Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Ephesians 5:8-14
I have mentioned before how often scriptures show God blessing someone unexpectedly. It is often the second son over the privileged first son: Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; or someone farther down the list like Joseph, eleventh of 12 brothers, chosen over all the rest.
Today it is David, eighth son of Jesse:
David the shepherd boy;
David the gifted musician, who is credited with writing many of the Psalms;
David who would kill Goliath with his sling;
David the dear and faithful friend of Jonathan;
David who would replace Saul as king of Israel and displace Jonathan’s hopes of the throne;
David who would conquer Jerusalem, making it an Israelite city for the first time;
David who wanted to build the temple but was not permitted because he had too much blood on his hands;
David who would dance wildly before the Lord and disgrace himself before his wife (Saul’s daughter);
David who would abuse his power to have sex with Bathsheba and then would arrange the murder of Uriah, her husband, to cover it up (unsuccessfully) and marry her, becoming a poster boy for the “Me Too” movement;
David, whose eldest son Absalom would try to seize his crown (Absalom died in the rebellion and David went into anguished mourning);
David, who was called a man after God’s own heart.
David lived a passionate life and that included a passion for God. His passions could also distract him into selfish and hurtful behaviours. He wasn’t someone who did things by half measures and he needed people like the prophet Nathan to call him to account when he overstepped.
Nobody knew that all of this drama would be ahead. When Samuel went down to Bethlehem to anoint a new king, the people couldn’t see the future, but they did know that God had rejected Saul and that they needed a new king.
Samuel had the same kinds of assumptions in his mind as everyone else when he looked for a new king. When he looked at Eliab, David’s eldest brother, he saw someone tall and good looking, muscular and fit: a suitable look for a soldier. And since Kings were primarily responsible for defending the land, Eliab looked like someone who might command the respect of the men who would be fighting.
He looked like someone who might have charisma: that leadership quality that can persuade people to follow and to work together successfully. They weren’t stamping out coins yet in those days but having a monarch who looks good on the money can help a nation’s self-image.
Samuel was clearly surprised when his assumptions were wrong and even more surprised when six other brothers were also rejected and they had to send for David, the child minding the sheep.
He wasn’t fully grown yet. Clearly, God was more patient than the people since David couldn’t replace Saul right away. He’d have to grow up before he could lead. They could see he was healthy and good looking but he was not yet fully formed, had not reached his full stature yet. He was like any child: full of potential, but also full of unknowns.
The core message of this passage can be found in God’s words to Samuel: For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Humans seem to have built-in prejudices when it comes to looking at both people and situations. We know what we find attractive and it may be caused by what we’ve grown up with: what is most familiar and comforting.
It may be caused by certain biological imperatives if you can believe certain branches of science: balanced and regular features suggesting good health and the prospect of healthy offspring.
There are all kinds of theories about what helps us develop our assumptions and prejudices but wherever they come from, they are mental and emotional short-cuts that save us from having to think too deeply in our day-to-day dealings.
The challenge of this reading is to resist those short cuts. If God looks past the surface, if God looks inside to see the truth, then it is our calling to learn to do the same. The writer of Ephesians refers to this as being children of light: walking in the light and overcoming what is hidden.
We’ve heard this lesson before as we’ve tried to apply it to our dealings with other people. We are called to look past the surface, to get past racial, cultural, linguistic and other differences, to see the real value of the person standing in front of us.
That is a good lesson but it’s not the direction I wish to take today. Rather, we should consider what the anointing of David says to us in our current situation as we consider the future.
That’s exactly what was at stake for Israel in the anointing of a new King – their very future.
Samuel went to Bethlehem with the expectation of a quick fix to find a young, strong, charismatic new king who could step in and replace Saul right away.
What God showed him was a new leader who would take some time, who defied expectations by being too young and smelling of sheep. Later, when David went to fight Goliath he was still too small to wear the armour. As an adult he proved himself as a general but he used unconventional means, not only against the giant but by becoming a guerrilla leader long before that word was ever invented. David could think creatively and move in circles when everyone expected straight lines.
Yesterday, Knox went through a visioning exercise to determine where we are now. The next step will be to discover where we want to go. As we look to the future it will be important for us to recognize our assumptions and prejudices, to look beyond the surface, to look past the quick fixes that might seem to offer solutions.
We will need to look inside: to discover the truth of what we can become; to find the unexpected inspirations that change the way we do things. This will take some effort – we are usually quite blind to our own assumptions. Samuel had to be prodded by God to overcome his, and we will take some prodding too.
We can discover our blind spots by listening to the voices of people who don’t usually speak up, or the people who present uncomfortable ideas. And instead of simply rejecting what we hear, we can stop and ask ourselves: “Why does this bother me?”; “ What assumptions am I bringing that I should examine?”.
It doesn’t mean we have to accept every wild idea that comes up but it does mean we have to look inside and see ourselves as clearly as possible, including all those invisible bits that need fixing.
We have gone through lots of visioning exercises before and while we have gained some benefits, we have not really been transformed.
I believe that we can be transformed and become the community God wants us to be, but only if we learn to look inside, discover what is truly within and take the time to realize the potential that God sees within us.