Sermons That Work

Rise and Anoint Him…, Lent 4 (A) – 2005

March 06, 2005

Rise and anoint him; for this is the one. 1 Sam. 16:12

Remember that survey course of English literature you took back in high school or college? You probably used a textbook that was, in essence, a collection or anthology of literary classics representing the wisdom of many centuries and cultures. It was a potent witness to the power of the word to transform individuals and the societies they lived in. Scripture, of course, is also first and foremost an anthology of literature—an inspired collection of ancient yet living works, works with a profound capacity to change us still today.

According to Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, the task of interpretation is to “transpose ancient voices into contemporary voices of authority,” and to recognize the power of the Word to generate transformation in our own world and society. In a video presentation produced some years ago called “Imagination: New Approaches to the Bible,” Brueggemann examines the text found in our first reading today from the First Book of Samuel, the story of David’s selection as king of Israel. He details the power of this narrative as it transformed David and ancient Israel.

This narrative has always been a great favorite among Christians. Samuel is sent to Jesse on a dangerous mission: to find a new king among Jesse’s sons while the powerful Saul is still on the throne. One after the other, the sons of Jesse come before Samuel. One after the other, they are rejected by the Lord. Finally, the youngest of the sons, David, is brought forward—almost as an afterthought. “This is the one,” announces the Lord, definitively. Samuel anoints David as king in the presence of his brothers, and “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.” Still, we could hardly blame David if he did not wonder at the transformation that was about to take place in his life and in his native land.

In choosing David as king, Brueggemann maintains, the Lord overturns the established order. David represents not only new leadership; he also embodies, in his youth, inexperience, and humble background the peculiar fondness of the Lord for those whom Brueggemann describes as the “marginated” of society. In other words, rather than choosing a king from among the princes and leaders of Israel, the Lord turns to a simple shepherd boy with no pretensions to greatness and no qualifications to be a king other than the Lord’s favor. The Lord surprises Samuel and even Jesse, David’s father, with his choice. Saul, the legitimate king with all his authority and influence, is no match for David in his innocence and powerlessness. The implication is that the Lord continues to challenge our assumptions about our world and its values, and to call us to radical transformation, reminding us of our own divine election as children of God.

In some ways, the world has not changed much since the time of Samuel and David, in spite of technological advances and economic development. A scant few months ago, our nation was in the midst of one of the hardest fought political campaigns in recent memory. Powerful forces were arrayed against each other in a battle for influence and control. No matter what one’s own political persuasion might have been, it was easy to feel small and insignificant in the tug of such forces. David must have had similar feelings as Samuel anointed him king.

Yet centuries later, the technology of the human heart remains the same. The economy of God’s favor is unchanged. In spite of everything, God still cares for the marginalized and outcast, and confounds the mighty and powerful. We need only the eyes of faith to see the Lord at work in our world today, whether it is in the overthrowing of brutal dictatorships or in the promise of justice and new beginnings for the disadvantaged and least favored in contemporary society.

Today’s Gospel account delivers a similar message. Jesus grants sight to the man born blind, a favor gratuitously given to one living on the fringe of society. The blind man himself asks nothing of the Lord and does nothing to merit Jesus’ notice and intervention. But as Jesus says of the sometimes paradoxical workings of God, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Blindness, and the radical separation from the society and culture of the sighted, which it represented in the ancient world, becomes in God’s wisdom the means of revelation and enlightenment.

The blind man gains his sight, finds faith, and proclaims, “Lord, I believe.” Yet, in a further note of irony or paradox, those in authority remain blind to the marvel of God’s grace at work in their midst—even when it is literally staring them in the face. They repeatedly question and cross-examine the man born blind and his family, skeptical that one such as he should have found God’s favor. It becomes manifestly clear that those who claim to be “in the know” are left in the dark. They do not get it. Once again, humanity’s most vulnerable witness to God’s power and loving-kindness. The world as we know it is turned upside down.

It is all too easy to remain blind to the reality of God at work in our world today. It is easy to turn aside our glance when confronted by the stranger and the homeless, God’s favored ones in our world today. It is tempting to believe the world as it is must be the world as it was meant to be. But the Word of the Lord still has the power to change everything. The story of God’s love for his people is not over. We are as much a part of that story as was the young and inexperienced David or the man born blind in today’s Gospel account. Our eyes were opened to spiritual reality in the waters of our baptism. There we were anointed for greater things.

We may be tempted to think that we do not matter—that what we do is of little account. After all, most of us are not powerful or wealthy. Few of us exercise much clout or authority, as the world knows it. We will not be running for president anytime soon. Most of us quietly go about our lives, not realizing the abundant favor God has bestowed upon us. We may not be destined for the world of statecraft or high finance, but God’s measure of greatness is far different from that of the world. Who we are does matter. For we are all agents of the Lord’s transforming Word in our communities and in our families.

As David stands before Samuel, the Lord commands, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” These words from an ancient text retain their force and might through the centuries. The message is meant for us as well. The Lord looks upon each of us today, as he did David, and proclaims anew, “This is the one.” You and I are the ones. And in faith, we can only respond, as did the man born blind, “Lord, I believe.”


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Christopher Sikkema


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