Who Would Think?

John 7:24Contemporary English Version (CEV)
24 Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right.
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1 Samuel 16:1-13Contemporary English Version (CEV)
16 1 One day he said, “Samuel, I’ve rejected Saul, and I refuse to let him be king any longer. Stop feeling sad about him. Put some olive oil in a small container and go visit a man named Jesse, who lives in Bethlehem. I’ve chosen one of his sons to be my king.”
2 Samuel answered, “If I do that, Saul will find out and have me killed.”

“Take a calf with you,” the Lord replied. “Tell everyone that you’ve come to offer it as a sacrifice to me, 3 then invite Jesse to the sacrifice. When I show you which one of his sons I have chosen, pour the olive oil on his head.”

4 Samuel did what the Lord told him and went to Bethlehem. The town leaders went to meet him, but they were terribly afraid and asked, “Is this a friendly visit?”

5 “Yes, it is!” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Get yourselves ready to take part in the sacrifice and come with me.” Samuel also invited Jesse and his sons to come to the sacrifice, and he got them ready to take part.

6 When Jesse and his sons arrived, Samuel noticed Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab. “He has to be the one the Lord has chosen,” Samuel said to himself.

7 But the Lord told him, “Samuel, don’t think Eliab is the one just because he’s tall and handsome. He isn’t the one I’ve chosen. People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts.”

8 Jesse told his son Abinadab to go over to Samuel, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen him.”

9 Next, Jesse sent his son Shammah to him, and Samuel said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen him either.”

10 Jesse had all seven of his sons go over to Samuel. Finally, Samuel said, “Jesse, the Lord hasn’t chosen any of these young men. 11 Do you have any more sons?”

“Yes,” Jesse answered. “My youngest son David is out taking care of the sheep.”

“Send for him!” Samuel said. “We won’t start the ceremony until he gets here.”

12 Jesse sent for David. He was a healthy, good-looking boy with a sparkle in his eyes. As soon as David came, the Lord told Samuel, “He’s the one! Get up and pour the olive oil on his head.”

13 Samuel poured the oil on David’s head while his brothers watched. At that moment, the Spirit of the Lord took control of David and stayed with him from then on.
Samuel returned home to Ramah.

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Do you think much about your leaders, your elected officials? Do you ever wonder how Washington or Lincoln or Roosevelt or Trump got to be president? You don’t have to spend much time wondering, because there have been hundreds of books and articles written about every president ever elected. If you really want to know, you can read a book to discover why and how each of our leaders was elected.

I’m listening to a book now, The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukayama. His ideas of how political leaders arose goes all the way back to the earliest known humans. His description of early societies reflects the loose tribal organizations of the early Hebrews. The earliest communities were family-based. The leaders did not necessarily inherit their positions from fathers, but had to prove themselves to the same people they ruled. This parallels the history presented to us in the books of 1 and 2 Judges and the first part of 1 Samuel.

After the Israelites moved into Cana, after Moses died, they existed as separate tribes, united by their belief in God, by their ancestors, and by the teachings handed down by the priests through the generations. They were ruled by military leaders. If you read the books of Judges, you will read descriptions of wars and battles, over and over and over and over. Collectively, this is called the era of the Judges. The Judges were leaders who gained authority by their wisdom and their reputations.

The Hebrew nation was not centrally organized, but neighboring nations were, and the Hebrews thought that they would be more prosperous and safer if they were led by one king instead of local leaders.

Part of the reason was that newest judges or leaders that were in charge were not trustworthy, and sadly, they were the prophet Samuel’s sons:

1 Samuel 8 1-2 Samuel had two sons. The older one was Joel, and the younger one was Abijah. When Samuel was getting old, he let them be leaders at Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father. They were dishonest and accepted bribes to give unfair decisions.

4 One day the nation’s leaders came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said, “You are an old man. You set a good example for your sons, but they haven’t followed it. Now we want a king to be our leader, just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!”

6 Samuel was upset to hear the leaders say they wanted a king, so he prayed about it.

Back in those times, God interacted with leaders directly. God warned Samuel that a king wouldn’t be any better.

7 The Lord answered:

Samuel, do everything they want you to do. I am really the one they have rejected as their king. 8 Ever since the day I rescued my people from Egypt, they have turned from me to worship idols. Now they are turning away from you. 9 Do everything they ask, but warn them and tell them how a king will treat them.

10 Samuel told the people who were asking for a king what the Lord had said:

11 If you have a king, this is how he will treat you. He will force your sons to join his army. Some of them will ride in his chariots, some will serve in the cavalry, and others will run ahead of his own chariot. 12 Some of them will be officers in charge of a thousand soldiers, and others will be in charge of fifty. Still others will have to farm the king’s land and harvest his crops, or make weapons and parts for his chariots. 13 Your daughters will have to make perfume or do his cooking and baking.

14 The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. 15 He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes and give it to his officers and officials.

16 The king will take your slaves and your best young men and your donkeys and make them do his work. 17 He will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats. You will become the king’s slaves, 18 and you will finally cry out for the Lord to save you from the king you wanted. But the Lord won’t answer your prayers.

God tried to discourage the idea of having a king, a single ruler with so much power. His warnings still ring true today: substitute the word “government” for “king” and you have a description of what people don’t like about “the government.” On the other hand, we live in a much different culture now. We appreciate the smooth roads and the Social Security and the safe elections provided by our government.

God choose the first king for the Israelites. His name was Saul, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin.

Saul’s main talent was as a military leader. If you read through the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of 1 Samuel, you will read about thousands of soldiers and lots of killing. You will also read about Saul going against God’s instructions, as delivered by Samuel. Everything went downhill after that, which brings us to today’s story of the anointing of David.

In this scene of surprises, we find a great nugget of wisdom, as reiterated by Jesus hundreds of years later: 24 Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right.

God has chosen a second king to replace Saul. His choice is unpredictable. It’s not uncommon for the oldest child to be in charge or to inherit or to have more responsibility. I remember my Great-aunt Edna talking about her grandfather Sullenger. It turns out he was the sixth son of a French count. In the tradition of the family, the oldest son inherited the estate. The other children were left on their own. Grandfather Sullenger emigrated to the United States. Her memory of him was that he always wore a white, pressed shirt and she remembered him sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. She gave the impression that he might not have contributed much to the family income.

God did not choose another king from the tribe of Benjamin. This time, God looked at the tribe of Judah, at the family of Jesse, and God found just the right king. The chosen one was not the eldest, but the youngest.

Imagine the drama. First of all, this whole choosing thing was done in secret, because Saul was still king. Samuel had to make up a story about going to Bethlehem to see Jesse; he said he was going for religious reasons. Nobody would be suspicious of a prophet doing something religious. Then, probably at a big fancy meal, Samuel announces his intention and looks around the room at Jesse’s sons. Each is introduced, from oldest to youngest. At each introduction, Samuel expects that son to be God’s choice. Nope. Nope. Not that one. No. No. No. Nope. Seven rejections. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are you sure you don’t have more sons?” It turns out the youngest is out in the pasture, taking care of the sheep. Samuel calls for him and he arrives straight from the field, dusty and dirty. God surprises everyone by choosing this very young, very inexperienced young man, David.

God saw in David abilities that were not yet apparent to those who knew him. David’s story is fascinating and I encourage you to read about his life as a king and as a very human, very talented, very sinful, very faithful human being. David’s sins were as great as his victories, and yet God stood by him, and David trusted God his whole life long.

The point is that God sees beyond our external appearance to what is inside of us. This is so important for us to emulate. And so hard. Because we depend on our eyes and ears, we let our eyes and ears interpret what we see and hear.

How many times have you seen someone, maybe for the first time, and stayed away from them because you knew they weren’t the right kind of person for you. Or, on the other hand, how many times did you fall for someone’s good looks and later find out that the good looks hid bad behavior?

When I sit at the Fish Fry, I watch the people as they stand in line, as they wait at their tables, as they peel off the foil from their baked potatoes. I see someone who has hands that are stained from working with machinery or someone who loves jewelry, or someone who always wears the same sweatshirt or someone who used to have a lot more hair. None of those observations tell me anything about the person.

Many of you have worked in places where you meet strangers on a regular basis. How you treat those strangers probably depends on two things: first, their appearance, and second, how they treat you. Your reaction has little to do with what they are feeling or thinking because you don’t have access to that information.

Only when I get to sit with that person and chat with them, only when someone comes up to me to tell me about their friend who just died, do I learn a little of the depth and richness of that person. In a conversation, a few strands of that persons beautiful life are unraveled and rewoven into the beautiful work of creation that person is. We never know anyone until we spend time with them.

I remember a tour guide we had one time; I think it was when Bim and I took the train across the Canadian Rockies. She was so assured and put-together and witty and organized and I was sure I had nothing in common with her. I didn’t bother to get to know her—-and there were thirty other people on the trip, so there was no reason to get to know her better. However, at the last place we stopped on the way home, she sat with Bim and me at a flimsy table in a rest stop and, because she had learned that Bim taught special education, the conversation turned in the direction of family dynamics. She shared that she had been in an abusive relationship, with a husband who treated her very badly. I gained a new respect for this woman had overcome emotional and financial battles to be the very successful tour guide that I admired.

Each of us has in us great gifts. Sometimes we are not able to use those gifts; sometimes we are ignored or misunderstood because our gifts are not apparent.

Think of the twelve disciples. They were so ordinary, so under the radar of anything important happening in the Roman Empire, so under the radar of the priests in the temple in Jerusalem, and yet—they ended up preaching in the temple in Jerusalem. Some of you have joked with me about preaching on a Sunday when I’m not here. It might not be so funny.

God surprises us. I was supposed to be an English teacher. I was for a long time.

It used to be that women couldn’t be preachers. My vision for myself when I was four years old was that I would be a farmer or a preacher. I learned by the time I was ten that women couldn’t be farmers or preachers. Surprise. I’ll never be a farmer, but here I am.

God calls us. Let me give you a warning. Don’t think God hasn’t noticed you. Don’t think God has retired you from the lineup. Instead, be open for God to surprise you. God is the only one who can judge you accurately. Don’t get too comfortable. God has a plan for you, not for the day you’ll die, but for what you’ll be doing everyday of your life. Put on your favorite sweatshirt or your fancy jewelry and be ready to get your hands dirty. God is watching you. Amen.

What would Preppers do with Manna?

John 6:51New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

Exodus 16:1-18New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

16 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.

 

Costco. Sam’s. Truckload sales. Food Warehouse. Stock up.

What pictures come to mind when you hear these words?
I picture large quantities of every thing I might use in my household. If I go grocery shopping at Sam’s, I can’t buy just one can of pineapple. I have to buy eight. If I want to buy dish soap, I have to buy two large bottles. Sam’s was designed for restaurant owners. When you run a restaurant, you need large quanties. Even though it was not designed for the grocery shopper, many of us use Sam’s to buy products and ingredients that we use frequently. It’s nice not to have to run to the grocery store every time you want to make a pineapple upside down cake. It’s cost-effective and convenient to have eight can of pineapple on hand.

Doomsday preppers. Survivalists. Are you familiar with those groups? They have been around since the 1920’s, prepared to survive major government and financial collapse, from the Great Depression to the Cold War to 9/11, and current events give them plenty of reason to stay active.

I remember the Cold War. In our country schools, we didn’t practice hiding under our desks. But I dreamed about “fall-out shelters.” The shelters, usually built underground, would protect us from radioactive fallout from nuclear bombs. I designed countless shelters, seated at my desk; it was more fun than doing math problems. My shelter was designed to hold me, my classmates and my favorite teacher. It never occurred to me to design a shelter that would hold my parents or my brother or my sister. That shows you how close our class was, what great friends we were. Or how immature I was. We were 15 students in a one-room, frame school house. No running water. Two outhouses. I don’t remember what luxuries I added to my architectural designs for our nuclear survival. I know we wouldn’t have survived long, because I didn’t think too much about stockpiling food. I was thinking of how much fun it would be to party like an adolescent for day after day.

Preppers, survivalists, on the other hand, prepare quite wisely. They stockpile foods with no expiration date, they have specially built “B.O.L.s” —“bug-out locations”—places that are prepared to protect them from from looters and other displaced people. I have a distant relative who is a prepper. She has spent thousands of dollars on packaged food and stores this food in her basement. Preppers also stock other necessities, including communications equipment and military equipment. They are prepared for anything.

There is a great deal of wisdom in being prepared for what could happen, what might happen. Have you ever been at the grocery store on the day before a blizzard? Record crowds are buying bread and milk and cookies. People who live in hurricane areas have learned to stock up when a storm approaches. If by chance you have to evacuate your home at the last minute, you are allowed to carry only one bag per person. I learned this from a friend, who put her work computer and bottles of water in the bags of her and her daughter.

We like to be prepared for disaster because we value security and safety. Sometimes we’re able to prepare, sometimes, not.

The Israelites, the families who fled from the oppression of the Egyptian government, had little time to prepare. Most telling is that the bread they took with them had not yet risen. Exodus 12: 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

Their first goal was to escape from the Egyptian army. God parted the Red Sea and they escaped from Egypt, across the sea and into a sort of no-man’s land. They were free, but freedom is complicated. They were physically safe from being captured, but they had no water to drink. God provided water. Then they ran out of food. They can’t plant a garden and wait for it to grow. They need food immediately. God provides again. At night flocks of quail land all around them, so they are provided with a good source of protein. In the morning, when they wake up, they find a mysterious substance on the ground. It is good to eat and it is nourishing. The people’s reaction to this flaky white substance that covered the ground like dew is: “man-hu?” meaning “what is it?” — the Hebrew reference informing the name of this bread that God gives to still the people’s hunger.

God saved their lives, their liberated lives. God also taught them a lesson, and it is a lesson for us, too.
God sent only enough manna to fill each person for one day. If anyone tried to gather more manna than was necessary for one day’s meals, the leftovers spoiled. One could not stock up, one could not guarantee that her family would have food for tomorrow. The lesson the Israelites had to learn was “God will provide.” God provided rescue, God provided freedom from slavery, God provided clean drinking water, and then God provided food. It is a hard lesson. We want to be secure and we find it hard to feel secure if we can’t prepare for what is coming —or might come—-tomorrow. The Israelites were so vulnerable: they’d had not time to prepare, not time to gather, no time to prepare extra meals for a long journey.

That journey turned out to be forty years, by the way. How many of you here are under the age of forty? If you had been a Hebrew child, you would have spent your entire life wandering, with thousands of your relatives, in a harsh wilderness that did not make your life easy.

That’s one of the things about freedom. It is no guarantee that life will be easy, that we will be provided with what we need. We know a lot about freedom—or at least we hear a lot about freedom. We call our country “the home of the free and the brave.” We celebrate our freedom by shooting off fireworks and singing the national anthem. We celebrate our freedom every time we cross a county line without having to show a passport. We celebrate our freedom by not having to listen for the sounds of soldiers marching in the streets or worrying about planes flying overhead. We celebrate our freedom by buying groceries without standing in line for hours. We celebrate our freedom by sharing opinions in conversation and on Facebook. We celebrate a freedom that we assume is the product of war and fighting and arguing.

Right here, right now, in this piece of time and space, we can take our freedom for granted for a while. The Israelites found that freedom came with a price. But they also learned that someone else could pay the price: they had to learn to trust in God. They had to learn that God would provide guidance, that God would provide all that was necessary for human sustenance. They had to learn to trust God and God alone. They could not trust their own instincts,which was to plan ahead, to stock up, to have extra, just in case God didn’t come through.

The whole time I was writing this, trying to preach “God will provide,” I kept thinking of people in Texas and Florida, and especially people in Puerto Rico. Have you ever been without a drink of water or a morsel of food for more than a day? Have you ever had truly nowhere to live, nothing to give yourself or your family to nourish or protect them? How do we trust God to provide when there are no provisions within a hundred miles? How does one survive on nothing? In other words, where is God?
Where is God in Puerto Rico, where is God in the Sudan, where is God in Syria, in Greece, in Myanmar? Where is God today with the children who are wandering in the freedom of escape from countries plagued with war and famine, but still homeless and hungry?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to do.” Janis Joplin sang those sad words to us in the sixties. Freedom comes with its own demands. Paul writes in Galatians 5: 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

In the hurting places of the world, does God provide? Yes, God provides. My take on this is that God provides through people like you and me. Even in the remotest places in the world, there are people like you and me providing help, providing water, providing food, providing shelter. It is slow work, hard work, frustrating work, both for the worker and for those who need help. It is slow work from our perspective, too, as we watch from a distance, wishing, praying, hoping for more help, more relief.

More and more, I find myself filling with despair instead of trust. When I try to reconcile the hurt in the world with my own luxurious and safe setting, I question whether God provides.
God has provided for me, but where is God in San Juan, in Davenport, in our own community? We know that there are children in our own community who are hungry on weekends. Why doesn’t God provide them with two days’ worth of food? Well, God does. God provides us with plastic sacks and fruit cups and canned soup and string cheese and, as ambassadors of God, we help God provide. We put a jar out in the middle of the car show and God helped us to provide help for hurricane victims.

We can’t sit on our hands, waiting for God to provide. We have to use our hands, our talents. That’s what we do as Christians. God can provide because God has us, ready to step up, ready to find creative ways, ready to go beyond passing the offering plate.

God has commissioned us to provide. We do it no only with gifts, but with prayers and with trust.

In our own lives, we have learned that God provides for us what we need. Especially in the hard times, we have learned to trust God, we have learned to turn to God, trusting that God will provide.

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explained what the First Article of the Apostle’s creed meant to him. That explanation has been memorized by generations and it still holds true.

The First Article: Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

In our culture that constantly urges us to provide for ourselves, that constantly urges us to surround ourselves with items of beauty and convenience and pleasure, it is good to reflect on the little that the Hebrew people had. It is good to reflect on the little that the Syrian refugees have, that the Myanmar refugees have, that the hurricane survivors have. It is good to remind ourselves that God will provide.

God loves us. God has made promises to us and God does not break promises. God will provide. Amen.