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Sermon: On Being Invisible

June 12, 2009

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Some kids have a knack for being invisible.  They’re not trying to hide.  Some kids just seem so small and insignificant.  They are not troublemakers.  They are not loud, and so you don’t notice them.

When I was in sixth grade, we had a kid named Donnie.  It was a long while before I ever knew his name.  He had brown hair and brown eyes.  He was slightly shorter than average, and he always wore a dark blue jacket that was about two sizes too big so that the sleeves hung down over his hands.

On the playground, if you ever saw Donnie—a rare event—he was by himself, sometimes reading a book on the bench way out under the tree in the corner by the hospital, or he would simply be meandering along the fence line looking down at his feet.

There were some of us who used every opportunity—before school, lunch and every recess—to play some sort of sport in its season.  Fall was for football, winter was for basketball and spring was for baseball.  We always began by lining up at the edge of the grass for choosing side.  As always, somebody had to be picked last.  One cool morning we were finishing up choosing sides for football, and as we started moving out onto the field to start our game, there was a voice that squeaked, “What about me?”

We looked back, and there was Donnie, standing right there where everyone else had been while the captains picked their teams.  He had apparently been standing there all along, waiting to be chosen, but he had been invisible to us.  And even if one of the captains had seen Donnie, it never would have occurred to him that Donnie wanted to play.

It would be great if this story about Donnie had a happy ending, that he was the star of the game and gained schoolyard fame and respect by his exploits on the football field.  The reality is that as soon as Donnie went onto his team, he became invisible again.  Nobody passed the ball to him.  Nobody offered to let him be the quarterback for a play or two.  And Donnie didn’t play with us again.

The first king the people of Israel ever had was never invisible.  Saul was a very large, powerful man.  He stood head and shoulders above anyone else (1 Samuel 10:23).  He was successful on the battlefield.  Saul led an army that destroyed the warriors of Nahash, king of the Ammonites, who cut out the right eye of every Israelite he could capture (11:1-11).  Saul was well known and easily recognized.

The problem with Saul was that he was not obedient.  He was not diligent in carrying out God’s commandments that came through the prophet Samuel.  God said, “I regret that I made Saul king…[he] has not carried out my commandments” (15:11).  That led to a break between Israel’s first king and Samuel, the great prophet and Saul’s personal advisor.  Our scripture reading picks up the story at that point, with Samuel grieving over the lost king and God being sorry that Saul ever became king in the first place.

While Saul was still king in name, God told Samuel to pick up his horn full of oil and to anoint the new king.  Now if you know anything about kings, you probably know that they respond violently to usurpers and traitors.  God was putting Samuel in a difficult spot.  And so, with the rather weak cover story about making a sacrifice, Samuel showed up in the village where Jesse lived with his many sons.  God had said that one of these sons would be Israel’s new king.

Just at the moment of the sacrifice, Samuel said to Jesse, “I’d like to meet your sons.  Please introduce me.”  The scene is reminiscent of us in sixth grade when we would line up to choose teams, only in this case, only one could be picked.  The first son was Eliab, a strapping young man who looked to Samuel as if he could be a great king.  “Surely,” Samuel thought to himself, “this man is the one.”

“No, this is not the one,” said God.  “Don’t you remember the mistake we made with Saul?  He was big and strong, but he wasn’t the one.  I will look on the heart.”

So Eliab was not the one.  Then Abinidab came forward, and he was not the one either.  And then five more sons of Jesse passed by Samuel, and each time the prophet said, “No, not this one.  Jesse, the Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.  Don’t you have any more sons?”

Jesse thought for a moment…“Oh, I guess I do have another son, but he’s the youngest and he is out keeping the sheep.”

“Nevertheless, bring him here.  We are not going to continue until I meet this youngest son of yours.”

So everybody waited until David arrived, out of breath and dirty from keeping the flocks.  Although God said it is only the heart that matters, Samuel couldn’t help but notice that the youngster was quite handsome and had beautiful eyes.  God said, “Anoint this one.  He shall be king.”  Samuel poured the oil over David’s head, and God confirmed the act of anointing by filling the boy mightily with God’s own Spirit.

Let’s step back and remember how this momentous scene began.  The great prophet Samuel had come into Jesse’s village for the purpose of performing a monumental and dangerous act—anointing a new king while the current king still sat on his throne.  All the village elders were there.  Jesse gathered his sons to attend the sacrifice.  God was even there, looking on.

But the most important person of this event had not even been considered.  David was invisible, off tending the sheep, an afterthought.  No one even thought that David should be there.  In fact, the text does not even use his name until after he has been anointed and God’s Spirit comes upon him.  David is nameless and invisible.  Yet, he is the one.

*   *   *   *   *

When I think back about our schoolmate Donnie, I realize how little we knew of him.  It wasn’t that Donnie was mistreated so much as ignored.  No one called him names or stole his lunch money or tried to push him around.  He was simply an afterthought, like the future King David.  If you saw him, you might think, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  He goes to school here, too.”

That means that none of us really knew what he had to offer.  He might have been a great quarterback or a talented musician or a top notch writer or a math genius.  We would never have known.  We never considered that such a bland, nondescript package could contain anything valuable.

But in this story, God provided for the people through just such an afterthought.  While everybody’s attention is focused on the biggest and strongest, on the most important citizens, God was pulling a young boy from the margins and putting him right in the center.  Salvation had come to the people from an unexpected source.

When I was in sixth grade, we didn’t have a prophet to remind us to look on the heart.  If we did, we might have discovered untold wealth within Donnie.  We might have become his friends.  He might have added richness to our lives.  But we were too sure of ourselves and so certain that we knew which people were the important ones, and which ones could be safely ignored.

How is it that today, as adults, we know which people and which resources God has brought into our lives?  Do we ever look for God’s help from unexpected sources?  Or do we simply assume that the ones who look good on the outside are the people through whom God is working?  You know which people I’m talking about: pastors, doctors, teachers, politicians, athletes and actors, the rich and the famous and the good looking.

There is no way that God—who looks on the heart—would consider choosing an afterthought like old Mrs. Pickering who lives at the end of the block and only leaves her house twice a week to buy cat food.  There is no way God would consider wasting the Spirit on that one annoying guy at work who is always borrowing your stapler but never brings it back.  There is no way God would consider using a shy, nobody of a boy like Donnie.  Am I right?  People like Mrs. Pickering and the guy at work and Donnie simply become invisible, and we usually prefer they stay that way.

We ignore the people God brings into our lives at our peril.  While we are busy considering the outside packaging and the credentials, God is looking on the heart.  God rescued the people of Israel from their enemies using a boy too young and unimportant to be considered even by his family.  Who has God brought to you?  What squeaky voice, what ruddy shepherd, what nothing of a boy with the heart of a king has God put into your life to teach you and guide you?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2009 1:43 pm

    great sermon! I love the image of the schoolyard pick as an image that everyone has experienced and can identify with. I was thinking of going generally the same direction you have gone, and since we are also having a confirmation and profession of faith, I’m also going to stress the importance of the inner life and the genuineness of our commitment to Christ. My sermon will be called “Inside Out” and will also focus on the notion that God knows our inmost thoughts and desires. God sees the shape of our hearts. We must be diligent to guard against resentment, jealousy, pride, etc. because they can spoil our insides. Those are the traits that ruin Saul once David’s career takes off. Our inner life may seem containable and private, but more often than not, it is on display to others in ways that we’re not aware. In the end, God is our judge and we are known “inside out” by God. So, we might as well come clean with who we are, and ask for God to forgive us our weaknesses and mold us into God’s image.

  2. dogearedpreacher permalink*
    June 12, 2009 2:39 pm

    I really like the “inside out” idea. It is perfect for the text. I think you are on to something good with the thought that those things we think are hidden on the inside are often seen clearly by others (and always by God). You might even want to consider a bit of foreshadowing by mentioning that David himself will try to keep some awful stuff hidden inside after he murders Bathsheba’s husband. It won’t be long before David is laid bare before God in a very unpleasant way.

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