Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022

Just a Shepherd?

King David Series- 1

Exodus 19:1-6 and 1st Samuel 16:1-13

Today we’re beginning a series of sermons based on the life of King David and drawn out of this book, “Leap over a Wall.” I was turned on to this book last fall by a fellow pastor. It’s a spiritual biography of David, examining the theology that we can learn through his life.

David is, in many ways, has the most extensive biography in the Bible. Now, if you just go by chapters and verses, there’s a lot more material about Moses and Jesus than there is about David. But there are also large portions of the lives of Moses and Jesus about which we have almost no information. By contrast, we pretty much know the story of David’s life from beginning to end.

It’s often said that David is unique because he is the only person in Scripture about whom God says, “He is a man after my own heart.” David certainly was a man who loved God. But he was also thoroughly human. He never lost all his “rough edges.” He was an earthy character, and yet also a very spiritual character.

What we can see in David’s life is that God is present in every aspect of life, even the “earthy” aspects. Our earthy life is the context in which God’s presence is seen. God doesn’t simply lift us out of our earthy circumstances and put us in some holy temple somewhere. We still live in this very often ungodly world as we struggle to live a godly life

If we are in fact made in God’s image and made for a relationship with God, then we are less than fully human apart from God. But with God, our lives can be filled with meaning, purpose, and joy. And David’s life, more than most, can show us the potential of a God-filled life.

David’s story begins in the little book of Ruth that tells us of David’s ancestry. But his first appearance as a person is here in 1st Samuel 16. The story goes like this:

God has rejected King Saul. Saul was chosen and anointed to be king. He started out okay. But pride got the better of him, and he stopped listening to God and started doing things his own way. So God rejected him and promised to give the throne of Israel to a “better man.”

The prophet Samuel, who found and anointed Saul, grieved for his loss. But finally God determined that it was time to anoint a successor. But there is suspense in

the story. The suspense is that Samuel knows that the next king will come from the Tribe of Judah, from the village of Bethlehem, from the family of Jesse, but he doesn’t know which son it will be.

Samuel goes and gathers Jesse and his sons and the elders of the village for something of a secret ceremony. It couldn’t be public because this next-anointed king would be in danger till the day Saul died. But there still had to be witnesses. Someone had to know whom God had chosen.

One by one the sons of Jesse came. The first was Eliab. We don’t have details about what he looked like, except that he was tall and strong and handsome. He looked like “king material.” After all, King Saul was chosen in large part because of his height and good looks.

Maybe we wouldn’t like to admit it, but we still show favoritism to good-looking people. I remember hearing one time about an experiment where two people were chosen to commit identical criminal acts. They were both supposed to steal something. One was a good looking woman, the other was not-so-attractive man. And the experiment was repeated a number of times, and bystanders were much more likely to try to stop the person who was not so good-looking. Some even helped the attractive woman to steal.

Even Samuel was taken in by Eliab’s appearance. “Surely this is the one!” But God wasn’t taken in. People judge by outward appearances, but God looks at the heart. In ancient Near East thinking, the heart was the center of your thoughts and your motives.

It was the same story with the next six sons. Samuel was probably starting to wonder if he had found the right Jesse. “Are these all the sons you have?”

“Well, no, there’s the HAQQATON.” HAQQATON is the Hebrew word for “smallest.” The “baby.” The runt of the litter. The word implies insignificance.

And wouldn’t you know it: He’s the one! Not because Samuel or Jesse saw anything in him! Jesse didn’t even bother to bring him! Samuel said, “Bring all your sons!” and Jesse must have thought, “I’ll bring the ones that matter!” Only because God saw something in him did he get chosen. He was just an insignificant sheep-herder with Moabite blood in him! He didn’t even have a good family lineage! And he came from a

little backwater village in the hills! But not to God. There is no such thing as a HAQQATON, insignificant, person to God.

I’m reminded of what I personally think is the greatest story to come out of the last century, J. R. R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings.” In Lord of the Rings, there is a great task to be done. Someone has to take the Ring of Power to the fires of Mt. Doom and destroy it so that the dark lord Sauron can be defeated and once and for all. And in the first book, there’s this discussion about who will do it? Who could do it? There’s Elrond, the wise elf lord. There’s Boromir, captain of armies of Gondor, a great warrior. There’s Gandalf the great and powerful wizard. There’s Aragorn, the last descendant of the last king, another powerful and wise warrior. Yet, it is none of them, but Frodo the Hobbit who becomes the hero of the story. Frodo who never left home before. Frodo who never accomplished anything before. Frodo who is half the size of the rest of them. Tolkein, of course, was a Christian and he was trying to tell us something: “Insignificant” people can do great things!

We live today in a society where expertise is expected in so many areas. Schools only hire “certified” teachers to educate students. If you need to go to court, you’d better hire a lawyer, approved by the bar. If you are sick, you’d better go to a doctor, someone who can put MD or DO after their name. If your car is broken, you’d better take it to a mechanic. And of course, we can’t manage our own lives, so we have to elect politicians who are smarter than us to tell us how we should live. The assumption behind all this is that average people, “just” ordinary folk, simply can’t know what’s best.

But are we better for it? Are our lives better for turning so much of them over to the “experts?” I think anyone would be hard-pressed to say “yes.”

It even comes into the Church. We have ordained clergy, people who are educated to know the Bible, to know God, to know what the Church should be doing! “You can’t know God! You’re just an average layperson! You’d better go to an expert!”

All of this deference to expertise makes people into passive consumers, customers to the expert. We pay the doctor to make us well. We pay the lawyer to write our papers. We pay the mechanic to fix our car. We pay the teachers to educate our children. And in the church, we pay the pastor to help us know God.

Was this God’s intention for the Church? No. We are to be the people of God, not customers to the experts on God. We are to do the work of God, not pay the expert to do it.

In Exodus 19:6, God says to Israel as they come to Mt. Sinai in the wilderness, “You are a kingdom of priests.” God spoke those words to a nation of slaves who were fresh out of Egypt. One of the dominant forces in Egypt was a large, professional priesthood. Yet God says to these newly released slaves, “You are priests! All the earth is mine, but I have chosen you to be special, to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests.”

Every insignificant Israelite, and to bring into the new covenant, every insignificant Christian, is called a priest. A priest is a person who presents God to people. A priest bears the image of God, shows the character of God, and reconciles people to God. And every believer is a priest.

It’s a good thing, too! Because we tend to forget God too easily, so it’s good that we have a lot of priests around us!

In David’s story, we see God’s rebuke of the word “just.” No Christian is “just” an ordinary person. We all have the Holy Spirit, just as David did. And just as the Holy Spirit enabled David to serve God, so the Holy Spirit enables us to serve God, to be a priest of God, to know God and to help others to know God.

So don’t ever dismiss yourself by saying “I’m just…. I’m just a layperson. I’m just an ordinary Christian. I’m just a new believer. I’m just a young person. I’m just an old person.” No one is “just” anything in God’s eyes.

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