Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, June 15, 2012

You Can’t See What Really Counts

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Mark 4:26-32
June 17, 2012 – Fathers’ Day
© 2012

I.                In the story of Samuel anointing David to become King of Israel, David’s father, Jesse of Bethlehem, almost gets lost in the excitement. Maybe Fathers’ Day got me to notice him. The Lord tells Samuel he has provided a king for himself among Jesse’s sons. We should not assume that Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah and their four other brothers had some kind of character flaw because they were not chosen. Jesse had raised his sons to be king material. From what Samuel could tell, they qualified. One important point of this story is that God is intentionally choosing to work through the unexpected and insignificant. For that reason, we should acknowledge that Jesse raised sons from whom God could provide a king.

A.           The most often quoted line from this story is in verse 7. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” When I have a problem with something someone has said or done, I frequently say, “I don’t know what is in their heart, but …” and then follows my accusation. But I cannot read this story without asking, “What God does see in my heart?” and then I shudder.

1.              The anointing of David also reminds us that David is called a “man after God’s own heart.” I have heard that so often I was  surprised to find that it only occurs twice. In 1 Samuel 13:14 Samuel tells Saul that God has rejected him and “has sought out a man after his own heart.” As the story unfolds, we see that is David, but he is not named. Acts 13:22 reports that in his sermon in Antioch in Pisidia, Paul says that God “found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out my wishes.” We understandably question how David could be a man after God’s heart, knowing that he committed adultery and covered it up with murder, and he had serious problems with his children. One clue is that he readily repented and did not make excuses the way Saul did. Also, for all his weakness, from his heart he wanted to carry out God’s wishes.

2.              Saul was the king the people chose based on outward appearance. He had the physical stature and demeanor of a king. David was the king God chose based on the inclination of his heart to carry out God’s wishes. An overview of Bible history, especially the history of Israel, shows God consistently choosing to work through the unexpected and insignificant. God’s work with David was not just in ruling as King but by sending the Spirit mightily on him, God also gave us a major portion of the Psalms in Scripture.

B.            David was anointed in the presence of his brothers. As we will see next week when David meets Goliath, his brothers felt some measure of jealousy. They were much like Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 37. The ways of God are mysterious to us. God’s choices often seem the exact opposite of how we would choose. God’s power is clearly at work when it comes through the weak and unimportant.

C.            Look for what God sees hidden in the unexpected and insignificant.

II.            Jesus himself was God hidden in the unexpected and insignificant. He taught that over and over again, especially in his parables. Perhaps the best known is the parable of the sower and the soils that is reported in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. It is one of the few in which his private interpretation to his disciples is also recorded. Another parable of a sower and seed starts almost the same way in Mark 4:26-29. It makes a totally different point. Instead of soils showing different responses to the Gospel, here Jesus shows the mystery of growth. This is the only place it is recorded.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

A.           The farmer sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows. The farmer goes about his daily business, which includes plowing, fertilizing, planting, weeding, cultivating, maybe even irrigating. For all of that, the farmer cannot make the seeds grow. They are alive and grow of themselves. The farmer can make the conditions right for growing but ultimately is dependent on God to make the seed sprout and grow.

B.            The seed would sprout and grow, and the farmer does not know how. Even with all we have learned about cell division and DNA since Jesus’ time, we can’t explain how and why a dried up seed grows. Life produces life.

C.            Jesus is teaching about the mysterious growth of the Kingdom of God, which is not unlike the growth of the Church and even a single congregation. Buildings, programs and even pastors may make conditions favorable for growth but they do not make churches grow. For people to invite their friends, neighbors and relatives to church is like the farmer sowing seed. That’s essential to growth, but God is the one who causes growth. Spiritual life produces spiritual life!

D.           Look for what God sees hidden in the unexpected and insignificant.     

III.       In Matthew 17 and Luke 17 Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed can accomplish big things. In Matthew 13 and Luke 13 Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God was like a mustard seed; it may seem small but produces something big. He gave it a particularly humorous twist in Mark 4:30-32. To get the joke we need to know that no one would purposely plant the seed of a mustard shrub. It was a weed that would take over a garden or a field.

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

A.           The image of birds building nests in branches as a symbol of the Kingdom of God comes from Ezekiel 17:22-24. The image of Israel’s future is a majestic cedar tree to which all the people of the world come to meet God, not a mustard shrub weed!

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. 24All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.

B.            In our success driven society, congregations like 1st Christian Church of Duncanville might look at the mega churches in our community and wrongly conclude smaller congregations like this don’t count. God uses different congregations of different sizes and styles to introduce different people to Jesus. To the extent we’re all about the Gospel, we’re not in competition with each other; we’re Gospel partners. I know that this church is a loving community in which wounded people can find safe shelter. Never for a minute discount your value in the Kingdom of God!

C.            Look for what God sees hidden in the unexpected and insignificant.

IV.      What do you think you will find if you look for what God sees in the unexpected and insignificant? What will you find if you are looking for the unseen?

A.           In your own heart, let go of looking for your flaws and failures. Instead, look for the righteousness of Jesus. That’s what God is looking at when you’re trusting Jesus. Look for the gentle breezes and breaths of the Holy Spirit to keep nudging you toward God.

B.            In the hearts of other people, look for God’s love for them, whether they are celebrities or outcasts, whether they are moral models or broken derelicts, whether they are spiritual toddlers or giants of faith.

C.            In 1st Christian Church, Duncanville, look for a mustard shrub weed, growing relentlessly, putting out large branches of safe shelter for the people who cross your paths every day. Some may end up as part of this worshipping community, but many won’t. But if you have shaded them from the glaring heat of life in the name of Jesus, you have seen a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

D.           Every week we gather at the Lord’s Table. I suggest that you think of the bread and cup as a microscope and telescope by which you can see God’s unseen reality. With the microscope, look deep inside to see the grace of Jesus removing sin and replacing it with his righteousness. With the telescope, look way beyond daily cares to see the glory of the coming Kingdom of God!

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