1 Samuel 16:4-13; Matthew 13:1-9
Jesus said the last will be first and the first will be last, and that sounds great when we think we're last... but usually it surprises us when we see it happening in our world. If I were to tell you on our last staff hire that the SPRC and I picked the least likely candidate, the least qualified person of the many who applied, you wouldn't be very happy with me. And I wouldn't be very happy working with them! We don't always trust in this upside-down way that God seems to pick people.
In our Scripture this morning, Samuel, the prophet, is to go pick a new King, and when he does, he is surprised at who God chooses. You see Samuel goes to Jesse's house, and begins with the oldest, of course-- the first born-- who looks exactly like kingly material. But God says no. So he goes to the next and the same thing happens. And again. And again. He looks at all of Jesse's sons and many of them look like Kingly material to Samuel-- but God isn't using the outward appearance to choose the next king, and somehow God makes it clear to Samuel that none of these sons are it. So Samuel has to ask Jesse if he has any more sons, and Jesse is forced to admit that he didn't bother to call his youngest in; after all, he's out tending the sheep! So he calls in David-- the one who still has his baby face he's so fresh-- and God says to Samuel, that's him.
But do you know why this story mattered to the Israelite people? The glaring reality is that this isn't the first time Samuel has anointed someone King.
Back when the Israelites decided that it wasn't clear enough to them to have God rule over them; and then it wasn't good enough for judges to rule over them; and then Samuel anointed Saul-- the chosen one, the hero of all heroes, the good looking warrior who was going to take them where God wanted them to go-- and while it starts off fairly well, Saul's faults become too great and the people are left wondering why they're being ruled by a madman. So Samuel is shy about anointing someone else-- shy because it's treason; but perhaps mostly hesitant because he had put all of his hopes in the first King and that hadn't gone so well. It is important that God sees David's heart; that God chooses an unlikely King this next go round, because this is God's second chance to get it right, and everyone is watching.
So here's David-- young naive and innocent David-- who is anointed King not to begin immediately, but in waiting until there's a way to get Saul to retire.
This past week I finally got to see the movie Wonder Woman. And in it, Diana, daughter of the Queen of the Amazons, is young and naive and innocent. She sees the world in a particular way, and she believes that if she just kills the god of war, everyone will be at peace. She is so convincing in this, that she even gets others to believe it with her. What she doesn't know, is exactly who she is and what she's capable of. She doesn't realize how complex the world is, and that people can't really be labeled as bad or good. It takes entering the human world before she realizes that it isn’t as simple as getting rid of the bad. What she finds out, is that every human is fully capable of both bad and good.
When I hear this story about David, the new superhero for the Israelites, I see all of the hope that Samuel must've seen; all of the surprise that David's brothers must've showed; all of the fear and pride that Jesse, David's father, must've felt. And I'm reminded of something a colleague said to me once-- that sometimes we are Moses and sometimes we are Pharoah. Sometimes you and I are like the young David-- innocent, with a faithful heart, and brave ideas. And sometimes, we are like David who, as King, brings the Arc of the Covenant into Jerusalem after they have taken the city-- this David dances and praises God and puts his whole heart so much into it that his wife later chastises him for embarrassing her. And sometimes, we are like the King David who got comfortable in being King and forgot his responsibilities for having all of that power, and instead used his power to objectify a young woman named Bathsheba and send her husband to the front lines of the war.
All of these Davids, are one David, of course. And anyone hearing this story told orally for generation upon generation before it was ever written down, would've known all of those stories about David as they heard the telling of this story-- about how God looks upon our heart, not upon our outward appearance.
Like all superheroes in the Bible, David is able to faithfully follow God some of the time; ignore God and do what he wants some of the time; and have to live in the ambiguity of it all, all of the time.
And yet God picks him anyway. And he is known as one of the greatest Kings of Israel. We don't all make wise choices all the time, and in fact, like David, we often screw up so badly that other peoples' lives are affected painfully. And yet God chooses us anyway.
Jesus says it a bit differently in our parable this morning. He says, "A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn't deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants and the thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one."
Unlike us, who pin all of our hopes on one superhero; or one leader; or one King; or one President; God knows that our world is about much more than that. God is busy throwing out God's Word of grace and love right and left. Have you ever met a farmer that would throw seed on a path or in the thorns or in shallow soil? Never. Seed is precious. But God does. Because God sees our hearts. God knows that what looks like thorns to us could turn out to be deep soil. What looks like a path to us could be a place where a seed could root itself and grow to find water. Each one of us has the capability of being fertile ground for God's love to grow and root and bear fruit; or not. And most likely, all of us will be both fertile soil and barren soil at different times in our lives.
David was, for sure. But the thing about David, is that even when he messed up, he was not so hard of heart that he continued in that direction. As it turns out, God did know David's heart. And when David messed up, he knew to turn back to God, repent, and start again.
David was Samuel's second chance at a King; but as it would turn out, it would be David that time and again would need a second chance-- would need the grace of God. David chose his god well-- choosing this God of love who continues to forgive us, to look into our heart and see something we often can't even see, and to love us faithfully so that we can bear God's fruit in our lives.