Thursday, June 11, 2009

Of beginnings and endings

Sunday, we at Southland, start a sermon series, Faith, Failure and the Grace of God, based upon the life of David. As with almost all good and true stories, David’s beginnings overlap someone else’s ending. Namely, those of Saul and Samuel. At the start of 1 Samuel 16 we find Samuel grieving over Saul – a strange fact, since Saul’s not dead yet. What is dead, or at least has been proclaimed dead, is Saul’s kingship. Now, Samuel was no fan of Saul’s, but he was dedicated to Israel, and his grieving may be as much for the nation as it was for the now doomed king. All he held dear, all the nation held dear, seemed to be in jeopardy.

I think we can sympathize with the old man. We’ve all had times when our dreams were dashed, when our leaders disappointed us, when denominations and churches we once counted on and believed in fell apart at the seams. When we identify our own encounters with failure with Samuel’s, we realize that more than grieving Saul’s end, Samuel is grieving the loss of hope. He’s in danger of giving up on what God might do through him, on what God might do through his people. Interestingly, God doesn’t allow Samuel to sit in his puddle of self-pity long. He tells him to stop grieving, to get up, clean himself off, and get ready for a task. God is sending Samuel to anoint a new king.

Give Samuel credit. For a man lost in grief a few verses before, he gets tuned into God’s Spirit in a hurry. He heads off on the task (a dangerous one at that – remember the present king isn’t dead yet!) and soon finds himself searching Jesse’s sons for the next king of Israel. He looks at Eliab, surely this must be the one. “No,” God whispers “he is not the one.” Neither is Abinadab, or Shammah, or any of the other sons of Jesse present that day. Impressively, Samuel doesn’t jump the gun. In his impatience, he doesn’t settle for second best. Patiently, he realizes that God must have something else in store.

Sure enough, there is another son. He’s small. He’s young. But he does exist. They’ll call him in from the fields. Neither Jesse or his other seven sons understands why Samuel would want to see this overlooked boy, but the old prophet insists. In fact, Samuel won’t even let anyone sit down until this young boy gets in from the fields. Talk about a change of heart. Samuel has moved from despair and disappointment to faith and hope. He will not sit down until God shows up. I love that. It’s a posture of expectancy.

We know the rest of the story well – or at least we will know the rest of the story well after spending ten weeks with it in worship. But I wonder, how many of us feel more like Samuel today than David? Are you disappointed, let down, almost done for? Can we hear God’s invitation to turn our eyes from what’s gone wrong to what might be? Can we like Samuel, somehow find the hope and the faith necessary to wait for God’s next move? Can we be bold enough to refuse to sit down until God shows up? Who knows, our current, apparent ending may actually be an adventurous beginning to some grand, new story God is just itching to tell.

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – Ephesians 2:4-5.

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