Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“This is the One” (1 Samuel 16:4-13)
March 22, 2020
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There is a special place in God’s heart for the rejected.  This is good news because so many people, perhaps including you, have experienced rejection whether it be from a parent, spouse (or ex-spouse), significant other, child, neighbor, coworker, friend (or frenemy)—or, and I hope this is never the case at Christ Church—rejection from the church.  And yet not only is there a special place in God’s heart for the rejected God also intentionally chooses the rejected.  We see this clearly in arguably one of the most moving episodes in the entire Bible:

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 (1 Samuel 164-13).

David was simply out doing what he had been doing for a long time, working as a shepherd—spending hot days and cold nights, weathering the elements of long summer days and longer winter nights.  Given the dynamics of this story it is apparent that sadly David was used to being the rejected son and brother, and that even more sadly Jesse and his other sons were used to rejecting him—after all, David was not even invited to this gathering with Samuel, and neither Jesse nor his other sons appeared to give that a second thought.

And yet, God had never rejected David, and never would.  David knew this, which is probably why he wrote, “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).  As David spent the long nights in the wilderness with his flock and gazed at the countless stars and the celestial brush stroke of the Milky Way, he knew the One who had created the heavens had never rejected him.  But I doubt David had any idea that the Lord had actually chosen him to be the next king over God’s chosen people.

A little historical context here…Samuel was the last of the “judges” who led Israel in the years between the death of Joshua and the anointing of Saul as the first King of Israel.  Samuel had anointed Saul, but when the Amalekites attacked Israel Saul took things into his own hands and turned away from God, and so God had commanded Samuel to travel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel.  Right before Samuel headed towards Bethlehem he had executed the oppressing king of the Amalekites in a brutal fashion—“Samuel hewed Agag in pieces” (1 Samuel 15:33).  No wonder when Samuel arrived in Bethlehem the elders “came to meet him trembling” and asked if he had come to them in peace.

But Samuel had not come to Bethlehem to execute anyone but to anoint the next King of Israel, and he began by sanctifying Jesse and his sons and inviting them to a sacrifice he would be making to the Lord.  Neither Jesse nor his sons even mentioned the existence of David to Samuel, let alone thought of inviting him to the sacrifice as well.  Once everyone was gathered the dog and pony show began as one by one, beginning with the eldest Eliab, each of Jesse’s sons was beckoned by their father to stand before Samuel.  Samuel was so impressed with Eliab’s stature that he was convinced he was the one God had chosen, but Samuel was wrong.  God had neither chosen Eliab nor any of the others there—for as God told Samuel, “the Lord looks on the heart.”

After an awkward moment Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”  Jesse’s reply speaks volumes about how little he thought of David, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  Jesse dismissed David as both the youngest and a shepherd—and would not even refer to him by name.  And yet at that moment Samuel may have had an inkling that there was something very special about David, because he told Jesse and his other sons, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  You did not remain seated when a king entered the scene, so they all stood and awaited the arrival of the rejected son, the rejected brother, the rejected shepherd David.

When David arrived the Lord told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  And so Samuel anointed David with oil, which symbolized the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in that unforgettable moment “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”  David would continue to be rejected by his father and brothers, and would face many subsequent daunting challenges—including the giant Goliath, many battles with the Philistines, and fleeing for his life from Saul—but David’s destiny as the next king of Israel had been sealed that day.  Although David had been rejected by his father and brothers, he had been chosen by God.  David’s destiny did not depend on being chosen by his father or brothers or even himself, but on being chosen by God.

And it is the same with you.

Maybe in your own way you have been the one away from everyone else, doing a job others dismiss as beneath them, not even acknowledged by name by those who should care for you but have rejected you instead.  God knows your backstory, every chapter of it, even the chapters you would rather not read again or have anyone else read.  Although you have been rejected by others, you have been chosen by God—and this realization that the One who created the heavens has chosen you just may immediately change the trajectory of your life.

During this pandemic as so many sporting events like March Madness, opening day for Major League Baseball, and the Masters having been postponed or cancelled altogether, I have been looking forward to football season, which hopefully will start on time.  Along those lines I have been revisiting one of the best football films ever to come out of Hollywood, the 1993 classic Rudy.

Sean Astin stars in this inspiring film based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an undersized kid from a large Catholic blue collar family in Joliet, Illinois.  Like his father, Rudy is obsessed with Notre Dame football and he dreams of playing for the Fighting Irish.  His whole life he is told this would be impossible, but Rudy is determined.  He takes a bus to Notre Dame and shares his dream with a priest, Father John Cavanaugh.  “Why are you here?” Father Cavanaugh asks.  Rudy gets right to the point, “I want to go to school at Notre Dame.”  Father Cavanaugh chuckles dubiously, “Well, have you applied?”  Rudy looks down at the floor, “No, my grades have never been very good, even though I try.  But I’ll try harder.  I’ll study twenty hours a day if I have to.”  Father Cavanaugh looks Rudy in the eye, “This university, it’s not for everybody.”

But Rudy does not give up, and instead of looking at the floor again he looks Father Cavanaugh in the eye, “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to go to school here, and ever since I was a kid everyone said it couldn’t be done.  My whole life people have been telling me what I could do and I couldn’t do.  I always listened to them, believed what they said.  I don’t want to do that anymore.”  Father Cavanaugh sees that Rudy is in earnest and replies, “Okay Mr. Rudy, here’s the deal.  Holy Cross Junior College is nearby.  I can get you one semester there.  You make grades, you get another semester.  And maybe with a high enough GPA you might have a chance of getting into Notre Dame.”

And so for the next two years Rudy does everything he can, with lots of help from others along the way, but after applying and being rejected by Notre Dame multiple times he is down to his last chance.  He takes the envelope from his campus post office down to a bench.  As the wind blows open his text book next to him and the autumn afternoon sunlight bathes the golden leaves on a tree behind him, he takes a deep breath, opens the envelope and begins reading the letter, “Congratulations, you have been approved for acceptance next semester…”  Rudy chokes up, “Oh thank God.”  In my opinion that is the best moment of the film.  After all the rejection Rudy was finally accepted, chosen to attend Notre Dame—and that moment changed the trajectory of his life.

Of course when it comes to God’s accepting you and choosing you, there have never been any letters of rejection at all.  God’s metaphorical letter to you, as it was to David, has always been an acceptance letter.

David—the rejected son, rejected brother, rejected shepherd—was invited from the fields to meet with the most powerful person in Israel, Samuel, who anointed him with oil and the Holy Spirit in the presence of the very ones who had hitherto altogether rejected him, and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him from that day forward.  Why?  Because God had chosen him, because as God told Samuel, “This is the one.”

This entire episode foreshadowed the arrival of another King in Bethlehem many centuries later—a King who was born in a barn in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “house of bread”—a King who as we prayed in the collect for today “came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world” (The Book of Common Prayer 219).  Like David this King was often rejected—as scripture tells us, “he was despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3) and “his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11).

And yet throughout his earthly ministry this King accepted people who had been rejected—lepers rejected because of their disease, tax collectors rejected because they were considered thieves, prostitutes rejected because of their profession (like they actually had a choice), and notorious sinners rejected because of their reputation.  This King who identified himself as “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:1), chose those who were not used to being chosen for anything, who had never received an acceptance letter in their life, to follow him.

At the Last Supper this same King, after washing his disciples’ feet, assured them, “You did not choose me but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  The next day this King, with a sign nailed above him on the cross that read “King of the Jews”, this rejected Good Shepherd, died for the rejected because regardless of what others have done, God utterly refused to reject you.  And in giving his life for the rejected, in choosing the rejected, this King revealed his identity as “the stone that the builders rejected” who became “the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22) of the church, a community where those used to being rejected by others experience being accepted and chosen by God.

All this is very good news for you, because God’s words to Samuel about David are God’s words about you…“This is the one.”