I Samuel 16:1-13
From the First Book of Samuel, that great story of the calling and anointing of David. I’ve always really loved this story. It’s a kind of Cinderella story. Here are all Jesse’s sons lined up in front of the prophet Samuel. He looks at each one in turn: which one has the Lord chosen to be king? The first one, Eliab. He’s tall and good-looking. He must be the one! But no, says God. Never mind about his appearance or his height – he’s not the one. Nor the next one, nor the next one. But surely, God, this one looks perfect to be king. No, says God – never mind what he looks like. “For the Lord does not see as mortals see. They look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
And none of his sons are chosen. Are you sure there’s no one else? Well, says Jesse, there is the youngest (or in Hebrew it can also mean the smallest or the shortest). It couldn’t possibly be him! – and anyway he’s out with the sheep. Bring him in! I need to see him! He comes in, and immediately Samuel knows‘This is the one!’ And he anoints him with oil in the presence of all his brothers, and we read “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on David from that day forward.”
Well, it’s a great story, and the reason I think I’ve always loved it is that I’m the youngest son in my family and I’ve got two older brothers. Growing up I was always younger and shorter than them. Playing football (soccer) with them and their friends, they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re too small. You can go in goal. I hated being in goal and just standing around. Boring! You couldn’t run around with the ball.
I can only imagine what David’s older brothers must have felt when little David was chosen over them! I think when I first read the story I probably thought, ‘Great. He’s got his own back!’
But I don’t think that’s the point of the story. I now love the story for very different reasons. It’s a story full of hope and promise. A story of one person’s hidden gifts coming to fruition. Here was this obscure young man, spending his days looking after sheep. Yet, with him were the seeds of greatness! Extraordinary seeds just waiting to come to life. But these seeds of greatness might never have flourished. He may have remained an obscure shepherd – had it not been for two factors. The first was that his gifts were recognized and called out. It needed a Samuel to name his gifts. Without Samuel, David would likely never have recognized this in himself.
And then secondly, Samuel was also the means by which God’s spirit came upon David. When he anointed him with oil (i.e. ordained or consecrated him), “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.” It was Samuel who discerned David’s gifts and his vocation, called them out, and then consecrated him to his life’s work.
I think something touches us profoundly about this story because we sense a deep truth – a Kingdom truth. In God’s Kingdom, seeds planted secretly by God grow to greatness. A small, obscure shepherd becomes the greatest of all the kings of Israel. And that deep truth about God’s kingdom is also about us.
In today’s gospel, Mark tells those mysterious parables about the Kingdom. The story of the seeds growing secretly, but we don’t know how. The story of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which grows mysteriously and wonderfully to become the greatest of all shrubs, and “puts for the large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
These stories are about David – and they’re about you and me. First, each one of us has within us the seeds of greatness. Believe it! We have been wonderfully created in God’s very image and likeness – and it is God’s deepest desire that those divine seeds planted within us should grow – that we may grow into our full stature as children of God to God’s glory.
I think one of the greatest tragedies in our society in this country is that so many are not able to grow into their full stature, their full glory as beloved children of God – because of what I would call ‘societal sin’: the sin of having just one beautiful life stunted or blighted or even wiped out because of that person’s poverty, race, gender, sexual orientation, class, vulnerability or disability. I believe each of us who seek to follow Jesus has a God-given duty to be ‘Samuels’, to overcome our reluctance, as he did, to recognize and call out the seeds of greatness in one another, and then to do all that we can – by words, prayer, action – to fight against everything in our society which would prevent these precious seeds from growing and coming to fruition.
We need to call forth greatness in others, but also in ourselves. Maybe you have in your own personal experience a deep inner sense that part of you has not yet grown as it should. You may feel uncomfortable if I say to you “You’ve been called to greatness,” but it’s true! God has planted a unique set of seeds within each of us, and God longs for them to grow to their full glory. You may have had your own experience of that growth being stunted. Perhaps at a formative stage, people put you down or discouraged you. Perhaps your own inner voice is pouring scorn on your hopes and dreams: “Who do you think you are, shepherd boy?”
But maybe you have also had your Samuel figures in your life – that person who sawsomething in you and called it out – perhaps a teacher, a coach, a friend, who encouraged you and gave you a vision for who you might become. Who said, “Go for it! You can do it!”
Then thirdly, the most profound part of the story of David happens at the end. Samuel anoints him and we read, “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that time forward.” Just as the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Mary that she might give birth to Jesus, so the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David that he might become Israel’s greatest king. And so the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon you and me at our baptisms, that we might grow into the full stature of children of God.
It is an extraordinary thought that God’s Spirit has come mightily upon us – and not just once, at our baptisms, but as with David, “from that day forward!” We each have that Spirit now –a great power which we can all upon every day. Call out that power! Come, Holy Spirit! And that Spirit, like the sun and the rain, will help the seeds which God has planted deep within us to grow and flourish.
God is calling us to grow – every day – to become more and more that unique and beautiful person whom God has called each of us to be. We are called to greatness! Don’t settle for anything less!
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