Drawing Straws, Changing Hearts

I Samuel 10:17-27
David A. Davis
June 10, 2018
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Just Friday night Cathy and I were having dinner with a friend and colleague who came in from out of town for a meeting at the seminary. She is a  pastor and a graduate of Princeton Seminary. We had never met her husband. He was in Princeton for the very first time. So at dinner one of those questions came up that always comes up. One of the questions you never get tired of answering, even if you been answering for more than 30 years now. The two couples, we asked each other, “So how did you two meet?” It’s one of those questions that presumes a really, good story, right? The question came up over Memorial Day Weekend at the church family retreat. Folks sitting around the table enjoying a meal, getting to know each other while all the kids were at the next table. “So where did you two meet?”

I am fairly confident that when I tell the story of falling in love with Cathy down the street on the seminary campus in the mid 80’s the story gets better absolutely every single time I tell it. Both dating other people, becoming best friends, the tree down by the boathouse under which we first talked about marriage, long walks around Springdale Golf Club, Cathy telling God back then that she would go to seminary but she wasn’t going to marry a minister or live in New Jersey the rest of her life. Every time I tell it, the story gets better and the details morph a bit. It’s not like I make things up or that it is apocryphal or that I am asserting poetic license. It’s that it is a great story. I am not alone, by the way. Cathy told our friends on Friday night that we courted by taking runs on the golf course. I’m pretty sure the running part, that wasn’t me. Maybe that was someone else.

If by God’s grace I get to tell the story when I am 75, it most certainly will be by then “the greatest story ever told.” I know I’m not the only one. You and your grandfather, and your aunt Kate, and your best friend from school, you’re all just like me because some stories come from way deep within the bones, deep within the heart. A sort of soul story full of details and memories and the stuff of life. I think that’s how we’re supposed to read these stories of Samuel, and Saul, and David, and kings and judges and God and God’s people. It is as if you pulled up a chair next to the oldest family member at the summer picnic and said, “So tell me again about Samuel and Saul and how that whole king-thing got started?”

Some try to reach for a kind of grand theory here, arguing that the ancient texts offer conclusions related to best forms of government and the most faithful forms of civic leadership and God’s role in determining leaders. Some stick to the overarching theological conviction that only God shall be king and thus the monarchy in ancient Israel was a generations-long, a centuries-long, failed experiment that embodies that affirmation and sets the stage for Jesus, the servant-king, the Messiah, the Son of God. Still others opt for the all-night, dormitory-like conversation with a debate about whether God changes God’s mind, or God sort of throws up the hands and simply gives in to the demands of the people, or God just chooses to mess with them with the rulers yet to come.

But you have to wonder about reaching for a grand theory or going for vast theological conclusions when some of the details of the story are just so “in the weeds” and kind of quirky and full of the messiness of being human and the ambiguity that defines that intersection, that relationship of God and God’s people. The people told Saul he was too old and his sons were scoundrels. That they had had it up to here! God told Samuel to give them a king two, three times, and Samuel wouldn’t do it. Three times God told him to listen to them and he still wouldn’t do it.

Saul’s introduction in the pages of scripture includes the description that he was tall and handsome. The whole thing starts with Saul being sent to look for the family’s lost donkeys for goodness’ sake. That’s how the whole selection process of the first king of Israel is launched; looking for some lost donkeys. Samuel treats Saul like a king and anoints him with oil privately. It was all a done deal.

But then there is the odd public drawing of lots, or some kind of election, or drawing of straws. Samuel gave Saul three signs to look for to confirm all this craziness he was telling him: two men at Rachel’s tomb who will know where the donkeys are, three men at the oak of Tabor who will have a skin of wine and two loaves of bread, and a frenzied band of prophets playing a tambourine, a flute, and lyre. The story tells of God giving Saul a new heart; God changes Saul’s heart, God transform Saul’s heart.

But it only takes a few chapters for the reader to find out that didn’t last all that long or it didn’t take, or it didn’t work, or Saul was backsliding  After Samuel tells Saul that he would be the king, Saul’s father asks him what they had been talking about. Saul just says they were talking about the donkeys. He didn’t even mention that, oh, by the way, I’m going to be king! And all of that, that’s all before Saul tries to hide himself among the luggage after the election to apparently avoid the whole mess. The tall, handsome guy trying to hide over at baggage claim.

It is a crazy story! I wonder what it sounded like the very first time someone told it! Some days the takeaway from scripture is lot less grandiose, the meaning a lot less global and a lot more local. Local in terms of your life and mine. Some may reach for the “aha” or the “see, I told you so” of a grand scheme, offer a profound pronouncement that only God is king and at the same time risk missing the unexciting, run of the mill, everyday quality of an ancient soul story, a soul story full of details and memories and the stuff of life. A soul story full of details and memories and the stuff of life. A kind of quirky soul story full of the messiness of being human and the ambiguity that defines that intersection, that relationship of God and God’s people, an ambiguity that you and I live with and wrestle with pretty much all the time. A soul story that might in fact have quite a lot to do everyday life.

Early on in this great story of Saul becoming king, Samuel is really ticked that the people have demanded a king, that the people told him he was too old, that the people rejected the leadership of his corrupt sons. Samuel, who was always on good speaking terms with God, takes it to the Lord in prayer. God says to Samuel, “Samuel, they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this day, rejected me, forsaken me, and served gods other than me.” It’s not about you Samuel. It’s about me. But then God goes and tells Samuel to listen to them. God goes and gives them a king. God knows they are rejecting God and still God gives those who rejected God, God gives them what they want. God does not turn away. God does not reject. God listens. God hears. God remembers God’s people. God gives them a king.

Then after all that convoluted selection process and the search for lost donkeys and the anointing with oil and the feast and the signs and whatever on earth casting lots was really like in antiquity, after all that, after one last shout, one last demand, “give us a king!”, then the people could not find Saul. Saul was nowhere to be found. And those who had rejected and forsaken the Lord had the gall to go right back and ask. They inquired again of the Lord. “Umh, uh, ahh, do you know where he is? Saul, the son of Kish, our new king, yeah, we can’t find him anywhere.” And the rejected, forsaken God of Gods and Lord of Lords responds to God’s own people, “See, he has hidden himself in the baggage.” Yeah, look over there. Or as that ever poetic and flowery version in the King James English translates it: “Behold, he hath hid himself among the stuff.”

Very early in my ministry a young father came to me to ask about baptizing his three sons. He had grown up in the church I was serving. His parents were there every Sunday. He and his wife were recommitting themselves, coming back to church, making church a part of their lives and the lives of their children. They had an infant son, and two young elementary-aged boys. I explained that I would be happy to baptize the baby but we should wait for confirmation for the older boys. They were no longer infants so infant baptism wouldn’t apply and they were still too young to affirm their own faith. So we should wait a while; until they understand. The young dad looked disappointed there in my office but he also seemed satisfied with my answer.

A few days later he called the office. “Reverend,” he said, “I have been thinking about our conversation and I just don’t see how, I don’t believe God would ever reject my boys or withhold his love and grace because they’re too young to understand. Why would God reject anybody?” A few weeks later I baptized all three boys. He was right. I was wrong. Last I knew the oldest boy was engaged to marry the daughter of the pastor who followed me in that congregation. And ever since, when I baptize an older child, or there is sibling standing with us at the fount when I have a child in my arms, I say, you have heard me say, “This means that God loves you very, very much. And nothing, nothing, will ever, ever change that.

The Ethiopian eunuch in the book of Acts says to Philip, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip didn’t answer him. He baptized him. When the Prodigal Son came home, before he said a word, his father ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him. Jesus referred to himself and Peter referred to Jesus with that quote from the psalmist, “the stone the builders reject has become the cornerstone.” He gave himself for those who rejected him. God does not reject those who reject God. God listens. God hears. God remembers God’s people. God gives them a king. The eunuch. The Prodigal Son. Jesus. And Saul becoming king. Saul becoming king. It’s one of those soul stories.

God loves you very, very much. And nothing, nothing, will ever, ever change that. God will never reject you. God’s love is for you. Even and especially and most definitely when you are trying to hide in all the stuff, in all the stuff of life, in all that stuff that is your life and mine. God knows and God’s love, it’s right there, in all that stuff. It’s kind of quirky, isn’t it. God’s love reaching out to you even when you’re trying hide. But that’s how God works amid all the messiness of life. It’s one of those quirky soul stories.

I’m in. How about you?

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