Old Testament:1 Samuel (8:15:34-16:13)
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
The Response: Psalm 20
1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, *
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
2 Send you help from his holy place *
and strengthen you out of Zion;
3 Remember all your offerings *
and accept your burnt sacrifice;
4 Grant you your heart’s desire *
and prosper all your plans.
5 We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the Name of our God; *
may the Lord grant all your requests.
6 Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed; *
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.
7 Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, *
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.
8 They collapse and fall down, *
but we will arise and stand upright.
9 O Lord, give victory to the king *
and answer us when we call.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (5:6-17)
We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
The Gospel: Mark (4:26-34)
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Many times, the scriptures call on us to use the talents that God has entrusted to us, no matter what they are, in order to serve others and to build up the kingdom of God. But today’s scripture readings remind us of the gifts that God has given to other people as well and of our responsibility to recognize them and enable them to use their gifts to do the work of God. Basically, we are all in this world and in this work together.
Sometimes, we fail to notice those gifts given to others, especially in those who seem to be so very ordinary and unexceptional. That seems to be the case in today’s first reading. In that account, God insists that the great priest and prophet Samuel stop looking to the past, to what has been, and open his eyes to look to the future and to the new thing that God was doing in replacing Saul as king.
Samuel comes to Bethlehem at God’s direction and, specifically, to the house of Jesse. There, the proud father presents to the great leader seven of his sons. Each of them, beginning with the eldest, seems to be an outstanding candidate to become the new king. But, one by one, Samuel comes to realize that God has not chosen any of them.
He must have been puzzled when he reached the end of the line without any success. And so he asks Jesse, “Are these all your sons?” – as if seven sons weren’t enough! There was, of course one more: the little kid; but nobody had bothered to bring him. He’d just get in the way anyhow, so they sent him out to watch the sheep and to keep him from getting underfoot. Notice that, at this point, he is not even named.
It’s no wonder that so many people throughout the ages have come to love this story. And it’s no surprise that so many of them have identified with that youngest son. In reflecting on this story, Walter Brueggemann (First and Second Samuel, page 123-4) has observed: “The young David is one of the marginal people. He is uncredentialed and has no social claim to make. Those who fastened onto this story most passionately may have been those who, like David, were marginal with no credentials and no social claim. For such people it would have been important to assert and celebrate that among the marginal there are beautiful people, that among the little ones there is potential for greatness. In the hearing of the story are the seeds of hope for all those who joined the company and the narrated imagination of David.”
God works through all sorts and conditions of people. In the words of English poet William Cowper: “God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform.”
Working to see God’s gifts in others, in particular in those who, like the young David, seem to have “no credentials and no social claim,” is an essential, ongoing task for us. But, at the same time, it doesn’t mean that our job is to find somebody else to do God’s work instead of us, leaving us off the hook. Rather, it means taking the initiative to come to know others who might be willing to do God’s work in the world with us. We all have our parts to play in building up God’s kingdom.
At the same time, it’s essential to remember, as St. Paul pointed out, that, even with the importance of our individual and shared contributions, the real growth comes not from us, but from God. That is a central element of both of Jesus’ short parables in today’s gospel reading. And, because it is God’s work, we might not see the results of our efforts for a long time, if ever. God’s timeline is a lot longer than our own. But it is our responsibility to work together with others in carrying on the work that those in the past have begun and then to hand it on to those who will continue it in the future. In the Mishnah (m. Abot 2:16), Rabbi Tarphon reminds his hearers: “It is not your job to finish the work, but neither are you free to walk away from it.”
When Samuel first visited the house of Jesse, that little boy, David, seemed like a completely unlikely candidate to lead Judah and Israel and to become the legendary leader idealized by later generations. But God has chosen unlikely people time and time again, and God continues to do so today. God continues to choose the small mustard seeds of our world and bring forth new and abundant life through them.
For our part, we need to be willing to take our part and to do our part. We need to acknowledge and be willing to use whatever gifts God has given us together with whatever gifts God has given to others, all to achieve a common, higher purpose: transforming peoples’ lives and transforming our world to resemble more closely the kingdom of God.
It’s nothing that any one person can achieve alone. And it’s nothing that we or anyone else can expect to achieve in a single lifetime. But then, as the great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr observed (The Irony of American History):
“Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Hope, faith, love, forgiveness: all necessary components of doing the work that God has entrusted to us. And by incorporating them into all that we do and allowing them to flow through us and through those with whom God calls us to work, we will enable the scattered seed, planted by the giver of all life, to grow and flourish and bring forth an abundant harvest to feed a hungry world.