Our Old Testament reading today comes from the Biblical genre known as Judges and kings. These books of the Bible talk about the long history, about 410 years, of the Hebrew people which modulated between tribal leaders, known as judges, and the kings. This story was compiled and culminated in book form between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. The primary effort during this time was the consolidation of settlements and tribes. Life centered around tribal relationships not cities.
The transition from tribal leader/judge to king was slow because the region had no means of unifying the diverse tribes into one cohesive unit for defense and leadership. After several centuries of leadership by tribal judges they were finally able to unify the tribes and claim a king – the kings are familiar to us : Saul, David (author of the Psalms) and Solomon.
The story in the book of Samuel tells the story of the transition from the leadership of tribal judges to the leadership of a king.
Samuel was a great judge, prophet and charismatic leader, often considered a hero. Samuel was born to a woman named Hannah, raised in the temple under the great priest Eli. As a judge Samuel had to render legal decisions – in the sense of what is the law of God and how are the people living according to God’s law?
This Sunday’s reading describes the surprising and unexpected revelations of God. God is not a homogenous force. God does not act evenly over all creation. Rather, the manner in which God acts and inspires is contextual, historical, and personal. God has a vision for our lives, for all of creation.
Bruce Epperly on his blog, “The Adventurous Lectionary” says this about our readings this morning:
“While no one is left out in the interplay of call and response, God’s revelation is always personal and variable. A shepherd boy is chosen as king; a mustard seed grows into a great plant; and a small child grows into the Christ. God takes initiative, but our response and a supportive environment help God’s dreams come to fruition and new dreams emerge. Where is God moving uniquely and intimately in your life? What is God’s dream for you, right now and over the long haul? Moreover, what are God’s dreams for you and for your congregation, and loved ones? How can we be open to God’s dream for ourselves and God’s dream for others?”
The reading from I Samuel describes Samuel’s covert operation to choose a new king. The lectionary has skipped from Chapter 8 last Sunday to Chapter 15, which we heard today. The seven chapters in between tell of Saul’s inept leadership as the king. Like last week our reading this morning has the people asking Samuel, the great tribal judge, for a king…the prophesy we heard last week, that the king will fail because he represents a false idol over God, is proven true. The kings are perceived as being God like, of being a unifying agent pulling together the diverse tribes and various perspectives of the tribes of Israel.
Saul, caught up in his own diversions of power and greed, has lost the confidence and support of the people, they now clamor for a new spiritual-political leader. In chapter 15 verses 10-21 we hear God telling Samuel that Saul has failed as a king. Saul comes across as groveling and pathetic. By the time we get to chapter 16 a new king is being anointed, and the reign of David is ushered in.
David is one of Jesse’s sons, thus the lineage between Abraham, Moses, Jesse, David, and Jesus is made clear. Jesse has twelve sons, including David. In the story Samuel examines the older sons, any one being a likely candidate for the job as king. But they are all passed over until Samuel comes upon the youngest and least equipped, a shepherd boy named David. God tells Samuel that David is the chosen one. David becomes God’s choice for king.
Once again God is acting in and through the smallest and least likely of candidates. God sees deep into our lives and recognizes within us, deeper gifts and possibilities, hidden to the untrained eye. God uses small and unexpected events – and unlikely people – to manifest God’s desire into the world.
God acts through the small and seemingly insignificant, God acts in unexpected ways, inviting us to consider how God is working in our lives, and in our community. How might each of us be one of God’s “chosen? “ How are you being “called” for a particular divine task? Consider what great calling are you hiding, even from yourself?
There is a quiet movement of grace in our lives. Unheralded, and mostly unobserved, changing the world not by bravado or coercion, or even celebrity status or miraculous demonstrations, but by constantly growing grace and emerging presence. Each moment contains the possibility of a miracle, of God’s inspiration manifesting in small and unexpected ways. Small seeds burst open and grow into abundant sources of food and shade, - symbols of God’s grace spread generously. Small children grow into leaders. New creation arises from barren soil and ashes. God is calling us to take the time, to nurture patience, to become creatures of discernment.
We are called to look deeply into our lives, and the lives of others. We are called to be attentive to the movements of the Spirit within – to listen and to watch. And then, to not be afraid to take risks, to respond to God’s call, to follow the Spirit into the smallest of places, only to come out the other side, alive, renewed, and expansive. God grows within us like yeast in flour and water, like a seed taking root in soil, like new life bursting forth, in the most unexpected ways.
Look out, here comes God!