Richard L. Floyd
"Are all your sons here?" - 1 Samuel 16:11,12
Samuel, God's prophet, has been charged with picking and anointing the next king of Israel from among the sons of Jesse. Starting with the oldest he checks them out one by one, but the Spirit isn't making any of them ring bells for him. Finally, he asks Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" It turns out there is one more, David, the baby of the family, out tending the flocks. David is sent for, and God tells Samuel, "This is the one!"
It's a Cinderella story to be sure, but it is not the only one in Scripture by any means. Jacob, who becomes Israel, is the younger brother. Joseph, who saves his people during a famine, is the youngest of twelve brothers. In our meritocracy we can't grasp how radical these stories must have seemed in a world where the oldest son got the property and privilege.
But God's ways are not our ways. Geriatric Abraham and Sarah receive the promise. Young Mary, a poor peasant girl, is visited by an angel, and gives birth to Jesus. And Jesus himself, a carpenter's son from a backwater town, becomes the Lord of Glory, but not before first dying on a cross, which was nobody's expectation for the messiah.
How strange these stories seem. How counter-cultural they are in a world that worships power and prestige, where the well-born, the well-connected, and the well-paid seem to hold all the strings.
Paul wrote, "Not many of you were wise by the world's standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong . . ." (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)
I hear folks say that the churches are dying, and lamenting our loss of influence and prestige in the larger culture. That's one way to look at it, but God's always-surprising Cinderella story suggests a different way: that God isn't done with us yet, and there will be more chapters to come.
Who will be the carriers of the ancient story and the divine promise? Stay tuned.
O God of surprises, surprise us again with your gentle power and amazing love, in Jesus' name.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and author of A Course In Basic Christianity and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.