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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

June 14, 2015

 Kingdom Eyes

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

              In the Academy Gallery of Art in Florence, Italy, stands one of the greatest sculptures ever created by a human being.  It was worked on between the years 1501 and 1504, and stood outside in Florence until 1783 when concern to preserve this masterpiece led them to place it inside where it was safe from weather and wear.  The statue by Michelangelo of David stands seventeen feet tall, making David, literally larger than life.  And that is all together fitting for David’s life, among all the other things that it was, was one of the largest lives ever lived.  Did you know that Abraham, the Father of our faith, takes up fourteen chapters in the whole of scripture in order to tell his story?  Joseph, one of the greatest stories ever told, takes another fourteen chapters of holy scripture to tell.  It takes eleven chapters of scripture to tell the life of Jacob.  It takes ten chapters to tell of the life of Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet Israel ever had, the great model for John the Baptist.  David’s life takes sixty-six chapters of holy scripture in order to tell, and that does not include the fifty-nine references to David, more than any other Old Testament figure in the New Testament.  Only Moses is faintly comparable to the size, scope and impact of David’s life. 

             Today we turn to the anointing of the boy David by the prophet Samuel, in obedience to Yahweh, who anoints David, not publicly, but in secret because as we know in reading 1 Samuel, Israel already has a king.  Walter Brueggemann calls this passage, “the rise of David,” for indeed it begins to tell one of the greatest stories the Bible or literature anywhere has to tell.  And if the calling of David to be king is anything, it is an example of divine election.  That is, God graciously elects those whom God chooses for God’s purposes. 

             David, in this account, never utters a word.  Indeed, he is offstage almost the entire account, very tellingly, serving as a shepherd to the sheep.  And like so many other calls that are presented in the Bible, they turn more on who the God is who calls than they do on the particular characteristics of those whom God calls, though we will get to why God called David in our message this morning. 

             The question anybody might ask is, “Why David?”  Or, for that matter, “Why one person that God calls, and why not another?”  And the question beneath that is, “Why me, Lord?  Why are you calling me to the place and the challenges where you have placed me this day?”  The Reformed faith speaks often and deeply about this notion of God who calls.  The Reformers speak of it as “the election of God’s people for salvation and for service,” and always, the focus is mainly upon the initiative of God in all of these calls.  In John 15, Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”  This is one of the fundamental theological convictions of the Reformed and Presbyterian faith; we call it “the priesthood of all believers.”  That is the conviction that God just doesn’t choose a few of us or a rarely, uniquely gifted set of us, and the rest of us somehow follow, but rather the radical notion that God who has created us, calls us all to be His disciples.  God calls us all to serve the purposes for which we are given life, and the focus in all of these Biblical calls is always upon God.

             Jeremiah’s call was no different.  The word of the Lord came to the boy Jeremiah and said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before ever you were born, I consecrated you, I appointed you to be a prophet.”  God chooses often surprisingly, especially to those who are called.  Jeremiah said, “But I am just a boy.” Moses said, “I cannot even speak.”  And yet God calls Moses anyway.  We see this again and again in the Bible.  God chooses what is small, what appears to us to be someone insignificant, someone easily overlooked.  In this instance, God calls the youngest and the smallest and the one seemingly least prepared to be the king precisely because God sees in the boy David potential.  God sees in David what by God’s grace and strength David uniquely has it in him to be.  And that is the first thing that I want you to think about this day – that God who created us in the divine image calls us to use our lives to serve God’s great purposes and the great purposes of the Gospel.  Mary was not an obvious choice from a worldly perspective to be the one who would, literally, bear the Son of God into the world, but Mary proved to be precisely the one whom God called for that purpose. 

             In all of this business of God calling us, things turn in this passage on the Hebrew verb rā-â.  It means “to see” or “to look upon” or “to discern” what a person is and who that person by God’s grace and goodness can become.  Here is the word that came to Samuel: “For the Lord sees not as mortals see, they look on outward appearances, but the Lord looks upon the heart.”  God sees.  God sees who we really are, which is why it is so pitiful when a person cannot be honest before God about who they are and who they are not.  God sees, God knows precisely who we are.  God knows better than you know who it is and what it is you have it in you to become.    

             God sees differently than we do.  God looks always for greatness in other places than human beings are prone to look.  Clearly in this passage, God sees in the boy David what no one else could possibly have seen.  Read the Bible – you see it again and again – God sees in small things the greatness that is hidden within.  And we are told why.  Because when God looks at us, God looks upon the heart, and the heart, for ancients, was the essence, or the substance of who they really were.  God looks upon the heart and sees there things like spirit and passion and toughness and perseverance and courage and character and integrity and wholeness, and maybe more importantly than anything else in all the world, God sees genuine humility.  God uses what is so often small or seemingly insignificant or overlooked.  In a word, God uses what is humble in order to create from that humility the stuff of greatness.  When God looks at us and sees who we really are, God sees everything we have it in us, by God’s grace, to become.

             Paul wrote about this when he was writing to the Corinthian church, this little group of house churches that was struggling with all their differences to stay together in Jesus Christ.  Paul is looking at this church and he says, “For consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many of you who were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the low things of the world and the despised, God has chosen the things that are not, so that no human being should ever boast before God.”

             I am thinking a lot about this unique combination of genuine humility in standing before God, out of which genuine confidence alone can grow, and I am thinking this morning about a man of very humble origins.  A man by the name of Dwight David Eisenhower, the second son of a father who had one business failure followed by another that kept the family on the edge of poverty for all of his childhood.  They were not starving, but certainly they were not rolling in abundance.  Indeed, Ike’s older brother Edgar took the little bit of money that his parents’ had for education and went off to the University of Michigan.  He asked his brother, Dwight David, if he couldn’t return for a second year, and Ike said yes, knowing that this made college for him an impossibility.  At the age of 20, finally a friend pointed out to Ike that the service academies offered a free college education.  So Dwight David Eisenhower applied to the Naval Academy, only to be rejected because he had passed the age where you were allowed to enter and begin your education at Annapolis.  It was one more case where a man built his life on humbling second choices and second chances.

             Eisenhower graduated in the middle of his class at West Point in 1915, probably the greatest class West Point ever produced, and he began a slow, not even steady, rise of a career within the Army – one disappointment in his career followed and punctuated by another.  And it felt to Ike more than once that he had done nothing more than found in his career another dead end.  Then in 1925 he got his break, serving under General Fox in Panama.  Fox saw some potential in Eisenhower, he saw something in the man that no one else yet in the Army had seen, and gave him a chance to attend the General Command and Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas.  Out of two hundred forty-five students, Ike finished number one, and he was ready for his career to take off, only to be assigned the work of surveying graves and marking military cemeteries from World War I across the topography of France.  Eisenhower thought, “Another dead end street.  My career in the Army is going nowhere.”  He had no idea that in thirteen years, this intimate knowledge of the topography of France would be something that he alone possessed!  It was no accident that Eisenhower had been disappointed often by a career that was going nowhere, that produced in him that Christ-like quality out of which genuine, abiding confidence could grow.  Eisenhower knew who he was and maybe more importantly, he knew who he was not, and that enabled him to deal with the most impossible group of overblown egos that anybody ever had to manage. 

             Eisenhower had to deal with the likes of Douglas MacArthur, who resented that Eisenhower got to be President, knowing how inferior to MacArthur Ike was.  (They asked MacArthur once, “Didn’t Eisenhower work for you once?”  And he said, “Yes, he was the best secretary I ever had!”  Eisenhower was asked about this fact, and he said, “Yes, I studied dramatics under MacArthur for seven years.”)  He had to deal with the likes of George Patton and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and worst of all, Bernard Montgomery.  Eisenhower had both the humility and the confidence, the genuine confidence that is only born of humility, in order to handle those egos.  In fact, everything that happened to Eisenhower as a boy and as an adult, was used by God to prepare him for the greatest responsibility that any leader in the free world would ever carry.  Eisenhower said once, “I learned to be a good general in Normandy by being a bad general in North Africa.”  It is the only way that we ever learn anything!  Indeed the night before the D-Day invasion, Eisenhower insisted that he go and visit the men who were going to fly planes, many of them would parachute behind enemy lines, and looked them in the eye and bid them, “God’s speed.”  He did that, got back in the car, and as the car was leaving, the driver noted that Eisenhower was in the backseat, weeping.  Michael Korda, in his biography, Ike: An American Hero, writes, “It would never be easy for Eisenhower to send men to their death.”

             The point is this: Don’t think for a minute that God is not at work in your life, preparing you, humbling you, grooming you for the work, the vocation, the calling that God has in store uniquely for you and the gifts your life has afforded you.  I believe it with all my heart and soul!  Paul says it in the eighth chapter of the book Romans, “For we know that in everything God works together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  And everyone, dear friends, would include you!

                                                                                     Amen.

 

 

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