1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Remember Ruth and Naomi? Ruth’s grandson is Jesse. In Bethlehem Jesse lives with his many, many sons. One day the prophet Samuel – who has spoken gloom and doom to Israel, and Israel has had a LOT of gloom and doom under Saul – comes to town.
The people are not happy to see him. If King Saul knows Samuel is here, the King may level the town to get to Samuel and kill him. But if they turn a prophet of God away, God might level the town for their inhospitality. Still over, maybe the prophet has come to speak gloom and doom and ruin to Bethlehem, personally.
“Do you come in peace?!” They tremble and ask Samuel.
“Yes,” says Samuel. “I’ve come to sacrifice to the Lord. Come join me.”
He isn’t here to tell them to take arms against their king, or here to ruin their city, or to call God’s fury upon them. He’s here to pray and worship God. I imagine the elders are starting to breathe easier. Among them are Jesse, and his sons.
Together the whole group goes and worships God. Samuel looks at the sons and knows God has provided for God’s self a new king from among them. Saul has lost God’s blessing. Israel needs a new ruler.
Eliab looks like a great ruler. He’s tall, strong, muscular. He carries himself like a king. He’s the eldest of Jesse, and therefore, the one the mortals would choose.
— No, says God. I am not looking at the outside of people. I’m looking at their hearts. Not Eliab.–
So in comes Abinadab. He’s the next best choice. The second eldest. If the first can’t take the throne, then it goes to the second son, right?
Call in the next son. Sammah. The… third son?
One after another, four more sons pass before Jesse. Seven total no’s are said from God.
We went from the very best son, the oldest, the strongest, the tallest — to the middling best sons. And God has said no to all of them. But God had told Samuel one of Jesse’s sons is to be the new king. But God has rejected all of them! Every single one!
I imagine Samuel is pretty confused, “God has said no to these nine sons… Do you have any others?”
Jesse thinks and says, “Well, yeah. There’s the youngest. The kid. He’s tending the sheep.” This youngest is so not important to his family he isn’t even invited to the worship service. He’s tucked away – told kids don’t belong among the adults doing religious things.
“Bring in the child!” says Samuel. “We won’t sit down for our worship feast until the child is here!”
So someone goes and gets the boy. When Samuel sees the boy, God tells him this is the one. So Samuel goes to the least of the brothers, the youngest, the forgotten one and anoints the child. The child is then filled with God’s presence from that day forward. He is David, the shepherd, the musician, and the chosen new king of Israel.
God is often called Father in the Bible. This isn’t because God is male – indeed, we are all made in the image of God, so God is all genders – but rather, because in the old, old society our scripture comes from – the eldest males are in charge.
Samuel orders Jesse. Jesse orders his eldest son. His eldest orders his younger brother, who orders his younger brother… on and on down the line all the way to the little kid David. That is how the world is organized. So, naturally, if everyone is under God, then God is the eldest male — Father of all.
But stories like David’s, or Joseph and his multicolored coat, or even Isaac show God doesn’t think in this eldest-male way. Instead, just as God says to Samuel here, God looks at our hearts. Not our bodies. Not our birth orders. Not what gender or sex we are. It’s a human thing to rank ourselves with gender and age so that ‘Father’ becomes the ruler, ‘Lord’ becomes the norm, and ‘Male’ becomes god-like.
If we were in a matriarchal society, we’d be calling God Mother, Lady, and saying female is god-like. Because the eldest women are in charge in a matriarchy.
We humans are pretty poor at grasping heavenly concepts. But we use what tools we have to explain the divine. We use these things we can see to explain the things we can’t see. Jesus used parables to try to help people see the divine no longer in the terms of male-female, black-white, binaries… but rather another dimension. A third way. The narrow way. The way of yes, and…
Yes, God is Father. And God is Mother.
Yes, God is our eldest. And God is youngest.
Yes, God is Lord. And also servant.
Analogies are “yes, and” ways to help us open our minds. So too are parables. Today we hear three parables of Jesus about God’s reign. In the first, without the farmer knowing the specifics, the seed grows and grows and produces itself. Whether or not you understand photosynthesis; whether or not you’re out there telling the seed to grow; whether or not you’re attending to the seed… plants grow. Just ask your weeds.
God’s reign is ever growing, whether or not we attend to it. Whether or not we understand. Whether or not we want it to – God is ever closer.
Now, Garlic mustard grows around here. And mustard grows around Jesus’ place. Let’s use dandelions for today’s example. They’re much more like the weed Jesus was describing for our local place. Or, if you don’t care about dandelions in your yard – picture ragweed or mares tale or cowpoke.
Whether or not you want these plants – they’re going to show up in your yard and in your fields.
Whether or not you want the reign of God – it’s coming. It’s here.
So Jesus said consider the weeds. The little tiny seeds of dandelions get EVERYWHERE. The wind blows them here and there, they grow anywhere they land – between concrete cracks and inside flower pots. In yards and in fields.
That dandelion is the greatest of all the flowers. Don’t give me that look! It’s one of the first to bloom and all the bees love it. It’s one of the last to bloom and all the bees love it. It’s good to eat for animals and people. It’s easy to grow. It’s pretty. Its fun to blow the seeds. Birds use its fluff for their nests to cradle their babies. That flower is the greatest – over all the roses and orchids and tender plants.
Once again, God isn’t looking on the outside, and at our human expectations. Not Jesse’s eldest, but his youngest. Not the beautiful tender rose but the stalwart, common, weed.
If God is like our father, using this analogy for our Father’s Day, then God is like the father who looks at all his children and sees something beautiful in each of them. There is no child who is forgotten out with the sheep. No child who is considered a nuisance. If God is like a Father, he’s the kind of Father who didn’t care what grade you got on your test; he cared if you were learning. He didn’t care who you dated, so long as they treated you well. He didn’t care where you worked, so long as it made you happy. A father who wants what’s best for our souls.
God as our Father would not be the type of father who rips children from parents; who blasphemies using scripture to justify sin and evil; and who ignores the plight of the least of us.
No. If your father acts like this, and you think fathers ought to act like this, then don’t call god Father.
Call God the name of the role of the one who loves you most.
Our God wants us to use the terms that we most identify with for God. It’s why Jesus uses parables. Why God upturns our expectations.
What should we compare God like?
Who is an earthly someone who protects us, loves us, wants the best for us, created us, provides for us, and encourages us – if that is Father – call God Father. If that is Mother, call God Mother. If that is Grandma, call God Grandma… and so forth. Because our human language will never capture God. God is beyond language.
Analogies are never perfect. They just point towards.
But we have to use something, some words to describe our God… so we use these human terms.
But may we always be like Samuel and listening to God, who is ready to surprise us with new language, shatter our expectations with new hopes, new beginnings, and lead us to blessings through counter-cultural ways.
May we walk by faith and not by sight.
Let us be like the disciples, who didn’t understand everything in the least, but who kept going and following their shepherd.
Let us embrace the “yes, and” ways of describing our God, who is yes our father, and also so much more.