This was the first sermon that I preached at an evening service. Always an interesting prospect preaching at the evening service because it was a different ‘crowd’ to the morning congregation. The attendees – or I should say worshippers – tended to be a more critical bunch, more into the ceremony and form of the service with a strong bent towards the traditional. They also enjoyed hearing sermons based on the Old Testament which never bothered me in the same way that it sometimes bothered others because I always enjoyed the OT.
1 Samuel 16:1-13a
Heavenly Father, you gave me these words to say; I pray that all who hear them may recognise them as yours and be touched by their truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Good evening. It’s lovely to be here tonight as this is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to preach at this particular service, and I’ve been looking forward to it for some time. So, I hope you won’t be too disappointed when I tell you that I’m going to be focusing on the Old Testament passage that was read for us earlier on. I kind of feel, rightly or wrongly, that too often the Old Testament is ignored or passed over (no pun intended), either because we fail to see its relevance in our lives today, or we simply find it too difficult to understand, and that’s a shame, because it really is full of the most wonderful sights and stories that would put any Hollywood epic to shame. In fact the more I read it the more I grow to like it.
Now, the Bible, as it is presented to us, among other things, is the history of the nation of Israel from its earliest beginnings to the coming of the Messiah and beyond, to the first faltering steps of the early church. The Old Testament takes us from the very beginning up to about four hundred years before the coming of Christ. And it’s not simply just the story of a sometimes persecuted, often wayward nation, its trials and tribulations as it grows and expands. Or a catalog of errors and misjudgements made by the Israelites. There’s more to it than that. Every story and text, and this is true not just for the Old Testament but for the New as well, has been carefully thought about, and I’m sure prayed about, by the author before being set down in their very specific form or order. Because God has something to say through these stories and texts which he has chosen not to say in any other way.
What is it then, that God wants to say to us in this text? Well, the obvious message that fits in with the theme for the day is about anointing. Remember how Samuel has been sent to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse to anoint one of his offspring as the next king of Israel. And this ties in with the anointing and baptism of Jesus that we heard about in the gospel passage read for us before. But as I read this in the process of preparing for tonight I was struck by something else, that I think speaks to us as a church here in Birtley at this time. I think it’s about misjudgement. As the old adage rather neatly puts it, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and I’ll explain that more fully in a minute. But let me say here, please don’t think that I have the answers or that I’m telling others what to do or how to behave, I’m simply highlighting the message or truth and leave it up to you to make of it what you will. Unlike Samuel, I’m neither a judge nor a prophet, just a fledgling preacher!
“The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”
Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”
He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.”
Now let’s pause here for a moment before we carry on, because you might be wondering why Samuel has had to go to do the will of the Lord in this manner. And it would serve us well to understand where we are up to in the saga of the evolution of the nation of Israel.
If you cast your mind back to the very beginning – to Genesis, you’ll probably remember that it all started with the granddaddy of them all… Abraham. He was one of the Fathers, the Patriarchs, along with Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve sons of Jacob. This period covers the development of the nation of Israel from Abraham to Joseph. During this time the nation is still in its original tribal form. And the chroniclers of later years looked back to an ancestor – Abraham – who knew God, and who knew him by trusting him. Israel defines herself as the nation that looks back to an ancestor whose supreme quality was personal religious faith. Well, then there follows the time of the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, and the entry into the land of Canaan. This was a time when they lived as a desert people in Sinai. Next, there follows an interesting period of about two hundred years, generally referred to as the time of the Judges, which ends with Saul being made king. This was a period when the Israelite tribes had to discover their identity and also to assert themselves in the land of Canaan. Interestingly, during this period events tended to follow a certain pattern. Firstly, Israel forsook its God and worshipped the Gods of Canaan. Then Yahweh sent a foreign nation to oppress Israel, until finally Israel appealed to its God and Yahweh raised up a judge to deliver the nation. According to Judges, Yahweh was king over Israel, any pretender was dealt with harshly, as in the case of Abimelech, whose father Gideon refused to be made king, but Abimelech tried to seize his chance by murdering all his possible rivals, in fact seventy of his brothers. Sadly for him, some woman carelessly dropped a millstone on his head, crushing his skull! Then we come up to date with where we are at the start of the monarchy. This is a great transitional period from a nation with no political structure to a great empire ruled by a despotic king. The other significant element is that this period is the time when prophets came into prominence in Israel. And there’s a transition or change in the thinking of the Israelites. Instead of acknowledging Yahweh as their king they start to demand a king like the other nations that surround them have. If you read the previous chapters of the first book of Samuel, you’ll find that it charts the transition of the Israelite people from satisfaction to discontent, from acceptance to rejection of Yahweh as their king. Their demand for a king is finally heard by God and granted, but not before a severe warning has been issued as to the consequences of the nations demands. Chapter 8, verses 19 and 20 record their response. “But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”” When at last, they have their king, Saul, it turns out he’s incapable of obeying God’s instructions, and ends up being rejected by God as his anointed king over the people. So we come upon Samuel given a mission to find and anoint God’s next chosen king and leader for his people, David. A man who would become the greatest military and political figure in Israel’s biblical story. When Saul died, Israel was a defeated and divided group of tribes with no king, no capital, no court and a Philistine overlord. When David died, Israel was an empire stretching from the approaches to Egypt in the south to beyond Damascus in the north. David was the man who gave Israel unity, a strong capital and holy city, and made it into an empire.
So, that briefly, is a potted history of the nation of Israel up to this point. So let’s continue with our text.
“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “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.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
When I read this section of the passage that old adage that I quoted earlier seemed to leap up off the page at me. And I think that there are two things that God is saying to us and about us in this scripture. Firstly, I think the message is that for all our dressing up and preening of ourselves on the outside, we cannot hide who we are on the inside, in our hearts. God sees into a person’s heart and mind and is neither impressed nor put off by someone’s outside appearance. As much we may try to hide it from others or deny it to ourselves, we can’t hide who we are from God. Secondly, and more important to my mind because it applies to us in particular, I feel, I think that God is saying that we are as likely to misjudge others as we are to be misjudged by them. Look at Samuel for instance. Here is a man who has served God faithfully all his life. Indeed, just a short while before this happens, he made a retirement speech in which he said to all Israel, “Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.” They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone.” He said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”” So, by his own admission and that of the nation, he is about as good and faithful a man as you can get. Yet he is fallible. He thought he knew the kind of person God would choose to be king over Israel, but he was in error, he misjudged. “But the LORD said to Samuel, “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.”” And how does this apply to us in St. John’s here today? Well I make no comment on that save to say that both those who are in leadership and those who are not, are both fallible. And that to my mind begs the question, “Where is our faith?” Because surely as God’s chosen people, according to the new covenant in Jesus Christ, we can and must trust in Him and in those whom He has anointed. Anyone who has been appointed to serve within the Church, unless they have unequivocally proved otherwise, should be worthy of our faith in their abilities and in their belief in their mission to the Church. Now if you think I’ve been a little cryptic with what I’ve said, I apologise, and I’ll leave you with a couple of little humorous stories that I hope will help to explain matters, and even if they don’t, perhaps you’ll enjoy the humour.
A woman purchased a parrot whose previous owner had taught him profanity and decided that she would reform him. He began to learn a number of Christian words and phrases. The righteous owner caught him cursing one day and grabbed him and said, “I’ll teach you to never talk that way again.” She put him in the deep freeze and shut the door. A few minutes later she took him out and asked, “Have you learned your lesson?” The bird shivered and replied, “Yes, Ma’am.” After a couple of months the lesson was forgotten: she returned the parrot to the freezer, but forgot about him for some time. He almost froze to death. She leaned him in his cage to thaw out. When he began to move and talk a little, she asked him again, “Did you learn your lesson?” “YES, MA’AM,” he retorted. Then he sat there quietly for a few more minutes shivering and said, “May I ask you a question?” She answered, “Yes”. The parrot said, “I thought I knew all the bad words there were but just what did that turkey in there say?”
A hobo knocked at the door of an inn called the George and Dragon. A woman opened the door. He asked, “Could I have a bite to eat?” The woman screamed at him, and began to curse and malign him, and finally slammed the door in his face. He knocked again and the woman opened the door. “Now could I have a few words with George?”
As Luke puts it, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”