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Loving God, redeem our blindness and transform it into trust in You. Amen.
David is the dominant human character in Israel’s narrative, rivalled perhaps only by Moses. In the text, he is called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). He is depicted as a valorous warrior, a righteous and effective king both in battle and in civil and criminal justice, he is a poet and musician traditionally credited for composing many of the psalms. David’s reign ushered in a golden era in the history of the new United Kingdom of Israel, including his capture of Jerusalem and its establishment as the national capital in about 1000 BCE.
The story of the rise of David, beginning with the passage that we read today, makes it clear that God is in charge, and has no qualms about using untraditional methods of discerning new leadership. God tells Samuel that God has provided for another king of Israel.
God sends Samuel to anoint a new king – a mission that amounts to treason as Saul was still the reigning monarch. Furthermore, when Samuel asks God what to tell the suspicious and frightened elders of Bethlehem when they ask about the purpose of his visit, God tells Samuel to lie.
As the story unfolds, and Samuel rejects each of the first seven sons of Jesse, it seems like his mission is a failure.
Although both God and the reader know that this part of the story is not a failure, but more like a period of waiting. It is a preliminary stage - not an ending.
Eventually, Yahweh identifies the youngest son, the nobody, the forgotten one who was tending the sheep, as the anointed one.
In this drama, God reaffirms God’s commitment to the lowly, but also asserts divine authority to do unexpected and strange things like working outside the channels of the old agencies of governance.
God chooses to work outside the proper processes and administrative procedures, proposing an alternative to the world of monopoly and exclusion.
The story of David raises a central question: what is it that earns David the title ‘a man after God’s own heart’? What does God see in David’s heart?
Vision is a key theme that runs throughout this passage.
At the beginning of the passage, it says that God has provided a king, but in Hebrew the word ‘to see’ is used, which could be translated as “I have seen to providing a king”. In v. 7, the verb ‘to see’ occurs five times.
This story also contains an element of irony, as Samuel, referred to as a ‘seer’, relies in vain, on his human sight as he tries to discern which of Jesse’s sons is called to the monarchy.
God reminds Samuel that God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Scripture does not tell us what God sees in David’s heart. If we follow the arc of David’s career, we see military victories, political savvy, charisma as well as honesty and humility when it comes to his failings, but we also see instances of abuse of power, personal tragedy and blindness to dysfunction within his own family. One scholar even calls him a “bloodthirsty over-sexed bandit.”
But despite David’s imperfections, God sees something valuable in David’s heart and works through him to build a golden era in Israel’s history.
[Rather than explore theories of what was in David’s heart, I would like to reflect on the difference between our vision and God’s vision.]
There are things planted within us that sometimes the world is not able to see, and sometimes that we ourselves are not able to see.
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called ‘The Music of Strangers.’ It chronicles the development of a project dreamed up by world renowned cello player, Yo-Yo Ma.
The Silk Road Ensemble is a musical collective of over 50 musicians, composers, visual artists and storytellers from Eurasian cultures – inspired by the [historical and multicultural] legacy of the Silk Road – the ancient network of trade routes that for centuries provided cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the East and West. This route transported goods, like silk, but also became a vehicle for religions, philosophies, and technologies.
The Silk Road Ensemble is an experiment showing the world another way of being a global community. It showcases collaboration between a variety of cultures; allowing something new and different to emerge from transcending boundaries of ethnicity and era.
At the beginning of the project, Yo-Yo Ma and other colleagues sought out some of the most talented musicians from China, Iran, Syria, and Armenia amongst others. They extended invitations to these musicians to join them for a retreat and had no idea what to expect.
In response to the music that emerged from these projects, they faced criticism. Critics accused the group of diluting traditional music and disrespecting the cultures of the musical traditions that participated in project.
Despite the criticism, Yo-Yo Ma describes how his belief in the value of this project was strengthened in the wake of the events of 9/11.
The documentary follows a few key musicians, one of whom was called Kayhan, a kamancheh player, a traditional Iranian instrument. He left Iran when he was 17, because his parents were concerned for his safety. He worked on farms in Turkey, ex-Yugoslavia and Italy, and eventually wound up in the U.S. He described his life here as hard, needing to work as a taxi driver or a factory worker to make ends meet.
The documentary chronicles the stories of incredibly talented musicians, who in the eyes of most other inhabitants of the North American cities they lived in, were seen as foreigners, the immigrant working poor, with no idea of their gifts until seeing them perform in the Silk Road Ensemble.
There is a way in which we humans are often blinded by the structures and systems we have in place, the apparent poverty of a person, their race, their education, their age or whatever other label we apply when we encounter someone.
There is a blindness that clouds human vision, but God is not afflicted with the same cloudiness of sight.
The story of David’s anointing shows us that God disregards those outward things. And when God does confusing things like calling a young shepherd boy from a small town to be king, it invites us to wonder about the things we miss, as we rush around with our preconceived or unexamined notions and judgments, about ourselves and each other.
Not only does this blindness apply to our interpersonal relationships or our relationships with ourselves, but also to our work and the work that God is doing in the world.
And while that can sound like judgment, I actually hear it as hopeful.
Our blindness allows us to lean into our faith that God is doing more than we can imagine. Something may seem like an end, but to God it might also be a beginning. Something may seem like a failure, but to God it might be a success. Something may seem like the darkness of night, but to God it might be the moment just before daybreak.
My lack of sight gives me hope that there is more than I can see, more than I can imagine, and that gives me courage to be faithful, trusting that God is using it all to bring life.
This prayer, said at a Catholic mass for deceased priests, speaks to the hope that we can have even with our limited sight: “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that… It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.”
 Brueggemann, W. David’s Truth. P. 1.
 Brueggemann, W. David’s Truth. P. 10.
 Brueggemann, W. David’s Truth. P. 12.
 Working preacher, Rolf Jacobsen.
 Working preacher, Rolf Jacobsen.
 Brueggemann, W. David’s Truth. P. 13.
 Brueggemann, W. David’s Truth. P. 4.