This is the sermon for the 9 a.m. worship service of The Stand, currently meeting at Blandford UMC in Prince George, Virginia.
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow.” These are the immortal words of Yoda, the Jedi Master, in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back after Luke Skywalker arrives on his home planet of Dagoba, and doubts that the little, green guy can actually teach him anything about the Force. The Force, which I often think of when talking about the Holy Spirit, lives inside of everyone, but some have learned to channel its powers for good or evil.
And Yoda knows that it’s not the size of the Jedi in the fight that matters but the power of the Force in the Jedi.
Too often though, whether we’re mystically aligned with the Force or not, we read books solely based on their covers, and measure people based on what we can see, whether it’s attractiveness, skin color, dress, or behavior. Thankfully, God doesn’t treat us that way, and we should all be eternally grateful for that.
In I Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel is sent to find a new king. The old king, Saul, just isn’t working out; he’s power hungry, prone to madness, and losing sight of whatever belief he had in God in the first place. Makes a perfect leader, right? But Samuel is terrified, because he’s afraid of what Saul might do to him if he finds out that Samuel is annointing a new king while Saul still sits on the throne.
Saul is the prototypical “leader” that people expected back then. He’s big, strong, mean, and driven. He’s sought out authority and power, and God has allowed him to make it this far. But Saul thinks all of the things that everyone else thinks about him are true; Saul believes his own hype. And God has had enough of Saul, whether Samuel is afraid of the bully king or not.
Sent to find a new king, Samuel arrives in a small backwoods town called Bethlehem (you know that name when it comes to Christmas), and finds that the people are scared, too. That’s the unfortunate side effect of bad leadership: the people live in fear, they don’t know what to expect, and they always assume that change means things will be worse than they already are!
But Samuel is there to make things right, even if he doesn’t get it yet.
Directed by God, Samuel arrives at the home of Jesse, and begins to inspect Jesse’s sons, starting with the oldest. And one by one, God tells Samuel, “Nope. Not him.”
Can you imagine if you were hiring for a position at work, and you interviewed the potential candidates, evaluating them based on what you assume company policy is? If you questioned and examined them based on the person currently holding the job, only to have the boss arrive and say, “Um, no, that’s not what I meant”?
That’s what happens to Samuel the prophet, until he finally recognizes that Jesse must have another son. A son who is so inconsequential in the scheme of things, that he’s left out watching the sheep (the lowest level job before watching the pigs). This son, David, isn’t someone you needed to bother calling in when the prophet shows up at your door. It’d be like if the President or the Beatles showed up at your house, and you neglected to tell them that you had another family member they should meet, just because you didn’t think that sibling or child was important enough to be present.
So David is summoned and God keeps whispering to Samuel what it is that God is looking for. “Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected [the older brothers]. The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” God is measuring David’s intangibles, measuring his stickwithitness, his intestinal fortitude, his faithfulness.
And God sees something in David that is different than what he sees in all of David’s brothers, and all of the other young men he could’ve picked to be the next king.
When David finally comes in, all sweaty and grimy from herding the sheep, God says, “Rise and anoint him. He is the one.” God doesn’t care that David isn’t what everyone else is looking for; he only cares that David is who God wants for the job.
The closing verse of that interchange is that “from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.”
Samuel went looking for a king, and God showed him a shepherd boy. But who really knows what David expected. Did he come up from the sheep pasture begrudging being dragged into a conversation with some old man he didn’t know? Did he ever expect that his country’s god, the God of the whole universe, would order that he be anointed king? Did he have any expectations beyond a day in the life of the youngest, forgotten son?
How did the “crowd” respond? Were David’s brothers like Joseph’s brothers, upset that their younger brother had been “promoted” over them? I’m flashing back to the moment when Wart AKA Arthur draws the sword from the anvil in the church yard… when no other men can. They’re at first incredulous, until they recognize the holy moment they have witnessed. Who knows what Arthur thought was going to happen…but it doesn’t really matter.
It doesn’t matter what David thought would happen. It matters that God showed up, and saw the last, forgotten child in a long line of forgotten last children, and claimed him as the first great king of Israel.
And from that day forward, David benefited from the Spirit of God’s power. Pretty crazy stuff.
We’ve certainly had our fair share of being doubted, haven’t we? Regardless of who you are or what you’ve been through, sometime along the way, someone didn’t think you were “cut out” for the job.
-My mom went back to school in the early 1990s, twenty years after she had graduated from high school. Even though her test scores were good, she was told by an interviewer that she might not “fit in” with the undergrads.
-At the ordination service for our Annual Conference, the preacher talked about going home from college and being approached by a well-meaning old lady from his church. “What are you going to do now?” she asked. “I’m going to seminary,” he said, full of excitement at his calling. “Oh,” she said, walking away disappointed, “I always thought you’d make something of yourself.”
-A friend of mine has served as a youth worker, missionary, and technology support to several churches since his freshman year in college, but his own church wouldn’t make him the senior youth minister, even as their repeated choices walked away from the church every year, only serving eight months to a year at a time.
Those scars could fester, couldn’t they?
David could’ve chosen to be the kid his family thought he was, to labor silently in the fields with the sheep. To shrink back into the quiet. Or he could choose to hear God’s voice stronger than the others, and rise to be the first, great king of Israel.
My mom has gone on to be a counselor, to foster dozens of kids through their learning troubles to graduate high school and make something of themselves.
The speaker I mentioned earlier has gone on to become one of the most fruitful pastors in the VA Annual Conference, reaching thousands of people for Jesus.
My friend has finally received a call to be the associate pastor at a new church, one I’m sure is preparing now for new growth.
And David? He became a man after God’s own heart, a legend we’ll talk about at the 11 o’clock service. A giant among men.
All four of these people believed that what God sees is what matters most, and they took the scars, the doubters, and the adversity, and refused to be weighed down by it. They rose to what God was calling them to, knowing that God had believed in them and had a plan for them all along.
I wonder what it would look like if you or I really believed that God cared about us. If we believed that God saw something in us that we couldn’t believe in ourselves. If we were ready to put ourselves into the jetstream of God’s grace, and just let go. It could be mind blowing. But it might just be safer to hang out with the sheep in anonymity.
What are you going to do?