Weekly Seeds: Unexpected Leadership

Sunday, June 13, 2021
Third Sunday after Pentecost Year B
Proper 6

Focus Theme:
Unexpected Leadership

Focus Prayer:
Mighty God, to you belong the mysteries of the universe. You transform shepherds into kings, the smallest seeds into magnificent trees, and hardened hearts into loving ones. Bless us with your life-giving Spirit, re-create us in your image, and shape us to your purposes, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Focus Reading:
1 Samuel 15:34–16:13
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
16 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 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?” 5 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.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” 7 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.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11 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.” 12 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.” 13 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. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

All readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament & Psalm, Option I
1 Samuel 15:34–16:13
Psalm 20
Old Testament & Psalm, Option II
Ezekiel 17:22–24
Psalm 92:1–4, 12–15
2 Corinthians 5:6–10 (11–13) 14–17
Mark 4:26–34

Focus Questions:
1. What paths to leadership have you recognized?
2. Who are leaders, past and present, you admire?
3. How would you describe their model of leadership?
4. Where and how do you lead?
5. What is your model of leadership?

By Cheryl Lindsay

What is the path to leadership?

There are those who desire authority, influence and power to achieve a specific purpose and assume the responsibility of leadership in order to see those plans realized. Others may be attracted to the attention and perceived affirmation of being a recognized leader in a given sphere. The role feeds egos and offers a measure of personal validation. Still others have the mantle pressed upon them despite their desire for a more anonymous, quiet, and obscure life or for a different path of leadership.

William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States and the Tenth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He is the only person to serve in both offices. He didn’t want to be president. Only the urging of his politically savvy spouse Nellie Taft and the endorsement of his predecessor Teddy Roosevelt led him to assume that role. Ultimately, his wife and closest advisor suffers a stroke that impairs her ability to walk alongside him during his presidency. In addition, Roosevelt was bitterly disappointed in the Taft administration and ran against him in the next election cycle. Both men lost making way for Woodrow Wilson’s election. Eight years later after being rejected for a role that didn’t suit him, Taft gets appointed to the Supreme Court, a position that had called him all along.

I wonder if Saul missed his calling.

This week’s passage begins with an ending. The relationship between Saul and the prophet who appointed him as king has ruptured, and Samuel grieves the loss of Saul as if he had died before his actual death. The Only One who allowed Saul to assume this exalted position regrets that decision and rejects him. Saul didn’t lose a popular vote, he was deselected by the Sovereign God. God’s permissive yes became a no because of Saul’s actions, attitudes, and behaviors. Saul was not the only bad king that Israel would have, but he was the first, and God decides to raise a new leader to replace him.

The transition from Saul’s leadership to David’s elevation generates more drama than Roosevelt to Taft. The tension doesn’t rise initially from a reluctance on David’s part; rather, his presence, potential, and possibility is obscured by a family that fails to recognize that he could be chosen for this position.
David’s story reminds us that human affirmation and validation are not necessary for God to call us to do a work. David’s story becomes complex, complicated, and conflicting, but it begins simply. He’s called in from the fields to shift from shepherding sheep to shepherding people.

His family doesn’t include him in the evaluation line-up. His other brothers are deemed more worthy…or perhaps less essential to the family operation. Because David continued to work during the initial review of the brothers, we might conclude that his father did not want to lose David’s worth ethic and ability. On the other hand, they may have just overlooked the baby of the family as not ready or serious enough for such an honor. Mary J. Evans offers a different explanation:

The description of the meeting when, presumably unaware of what was going on, Jesse’s sons are introduced to Samuel, is evocative. Samuel wants to get away as soon as possible, and his conviction on being faced with the impressive Eliab that his task was done is understandable. Saul had also had an exceptional physique (1 Sam. 9:2). The intervention of God (v. 7) is portrayed more as a gentle reminder than as a rebuke. The choice is to be God’s and is not made according to human criteria. The reminder stands as a clear lesson for future readers. Samuel, alert now for the word of the Lord, is presented with seven brothers, but in each case the Lord is silent. The only solution, having been given a clear indication that he was to anoint a son of Jesse, must be that there is another brother. Perhaps marveling at his prophetic insight, they send for David. It is often assumed that David was not present because somebody had to stay at home to do the work. It is more probable that he had not reached the age of maturity; he may have been only eleven or twelve years old. However, Samuel insists that they will not be able to sit down, that is, to begin the sacrificial meal, until David arrives.
In any case, Jesse does not include him as a candidate for this moment. He’s not the leader anyone expected.

But, it’s not external considerations that determine who God chooses to use to fulfill God’s purposes. While others emphasize David’s supposed shortcomings for the role, these attributes are noted as proof that perceived weaknesses can function as strengths under God’s anointing. The Sovereign God selects David.

Jesse paraded all the rest of his sons before Samuel, and each time the prophet remarked that the son in question had not been chosen by Yahweh…. When Samuel asked if there were more, he was told about the youngest, who was out watching the sheep. Yahweh’s sovereign freedom is clearly expressed by his choosing the youngest, a motif known elsewhere in the OT (Jacob over Esau, Gen 25:23; Ephraim over Manasseh, Gen 48:8-22). Perhaps we should see in… the connotation of “smallest,” as well as youngest. His smallness may offer a contrast with the height of Saul (9:2; 10:23). Saul, of course, also came from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe (9:21). Kings were often described as shepherds both in Israel and in the ancient Near East. Hence, David’s chores with the flock may symbolize metaphorically his great future!

It’s not clear that David was aware of what was happening. He had not been included in any of the festivities. While Samuel is sanctifying Jesse and the other sons, David is doing the work out in the world. During the sacrifice, David is tending his flock. His calling meets him in his vocation.

Most of all God sees him even when others discount his fitness for this assignment. David brings perspective and gifts that aren’t expected of a king because Saul and the kings of neighboring nation-states serve as the model of leadership. Given the gift of unexpected leadership, David transforms the model from ruler and autocrat to shepherd and worshipper.

In the tradition of interpretation, David’s lowly status as shepherd boy and his obscure origins give a particular focus to the metaphor of the shepherd in the subsequent history of interpretation. His musical skills are also at the heart of both Jewish and Christian understandings of the use of music in worship. This also is linked to his association with the Psalms and with the inauguration of the temple services in Chronicles. His role in the liturgy is a large part of his enduring significance in the spiritual life of the communities that look to these works as part of their heritage. (Hugh S. Pyper)

Is it any wonder that God chose the unexpected in David? God did not want another Saul, a repeat attempt of a reign that failed and one that God rejected. God chose the leader for the moment and the future.

How often do we have expectations for leaders based on superficial considerations and overlook the unique gifts, though unexpected, that match our needs? In fulfilling church leadership roles, how many are rotating and recycling the same group of people that we know will say yes rather than discerning whom God may have particularly situated in our midst for the moment. Who isn’t invited to the consideration table or is unseen in the lineup for participation and leadership?

The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousifazi was born in a culture–like so many others–that often devalues her gender but to a family that was determined she would have every opportunity available. When the Taliban determined that girls could no longer go to school, Yousifazi became an advocate for education for girls having been influenced by her father, an educator himself and her first and greatest advocate. As a result, she was targeted and shot to silence her voice. But the attempt to eliminate her only served to elevate her. The world learned her name, her family relocated, and Malala Yousifazi became an advocate for educating girls around the world. The silencing amplified her. She wasn’t the leader anyone expected, but her journey prepared and led her to the moment that needed her vision, gifts, courage, and perspective.

No path to leadership is the same. Leaders stumble and need to reorient and redirect. David’s story will include horrific choices, great remorse, and God’s correction. Leaders aren’t meant to be perfect. They maintain their full humanity–God’s call does not come with divinity or superpowers. It comes with God’s abiding, leading, and directing. Accepting the call of God is choosing to trust God and follow God in such a way that those who follow the human leader follow the Divine One who anoints and appoints:

A surprisingly small number of people in the Ancient Near East anointed their kings….In Israel kings were anointed, as were priests and prophets….the meaning of the anointing rite lend important specificity to the usual simple distinction between secular and sacral anointing. The secular anointing is the people’s way of pledging fidelity to the king; the sacral anointing expresses Yahweh’s obligation to the monarch or his election of him. (Ralph W. Klein)

Despite David’s many tragic shortcomings, God never rejects him or his leadership. Even when David seems to give up on himself, God calls him back and reaffirms the call. The unexpected king would have a reign categorized by the unexpected. Twists and turns mark his story. He abuses his position, but at his heart, which is what God evaluated, David doesn’t seek power. He pursues God, and through his unexpected leadership he trusted in God, leaned upon the wisdom of the Holy One, and walked in the ways of the One who is truly Sovereign.

And maybe, that’s the most unexpected part of his leadership.

For further reflection:
To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” — J.K. Rowling
You don’t have to hold a position in order to be a leader.” – Henry Ford

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gather ed communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.