My grandfather on my dad’s side died young, my dad was only seven when he passed away. There are seven grandchildren on that side of the family, none of us ever knew our grandfather. My grandmother never remarried, she was a widow for nearly 40 years. So she was our only grandparent on that side of the family, she was also the closet, physically, grandparent that I had so that meant we saw her a lot. My mom’s parents were forty-five minutes away so she was the one who could consistently come to games and plays and awards days and things like that. She was the one whose house we went to on Sundays for lunch, she was the one who kept us if we were sick or there was a teacher workday and we were out of school and my folks weren’t, she was the one who we stayed with if my parents needed someone to watch us on a random Tuesday, we spent a lot of time with her. The cousin who is closest to my age and I probably spent the most time with her because we were in daycare and elementary school when she retired so once a week she picked us up and we had what came to be known as “Mema day.” She was a church secretary, and even though she had retired and even though her position wasn’t what we generally think of as “ministry,” those days were where I learned what ministry looked like. We would go to the church where, even though she was retired, she would still hand fold every bulletin because she “didn’t like how the machine did it.” After that we would go to the nursing homes or the houses of the homebound where she would drop off toiletries or cards or just sit and talk for a while. There was always something to be done, every week was different but every week began the same: with a trip to the day-old bread store.
Flowers Bakery was located on the way back to her house from my day care and elementary school and it sold bread that was past its sell by date so the major grocery stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves but it wasn’t bad yet. And we could get any snack we wanted from the day-old bread store. Which was a big deal because very rarely did my grandmother say “get anything you wanted.” She raised three boys on a church secretary’s salary and it wasn’t by allowing them to get “anything they wanted.” We got what she had a coupon for. We got what was on special that week. Even at Christmas we had a limit on the price of what we were allowed to ask for, we never got to get anything we wanted. Except at the day-old bread store. Because at the day-old bread store everything was on sale. We weren’t restricted to the off brand pecan wheels, at the day old-bread store we could even get name brand Pop-Tarts instead of Bi-Lo’s Tastee-tarts. And, at the day-old bread store I was allowed to get a Honey Bun. And there’s nothing a husky 6-year-old loves more than a Honey Bun.
I had a good thing going at Flower’s Bakery, but for some reason I couldn’t leave well enough alone. At some point I made the mistake of asking why everything was cheaper there then anywhere else. And that’s when I learned the reality of the day-old bread store. And I was taken aback. My grandmother was feeding me expired food. What in the world!? Where was child protective services to stop this abuse (if you haven’t caught on before now mine was a pretty sheltered childhood)? I felt, in that way that only an early-elementary age child can feel, personally betrayed. And so Mema did something completely out of character. She bought me a fresh, grocery store Honey Bun. And she gave it to me, and I ate it, and she asked if I could tell a difference. And sure enough, the day old Honey Bun tasted the same.
That’s a terrible story right? These are the lengths I have to go to to find some way of pretending my childhood involved any kind of struggle. But I hope you won’t let the story distract from the lesson. I one hundred percent would have refused to eat at that store if I had known all along that the stuff was old. That label was important to me. And there’s a parallel I think, weak though it may be, to our scripture this morning, to the lesson that we see God revealing to Samuel as the prophet goes to select the new king.
God tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem because a young man there is going to be the next king. Saul has already crashed and burned at kingship at this point, God, through Samuel, has declared him unfit. Samuel has been keeping a low profile since then which we can’t really blame him for, people who speak out against the king don’t usually get a lot of opportunities to do so a second time. So God tells him to move on, get over it, and go find Jesse of Bethlehem because one of his sons is going to be king. And Samuel does it, he comes up with an excuse to see them, and before they sit down to eat there is apparently a parade of Jesse’s sons. Eliab, the oldest, comes by. He is apparently tall and handsome. He looks like a king, he’ll inspire respect, he’ll make everyone forget about Saul. And God says no. “Do not consider his appearance or his height for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart.” Saul was tall and handsome. Saul looked like a king. Saul inspired respect. Saul made people wonder why they hadn’t gotten a king sooner. And he had been an absolute failure. People get distracted by what’s on the outside, the Lord looks at the heart.
Six more sons of Jesse’s come by, none of them are the one God has chosen. Samuel says “hey, is there anyone else.” And there is, there’s an 8th son out watching the sheep. Think about that for a minute. Ponder on this: they didn’t even bring David to lunch. God’s prophet, the last judge, the one who had anointed the first king, definitely the most famous visitor the family had ever had comes in and they don’t even bother bringing David in from the field. He’s so far down in the hierarchy that he doesn’t get to come to the meal. That’s how out of the norm this story is, the 8th son, the uninvited son, the forgotten son, is going to be king.
People get distracted by what’s on the outside, the Lord looks at the heart. David was the 8th son. He would have never been considered by anyone before his brothers. But God saw what others did not. He was poor. His family were shepherds. When we were introduced to Saul we find out that his father was wealthy, he was respected in the community, the had land and flocks and herds, they had servants who did the shepherding. David slept out the field with the animals. But God saw what others did not. David’s grandmother was Ruth, an immigrant from Moab. Why’d she come here, what was her game, those people can’t be trusted. But God saw what others did not. Further back in his lineage were two Canaanites, Rahab and Tamar, one a prostitute and the other a suspected adulteress, someone with that kind of family couldn’t be king. But God saw what others did not. Throughout scripture God finds the possibility for grace in unexpected places and unlikely people. Time and time again God defies the social norms, time and time again God sees potential when others don’t. How often do we refuse to do the same?
How often do we refuse to look beyond the labels, the outward appearances, and see what is inside? How often do we assume that who someone is defined by how they look or dress or speak or where they’re from? How often do we assume God can’t use us because of those same things? One of the commentators I read this week had this to say “The story of the choosing of David can serve as a reminder that we still live in communities for which the patterns of power seek to become permanently entrenched. Too often we fail to look for possibilities of grace and hope beyond the tradition channels of power, influence, and success. We ignore the possibilities in those who are customarily absent from gathers of power (the inner cities, the elderly, immigrants who speak languages other than English, those of a different race than our own). We do not believe that God can find hope for a new future among the marginalized and the dispossessed. In our own personal moments of estrangement and self-doubt, we do not believe that God can find possibilities of grace in us.”
We live in a world fixated on what is outside- on appearance, on expiration dates, on labels. Often times we need the reminder that while that may be how the world looks, God looks to the inside. What’s in our hearts still matters to God, and God can still take the 8th son or the child of refugees or the husky boy with the day old Honey-Bun or the person in the pew and do a mighty work.
Last week one of our members showed me this story from the introduction to their Sunday school lesson. I thought it fit beautifully with what we’re discussing this week and wanted to share it with you:
“My friend Joel led a church-planting program in Kiev, Ukraine, for over ten years. He used to have a map hanging in his office that was dotted with pictures of churh planters leading churches all across the former Soviet Union.
On a visit to Kiev, I showed a friend this map on Joel’s wall. I pointed to Immanuel from Lithuania, a massive guy with tattoos on every finger. Immanuel once described how, while in prison, he would rip out pages of the Bible, fill the paper with marijuana, and proceed to puff away. But now, Immanuel is no longer in prison, and he no longer “smokes the Bible.” Now, he preaches the Bible.
How in the world does a person go from smoking the Bible and living in opposition to the gospel to preaching the Bible and telling others about the good news of Jesus Christ? The answer is simple: Jesus changes lives. Immanuel found a far greater joy in knowing and sharing Jesus.”
Jesus changes lives. Jesus takes who we are and reveals who we are meant to be. God sees, no matter who we are, where we’re from, or what we’re doing, what’s on the inside, what we can be. And God can take who we truly are, free from labels that define us in the world’s eyes, and use us for the glory of his Kingdom.