September 13th 2020

Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

There has been a great deal of debate in recent years concerning the plight of refugees and how to support them. Many governments have wrestled with the question of how and where such support should be given, and there has been much talk about the camps that have arisen, in some instances, including the legality of their right to exist where they have arisen. It’s a debate that continues today as hundreds of men, women and children risk their lives to cross treacherous waters in search of a safer place to live.

Irrespective of these undoubtedly weighty dilemmas, real questions need to be asked about the condition of said camps. How safe are they? Is the shelter they provide adequate enough for the climate in which they exist? Is there sufficient access to food and water – basic human rights after all. My guess is that most of us assume all that has been taken care of and is really none of our concern.

I have witnessed first-hand what life can be like in some of these camps. On a visit to Peru shortly after a major earthquake which made the world news headlines, and a subsequent tsunami, which didn’t, I saw the very basic conditions people were living in, through no fault of their own. By the time we visited the area much of the initial help by way of soup kitchens and the like had virtually come to an end, but these camps had no regular access to water of any kind and had to pay for any that was trucked in.

A number of years ago, I attended a conference organised by Tearfund which was focussed on life in camps such as these, whether they had arisen because of natural disaster or terror and violence forcing folk to flee their homelands. At one point we were put into groups and given various scenarios to consider and our job during the discussion was to offer a response from a Christian perspective.

Our question was to do with water supply and sewerage. The scenario we had been given was of a camp whose existence was clearly going to be required for the foreseeable future and so a committee comprised of Christians in the camp, had been arranged for the purpose of appointing someone to oversee the development of said water and sewage arrangements. Our job was to recommend one of two candidates for the job. Easy you might think. But anyone who has had anything to do with recruitment will recognise that it is rarely that simple.

We had the choice of opting for someone whom the committee were supposed to know well; someone who was a devout Christian, whose intentions were considered holy and good, but whose background and range of expertise had little or nothing to do with the project in hand.

The other candidate was less well known but whose work prior to being in the camp had been in exactly this kind of work. He had the skills and experience required for the job, but he was not a Christian. He was a practicing Muslim. Who should the committee recommend?

Samuel faced an even more important dilemma. Appointed by God, Samuel was sent to Jesse of Bethlehem to identify the person whom God had chosen to replace King Saul. It was a dangerous exercise from the outset because having been rejected by God, Saul was on the rampage and would have killed Samuel had he discovered what Samuel was about to do.

However, loyal to the Lord his God, Samuel went as God ordained and set about carrying out the task in hand. Samuel thought he knew the kind of person that God would chose. As did Jesse, for seven of his sons were presented to Samuel as possible candidates for King. Big men, fit and strong; men worthy in human eyes to be the ruler of the nation. But as we know, all seven were rejected.

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

The youngest member of the family had not been worthy of consideration by Jesse – why would he after all? He was the youngest and least likely to inherit any kind of power or wealth. His job was tending the sheep and that’s where his future was deemed to belong. Of course, the others having been rejected, David was duly sent for, and unlikely as it was, this was the man God had chosen to be the next king over Israel.

Essentially, the passage is about unexpected kingship and who God chooses. It seems to me that not much changed over the years, for was not Jesus himself and unexpected Messiah. Whilst the Jews were looking for someone powerful and warrior-like, Jesus came as a baby, grew into a man, the son of a humble carpenter. Was this why it was so difficult for the Jews to accept his teaching; to recognise him as a man of God.

Choosing the unexpected is an eternal biblical theme which we talk about often, but perhaps one we ought to listen to more closely to, especially in a world that judges people by different measures than those that are important to God.

Perhaps one of the greater lessons in this chapter then is that God’s presence is not always easy to discern. We have formulas and patterns and liturgies to help us, but love does not always conform to those set pieces. Today, we heard about the sons of Jesse, lined up and presented to Samuel as would be expected, eldest first. Like Jesse, Samuel expected one of the eldest sons to be chosen, but the expected does not happen. Love is somewhat more original and not constrained by what is regarded the norm, or confined to a set of rules. God chose David. He later chose Jesus, and now he chooses us.

In this time of uncertainty and amid the turbulence COVID-19 has caused us, the question comes to us still. How might we untangle ourselves from our expectations to see what God wants us to see in this moment? What direction is God moving us towards? And how open are we to exploring that call, not just as individuals, but collectively as a community of faith?

Something for us all to think about.

Prayer

Lord God, in times of uncertainty we turn to you for guidance and hope. We thank you that in Jesus, and by the gift of your Holy Spirit we can know peace in the midst of a storm, calm in a whirlwind, and love when all around us the world appears full of hate. In these uncharted times we are slowly realising that you are showing us a new way to be your people. May we be free from any fear of the unknown and be filled instead with a fresh sense of purpose and dedication. May your promise of hope shield us from despair and your gift of love arm us in service. For you are our God and in you we have put our trust, for the sake of Jesus, our Saviour. AMEN

Please click on the link to listen to “Yet not I but through Christ in me”

Yet not I but through Christ in me