If you remember, last week the people of Israel wanted what everyone else had—a king. And Samuel anointed Saul as king. That didn’t go so well, Saul didn’t keep God’s commandments, and God, the Eternal One, decided that Samuel had to anoint someone else. Of course on the sly, since Saul, the resident king, would be none too happy about being booted out of his anointed position.
So Samuel goes up to Bethlehem, to Jesse’s house, to sacrifice to God, supposedly, but really to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as God’s next chosen (in the presence of the Bethlehemite elders—getting the whole community in on this act of treason). It was a good family to pick, since Jesse had a lot of sons.
Samuel, and probably everyone else, assumed that God would pick the first-born, a big strapping man, Eliab. But God said, no, not that one. Then came Abinadab, who was the second born—let’s say, the one who was good with figures. But God didn’t choose him either. So Samuel moved on to Shammah, maybe he was a people person—good at communication, and compromise. But God said no to Shammah as well. And then our story teller speeds up the pace, not even naming the rest of Jesse’s seven sons. Nope, none of them.
And you imagine Samuel looking around, saying “Is that all there is?” and wondering what kind of game God was playing. But there was one more son, the baby, the weirdo who spent time playing on his harp, and really wasn’t good for much but tending the sheep. And yes, you all know the ending—this was the one that God had chosen. And Samuel anointed David, son of Jesse, as the one to become king of Israel.
I was struck by the drama we used to introduce the confession—it reminded me of the parable of the talents—where we are all given talents and need to figure out what we are going to do with them. I believe Seasons of the Spirit felt it sprang from the gospel lessons about seeds as well as the Samuel reading about who God chose. I’ve just been looking at fields in New York State, and even now, in the middle of June, there are some fields that are just being plowed. And then there are some fields that have corn that is a foot high, and other fields where it is higher. No one looks at each corn kernel and asks, are you going to meet your potential? We understand that there are so many factors—when it is planted, what type of weather we have that year, the soil it is planted in, the way the farmer has tilled, and fertilizer, and irrigated, and planted.
But all of it is truly a miracle. For somehow, that kernel of corn that one plants, is gifted by God to become a stalk that will produce an ear of corn, and so on and so forth. That is the way I look at it. There are a lot of nurture factors that go into it, but at the root, there is the kernel, or shall we say, mustard seed’s nature. You can’t look at a seed, like a sunflower seed, or a corn kernel, or a mustard seed, and guess what that seed will grow up to be. We “know” because we have watched it happen. But there is not much clue in the seed as to what color, or how tall, or even what type of plant will appear. In seed form, in the very beginning, the finished product is known only to God.
I think that is what the drama is getting at—we are each gifted with something special, something unique that we can give the world. And yes, there will be some who will be nurtured better, they will have more advantages, they will “luck out” and not have to face as many hardships, they will have been planted in good soil, with adequate rain, with all the opportunity to be the best that they can be. And others will not have all that going for them. But that doesn’t change the fact that each one of us has a gift, and it is our job, our responsibility, to figure out what that gift is, and use it for good in God’s world.
Now I’m pretty sure that David had no idea that he had a gift of kingship. He knew he was good at fiddling around on his harp. He knew that in the way the world worked, he didn’t matter much, the eighth son of a landowner and sheep herder, in a small backwater town, Bethlehem. He was a nobody from nowhere. And yet, God chose him. Let those of us who have ears to hear, hear.
And I take notice that even Samuel, the one that God had been speaking to since he was a little boy, the one that had steered the people of Israel through many years (although he hadn’t been quite as successful in raising sons who were of his ilk), the one who was so zealous for the Lord that he argued against this “king” idea, and anointed Saul under protest, even this Samuel could not look at people and know what gifts God had given them. He looked at the outward appearance, while God looks at the heart. Let those of us who have ears to hear, hear.
And I remember that even though God had gifted David with so much—with the Spirit of the Lord resting on him mightily, even God knowing David’s heart, that did not mean that David was going to lead a charmed life. David made mistakes, and misused some of his gifts. Just because God has seen our heart and chosen us does not mean that we don’t have a lot of work to do in bringing those gifts to the world. Let those of us who have ears to hear, hear.
These lessons about gifts and responsibilities don’t apply just to us as individuals, but to us collectively as a church as well. It is part of our calling as people of God to listen to what our gifts might be, and how we might share them with others. I was very taken with a story that Seasons included for this week. It was about the United Methodist Church on the West Side of Manhattan. Their Mustard Seed story is that 35 years ago, they would assemble bags of food and carry them down several old staircases and out into the entryway to share with their neighbors in need—“a small contribution toward easing the problem of food insecurity.”
And that could have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Their few bags has grown into New York City’s largest emergency food pantry serving more than 35,000 families with enough healthy food for 850,000 meals annually. The WSCAH, West Side Campaign Against Hunger is a supermarket-style operation, with customers choosing their own food, filling shopping carts, and “checking out” when they are done. There is milk in the refrigerators and fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. And it is a customer cooperative. The very people needing help are the ones who stock the shelves and help people check out.
There is a social service counselor, and bilingual counselors connect customers to programs like food stamps and health care. They have connections to English language classes and job training. They have even instituted a “Customer Chef Training Program” that teaches cooking and food preparation skills that can help them gain employment. WSCAH tries to see the potential in each customer and seeks to help each person reach that potential. It is empowering and supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the one of the most prosperous cities in the world. (Seasons, A Mustard Seed Story, extra resource sheet, June 17, 2018 )
And that leads me to a final lesson—we never reach the end of sharing our gifts. It is something that changes and expands and grows and surprises us again and again.
I challenge us to take a look at ourselves and what we think God has given us as gifts. I challenge us to then respond to God’s gift by figuring out creative ways to use those gifts for good. I challenge us to take a look at what we as a church are doing in our community and world and imagine what more we could do.
We can’t be distracted or bullied or talked out of this calling. We need to have our ears ready to hear when God speaks. We need to be willing to accept the anointing that God provides. And we need to step up to the task of letting our little light shine for all to see.
May God grant us courage and wisdom and strength for the journey.