Sunday, June 17, 2012

Called and Listening: Sermon on 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Scripture can be found here...

I was driving on Route 17 the other day, and I saw one of those displays that gives you a heads up on the traffic information you need to know. “Expect long delays,” it said.

Immediately I thought of David.

As so often happens when following the lectionary, it feels as if we’re just being dropped into the middle of the story here, and of course, we are. This is a story of a transition, between God’s anointed—Saul—who has lost God’s favor, and God’s newly anointed—David—who has found God’s favor. God has sent Samuel to be a kind of divine head-hunter, traveling to Bethlehem, to find God a new king over God’s people.

It takes a while.

Surely, this is the one! Samuel thinks to himself, as Jesse’s impressive sons are paraded before him, one after another. No, not so much, God replies. And God reminds Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… for God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

God looks on the heart.

It can take a while.

Finally, Samuel asks his host, Is that it? No more sons? Whereupon Jesse sort of shrugs his shoulders, and says, well, there’s my youngest, I guess, but we didn’t bother to bring him in. For one thing, he’s watching the sheep.

This tells us so much about the son—whose name has not even been mentioned yet. We even have to wait to hear his name.

The youngest, therefore the lowest in the family pecking order.

The youngest, therefore the one out watching the sheep, therefore the one whom of whom no great things are expected—he is not even paraded before the visiting prophet.

The one out watching the sheep, therefore a pretty strong and hardy fellow. Remember, shepherds were tough guys, fighting off predators, and poachers, and generally ready for a fight, day or night. These qualities would come in handy for David by and by.

On the other hand, the one out watching the sheep, therefore one used to having large expanses of time stretching out before him.  This quality would also come in handy for David, as God has Samuel anoint David to divine service, and then… nothing much happens. Not for a while. The time between David’s anointing and David’s actually assuming the throne is measured in years.


These things can take a while. It’s a good thing David had other things to occupy him. Things like making music. David is credited with pretty much the entire songbook of the bible, the book of psalms. And, really, making music is a noble occupation in its own right, at least as noble as political leadership, in my honest opinion. If all we knew of David is that he made music, that he wrote lyrics for the worship of God, songs like “The Lord is my Shepherd,” we would still remember him and revere him and think of him as a great ancestor in faith. For this reason, I like David’s story for today, for Music Celebration Sunday.

But I like David’s story for today for another even more wonderful and more universally applicable reason. I like David’s story for today because it is the story of a call to service, an anointing by God, which is not immediately followed by great and impressive deeds, but which is followed, rather, by a stretch of time. A delay. A discernment process, perhaps, during which David is just trying to feel out this whole thing, during which David is simply moving with the winds of change and the winds of God’s Spirit, into the next thing God has in mind for him.

God looks on the heart.

Today we have welcomed seven new members into the life and ministry of this congregation. And I am on record with all these folks as saying that I have a one-year-no-pounce policy. By this I mean: I believe that new members of a congregation ought to have a stretch of time during which to simply be. To sit in the metaphorical meadow of congregational life, in the presence of God and God’s people, simply listening. Some who join a church are going to have a very clear idea of how they would like to serve, and they may feel called to do that right away. Some of you have already told me how you would like to serve. For others, this is a process of discernment over time, and it can be good to take the time that is needed.

And so, I offer, for your consideration, David.

David, who is brought in from the field, from his daily work, to be anointed to God’s service.

David, who did not expect to find himself chosen for such work—and whose family sure didn’t expect it of him.

David, who had a variety of qualities, many skills, all of which proved not only useful, but filled with blessing and beauty for his work on God’s behalf.

David, who didn’t necessarily see the outcome at the outset.

So I say to you, those of you who are lifelong members as well as those of you who have been members for just a couple of minutes or a couple of days or a couple of months:

It can take a while.

You are called, each and every one of you. You are anointed to God’s service. Now, listen. Sit in that meadow of God’s love, and listen. Listen for the voice of God, for the wind of the Spirit, for the winds of change. Listen—to God’s word in Jesus, to God’s word at coffee hour, to God’s word in your day-to-day routine. Listen. God has a plan for you. It can take a while for it to unfold. Expect some delays. But just keep listening. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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