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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

Father’s Day, June 17, 2018

 God’s Choice

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

            In the Accademia Gallery of Art in Florence, Italy, stands perhaps the greatest piece of sculpture ever fashioned by human hands.  It actually stood outside in the weather in Florence until the year 1783.  From 1501 to 1504, Michelangelo worked to create his David.  The statue, with the pediment, stands seventeen feet in height, making David, literally larger than life.  That is altogether fitting for David’s life.  It was as large and as colorful a life as anyone has ever lived. 

            Abraham is considered the Father of our faith, the Father of Jewish people’s faith, and the Father of Muslim faith.  Yet the whole life of Abraham takes fourteen chapters to tell in the book of Genesis.  Joseph might be a better story than Abraham’s.  It takes fourteen chapters of scripture in order to tell the story of Joseph.  It takes only eleven chapters of scripture to tell the story of Jacob’s life, and ten chapters to tell the story of Elijah, who is more than anybody else, the model for what a prophet of Israel was to be, clearly the model for John the Baptist.

            David’s life, by comparison, takes sixty-six chapters of Holy Scripture in order to tell, and that does not include the fifty-nine references to David in the New Testament, by far dwarfing the mention of any other Old Testament figure in the New Testament.  Only Moses’ life is comparable in size and scope to the life of David.  Today we turn to the anointing of David by the prophet Samuel, in obedience to Yahweh, who anoints David, not publicly, because Israel already has a king, that is Saul, but rather in private and in secret.  The great Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann calls this passage “the rise of David.”  It begins one of the greatest stories the human family has to tell.  If the calling of David is about anything, it is an example of what John Calvin called Divine Election.  It is a story that underlines for us this fact: God graciously and freely elects whom God chooses for God’s glory and God’s purposes.

            In this whole passage, David never utters a single word.  Indeed, he is offstage for almost the entire narrative.  Very tellingly, he is off serving as a shepherd to his sheep.  Like so many other calls that are reported in the Bible, they turn far more on the God who calls, than on the particular gifts or graces of those whom God calls.  So the question that anybody would ask, surely Saul must have asked, “Why David?”  Or, for that matter, “Why does God call one person to a particular work, and not another?”  The question beneath that is: “Why me, O Lord?”  “Why are you calling me to the place and the time and the challenges where you have placed me this day?”

            The Reformed faith speaks often and passionately about this notion of a God who creates us in the Divine image, and calls us.  The Reformers spoke of this as the “election of God’s people for salvation and service.”  The focus in most of these call passages is not upon the one who is called, lest we think life is all about us, but rather on this God who relentlessly, insistently, and with infinite understanding, calls us.

            In John 15, Jesus put it like this: “You did not choose me; but I chose you, and appointed you that you should bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide.”  It is one of the fundamental convictions of the Presbyterian and the Reformed faith.  Martin Luther called it “the priesthood of all believers.”  That is the conviction that God does not just pick a few of us who are singularly gifted in order to serve God, but rather that God calls all of us.  This assumes the radical notion that our lives are not our own, but they belong to God.  The God who gives us life also calls us to use that life for God’s particular purposes for us.  The focus, though, is on God, not on us.  Jeremiah’s call was no different.  The word of the Lord came to the boy Jeremiah and said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before ever you were born, I consecrated you, I appointed you to be prophet.”

            One other thing about the call of God: God often chooses surprisingly, especially to those who are called.  Jeremiah said, “Why me?  I am just a boy.”  When Moses was called to speak to Pharaoh, his first reaction was, “I cannot even speak.”  And yet God calls Moses anyway.  We see this again and again in the Bible.  God chooses what looks to us to be what is small, what appears to be insignificant, and easily overlooked.  In this particular passage, God chooses the youngest and the smallest, and the unlikeliest of all of Jesse’s sons in order to be Israel’s king, precisely because of what God sees in the life of David.  You see, God sees differently than we see.  This whole passage turns on the use of a Hebrew verb, “ra’ah.”  It means “to see,” or “to look upon,” or “to discern,” what a person is, and who that person is by God’s grace.  Maybe even more importantly, God sees who we have it in us, by God’s grace and calling, to become. 

            We look on outward appearances.  There was an incredibly poignant editorial written this week in Time Magazine by Belinda Luscombe on two tragic lives that ended in a way that too many lives are ending in our nation today, that is, by suicide.  The whole point of Luscombe’s editorial, and I urge you to read it, is that things are not always at all what they appear to be.  From the outside, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had it made.  They had everything that people in our culture long for and desire, and yet, neither of these wonderful, sensitive souls could bear to go on living.  Luscombe says, first off, we ought never to envy anybody else.  I have a friend, a physician in this church, who said once, “We all bear our own private hells.”  And we all of us do.  Even with those, we also bear our own particular joys, and our own particular blessings. 

            God creates us in the Divine image and gives us life, and yet our lives are never our own.  They belong to God.  The Heidelberg Catechism says, “We belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to ourselves, but to our faithful Savior Jesus.”  I think of God’s call upon the life of Mary, who would be less apt for us to assume would be the one that God chose to bear God’s son, God’s self, into the world.  Yet Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word.”  God sees, though, God looks deeply upon the heart.  God saw in David and in Mary, something they could not have possibly seen themselves.  They received God’s call for what it was, grace and gift. 

            God sees differently than we see.  God is always looking for greatness in different places than we are prone to look for greatness.  Remember what Jesus said?  “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Read the Biblical story.  Again and again, God sees in small things the seeds of hidden greatness, because when God sees us and looks upon us, God looks upon the heart, which for ancients was their way of expressing the essence, the substance of who we are.  God looks upon the heart, your heart and mine, and sees things that cannot be quantified; things like spirit, and passion, and toughness, and perseverance, and courage, and kindness, and tenderness, and integrity, and wholeness.  Time after time, God uses these unseen things to bless and to change the world.  When God sees us, and He does see us, which is what is so pitiful about people pretending to be something other than who and what they really are, God looks deeply into our hearts.

            The date of his birth was January 31, 1919.  He was born in Cairo, Georgia, the youngest of five children of a sharecropper family, a family where his mother Mallie worked tirelessly, and where his father did not much work at all.  Mallie was a devote Methodist.  She said she lived very closely with the Lord, so closely that one day when God told her, “Get away from this man before he ruins your family,” she listened to that voice as the voice of God.  She took all the money she had, put her family on a train, and took the train across the country to Los Angeles, to Pasadena, in the year 1920. 

            Her youngest son, like her oldest son Mack, was a remarkably gifted athlete.  Mack went to the University of Oregon on a track and field scholarship.  He made the 1936 Olympic team, and won the silver medal, coming in second place to Jessie Owens in the two-hundred meter dash.  Mack Robinson came back to Pasadena, and the only job he could get was as a street sweeper for that city.  Her youngest son, Jack, noticed that on the athletic fields in southern California, unlike in the South in America at that time, there was equity – you were judged by the way you performed.  Jackie Robinson noticed that beyond the athletic field, his country was a far cry from “liberty and justice for all.”

            Mallie Robinson was worried about her son Jackie, and she connected him with the pastor at the Scott Chapel Methodist Church, a man named Karl Downs, who took an interest in Jackie Robinson, and suggested that he begin to teach Sunday School in his church.  That man, that relationship, that decision, was probably a huge part of why Jackie Robinson’s life moved in another direction.  He ended up at the University of California, Los Angeles, playing varsity baseball, varsity basketball, varsity football, running on the track team, and even playing a few varsity tennis matches.  (Lest you think Jackie Robinson was not a remarkably gifted athlete!) 

            In 1945, a baseball owner by the name of Branch Rickey, who was also a devout Methodist, decided that he wanted to win more than anything, and that to win he needed to change this country.  He needed to open up major league baseball to people of all races and colors, and he was looking for the perfect, or the best young man to change this nation’s racial attitudes around the “National Pastime.”  Interestingly, Rickey did not pick Jackie Robinson because he knew Jackie was a Christian and would turn the other cheek.  He picked Jackie Robinson because he knew Jackie Robinson was a Christian and would turn the other cheek not out of weakness, but out of anger and out of strength.

            Jonathan Eig, in his biography of Jackie Robinson, called Opening Day, said, “Jackie Robinson was born with a competitive streak as wide and as deep as the Pacific Ocean.”  God used Jackie Robinson to change this land.  Jackie Robinson lived a very difficult life.  He died at the age of fifty-three, almost blind, his heart failing him.  But for one summer, the summer of 1947, he was God’s grace to this land.  Listen to how Jonathan Eig ends his book: “In 1947 when integration was new and the barriers to democracy for black Americans were concrete, Robinson presented a solution that would soon become a template in the fight for racial equality.  Over one spectacular summer, he proved that black Americans had been held back, not by their inferiority, but by systematic discrimination, and he proved it not with printed words or arguments to claim before a judge, he proved it with his deeds.  That was Jackie Robinson’s true legacy.  Given a chance to change the world, he never hesitated.  He played hard and won.  After that, it was a whole new ballgame.”

            We all are here for God’s reasons, because our lives are not our own.  They are given to us but once by God, to live them to make this world a better place.  Do not leave this day without reckoning with God’s call and God’s claim upon you.  You are precious to God, and He longs for you to live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

            Happy Father’s Day.



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