from the things we value. Lent prepares us as we seek to ask a simple question: where do we look for our salvation?
The world has an answer to that question. The world says we look for salvation in the almighty dollar. The rich are saved. The world says that we look for salvation in the powerful. Those in politics can be our savior. The world says we look to the strong for salvation. Physical strength and military power can be our savior.
Lent says that peasant born in the boondocks, a slave to the political and military and economic empire, will be our salvation.
Lent prepares us as we ask what winning looks like. The world has an answer to that question. It looks like defeating your opponent, subjugating your opponent, having power over your opponent. It looks like being in control. It looks like being independent. It looks like being immune to strife or difficulty or affliction.
Lent says winning looks like the cross.
Where will you look for your salvation? What will you think represents a victory?
Too often we look at things people look at. Too often we look with old eyes. This Lent, let us consider things how God sees them. God looks at the heart. God finds salvation in the margins. God finds a king in the fields. God finds a Messiah in the boonies. God finds victory in the cross.
As Christians, we are called to do the same. So here is your task today: David, God’s chosen king, was found among the marginalized. Jesus Christ, God’s only son, was found among the marginalized. Your task is to, this week, seek God in the marginalized. Your task it to this week, do something for someone that society marginalizes. Serve someone who is homeless, whether by giving money or giving a meal. Serve at a homeless shelter. Donate to an organization that works with the marginalized in our community or in our world. Do something this week that reaches out to, that puts you in contact with someone whom our society reduces to the margins. Let us pray.