th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who walks with us through unexpected times. Amen
This lent we are hearing and telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from fellow members of Christ Lutheran
and from our ancestors in the Bible,
we’ve heard how stories shape our identity,
our faith and our understanding of what is necessary.
Today our stories tell of God working through unexpected servants.
That’s a word I think we’re all too familiar with these days,
if you’d asked me last week
what I expected to be doing this week
it was certainly not leading worship via youtube.
But I had already looked at our texts for this morning,
I try to go through a season at a time,
go through the readings to see what’s coming
and make a few notes on what I might focus on
when I get to the day,
and when I opened the page in my sermon prep notebook
at the beginning of the week
I found a note I had made,
That says “Things are not going as people expect.”
now when I made that note I was referring to our scripture readings
but it equally applies to all of our lives right now
and I think it’s comforting to know
that at least God is familiar with this territory of the unexpected,
in fact we find that God often seems to prefer to work through the unexpected.
Take our first reading for today,
Samuel the prophet,
expected that he would serve King Saul until his death
but God removed favor from Saul
and instructed Samuel to go anoint a new king,
one from the family of Jesse of Bethlehem,
Jesse has a lot of sons
and all God has told Samuel is that God will show Samuel which son it will be.
Now when Samuel sees Jesse’s sons for the first time
he sees the eldest and thinks,
‘this has to be the new king, he’s the oldest, he’s tall and he already looks like a king should look.”
and the Lord tells Samuel
“nope, it’s not him, don’t look at his appearance, the Lord is choosing a king based on what’s in the heart.”
and so it goes with all of Jesse’s other sons
until it seems like there are none left,
‘do you have anymore?’ Samuel asks,
and is told there is one, the baby of the family who is out with the sheep.
‘Go get him’ Samuel instructs, and sure enough when he sees David
God says ‘that’s the one’ (I paraphrase of course).
None of this went as Samuel expected
but God chose to work through David
who would go on to become the greatest King of Israel,
so important that the messiah was supposed to be a descendant.
We see this again and again in scripture,
God choosing to work through the least likely in any situation.
We see that in our gospel,
the story of the man born blind.
Jesus and his disciples are walking along
and they see a man who was blind from birth.
The disciples ask a theological question
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
they are following the prevailing wisdom of the day,
that illness was a result of sin
and are curious because it is hard to imagine a baby sinning before birth,
so perhaps it was the parents.
Implicit in this question is the thought:
how do we avoid this?
And Jesus responds,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
then Jesus heals the man
who becomes an unexpected witness to Jesus,
one who testifies on his behalf.
First it’s the neighbors who are confused
but hear of Jesus through the man,
then it is the Pharisees,
now the Pharisees really grill the man,
‘were you really blind?’ they ask
and even go as far as making the man’s parents
come and tell them if he really was born blind.
At the root of this investigation is the question: how did this happen?
Again and again they ask the man
who has no explanation other than Jesus
the pharisees are confused
because to them Jesus fits the definition of a sinner,
he broke the law by healing on the sabbath,
but how could he be a sinner if he has the power to heal?
So “they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” and the Pharisees drive the man out of the temple.
The way the pharisees told the story
of who could be a servant of God,
Jesus didn’t qualify.
He acted in unexpected ways
and yet God worked through him
and this threw them for a loop
so much so that they took it out on the man who had been born blind
and healed by Jesus,
who did the only thing he could,
testify to what had happened to him.
But the story doesn’t end there,
Jesus, hearing that the man had been driven out,
goes and finds him
and reveals to him that he is the messiah,
he makes sure that the man is a member of Jesus’ community.
God works through unexpected servants,
again and again God chooses the least likely,
the youngest sons,
the ones labeled as sinners,
those at the margins of society.
And it makes us uncomfortable
because we can’t explain it
using the stories we usually tell,
the stories that say good things happen to good people
and bad things happen to bad people
and then define who is good and who is bad.
because along comes God
who tells us “do not look on appearance... For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
the Lord looks on the heart
and calls into service
whoever God needs
in whatever way God needs
and often the who and the how are unexpected.
In this time
we have all been called to serve in an unexpected way,
by refraining from gathering together.
Loving God and neighbor
suddenly looks like empty pews and houses of worship,
as we now worship from couches in our own houses,
it looks like turning handshakes into phone calls,
hugs into emails,
finding ways of staying connected
without physically being together.
And all the while,
even as we long to gather in one place
and shake the rafters with our hymns,
we know that God is with us,
leading us to sources of nourishment we wouldn’t have found on our own,
guiding us through the valley overshadowed by death,
promising goodness and mercy
and to always be with us,
in the unexpected. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.