Welcome to our worship today, Sunday 13th June 2021. If I were to give our service of worship a title it would be “Appearance isn’t everything”. We consider David, a man of small stature, who slayed Goliath and became a great king, and the tiny mustard seed that splits open and grows into a huge tree.
Call to Worship (Psalm 20: 6,7)
Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with mighty victories by his right hand.
Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
Hymn 465 Be thou my Vision.
Prayer of Approach
Living God, in our desire for the meaning and purpose in life,
You remind us that You are available to us in our hour of need.
As we reach out to you in our times of searching,
You listen and answer beyond our imaginings.
When we become judgemental and focus on outward appearance,
Call us back to Your holy place, to meet with You, and to rest in Your presence.
Forgive us for putting our trust in the things of the world.
When we measure success in human attributes and material possessions,
let us put our trust in Your ways.
When the world builds success on power and control,
let us believe in Your ways of building a kingdom of righteousness and love.
When we fall short of all You expect of us,
let us hold to Your promise that You will pick us up again,
and set our feet on Your path once more.
Help us to look beyond outward appearance,
Help us to turn from our judgemental ways,
And to seeing each other as you see us.
Turn us from human failure to the forgiveness of God,
from human weakness to the strength of God,
from human focus to the purpose of God our Lord.
We praise Your name,
and rejoice in the love and strength,
the purpose and the success, the triumphs and growth that come,
not from our hands, but from Yours alone.
We lift our heads and look ahead with courage.
We rise with confidence to serve you,
Let us move forward in our commitment to you.
For You are our answer in our time of need.
And hear us as together we share the words that Jesus taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 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.
Samuel Anoints David
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.’ 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.” 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.’ 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?’ 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.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ 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.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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.’
The Use of Parables
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Hymn 97 O God, you search me, and you know me.
I can’t reach the top shelves in the supermarket but I’m grateful for the smile and kind words when I ask a tall person for help. We are all unique in our physical attributes, sometimes these will contribute to our daily lives but more often it is the unseen characteristics that make us the valued and valuable person.
In the reading from 1 Samuel today, we hear the story that Saul, King of Israel has disobeyed God by offering an unlawful sacrifice. Saul has proven himself to be unworthy, so Samuel is sent to remove him from his kingship and to anoint another king. Samuel is the Lord’s prophet—the one through whom the Lord carries out His agenda—and the Lord has work for Samuel to do. The overriding concern here is not Saul’s future, but that of Israel. We are introduced to Jesse, the Bethlehemite. This is the first mention of Jesse in the Bible, indicative of the fact that the Lord has not chosen the son of a famous man to be king but rather the son of an unknown man.
Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find the new king among Jesse’s sons but has concerns for his safety if Saul finds out. Very often when the Lord asks us to do something risky, we are more likely to see the risk rather than the Lord’s protection. That is what happens here. God offers protection by sending Samuel under the pretext that he is going merely to make the sacrifice of a heifer.
The elders, Jesse and Jesse’s sons are invited to witness the sacrifice, although one of the sons is missing. Traditionally, the oldest son, in this case, Eliab, would be the anointed one. The Lord tells Samuel not to look on Eliab’s appearance or his height. People tend to see superficially. We put too much stock in physical appearances and are easily deceived by people who are not of good character. But there is nothing superficial in the way that the Lord sees us. The Lord sees our hearts—knows our intimate secrets—assesses accurately our character and faith.
Jesse introduces all his sons to Samuel, Abinadab the second, and Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, but none are chosen by God.
Then, it comes to light that there is another son, David, who is considered in his father’s mind to be such an unlikely candidate for king, that he did not bring him in from the field where he was tending the sheep. David is the youngest and smallest of the sons. Ironically, we are told that David is of ruddy complexion and has a handsome face. It must have been a significant moment for David’s brothers to see the revered prophet anoint their youngest brother. I wonder what their thoughts were. They could not fully appreciate the implications of this choice, because David would become a great king like nobody before or since in the history of Israel. The anointing leads to the spirit of the Lord empowering David. Later, in Chapter 17, we are told of the dramatic effects of that power, when little David—too small to wear a warrior’s armour—slays the giant, Goliath.
In the parable of the mustard seed, all of Jesus’ hearers would know that a grain of mustard seed stood – proverbially – for the smallest possible thing, but the seed bursts open, flourishes and grows into something akin to a tree. It could be taller than a man on a horse. Birds would roost in its branches. The parables tell us to value people for who they are, not what they possess or what they look like. In fact, the parables teach us to value what is insignificant, small, and forgotten, and we should not be surprised when the tiniest mustard seed grows into the largest of trees.
It is our children, our teenagers, our adults, our troubled, our aged, our infirm, our minorities and marginalised, our powerless, the financially strapped, our handicapped, who are people important to God.
When the Emperor Valerian was persecuting the Church, he demanded that it hand over its treasures. St Lawrence, the Deacon, had given away the church’s wealth to the poor. So, he brought the poor people of Rome, its old people, the lame and sick and widowed to the emperor. These, he said, were the treasures of the Church.
We live in a world that mostly believes what you see is what you get. We trust our eyes to reveal what is real and what is true. We tend to see what we want to see, what we have been taught or told to see, and what we expect to see. The parables teach us not just what to see but how to see.
Too often human-seeing is outwardly focused and appearance based. God-seeing, however, is inwardly focused and heart based. This does not mean that we should rejection outward and visible appearances. For each outward appearance, there is a deeper inner reality. Do not just look at what you see. Really look at what is there. Look again if you need to and then look more deeply.
We can change how we see. Behind every seed is the faithfulness, the hope, the promise, and the power of God to change lives. From even the tiniest seed planted, the Kingdom of God can grow so that the person who trusts in God is a source of nourishment and caring for others.
Prayer of Intercession
Remind us, now, that prayers, small and feeble though we may believe them to be, will always be enough, if they are offered in devotion
and a willingness to be close to You.
Remind us that You will unscramble our stumbled words,
our wayward thoughts, our random ideas, our scattered images,
and see in them growth and purpose.
We pray, now, for those closest to us –
those around us in the community of faith, in spirit and in fellowship, those we see face to face, those whose images appear on our screens, and those who are fixed in our mind’s eye.
For family and friends, for church and community,
for all who matter to us in the bonds of love, we pray today.
We pray for those who have influenced our lives and our faith,
who point us to the ways of Your Kingdom.
We pray for the teachers, on-line or in class,
for their diligence and commitment and
for all who are heroes and role models
that they might all be strengthened in the ways of righteousness.
We pray for people who serve in the community and the nation,
who walk in the corridors of responsibility and sit in the chambers of decision-making;
for those who stand tall for what is right;
for those who give of themselves for the benefit of others.
We pray for all who are imprisoned by ill health whether physically or emotionally. We pray for those who have recently gained a place at your heavenly table and for those who mourn the loss of these loved ones.
Help us to plant seeds, as small as a mustard seeds into the hearts of the unchurched, that they will develop into a green shoots, eventually flourishing and blossoming.
Strengthen us in our growth;
take us and use us for your purposes;
let us see past outward appearance into the hearts full of love and joy.
For we are Yours, and Yours alone.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Hymn 606 Lord you sometimes speak in wonders.
God is good.
God’s purposes are just.
God’s way is right.
God’s road is ours to follow.
Christ’s truth is our guide.
So, go now, in the goodness of God,
to walk God’s Way,
to follow God’s Truth,
and to be embraced by God’s love
now and always.
Acknowledgement: Prayers based on Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 13th June 2021.