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Proper 06 2009

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Theme: Don’t judge someone by their appearance

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, you know our hearts; you know our spirits; help us to fulfill our talent that is a gift from you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the 1984 movie, “The Karate Kid”, a teenage boy, Daniel, moves from the east coast to the palm fringed roads and blue skies of Los Angeles when his mother gets a new job. Their apartment doesn’t seem too bad and fate has a plan for Daniel, as he meets Miyagi, the handyman at the complex. He soon learns that Miyagi is a patient and kind man, who teaches him how to trim bonsai trees.

But at school life isn’t so easy for Daniel, especially when he begins to like Ali, the nice and attractive popular girl of the school. Soon her jealous boyfriend is out to get poor Daniel with his gang, who train at the local karate studio, and call themselves The Cobras. Eager to prove himself courageous and not be scared off by the bullies, he was not keen to being punched up by the gang.

When The Cobras go too far and attack Daniel, hurting him very badly, Miyagi fights them off while Daniel is unconscious. He helps Daniel recover from his injuries and reluctantly agrees to teach Daniel the true form of Karate, not the violent and sadistic approach that the coach of The Cobras uses.

The coach of The Cobras wants to destroy Daniel and Miyagi anyway he can. No one embarrasses him or his students! He’s a champ and champs always win, no matter what it takes, fighting clean or dirty. And he wants to crush Daniel at the annual karate tournament that Miyagi has entered his new student in.

Daniel succeeds through all the levels with skill and grace, exercising all the control that Miyagi has taught him. But then it’s the final round and he’s up against the annual champions, his foes The Cobras. He injures one of the fighters, Ali’s ex boyfriend, by breaking his nose. But The Cobra coach won’t give up, and tells his student to cheat. The boy reluctantly does this and sprains Daniel’s leg badly.

In the changing room Miyagi tells Daniel it is okay if he doesn’t fight. But now it’s personal for Daniel, he’s tired of the way in which The Cobras gain victory, the dirty way. He wants to show them that he can win and he’ll win fairly.

It seems unlikely that Daniel will win, he is hobbling, but he blocks out the pain and also blocks the kicks and jabs of his opponent. In a dramatic finish he does a skillful hand move and beats his opponent!

Like Daniel, David was underestimated. David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons. The only responsibility he was trusted with was to tend his father’s sheep – a lonely, solitary, job that keeps the shepherd away from friends and family for long periods at a time. David was, by family necessity, ostracized from the family. His absence made him a virtual nobody.

We pick up today’s Old Testament reading with Samuel gong to Ramah and Saul going to Gibeah. In other words, each went to their respective homes. Samuel grieves for Saul and God is sorry that Saul was made king over Israel.

Samuel wanted to hold on to the past. God has moved on. Christians, in particular, hold emotional attachments to ideas, things, and ways of doing things long after God has no more use of them. It’s hard to get rid of something that is no longer useful. But we can move on, with God’s help.

We are entering into the middle of a story and where we are entering might make us scratch our heads asking, “What’s going on here?” You see, God ordered Saul to destroy the Amalekites and I mean utterly destroy the Amalekites. Saul was almost successful. Saul spared the king of the Amalekites, Agog, and the people took all the best of everything the Amalekites had, especially the livestock.

This really ticked off God. Now we might wonder about a God who orders genocide. This is certainly not the God that Jesus preached about. This is probably why the back story is not in the lectionary. But what we have here is a story that explains why Saul and Saul’s family loose their royal status and it is transferred to David and his family forever.

Samuel is sent by God to Saul to give him a divine tongue lashing and to inform Saul that he is losing his status as king. Saul pleads for mercy and accepts blame for sparing king Agog. Agog is pretty happy over the situation, too. That is until Samuel hacks him to death. The look on Agog’s face must be where we get the phrase, “looking agog” when Samuel struck the first blow. And Saul blames the people for taking the spoils.

Now we are up to date. Saul and the prophet Samuel part ways.

Then one day, we are not sure how long since Saul and Samuel parted ways, God talks to Samuel. God tells Samuel to get over his grieving over Saul. Then God tells Samuel to get some olive oil. Samuel is to take the oil to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem. Then among Jesse’s sons, Samuel is to anoint one of them to be the next king of Israel.

Now Samuel knew the consequences of picking a king while the current king is still alive. Kings don’t like coups. They usually react violently. Samuel was afraid that if word of this ever got back to Saul, Saul would kill him. God does not directly answer Samuel’s objection. Instead, God offers a plan to give Samuel cover and keep those in the know to as small a group as possible.

Samuel is to take a calf to Bethlehem and offer it as a sacrifice to God. That will give Samuel the cover he needs. In other words, God is telling Samuel to lie to the people of Bethlehem. Samuel is to make sure that Jesse is invited to the sacrifice and subsequent feast and God will show Samuel which of Jesse’s sons will be anointed king.

So Samuel shows up in Bethlehem and the town officials were terrified. They asked Samuel if this was a friendly visit or not. After all, they didn’t want this great prophet to show up telling them that God was going rain down fire and brimstone on them. Samuel reassures them and tells them to prepare for a sacrifice. The subterfuge is set. Samuel made sure Jesse and his sons were invited.

Jesse and his sons arrive. Samuel notices the oldest boy and is impressed. Surely, this must be the one! God tells Samuel that just because someone is tall and handsome that doesn’t make him king material. God doesn’t evaluate people on their looks. God evaluates people with what is in their hearts.

Next Jesse sends his other sons one by one for Samuel to check out. It appears that Jesse is in on the secret. All seven of Jesse’s sons are evaluated by Samuel and every one of them has fallen short. For the reader of this story, it seems that all is lost. God’s plan is a failure. Samuel, too, must have felt that something has gone horribly wrong. “How can God call me here to anoint one of Jesse’s sons and then reject every one of them?”

Then, just to be sure, Samuel asks if Jesse has any more sons. “Well, yes, of course. My youngest, David, is tending the sheep. Why on earth would you want to bother with him?” Samuel, desperate, says, “Go fetch him.”

David appears. He had a reddish complexion, gorgeous eyes, healthy, and was good looking to boot. God told Samuel to hurry and pour the oil on his head. He is the one! Samuel anointed David with the oil as his brothers looked on. Immediately, the Spirit of God rushed into David and remained there for the rest of his life. His work being done, Samuel went home to Ramah.

Daniel, the Karate Kid, through hard work, was able to maintain his integrity, while besting his enemies. David’s story is just at the beginning, but we know that he ends up as King of Israel and is the beloved and prototypical king. In fact, the messiah must be descended from David, as Jesus is. Only David wasn’t always as pure as Daniel was portrayed in “The Karate Kid”. Still, we are reminded that God looks at someone’s heart and not their appearance. This is a lesson for all of us.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of discernment to see who the true person is rather than our own preconceived notion of who that person is, through which we will learn to respect the people we meet, through the help of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 (NRSV)
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”a 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.



a  Heb him

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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