Sunday, April 3, 2011

Picking Up the Pieces

The next reading this morning comes from the first book of Samuel, chapter 16. It is probably subtitled something like "The Anointing of David" in your pew Bible or your Bible at home. That's the part and the character of the story that an editor somewhere along the line decided to highlight as most important. And certainly David is important in the story of the faith of Israel and our own Christian faith.

However, today I want us to hear this story, the story in which David is revealed and anointed to be the king of Israel, through the experience of Samuel. David may have ended up the ideal king, but more of us are asked to be servants of God than kings. I want us to get inside the experience of Samuel in this account.

Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, who had long been barren. Even before she was finally pregnant, Hannah prayed to God and promised to dedicate her child to the Lord if she was ever able to carry a son. After giving birth to Samuel and when she had weaned him, Hannah fulfilled her promise, dedicating him to the Lord and bringing him to serve Eli the priest. As a young boy he heard the voice of Lord speaking to him, and eventually he played an important role in uniting the tribes of Israel, not yet ruled by a king, against the growing threat of the Philistines.

When the people of God, previously ruled by temporary judges when the need arose, demanded a king to rule over them all, God chose Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Samuel served a role somewhere between "Chief of Staff" and "Press Secretary" and "Personal Chaplain." He introduced the king to his subjects. He was a confidante to the king. He even served as a prophet, speaking the word of the Lord to the people and to the king himself.

However, things didn't go well with Saul as the king of Israel. God hadn't really wanted to give them a king like the rest of the nations had kings. God hadn't really wanted Israel to supplant their loyalty to the divine king with loyalty to a human ruler with human flaws, but hearing their pleas and prayers, God provided them with a human ruler. Saul's human flaws eventually showed. Disobeying God's order in a battle with the Philistines, Saul kept some of the spoils of war, including an opposing king, for his own sport and enjoyment.

For his disobedience, God removed Saul as king of Israel. Samuel, who spoke for God at Saul's anointing, was the one who was also called to speak for God when Saul was taken from the throne. Samuel, who had been by Saul's side throughout his reign, was the one who had to see that his reign had ended, calling out the king on his disobedience, and delivering a word of judgement to him. That chapter of Israel's history ends with Samuel grieving as he obediently followed God's command.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Samuel grieved the great change that was taking place. Dedicated to the service of the Lord and Eli at a very young age, he had always been a part of what God was doing in the world. He had been an important leader in God's relationship with the Israelites as a judge and a prophet. When the people had demanded a king, it was Samuel who was chosen to anoint Saul. He was in on the plan from the start, but now the plan had changed dramatically. It had changed drastically. And Samuel was left grieving.

He grieved the loss of a king. He grieved the loss maybe of a friend. He grieved the loss of forward momentum for his struggling people. He grieved the loss of the plan, God's plan. This great thing he had been a part of, the first king of Israel, the one he and the people, and presumably even God, thought would unite the bickering tribes, had turned out wrong. It had shattered like a dish dropped, like a glass that slipped through their fingers and smashed when it the floor. The plan he had counted on was broken, and he didn't see a way forward.

Broken plans are something we know about. Lost friends. Lost spouses. Lost children. Lost parents. Lost marriages. Lost relationships. Lost money. Lost security. Lost leadership. Lost health. Lost safety. Lost happiness. Even lost trust in God.

Things we have counted on, things into which we have invested ourselves, like Saul's reign have come to an end abruptly, painfully. We have known or been a part of marriages that have crumbled, husbands or wives lost to disease or accident. We have known parents who have buried children. Families who have lost their livelihood and their savings. We have known the health and bodies we count on to fail. We have known leaders who have let us down. We have known what it is like to have the plan we trusted, the plan for which we have begged and thanked God broken, leaving us grieving not only what we lost in the present, but we hoped for in the future.

"Where is God now?" we often ask. "Where is God?" when what we thought was God-breathed, God-inspired, God-blessed is now gone. Where is God when the plan gets broken and all that is left are the sharp jagged edges of what could have been?

Maybe about a year ago, Ann Snyder held a class here at the church about making mosaics. She gathered the materials for each of us, wooden pictures frames to use as a base, the grout that would be the cement between the colorful pieces, and an amazing array of small bits - - buttons, figures, glass, beads, rocks, coins.... You name it, if it was no bigger than about 2 inches by 2 inches, it was on that table and available for us to put in our mosaics.

I remember thinking about the pieces I sifted through as I picked out just the right pieces for my mosaic. Where did this come from? What did this go to? How did this saucer break? And where is the matching tea cup? There were all these the broken pieces, broken sets, broken plans on the tables before us. The original plan for these things was lost. Their original purpose was no longer part of the picture, yet they were before us ready to be a part of something completely new.

So it was with Samuel in his grief. "How long will you grieve over Saul?" the Lord asks. In a way it sounds callous, asking Samuel to move on from his grief, but I don't think we need to jump to that conclusion. I don't believe God is dismissing Samuel's grief, but instead is answering the kinds of questions a grieving person asks. "What now? What's the plan? How will you ever get us out of this mess now?" God answers Samuel's grief and fear over the lost plan with something completely new.

"Fill your horn with oil and set out. I have provided." God has provided. God has provided a new plan, a new king. God has picked up the broken pieces of a reign gone wrong and using Samuel to help, is putting them back together into something completely different.

In fact, that difference is highlighted even as the new king is selected. Samuel obeys God and goes to Jesse in Bethlehem, albeit nervously. The barely formed nation is in a state of turmoil. Its first king has just been removed from the throne. Enemies are pushing in from its borders. Even Samuel, a prophet of God, might be seen as dangerous since he was on the side of the now deposed king. Likewise, he worries about his own life if his former master should hear of him helping to anoint the new king.

Yet, he goes as God called with a plan to meet the one on which God has built a new plan. Samuel gets to Jesse's family and immediately begins looking for a king like the last one. He looks on Eliab, likely the oldest of the sons as he is the first presented, apparently good looking, tall, strong; he has the stature of a king, like Saul who was good looking and substantial. A king not to be reckoned with. But Eliab isn't the one. Next comes Abinadab, then Shammah, then the rest of Jesse's seven sons who have come before Samuel, right on down the line, but none of these is quite right. None of these is the king God has chosen.

Desperate to find a king, desperate to trust in God again, Samuel practically begs, "Are all your sons here???" None of the sons who fit the bill, who fit their understand of what a king should be - - tall enough, old enough, strong enough, important enough - - seemed to fit God's plan for the next king of Israel. But there was one more. David.

David who was the youngest. David who was beautiful in the eyes, but wasn't the strongest. David who was so UNLIKELY to be the king that he hadn't even been brought in from the pastures where he was with the sheep. David who no one expected to be God's king was the only one left, and was the one chosen.

The first plan didn't go as anyone had expected. God anointed a king and set him over the people, but God didn't force the plan or the divine will. Saul made choices that broke the plan and the pieces of it were left behind. Over this brokenness Samuel grieved, over the shards of glass, the broken pottery, the trinkets and buttons and memorabilia of times and events gone by Samuel mourned and cried and wondered where they would all go from here.

And one by one, God picked up the pieces. God took a rock from here, a piece of blue glass from there, a button from that place, and a tile from across the room, and put together a mosaic, a new plan, a new way forward with God's people in the world. God picks up the pieces of our brokenness, our broken dreams, our broken relationships, our broken lives, our broken bodies and does the same for us.

That's what this table is all about. Really, that's what the season of Lent is all about, but today it is most obvious here, at the table of the Lord, here in the bread that is broken for us, here in the cup that is poured out for us. Here at this table we witness again that plans are sometimes shattered, beaten, and tortured God's blessed purposes are mistreated and abused. They are disobeyed and mocked. Even God's own Son was broken and put to death, a plan to show the world God's love seemingly foiled by the very world he came to save.

While the plan was breaking into a million little pieces, the disciples gathered with Jesus in an upper room asking, "What now? What's the plan? How will you ever get us out of this mess now?"

And Jesus took the bread saying, "This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he took the cup and said, "This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Drink all of it as you remember me."

The pieces were falling all around them and God stood there with grace and mercy, picking them up one by one by one, and put them together into something completely different. His body was broken, but not his love. His blood was shed, but not his power over death. God took the jagged edges of his Son on the cross and turned that brokenness, turned that death into resurrection. God turned that death into new life for us all.

Resting in our God of second chances, let's share the taste of this amazing grace.

This table is not a Presbyterian table. It is not closed to those who are not members here. It is not closed to those who worship here for the first time or the second time. It is not closed to those who are too young or too old or too forgetful or too confused to understand. This table is the table of our Lord and he invites all who want to dwell in his presence, all who want to be included in his love and grace to share the gifts he freely offers. By his grace we are forgiven of all that separates us. By his brokenness we are made whole.

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