I Samuel 15:34-16:13
First Lutheran Church
June 13, 2015
SEEING AS GOD SEES
Over twenty years ago I did a year-long residency in Clinical Pastoral Education at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. I was one of six chaplains working under supervision. Dezzie was another resident in my class. We were very different people. We served different denominations, she was 21 years older than me, we were different ethnically, socioeconomically, our family backgrounds were very different. We had nothing in common, and we did not like each other.
Three years later I was interviewing at Vitas Hospice for a chaplain position, one that would finally lead to my ordination. I had already had two interviews with Virginia, the nursing supervisor and things were looking good. She said that the last step would be for me to meet with the chaplaincy staff because she wanted their input before she offered me the position. Well, guess who was on the chaplaincy staff—my old nemesis, Dezzie. I went to the interview sure that she would vote me down. I was rather surprised when Virginia called me the next day and offered me the job.
Dezzie and I became very good friends over time. We talked about the interview later and I told her I was afraid she would blackball me. She said that she had not forgotten our difficulties at The Methodist Hospital, but she was not going to hold that against me. She made her decision based on the interview and what the other chaplains said, two of whom also knew me. I began forming a deep respect for her. We often talked about our patients, our faith, our theology, our children and life in general. Later, when I was a graduate student working on my family therapy degree, I had an assignment to interview a wise older ethnic person, and I chose Dezzie. My professor was as amazed at her wisdom and experience, as I was. It is a friendship that endures because God gave her the eyes to look beyond old hurts and see as God would see.
When Samuel was sparring with God over where to find the next king of Israel, God kept sending him to odd and out of the way places. Don’t grieve for Saul anymore, God said. Stop moping around and go where I will have you go. But Samuel continued to push back; How am I to know who the right one is? The answer came, Worship me and I will reveal it to you. And that is what happened. Samuel worshipped then arrived at the home of Jesse where he met his seven strong, tall, confident and courageous sons. Surely one of these would make a worthy king but God kept rejecting them. Samuel was most perplexed, impatient and put out with the Almighty. So, what is the holdup here, Lord? I came where you sent me. I have spoken with seven young men, any of whom would be a fine king. Can we just get on with it now?
Then God, who is prone to shaking things up and nudging his people out of their comfort zones said something most unexpected, Do not look on [their] appearance or on the height of their stature, because I have rejected [them]; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. When I went for my third interview, I was looking at outward appearance and stature of height, which caused me to lose my faith. But God is ever faithful and helped me see into Dezzie’s heart and I discovered what a marvelous person she is.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches two parables about the coming of the Kingdom of God. For us to understand the power of what he is saying it is important to know about the peculiarity of mustard seeds. While some varieties were used as spice or medicine, in general they were considered at the very least pesky and often somewhat dangerous. Wild mustard is incredibly hard to control, and once it takes root it can overwhelm an entire planting area. It was a rare garden in the ancient world that had mustard growing in it. Most of it was found overtaking the side of an open hill or abandoned field. Yet Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to out of control weeds. John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament theologian, wrote this about the parable of the mustard seed:
The point…is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it (The Historical Jesus, pp. 278-279).
That, of course, is the point. This kingdom Jesus proclaims is not something we can control. And it is definitely not safe, not, that is, if we are even minimally satisfied with the way things are. People and congregations which say they want to grow had best be aware of that fact. The kingdom comes to overturn, to take over, to transform the kingdoms of this world.
Two very different scripture passages today, both illustrating something of the wild, unexpected, uncontrollable nature of the ways and will of God. We look for the large, confident, beautiful and powerful, but God looks at the ineffable, indefinable, subtle and sublime found in small and unassuming places—in youngest gentler children and in tiny uncontrollable seeds. We also want to be able to control what grows in the garden of our congregational life. But growing, whether in a garden or in the church, requires change, for the presence of something or someone new, by definition, changes the nature of the original.
I have come to know that there are some wild and uncontrollable mustard seeds hidden amongst the quiet shepherds of this community, just waiting to germinate and produce a marvelous harvest. They are growing in a church that loves its high and ordered worship, and its ordered common life, both of which are pearls beyond price. These things do not have to be at odds with one another, just as Dezzie and I did not have to remain at odds with each other. It is possible to maintain the beauty of your worship and reach out to people in the neighborhood who frighten you. If we learn anything from Samuel this morning it is that we must first worship God and trust that God will reveal God’s will to us. If we are to learn anything from Jesus this morning it is that we cannot control the wild whimsy of God’s sowing but we can revel in the beauty and mystery of it.
My prayer for you is that you approach your future with the openness to see beyond height of stature and outward appearance and look into the heart of the people whom God places before you. Trust that God will speak and that God will remain faithful, just as God promises to do. God holds you all close in the palm of his hand. Believe that, find your courage to go where you swore you would never go and God’s blessings will flow far beyond anything you could possibly imagine.
To God be the glory and may we ever glorify God. Amen.