Sermon: Seeds

Many have used such stories when claiming to know God’s will, and so bull their way ahead towards some predetermined goal. They are full of hubris, not listening – or looking – for any further guidance from anyone, let alone God; confident that they are not mistaken in of their understanding of God’s will. More often than not, they fail, or else their road to success brings such great sacrifices and pain upon others that one rightfully wonders where God is in all of this.

The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645
The Anointing of David by Victors Jan, ca 1645

I love reading from the histories in the Old Testament, such as this morning’s text in First Samuel about the anointing of David to replace Saul as King of Israel.

One thread in this story – as with all of our readings today – is about seeing. About what we see vs. what God sees.

This is made very plain at the heart of this passage, where the Lord says to Samuel about Jesse’s son Eliab: “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 at the heart.” To say this another way, God sees that which we cannot see: the Lord sees the Unseen.

And yet, even after God says this, Samuel keeps on looking at six more of Jesse’s sons, and each time fails to discover what he has been sent to find. Finally, Samuel says “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all of your sons here?”

Well, it turns out that one of Jesse’s sons was not seen because he could not be seen, he was not there at all. The eighth and youngest son was up in the hills, tending his father’s sheep. David was the least of Jesse’s sons, and no one even bothered sending for him until Samuel explicitly asked that this last son of Jesse be brought before him. We see that David was unseen in many ways, but the Lord saw him!

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Power and Silence – First Sunday of Advent

Sermon given at Payson Park UCC Church, Belmont, MA November 28, 2010.

Scripture readings:
2 Samuel 11:2-5; 11:14b-15 and 11:26 – 12:7a (Bathsheba & David)
John 7:40-8:11 (The Story of the Adulterous Woman)

My thoughts today are on two themes, Power and Silence, which are both found in this morning’s scripture readings. We will look at how Power and Silence interact with each other in each story, and how they tie these two stories together across a one thousand year gap in time. Then we’ll close with some reflections on what we’ve learned and how these two themes are reflected in the coming of Christ, and Advent.

Let’s start by considering our Old Testament reading, and the setting of Nathan’s audience with David.

Nathan’s story is presented as a legal dispute. This is significant. For thousands of years throughout the ancient world disputes were brought to the local ruler or wise man for judgment. It was a very public event, with many people there: those seeking a resolution to their disputes, spectators, the King and his Court, all listening to the proceedings.

When Nathan presented his case to David, it was in such a setting; which, given what he intended to do, was a wise move! I suspect that if he had done this in a private audience with the King, he might have succumbed to a “Sword Malfunction.”

Let’s imagine what the scene must have been like: David is there with his badges of authority, a scepter and crown. He is sitting on a simple chair in front of the crowd. Scores, and perhaps hundreds of people are standing around the edges of the courtyard, waiting for their turn to be heard. David’s advisors are waiting off to the side for him to call on, if needed.

Then Nathan steps forward to tell his story. The King listens, his anger rising as he hears the tale, and when he can’t restrain himself any more, his face red, gripping his chair with both fists, he leans forward and says “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!”

And then Nathan said four simple words, “You are the man!”

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