Sunday, June 13, 2021
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
I once had the opportunity to visit a homeless shelter on a youth mission trip to Denver, Colorado. One story had a big impact on me. The director of the homeless ministry talked about how a woman had driven up in a red Jaguar convertible, dressed to the nines in designer clothing. The director thought she was coming to make a donation. Instead, she was asking for help. As she came closer, she could see the woman had bruises and cuts on her arms and face. The woman explained that she was running away from an abusive relationship. The car title was in her husband’s name only – all bank accounts were in her husband’s name. Financial control was one way her husband had kept her from running away, until she found the courage to run anyway. All she had were the clothes on her back and some cash in her pocket. She needed a safe place to stay, food, and a way to get back on her feet. She looked nothing like you would expect a homeless person to look. It was a lesson about the hidden face of homelessness: people’s circumstances are not always as they first appear.
As we are introduced to the great King David in our first reading for today, we hear that in choosing David as king, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” David didn’t look like a great king at first! Samuel and Jesse think they know what a king should look like – the oldest, biggest, strongest son of course. Seven sons pass by Samuel, but the Lord tells Samuel that none of these sons should be king. Rather the youngest, perhaps still a boy, who is out in the fields watching the sheep, will be Israel’s next king. More important than outward appearance or customary tradition is the kind of personality, the HEART, that God can use for his purposes.
For those of us blessed with good eyesight, we are visual people! We may try not to judge, but we do so without thinking about it all of the time. When we look at a person, we automatically try to make sense in our brains of who we think that person is: old or young, white…but what ethnicity? We try to work it out in our head. Woman, man, athletic or out of shape, pretty…or kind of plain, rich, or poor? Our eyes can tell us a lot of things about people and help us make sense of our reality, but as the old adage goes, looks can be deceiving! Today, we remember God’s call to us to take a second look, to look at the heart of people and not just their appearance: to sometimes put aside our first reactions and assumptions to learn the deeper story, to know someone else better, to make the best decision, as Samuel does in anointing David as King. After all, this is a remarkable story of trust! God tells Samuel to anoint the runt of the family, still smelling of pasture, as king, and no one argues with God! We, too, try to walk by faith and not by sight as our ancestors of the faith did, trusting that God can use what may not look like much to us at first, and do something great with it.
In the gospel for today, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God sprouting like a mustard seed. It is true that a mustard seed can grow pretty big from a small seed, but what is strange about this example Jesus uses is that mustard plants can become invasive weeds. If you have ever planted a little dill or mint, you know what I’m talking about. Once you have some, you have more than you’ll ever need for your cooking and for all of the neighbors, too. If you like mustard and you want a lot of it, then the mustard seed’s capability to grow all over the place is great – but if not, you’re looking at a field of a weedy problem. It’s all in your perspective. The seed may not look like much, but if you plant it, to be sure, it will indeed grow!
Of course, comparing a mustard seed/weed to the kingdom of God is great news for everyone longing to see the world a little differently. We want the kingdom of God to spread like a weed! By scattering small seeds of faith that don’t look like much, God has the power to take whatever little we can offer and multiply our efforts beyond what we could imagine or achieve on our own. God has the power and wisdom to take a runty shepherd like David and do great things through him not just for the kingdom of Israel, but for the kingdom of God. The gifts we have to offer, who we are as workers in God’s kingdom, might not look like much on the surface, but God can do great things with our hearts to grow faith. God can even use someone like you.
As we prepare for our annual meeting this morning, we might look around and enjoy seeing some faces we haven’t seen in a long time. For this past year and half, I’ve had to preach in an empty sanctuary and look at the camera, visualizing people on the other side of the screen who are with me in worship. I’ve had to remember that an empty church is not what it first seems…appearances are deceiving. While we have not all been in church together face to face, we have been the church out in the world, where we are! YOU have been the seeds making up the mustard weed of the kingdom of God, dear church. Checking on elderly neighbors, diligently sending cards or making phone calls, buying extra food and clothes for local pantries, setting up our nursery school classrooms to give young people in our community a faith-based education, striving to be compassionate and kind in a year that has stressed people out to the point that many have not been their best selves, sharing videos and links to worship services….you are the kingdom of God, and through you God is growing the kingdom, even though it hasn’t maybe always seemed like a whole lot.
There’s another weed out there that many of you know well – the dandelion. Archnemesis of your lawn, or tasty garden salad and pollinator for bees? It depends on how you look at the dandelion, doesn’t it? Appearances can be deceiving. My kids, like most young children, are solidly on the dandelion’s side – the more the better for picking and making them into beautiful bouquets, and for blowing once they turn to seed. They know it’s the one flower they’re allowed to pick without asking if it’s OK first. Somehow along the way, most of us are taught by adulthood that the dandelion is an ugly weed, but to kids, they’re beautiful flowers. The kingdom of God spreads like a child who just wants to share the gift of beautiful dandelions with you. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows from a tiny seed to a giant bush, we don’t know how. The kingdom of God is led by people like David, unlikely, humble, and yet up for the task when people place their faith in God’s leading. The kingdom of God is full of people like that woman who drives a Jaguar but doesn’t own a thing – who if she got back on her own two feet would spend a lifetime giving back to others the second chance she was given.
May God give us eyes to see with faith, to look beyond first appearances to the heart, to see the kingdom of God spreading like a really good weed. And may God give you the faith that while we don’t know how these seeds of faith might grow, the planting is worth it. Amen.