>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, June 14, 2009. The text for this week’s message is 1 Samuel 16:1-7, 10-13.

As a way to jump into today’s passage, I want to get in the Way-Back Machine and look at a time in my life that I promised myself never to discuss again – middle school. Perhaps some of y’all here this morning can connect with me on this one. One of my fondest memories of middle school was gym class. I had a slight social handicap when I was in middle school – I wore glasses. And because I wore glasses, I was automatically incapable of playing sports, at least that was the perception amongst some of my middle school peers. I remember when we were getting ready for the unit on baseball, and we went through the always dreaded gym class ritual of picking teams. I seem to remember, as I was among the last of the players picked, someone making a comment that at least my team would have a cheerleader. Let’s pause the story there, and look at the background for today’s passage.

The book of 1 Samuel basically records Israel’s first steps into monarchy, their new political system in which a king ruled the nation. Until the birth of the monarchy, Israel was ruled by what the Old Testament calls “judges.” No, these were not guys with white wigs and black robes sitting behind a bench. The judges of ancient Israel were rulers who were raised up by God from time to time. They would lead Israel through a particular crisis and for a limited period of time. After a while though, the Israelites grew tired of having judges from time to time and wanted something more permanent. They clamoured for a king. In 1 Samuel 8, we are told that the elders of Israel go to Samuel and express their displeasure over the rule of his sons (who really were poor leaders, more concerned with personal gain than justice). And they tell Samuel that they wanted to have a king – just like all the other nations.

In spite of Samuel’s warning of what would happen if Israel did have a king, the people still insisted on having one. Finally, Samuel prays to the Lord and He says, “Okay, let’s give them what they want.” Have you ever heard the saying, “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” Israel hadn’t. They got what they asked for, and it would lead them down a long and winding road. At the end of this road was something that they never would have expected, but they should have – Samuel warned them.

The first king ended up being a very handsome, wealthy man, who stood taller than all the rest of the Israelites. Saul actually started out as a pretty good king. He led Israel into battle and nearly every time came back victorious. He listened to the advice of Samuel and obeyed the Lord. However, Saul started doing things his own way instead of waiting on the Lord. One lesson we learn time and time again in the Old Testament is that when leaders stop following after the Lord, things go wrong real quick. And this was no different. Saul started going his own way, and, consequently, was rejected by the Lord as leader of the nation. And that brings us to today’s passage – the anointing of David.

I get the feeling that Samuel really liked Saul to begin with. He seemed like a good enough leader. He was able to bring all the tribes together and unite them for a common purpose, but Saul eventually bought in to his own press. This certainly grieved Samuel. But as we often find out, God has already been at work setting His plans into motion, even when we don’t know about it. He tells Samuel to get up and head to Bethlehem to anoint His new king. Now, Samuel is a little worried about doing it, but sometimes, when it comes to fulfilling God’s plans, we have to be willing to do something that may seem to be a little scary, and a little out of our comfort zone. God equips those he sends, and he had prepared Samuel for this next step.

Samuel goes to the town of Bethlehem to find Jesse, the man whose son is going to be the next king of Israel. He goes to perform a sacrifice to the Lord, and once Jesse and his sons are consecrated, the ceremony begins. But right away, it appears that something different is going on here. Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, is the first to go before Samuel, and Samuel thinks, “Ah, this is the guy.” But God says, “Nope. Don’t look at what you see. I see something different than what you see. I’m looking for someone whose heart is in the right place.” Samuel is faithful to what God says and looks to the next in line. One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, but none of them fit the description that the Lord gives Samuel. None of them are to be the next king of Israel.

After they all pass before Samuel, he asks Jesse if there’s another son that isn’t present. And Jesse says, “Yeah, there’s the youngest, but he’s out taking care of the sheep right now.” In other words, the family nerd is out with the herd. As the youngest son, David would have been at the bottom of the pecking order. Notice that even though Samuel has Jesse bring all his sons to the sacrifice, David is still left in the fields with the sheep. He is not important enough to be at this event. He wasn’t picked last – he just wasn’t picked at all. But when David comes before Samuel, the Lord says, “This is the guy. This is the one that I’ve chosen.” His own family didn’t think enough of David to include him in the ceremony to begin with, but he is the one that was chosen by the Lord to lead Israel. I know what you’re thinking at this point, “Great story, but what does this have to do with us?”

I think this is a story about hope. It’s the classic underdog story that we all want to see take place. It’s the unexpected gold medal for the 1980 U.S. hockey team. It’s George Mason from the 2006 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney, the 11 seed that made the Final Four. It’s a certain 83-win team winning the World Series that same year. It’s a story that resonates with each one of us on some level. Who doesn’t root for the underdog? That’s what David is here. He’s the runt of the litter. He’s the youngest of eight. He has no business being anointed the leader of a nation. But he’s the one that God has chosen.

When we look around our community, do we feel like the runt of the litter? We are a fairly small church, but does that mean we can’t make a difference? Simply because there are a small number of people in this congregation, it doesn’t mean that the Spirit can’t work in a powerful way. When you look around this congregation, do you see a congregation that has done all it can, and is just ready to sit back and let life happen? Or do you see a congregation that is excited about what God can do? I see so many people who can make a difference, but it doesn’t matter what I see. How do you see yourselves?

We live in a world that thinks bigger is better, but is it really? Sure, we don’t have as many people here as Sterling or Hillsboro Nazarene or insert name of another big church here. We can’t do the things that they can do right now, but we don’t have to. God has a purpose for us as a congregation, but until we really believe that by God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit that we can make a difference, we aren’t going to go anywhere. But the good news that we see in today’s Scripture is that size, position and birth order don’t matter. In fact, did you know that 60% of the churches in America meet every week with less than 100 people? 60% of the churches in America are just like us – small congregations that meet faithfully every week. Here’s another fun fact for you this morning – only 6.5% of churches in America have attendance each week of more than 500. Do you see where I am going with this?

God has always moved in big ways through the most unexpected means. He picked one guy, Abraham, to make the nation that would bring about salvation for the entire world. He picked a guy with a speech impediment to go before the Pharoah and set free the Israelites from 400 years of slavery. He picked the runt of Jesse’s litter to become the king of Israel and establish the Israelite kingdom. He picked a ragtag group of twelve disciples to learn from Jesus and spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.

Even though we are a small congregation, we can make a major difference because it is not us, but God working through us, and with God all things are possible. But that’s the key – with God. We cannot do this on our own. We cannot do this through the latest and greatest ministry techniques. We cannot do this by copying what the church down the road is doing. We can only do this by listening for God and following the lead that He has given us. David, by all the standards set by the society around him, was nothing. But in reality, in God’s reality, he was exactly what was needed in order for God’s will to be done.

God tells Samuel that He looks at the heart. He doesn’t see the things that everyone else sees. God sees some amazing things in each one of us. God doesn’t look at us and see a small congregation; God sees a congregation that can make a huge difference in this community. We don’t often see what God is doing behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean God hasn’t been working.

God has been working here. I’ve heard from some of you the difference that spending 15 minutes a day reading Scripture has made in your life. God has been challenging us each and every week to take the next step in our faith. I know that there are some people here that have listened for ways that they can help those around them, and have taken advantage of the opportunities that are available. We have so many things that we can do to share the gospel. It doesn’t have to be a big, organized event. Sometimes, it’s just a simple as sitting down and talking with somebody for a little while.

How has God been preparing you? How has God been working in your life? What’s going on right now that you never would have anticipated five years ago? If you take the time to allow God to form you, He will. If you take the time to listen to what God would have you do to reach out to those around you, you’ll start to see ways of doing ministry that maybe nobody has thought of before. What are your hopes and dreams for us as a congregation? We can do amazing things if we only rely on God. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that we are too small to do anything. Don’t ever think that we are too small to do anything. In a world where bigger is better, God still works through those who are faithful and whose hearts are in the right place, regardless of size. God is preparing us for something big, but we have to make the decision to be excited about what God is going to do, and we have to listen for what our role in it is going to be.

When I got picked in that softball game, everyone else saw a smart kid with glasses. What they didn’t know is that I had been playing baseball for six years. A double, triple and three RBI’s later, people realized that there was more to me than what they saw. I could play ball. In fact, I could play a lot better than most of the rest of them. I think we will find out something similar about ourselves as a congregation. We aren’t too small. We aren’t too old. We aren’t too busy. We have no excuses because God is the one that will be working through us. We have to decide to be a part of what God is doing, and that decision, whatever we decide, will lead us into the future. Six months, a year, three years from now – what are people going to be saying about us? Take a look into your heart this week, and you’ll find the answer.