Sunday, June 14, 2009

Second after Pentecost, 2009

I Samuel 15: 34 - 16:13; Mark 4: 26-34

The Anointing of David by Samuel,
Caspar Luiken, 1672-1708

“The LORD said to Samuel . . . ‘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.”

Many of you may recall that this story of the anointing of David by Samuel is one that I often reference at the time of chrismation in the baptismal service. I love this dramatic moment: “The LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.’” To hear the excitement in that: “this is the one!”

[Do you recall the same term in the film The Matrix. Neo, the Keanu Reeves character: the question that haunts him through the story-- Is he the One?]

Saul’s time as the King of Israel is coming to its end. And God has plans, big plans, about what is to come next. Plans hidden deep in the life of this skinny young red-headed boy from a south-country ranch. A potential in him not visible to those around him. His father didn’t even think to call him in for the interview with the Prophet.

But through the eyes of the inspired Samuel we catch in this fleeting moment a glimpse of the great story that will unfold in years to come, battles fought and won, the establishment of the Holy Kingdom in the magnificent City of David, Jerusalem, then after years of family intrigue Solomon comes to the throne, and the great Temple is built on Zion, and then generation after generation, the Royal Priesthood of David’s line--and all the way down the road of centuries, war and turmoil, defeat and exile, humiliation and restoration—and finally to that stable on the side street of Bethlehem where on one quiet night great David’s greater son would be born for us and for all the human family, King of kings, Lord of lords. All here, revealed in the glimpse in this moment of all that will unfold, in the secret of God’s heart from the first moment of creation: “rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”

The lectionary this morning underscores the point thematically with the Parable of the Mustard Seed in St. Mark. We judge by what we see. Size and weight. External appearances. But even with that tiny seed, just a speck of nothing, there is something going on—rooted down in the cellular programming of its DNA, let’s say. More than meets the eye. From this nothing will come forth something big.

You just never can tell. Which is what I think the moral of the story is for us this morning. You never can tell. An essential insight to what I think we would as Christian people call a Biblical worldview, the foundation of our ethics, our spirituality. That we are through the stories of scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments shown over and over and over again a vision of a self, a world, and a universe where God’s presence and God’s purposes over and over again turn upside down our prejudices, our judgments, our certainties.

“If you think you’ve got things figured out,” the stories tell us time and time again, “take another look. Think again.” The story is bigger than we are. Way more here than we will ever know.

This is the moral of the great cycle of stories about Joseph in the last part of the Book of Genesis. One calamity after another, disaster after disaster. Betrayal and deceit. Assault and kidnapping and slavery and imprisonment. Economic collapse and famine. Dislocation. Mass starvation. The whole dark side of human and natural catastrophe.

When finally the story ends, not with ruin and destruction, but with restoration and healing, reconciliation and blessing. And in Genesis 50: “His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

A little deviation from the propers for today, but to say: this is the Biblical pattern over and over again. God’s will being worked out, in ways that we can’t see. Perhaps right in front of us, in plain view. But we don’t get it.

Of course it’s true all the time for us. How the smallest moments sometimes have the greatest impact. A soft word of support, affection, spoken at just the right time. Or a thoughtless hurt, that can echo through a lifetime. An overheard comment. A casual introduction.

Susy and I tell the story of how the direction of our relationship and the story of our marriage and life together had its beginning in a decision that each of us made completely independently one rainy spring afternoon in Berkeley in 1979 to take a bus that neither of us would ordinarily have taken. We got on at different stops, but were chatting when we got off. And we look back, of course, 30 years later, perhaps amazed that so much has flowed out from the small and casual and almost random decisions of that moment.

I’m sure, I know, that each one of us this morning can tell a story like that, or many stories. About how we got this job, how we came to live in this house, to go to this school, to be living the life that we live. The tiny spring on the hillside in Ethiopia that rolls on, inch by inch, to become the Nile. Who would ever have thought that something so big could begin so small?

In the course of this, another Rector’s Movie Review, two thumbs up, if you've seen The Matrix already and then happen to be shopping through Netflix or the local video store looking for something fun and interesting for a summer evening--the 1998 Peter Howitt film, “Sliding Doors,” with Gwyneth Paltrow. A story that traces the life of a young woman as it branches into two stories—how her life plays out if she does, or if she doesn’t, pause for a moment one morning on the steps down to the London subway to help a woman who has dropped something. Just the briefest pause, yet as the days and months flow out, two different scenarios. Two entirely different life stories.

A Christian worldview, an orientation of spiritual life, the practice of attentiveness--to live day by day awake, alert, with the awareness that God is present and working through it all. Not that this awareness is paralyzing, fearful, but entirely the opposite. Liberating. Refreshing. Which can be a great way to live in the fullness of Christian life.

That each moment, each person, each event, each opportunity, no matter how small, no matter how apparently trivial, is pregnant with God’s hope, with God’s future. Not just through the great figures on the front page of the newspaper, but through the child who sits by the side of the road in some far off corner of the world. In Lima Peru, or even around the corner in Highland Park. Maybe in our own household. Maybe the one we see when we look into the mirror in the morning. Am I "the one?" Are you? You just never can tell how it is going to play out. Someone as invisible to us, as if he were a scrawny red-headed teenager, with nothing much to commend him. A mustard seed.

As the old saying goes, God isn’t finished with any of us yet.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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