John 7:24Contemporary English Version (CEV)
24 Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right.
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.
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.