Sermon on 1 Samuel 16:1-13

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I’ve been enjoying my morning walks and runs in the arboretum this fall.  There’s so much beauty to take in.  The turkeys.  The way the trees reflect on Lake Wingra.  The changing leaves.  It’s fun to hear the crunchy leaves underneath my feet.  And I’m always amazed at how loud a little chipmunk can be in the fall.  I can be jogging along, and I swear there’s a dinosaur in the woods, when, in reality, it’s just a little creature no bigger than my hand scampering through the fallen leaves.  On the same morning, I almost missed seeing a couple of deer further back in the woods.  They were so remarkable quiet in that setting.  If it weren’t for the flash of their white tails, I would have missed them completely.  These animals completely defy my assumptions about them.  In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that small would equal loud, and big would equal quiet.  Things aren’t always as they appear.

Last week, we had the story of God calling young Samuel to confront his mentor—Eli the priest.  Samuel heard the voice of God loud and clear, but he needed Eli to help him identify it.  God chose Samuel to be the next prophet and leader of God’s people, instead of Eli’s corrupt sons. 

Today we’ve jumped ahead nearly a dozen chapters.  With such a promising start, we might have expected Samuel to have solved all of Israel’s problems.  Everyone living peacefully and following all of God’s teachings.  Everyone fulfilled and satisfied.  Everyone growing in faith. 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.  Samuel’s sons turned out just as bad as Eli’s sons, and were too corrupt to take their father’s place.  The people weren’t satisfied with just a prophet and God’s teachings.  They wanted to be like all the other countries and have a king.  They begged and whined for a king so much that God relented. 

Samuel anointed the first king, Saul, and it turned out to be a disaster.  War, obsession with power, and paranoia all plagued this first king.  Samuel tried to warn them that kings weren’t all they’re cracked up to be, but they didn’t listen. 

So now, yet again, the Hebrews found themselves in need of change. 

The prophet Samuel got instructions from God to essentially pull off a coup.  It’s not exactly what I’d expect out of God, and I have some unanswerable questions, but it’s the story we’ve got, so I’m going with it for now. 

God sent Samuel to a little out of the way village called Bethlehem (maybe you’ve heard of it?)  It wasn’t exactly the place you’d expect to find a future king.  But Samuel listened to God, and found a father named Jesse.  God told Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. 

This is where I think things get interesting.  Last week we had young Samuel hearing the voice of God loud and clear.  This week, we have an old Samuel, who seems to have some trouble waiting for God’s voice.  As Jesse brings out his sons, Samuel assumes that the oldest and strongest would be the one God wanted.  But God had to firmly tell Samuel no, and God had to repeat God’s self six times. 

After all his years of being a prophet and speaking for God, Samuel still had to learn this basic lesson: “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."  God chose the youngest and smallest to lead. 

Things aren’t always as they appear…

We might think we know what God is all about.  We like to think that we’re doing God’s will.  We have formulas and patterns that we like to fit life into.  We’re so good at rationalizing and fooling ourselves.  But God is so much bigger than our thoughts, and love rarely conforms to our set formulas.  God sees so much deeper than we see. 

God sees beyond all our junk.  God knows what lies beneath all the different masks we like to wear.  God knows what hides deep inside our hearts.  The judgement, the shame, the fear, the guilt, the joy, the hate, the love, the pain, …everything.  God sees things inside us that we can’t even see ourselves.  God has a way of choosing those least expected to be chosen.  God often has an alternative way forward that we struggle to see. 

God sees the world differently than we do.  We look for beauty, or power, or signs of wealth, and irrationally value people who possess these things.  We let beautiful, powerful, wealthy people get away with things we shouldn’t let them get away with.  We tend to elect leaders who are taller.  We hire people who look a certain way.  We discriminate against people who don’t look like us or fit into our norms.   We do not see the way God sees.  We look at the outward appearance.  God looks on the heart. 

This can be terrifying news.  And good news.  We all have parts of our story that we’d rather keep hidden.  Those things we’d rather not admit.  It’s kind of scary that God knows everything about us.  And yet, it can also be freeing.  God knows everything about you, and God still loves you.  And even more, God sees potential in you.  God sees that image of God inside you.  God sees that original goodness from Genesis 1.  God sees new ways forward that we can’t see yet. 

Things aren’t always as they appear.  Saul didn’t turn out to be the king everyone had hoped for.  Samuel had a hard time seeing what God was calling him to do.  Even David, for that matter, did some deplorable things.  The monarchy in general wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Practically every story we read in the Bible brings with it a fair share of messes and mistakes. 


And yet, through each story, each generation, God continues to see through all that.  God keeps showing up.  God persists in pointing a new way forward.  God calls us to transformation, from the death of old ways to new life.  God sees that image of God within us.  God sees something worth dying for.  God sees us with a love that defies all our expectations and formulas.      (Read together Psalm 51)