What makes this story that we are hearing a life forming story? What makes this story an epic? What makes this story worth paying attention to? For one, it’s a pretty good story. It has love and passion, it has violence and death, it has good guys and bad guys, it has a giant and a weakling. What’s more, it has truth, it reveals to us the patterns of our lives, the patterns of history, the patterns of the universe.
We catch up with the story today as Samuel the prophet realizes that Saul and his descendents will not continue to rule Israel, and Samuel goes looking for another candidate. Guided by God, he goes to Bethlehem and Jesse’s family to find someone. I am reminded somewhat of the story of Cinderella, after the ball, after Cinderella runs from the palace and looses her shoe, when the prince sends his emissary out into the kingdom to find the one the shoe fits. He gets to the house of the evil stepmother, and she shows what she believes to be the best of her girls. The two stepsisters. The emissary tries the shoe on the girls, and we all know it doesn’t fit either of them. He asks if there is anyone else. According to the evil stepmother there is not. She does not even begin to see any value or worth in Cinderella, the lowest of the low in her eyes. Eventually Cinderella shows up, after being detained in her room, in the Disney version the mice get her out, and when the shoe finally is placed on her foot, well we all know the end of that story. Happily ever after and all that. I suppose that’s where the similarities end.
David is the youngest son, the smallest, the weakest, he’s out tending the sheep, and we all know about shepherds, that position was reserved for the ones who couldn’t do anything else. As soon as David appears, Samuel knows he is the one. Despite the fact that physically he isn’t much to look at, he is the strong leader that Israel needs. So Samuel anoints him, pours the oil right over his head. David, the youngest, the weakest, the smallest, is to become Israel’s champion, but we’ll save that story for next week.
I think what makes this story so great is that the one who is chosen is David. When we read the whole story we realize that any one of us can identify with David. If we don’t hear the story for ourselves, we make the mistake of just knowing that David was a shepherd and then a King. We don’t really hear the parts that show us that David, the shepherd, the champion and the King, is a sinner, a repenter, a servant, a human just like you and me.
This story of David is a part of the greater story we call the metanarrative, and we see the truth of God in the pattern that is revealed in creation. This story shows us that this is the One God, creator of the universe, creator of all that is seen and unseen, God above all gods. Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. This is the God that brought the Israelites out of slavery into freedom; this is the God that stayed with the people in Exile. This is the One God who anointed Kings over Israel and Judea even knowing that wasn’t such a good idea. This is the One God who reunited the two kingdoms into one and placed this King David on the throne, knowing that David was not a perfect man. This is the One God who creates and who blesses. This is the One God who has faith in creation and who stands fast when creation turns away and who calls creation back into relationship even as they wander in the wilderness. This is the One God who chooses as the champion the littlest, the weakest, the least perfect.
What about this story is so powerful? What about this story is about redemption? We find the pattern repeated in the gospel of Mark. Here we have 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. It’s not size, or the power that we have that is important. It is not what we have or what we achieve that is important. It’s not being the biggest or the best that is important. It is the transformation, it is the shepherd transformed to the king, it is the mustard seed transformed to the greatest of all shrubs so as to provide shade so that all the birds of the air can make nests. And the gospel of Mark shows us that this transformation is what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is not about perfection, but about transformation. The kingdom of God in not about being right, or being powerful, or being strong, or even having enough faith, the kingdom of God is about the transformation of a thing that looks like it can’t possibly be worthwhile, into a new thing that is able to give life, is able to provide a place for the birds of the air to make their nests.
So we are to be like David, in the fullness of our humanity, God has faith in us. And God’s faith in us is transforming. We are to be like the mustard seed, the very seed that looks like it can’t bear any fruit at all, but becomes that which gives life to all that take refuge. And there’s one more thing in this Mark passage that we need to pay attention to. 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. This little kingdom of God parable shows us that God’s work is our transformation; our work is to respond to God. This is not to say that we do nothing, it is to say that transformation is up to God, and we are to be in a position to hear, to listen, to worship, to glorify, to be changed, to be molded. And then transformation results in our response, just like planting seeds in the ground bears fruit. The fruit we bear is our response to how God changes us. The fruit we bear is a part of the new creation, the kingdom of God.
So we have these stories before us today that are all about littleness and mystery. They are about God, not really about us at all. They show us that God is faithful, they show us that God is up to something and we are simply called to participate in what God is doing in the world. That is why we find flashes of brilliant hope and the promise of a greater day to come. They may only be flashes, but they are powerful epiphanies nevertheless. Here and there, in longed-for reconciliation within families and among friends, in healing from illness and grief, in the decisions by a community that places its most vulnerable members at the top of its agenda rather than at the bottom, in sharing and celebration and the release of grudges, in acts of great and unexpected generosity, in the end of war and the seeking of peace, in the breaking of bread and the nourishment of our souls and our bodies, in giving voice to the voiceless and lifting up the hopes of those in despair, we see the mysterious ways of God.
It may begin, or seem to persist, in smallness, in little steps and small hopes, but the path, Jesus says, leads to greatness, a greatness we cannot see or even imagine today. God can see it, and God can imagine it, and most of all, God intends it. The tiny little seed grows into the greatest of all, the mustard tree, strong and great enough to offer shelter and goodness and the stuff of life for those who need to find a home. (Thank you to Weekly Seeds, i-ucc.org)
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