This post is extremely long, but here's the gist. I was given the opportunity to preach at my church this morning and it was the first full sermon I've ever written. Keep in mind that I found out Thursday and worked 12 hours Friday and Saturday. Somewhere in between lessons, lifeguarding classes, open swim, and pool parties this is what we got. For those who weren't able to hear it live, I thought I'd post it. The scriptures are posted first, because without them, the sermon may not make a lot of sense. Hope you enjoy!
From 1 Samuel 15-16
Then 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.
He also 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.
Today’s gospel reading comes from Mark. The passage is a familiar parable about a mustard seed and how the tiniest seed grows into the greatest of all bushes with long branches and plenty of shade for the birds to nest in. We recently were looking at houses for my sister in College Station as she embarks on her journey of achieving a PhD. My dad, who seems to have the most knowledge and experience with making this type of investment was reviewing some of the houses and commenting on the lack of trees in some yards while appraising their value. Of course, I had a simple solution: “If you want more trees, you can always plant them yourself.” He chuckled and then reminded me how slowly trees grow. Obviously the trees wouldn’t be providing much shade until well after we were addressing Brittney as Dr. Becker. I have a deeper appreciation now for our own trees that provide shade in my front yard, planted thirty years ago. Waiting for seeds to sprout, trees to grow, and flowers to blossom takes patience, which is not particularly a strength of mine. What I have become particularly good at over the past few years is telling stories. Every time I come home, I have more stories to tell and usually a pretty big audience to listen, so I have had lots of practice in recounting my adventures, offering the most exciting details in a fairytale fashion. I guess that’s why I love the gospels so much – a collection of stories with the most exciting details and ultimately a happy ending.
The gospels are full of parables, like the one in Mark about the mustard seed. Jesus always spoke to the crowds in these parables and explained their meanings in private to his disciples. Personally, I have always been a fan of deciphering codes and solving puzzles. Growing up, I had several puzzle books and and even now, I get a thrill reading Dan Brown novels and watching detective shows, hoping to solve the mystery before the protagonist. The simple crime report is not as exciting as the rest of the story, with the juicy details and the false leads. Maybe, Jesus’ parables were more than instructions in layman’s terms; he knew how to attract a crowd and his puzzles kept the audience wanting more. In our modern days, we have most of the answers (or so we think). With our side notes in our bibles, most of our questions about the scriptures are answered. Is that why our excitement about such a great book has dwindled? Maybe a little more mystery, a little more suspense, or a little more drama (because we need more drama) would reestablish our interest, restore our initial attraction.
Think about the last time you walked into a bookstore…or a movie rental place. Chances are you have heard of a few books or movies, some have been suggested, and some have been given really low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, which is the internet authority on new movies. Maybe once in a while, you’re feeling a little adventurous, so you pick out the movie you’ve never heard of. Let’s examine this situation. In Hollywood today, very few movies include the following: good acting, a good plot, and good production. Now, the critics have a longer list of criteria to give films a precious five stars, but for me they just have to be good in those three areas (good, not great). Usually it’s the picture on the cover that first gets your attention. Maybe it looks like a familiar situation, the outrageous family who remind you of your own childhood, the romantic comedy that will either make you laugh or cry (both are favorable), or the action-packed movie that’s sure to have some explosions and special effects that keep dad on the edge of his seat. I’m sure by this point, you can all imagine the times that you have encountered this situation and it turned out poorly. Little secret: this scenario rarely has a happy ending. But, if you are lucky, you may discover a diamond in the rough. A movie that others didn’t find appealing may hit you just right on the perfect day. Now come into the bookstore with me. I know it’s a slightly less familiar place for some. Look on the shelves at all the new books, with their exciting covers and rave reviews on the back. As you scan the shelves, you come upon this book (Bible), a blank cover with two words on the front, “Holy Bible”. Maybe you’ve heard of it, some good reviews, some not so good. You’re not so sure whether this is a chance you want to take. It looks different than the other books. Inside there are more books and chapters and verses. You are a little overwhelmed; where should I start? Do I have to read the whole thing, cover to cover? Is there a Spark Notes version? It is rather thick.
Let’s say you start from the beginning. You meet a great God who created everything. You’re fascinated, but a little apprehensive. Imagining this mighty being frightens you a little, because you’re such a small creature in such an expansive world. You may feel lonely in such a big world, or if you’re like me, your sense of control becomes shaky, when you realize just how small of a piece of the puzzle you are. You skip forward a little ways and stumble upon today’s Old Testament reading from first Samuel: Samuel calls upon the sons of Jesse, searching for the Lord’s chosen king of Israel. The first son, Eliab, was thought by Samuel to surely be the anointed one. But the Lord says 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.” None of the first seven sons, strong and able-bodied are chosen, and when Samuel comes to the shepherd boy, David, the Lord says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
Suddenly, you feel reassured. Maybe there is something in this book that you can relate to. This mighty God obviously cares about David, and he’s just a shepherd boy; maybe, he has something special planned for my life too. As you continue reading, you find this guy David slaying a giant with a slingshot. David didn’t grow into a giant or have any super human powers; he was simply a boy chosen by the Lord with a incomparable faith. On the outside, David may not be the most exciting choice for a hero or a warrior, but God chose him because of what was inside. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Too bad our technology hasn’t created some kind of x-ray vision to help us see past outward appearance and inside the heart. I’m sure Apple is working on that.
Most of you know that I have an overwhelming passion for kids. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the reason this passion is so strong is because it’s a God-given love. Last summer, while serving in New Mexico at Four Corners Native American Ministry, I sat down with three other students to reflect on our mission and what we had learned. One question that we had focused on throughout the week was “where do you see God here, and in your daily life?” That answer was easy for me; I see God through the innocence of children and see it especially in the injustices that children receive through means of abuse and neglect. That’s why I am looking especially forward to this next chapter in my life. I have the opportunity to be a mentor and provide spiritual guidance for children who may have no parental involvement in their lives or who may have experienced trauma that makes it hard for them to trust an adult figure. I know that their strength and will to overcome these obstacles is only possible with a God big enough to turn a mustard seed to an enormous bush, a God who can turn a shepherd into a warrior, and a God that can see through the outward appearance into the heart. These kids that I love are the ones who sit in our principals’ offices, start fights to get someone’s attention, and sometimes hurt others to share their overwhelming pain. Romans 12 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I know with God’s strength and the support of a community of believers, these children can and will overcome evil. With a faith like David, we will ride into battle and fight evil, together. Hopefully, that action-packed story can be shared soon, and we will find our happy ending.
Today is a rather special day, because today we get to celebrate the men who care about us most, our fathers. Like most holidays, each family celebrates a little differently. Some have traditions, while some may pass it by like another normal day. Some dads play golf as they celebrate one more year of daughters robbing their wallets; some spend time with children they haven’t seen lately and grandchildren who bring tremendous joy and energy. On this day next year, I will be spending the day with children who were abused or may have never met their fathers; that situation makes today’s celebration look a little different for me. Blessed with such a great father of my own, it can be hard to relate today’s sentiments to someone who has not had a positive experience. Our earthly fathers are going to make mistakes, and we can only pray that God gives us the strength to forgive those mistakes despite how minor or major the offense. Whether your dad is sitting next to you or not, be thankful today for your father, other men who have positively impacted your life regardless of a biological connection, and a Father in heaven who gave His only son to die for you. You are extremely loved and blessed from here to eternity.
Standing here today is such a privilege. This is home for me, where it all started. Maybe five or ten years ago, some would have expected me to be up here today, but more than likely they saw many other paths that I would likely be following. Five years ago, I thought I was going to be a lawyer and ten years ago, I didn’t have a clue. Even a few months ago, I thought I’d be doing a fellowship at Yale or starting a doctorate program in the fall. So, why, you might ask is this girl giving up a high paying salary and the glamorous lifestyle for a 300 dollar a month stipend, a dorm room, and cafeteria meals? Because I’ve read this book, and despite the cover, it is a great story and one that I want to share. This is one lesson I’ll never be able to forget; never judge a book by its cover.