“Are all your sons here?” – 1 Samuel 16: 11,12
We all know the story of Cinderella. She is mistreated by her stepmother and her stepsisters, but in the happy ending, it is she that is picked by the handsome prince. We use the phrase “A Cinderella story” to describe a victorious underdog, such as a sports team with no chance winning over a mighty favorite.
We have a Cinderella story today. You may recall last week we had the story of the Israelite’s clamoring for a king. God has the prophet Samuel warn them that having a king is not without its dangers, but God relents and Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel.
In this week’s story from 1st Samuel, God has lost faith in Saul, and is sorry he made Saul king over Israel.
God charges Samuel to pick and anoint the next king of Israel from among the sons of Jesse.
So, starting with the oldest Samuel checks each of them out one by one, but the Spirit isn’t making any of them ring bells for him. Nope, nnot this one. Nope not this one.
Finally, in frustration Samel 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!”
We like big and powerful, but God chooses differently. The boy David goes into battle wearing Saul’s armor to fight the giant Goliath, but the armor is too big for him, so he takes it off. Goliath has full armor and a mighty sword, but David slays the giant with a slingshot he has used to protect his sheep from predators.
No one thought this mere boy had a chance against the Philistine’s great champion, but prevail he did. And David grows up to be the greatest king Israel every had, and from his family line came Jesus of Nazareth. Because with God the small often accomplishes what the great cannot!
The story of how God picks David to be king is a Cinderella story to be sure, but it is not the only one in Scripture. Jacob, who becomes Israel, is also a younger brother. Joseph, who saves his people during a famine, is the next to 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.
The lowborn, the insignificant in the eyes of the world, these are the ones God chooses to carry out the story and continue the Promise.
Jesus himself refers to the small little mustard seed as a parable for the way God brings about his kingdom. He said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
These stories remind us that 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 must seem? How counter-cultural they still 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)
Where in our society can we see the rising up of the powerless to challenge the privilege and power of those who have run things for so long? Is it possible that God may be at work among them? Where are the winds of God’s Spirit blowing in our time? In the struggle for racial justice and equity? In the fight to save our planet from environmental catastrophe? In the ongoing battle to secure voting rights for all our citizens? Who knows just where God, who chooses underdogs to bring low those with earthly power and entrenched privilege, will be manifest in our world?
Remember Mary’s song, when she said, “God has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away.”
These are the topsy-turvy values of God’s kingdom, where the humble are exalted and the exalted are humbled, where the first shall be last and the last first.
I hear folks say that the churches are dying, and lamenting our loss of influence and prestige in the larger culture. Could it be that seeking influence and prestige in the larger culture was never what God wanted, but rather what we wanted?
God’s always-surprising Cinderella story suggests a different way for us: that God isn’t done with us yet, and there will be many more unexpected but grace-filled chapters to come.
Who will be the carriers of the ancient story and the divine promise? Stay tuned. God is full of surprises! Amen.
(I preached this sermon during virtual worship at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton, RI, on June 13, 2021. To see the service on YouTube see below.)