“A New Openness”
“A New Openness”
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
June 13, 2021
In the early 1800s, the newspapers in NY City typically charged 6 cents a copy – a hefty sum for a paper in those days. Along comes this guy Benjamin Day, and he had an idea.
He starts his own paper, The New York Sun, and those would be sold for 1 cent a copy. People thought he was nuts. Guaranteed you cannot make a profit or even sustain a break-even business. The first paper goes live on August 25, 1835. The front-page story was a story about a telescope in South Africa that could see minute details on the surface of the moon.
Over the next few weeks, the Sun continued with that story. They had found canyons on the moon. Forests. Rivers. New form of life – including unicorns and a 4 creature with short, glossy copper-colored hair that looked like a human with bat wings. Today this event is referred to as “The Great Moon Hoax.”
Apparently, the writer would later say it was meant all meant as satire, but a whole lot of people believed it and ate it up. The paper quickly grew to be unrivaled in circulation.
The Podcast, The Hidden Brain, states, that this paper was really the first business model that “harvested human attention. Its profits were not based on credibility or truth, but on how many people read it, how many paid attention” – and so paid, over and over.
What NY Sun was discovering – and what we now take for granted – is that there is great profit to be made in who can keep the people’s attention.
Our attention is the sacred resources over which companies and businesses and restaurants and sports teams and recreational activities and non-profits all around us so very much want.
If they can get us to look at their sign, their email, their text, their webpage, their commercial. And of course, we begin to construct a world out of what holds our attention, what we see and consider most often.
And this is going on all the time in so many obvious and not-so-obvious ways.
What is fascinating about our passage today is that it is a story that will change the trajectory of Israel and the surrounding nations in profound ways forever… and the entirely of it unfolds away from the front pages, away from where anyone has their attention, away from almost anyone’s awareness.
Our story begins in this conversation between God and God’s prophet, Samuel, and God tells Samuel that God has rejected Saul as king as Saul has been disobedient.
Samuel needs to stop mourning this reality, and it’s time to move on to the one whom God has now chosen. “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem” where that person will be revealed.
Again, none of this is known to the rest of the world.
- Saul doesn’t know he has been rejected.
- Saul’s counselors and military leaders know nothing of this.
- Saul’s enemies have no inkling about this.
Throughout the rest of the kingdom and the world – anyone with eyes can see this basic truth: Saul is king and a powerful one at that.
Which is why Samuel immediately replies (when told he must go to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint a new king): “How can I go?”
“How can I possibly walk in this reality where you say there is a new king when in fact nothing out there remotely suggests that and no one else thinks that? If Saul hears about this, he will kill me.”
We know something of this bewilderment.
How often when look out upon our situations, our church, our nation… we see the gridlock. The embedded power structures. The hardened heart. The grip of addiction. The finality of a sentence. The grip of fear. We see the real world ever before us and sometimes scant evidence that anything is true. And then we show up for worship, and somewhere amid our hymns and sermon and creeds and all the rest, God raises the question afresh to our soul: “What if I have anointed another king? What if in fact, another who you cannot see is actually on the throne? And what if his rule of compassion and forgiveness and justice is at work right now, he is actually in charge – and he shall prevail?”
Samuel is being asked to step by faith that there is, in fact, another anointed king even if his eyes clearly tell him otherwise. But, to give Samuel a little encouragement, God tells Samuel to create a ruse: “When you go to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint a new king, tell Jesse and his family the reason you have come is to sacrifice to the Lord (not anoint a new king).” And we could have an interesting debate about this passage where God asks God’s servant to lie and what to make of that. But more important for our purposes at the moment is the line from God as God tells Samuel to go to Jesse: “Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. You are to anoint the one I indicate.”
When we begin to ask God how to walk by faith: “How can I go, God when all of reality looks like this?
- How can we risk walking toward forgiveness when there is all this pain and baggage and unknown?
- How can we risk walking in the way of justice when the evil is so entrenched?
- How can we risk walking in the way of compassion amid all of this?”
God’s response is rarely, “Here’s the whole plan, what this will look like and how this will go.” Rather Samuel is told…“Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do.” Which is to say, “Take the next practical step, the one right before you…and then, and only then, I’ll show you what to do.” So Samuel walks by faith. Partially…
Perhaps eager to see God’s plan move forward, Samuel arrives and looks upon Eliab, and he says to himself, “surely the Lord’s anointed stands before the Lord.” Eliab is the oldest – so it is sensible that he would be the chosen one. He would have had the most credentials. The birthright. In a moment, we find out he is also tall – he just looks the part. And then God speaks the most memorable part of this morning’s passage – the part where God makes clear that God’s attention is not upon what usually captures our attention.
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” “The Lord looks upon the heart.” Now, we are not told what that means precisely. Certainly, we read elsewhere in Scripture that the one God eventually anoints in our passage – David – he was “a man after God’s own heart.”
And yet also if you read all of David’s story you see he also fails, sins, and even fails in some of the same ways as King Saul, whom God here has rejected. In other words, God
is not looking upon the heart and searching for perfection or even ‘generally good’ – David himself is very much a solid mix of sinner and saint.
The point really seems to be that when God is doing a new thing, calling forth a new thing, searching for a place to bring forth a new thing…God is looking below the exterior. Beyond the person or people who appear most likely. God’s eyes are somewhere behind the latest headline or the biggest names.
This is part of what makes the reading from the Gospel of Luke so striking each Christmas: “in those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…” “In those days when all the headlines were about Caesar and his latest census, his taxes, his power…” And then Luke zeroes in on this little town of Bethlehem, the city of David, and tells the story of what is unfolding in a feeding trough.
“Do not look upon his appearance…”
A few years ago, I took a continuing education class in Albuquerque, NM through Fuller Seminary with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest – and the class focused on prayerfulness. One of the most notable aspects of this class is that Father Rohr led the class from inside of this small house located in one of the poorest areas of Albuquerque.
And each afternoon as part of the class he would have us take prayer walks. We were to walk the neighborhood and simply as God to help us see as God sees. No agenda, no plan for what may or may not happen, what God may or may not do. Just go with that prayer. And so we did. And each day I was eager for what God might do with that prayer as I walked by pretty beat-up houses. Lots of fences with barking dogs behind them. Lots of bars on the windows. Lots of uneven sidewalks. Lots of heat and little shade.
And after a week of walking this neighborhood each afternoon with that prayer, the truth is I never had any sort of major revelation – no moment where God pointed out this person or that person or that situation and showed something remarkable or beauty hiding in plain sight. And yet even without that moment, I began to understand why Father Rohr would have us do this walk each day. He was training us for how to hear and see the God of the Universe who came to us most visibly, most fully in the poverty of a feeding trough.
He wanted us to begin attuning our souls to that which is beyond the headlines, beyond what normally grabs our attention, beyond who we normally pay attention to because they fit the part or have the credentials or have the influence or…“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
And so Samuel begins discerning differently. Seeking for the new thing of God to emerge where and how it probably would not make much sense to most. One a at time Jesse’s other sons pass before Samuel. Abinadab. No. Shammah. No. Seven of them pass before Samuel.
One could imagine if we were trying to discern the new thing God is doing in and around Georgetown, and we had passed before discerning Samuel our elected leadership positions, the business leaders, the police and fire department, the real estate folks, the Southwestern Community, the school administration and leadership, the many non-profits, the long-time families – folks who’ve been here for generations, the faith communities, the healthcare workers (and don’t get me wrong, I truly believe God is faithfully at work in and through each of these in a variety of ways!).
But, one could imagine in all of these arenas that are filled with good people, credentialed people, people who would make sense as the locus point of the new thing, the big thing, the next thing God is doing in Georgetown.
Or again, if we were discerning the new thing God is doing in our own lives, and so we put before Samuel…our job, our degrees, our family, our volunteer activities, our recognitions, our network, our best habits…surely amid all of the good things we have or have done there is God doing or leading something new.
And then Samuel declares, “The Lord has not chosen any of these options that would surely make sense.” Which is precisely the verdict given unto these first seven sons. And one wonders what is going through Samuel’s mind as these words come forth.
In the Bible, the number seven is symbolic of completion (seven days of creation).
In other words, we are meant to understand that we have seen all the options. We’ve looked at every possible way.
Samuel turns to Jesse and asks in what must be a mix of bewilderment and desperation,“ Are all your sons here? Is there anyone beyond all of the obvious choices?” And Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”
There is one more outside of the completed number.
One more outside of the normal, the notable, the newsworthy. He is the youngest. He has been around the least amount of time. He has the fewest, if any, credentials. He is the one left to do the unheralded work of sheep-keeping.
Can you imagine if all those Georgetown groups passed before Samuel, Samuel says, “Is that all?” And we respond, “Well, I mean, there are some others?” And who would we then be naming?
Or if all of the best and most notable aspects of our lives were put before Samuel and Samuel says, “is that all?” And we respond, “Well, I mean, there are some other parts.”
And what would we then be naming?
Can you imagine the shock to Jesse and these sons…?!
Though not so much to Samuel. When Samuel hears that there is one more who outside of the seven, the youngest, the least…it is apparent that he is starting to see reality with God’s eyes. He is starting to see with the belief that God’s power is perfected in our weakness. Because immediately Samuel has everyone stand while they wait for this final son to be brought forth…for Samuel, there is an eagerness about this moment, and he wants everyone to anticipate what is coming.
Interestingly, though God has spoken of not looking on the outward appearances like mortals, the narrator cannot help but mention that this one who is now before Samuel is ‘ruddy’ with “beautiful eyes” and “handsome.” And the Lord declares: “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
And with only his brothers present, Samuel anoints David as king – and the Spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon David. A stunning moment, but also it is a private ceremony with no words recorded.
Which is to say, much like at the beginning of our passage – the vast majority of the world and all who are in power…to them and to all appearances, everything is as it has been. They have no idea there is this rumbling beneath the soil that will forever change their lives, their nation, the surrounding nations.
We live in a world where the headlines are constant, the advertisements are constant, our attention is in constant demand – usually looking unto that which is most powerful or most beautiful or most credentialed or most talked about.
What our passage invites is this: “What if there is another story unfolding just below, just outside of where we would normally look?”
“What if to all appearances our situation, our heart, their heart, that gridlock – is just the same yesterday as today as surely tomorrow – and yet, what if…what if there is a mustard seed planted and being watered but still just below the surface?”
“What if, yes, there is a tomb over there, but also the stone in front of it is just now starting to be rolled away?”
Is this not what we hold by faith?
“Lord, help us to see as you see. And trusting that Your Spirit has fallen mightily upon us and this world, give us the courage to just take the next step.” Amen.