1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Mark 4:26-34.
David’s father Jesse who was of no social consequence within his Bethlehem community except for maybe ridicule as hinted by in this piece of scripture.
So David, born in a “modest” town to a “modest” family whose first occupation being that of a shepherd would have seen him viewed by the smug religious rulers of the time as second class, incompetent, untrustworthy and despised in everyday life. In fact despised so much were the shepherds that they were deprived of civil rights and could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. No wonder I suppose then that to buy wool, milk or a young goat from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property, and to which in the Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law goes as far to say that “no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit,” and from this Inexplicable situation God calls David who would become a charismatic leader who would overcome a split and waring Israel, overcome the tribal suspicious and resistance to the idea of a king by ingeniously invading and setting up camp in the neutral and independent city of Jerusalem. A move that would centralize the state and provide the infrastructure through which a new national identity could there emerge with the internal social stability and external security in which saw him having the allegiance of all the Israelite tribes and regions and establish Israel as a dominant political force in the land, and if that not enough-in his decision to employ workers from regions far and wide to construct these new fortifications and infrastructure he established for himself significant relationships with the foreign powers from which they came.
I’ve always found it quizzical that his successor, his Son Solomon who in a dream saw the Lord appear to him and after the Lord telling him to “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, asks not for riches for himself nor the death of his enemies, but that he be given a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. “
In short his request was for the gift of wisdom to which as God had promised, was granted. Quizzical for me because in order to ask for wisdom, I would think you need a share of wisdom to start with, but as we’ve seen through his Father David, it would seem he had a bit of a head start.
So we fast forward about 900 or so years and after the short period of time where the shepherds gained some recognition through King David’s rise to fame, now here again have they returned to be scorned in a society of religious snobbery and class prejudice, and low and behold who is the first people that the angels tell that the awaited messiah has arrived. The messiah born holding the lineage of King David through Joseph, again born in the town of Bethlehem (as was David). And while Joseph was not a shepherd, Jesus is born in a stable with the sheep and goats. And who is the first people that the angels tell of this earth shattering event in history. Yep-those bottom of the social rung shepherds again.
An amazing story and as we know the rest is history where this child Jesus, born to a virgin from God the Father. God from God, Jesus: who would walk the earth befriending sinners and calling the unlikely to follow him that they carry on his work after unfathomably, the Son of God, the waited Messiah for 2,000 years is tortured and killed on a cross as a criminal by his own people.
Everything, the whole story seems to come from “back to front land” and so it’s no wonder that Jesus needed to basically tell us in today’s Gospel that when it comes down to it, that most of the time we’ve got basically no idea of what’s going on where He talks of the largest of the garden plants coming from the smallest seed despite half the time the earthly human gardener being asleep, and in our present time where it seems that the kingdom of God is under attack, particularly in its once strongholds this gives us great comfort not just for our world, but for ourselves because this truly is a great time to be a Christian and trust that God’s still in control in both the now and in the bigger scheme of things.
How we became to believe I’m not sure as even though we do know from scripture that faith both comes and is strengthened from reading and hearing those Words of that scripture, in its teaching, in Baptism and Holy Communion, we also know from the book of John that “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
So why me, why us? Quite frankly I don’t care. I’m just happy that we’ve been blessed with the spirit of truth. A great blessing that we got before we asked for it. A gift that we not withhold from others or throw in their faces, but a gift that could be said of as did Chris Judd did of his career as an AFL footballer who on retirement this week and being asked of his great talent remarked with “I have never thought of myself or footballers better than those in any other occupation because being born in Australia means we’ve already won the ovarian lottery in the first place and after that it’s all a bonus.”
It’s a great comment because being renowned for his hard training ethic and preparation and a career that any elite footballer be proud of, he did not deny those things as why should he because they’re true. But then put’s it into perspective of what he couldn’t control through birth place, time and situation. A perspective and understanding that gave him the mindset of being neither elitist nor subservient to those who do or don’t care of his football ability or the game itself.
Is this not that of a Christian, of us? Somehow we’re won the ovarian lottery to be born in a country where Christianity can be freely practiced. Won the ovarian lottery that be our background be of this or that, that the spirit has blown our way that we can now here as Christians learn of our craft by increasing our knowledge of the gifts we have been given. The gift of that being a Christian that we know that though in Sin we are forgiven in Christ. The gift that having been forgiven in Christ we are reunited with God the Father and the gift from those gifts that sees us assured of eternal life in the world to come.
Our standing in God’s kingdom is a fact, and in that whether we be before great religious leaders or before the madding and ridiculing crowds, we neither be pompously elitist nor fearfully subservient, but simply tell and know how it is, and that is one who now rests in the shade of the tree of Christ’s Cross and nests in the mighty branch of His resurrection. That’s who you are and though all of that may have come through the seemingly “back to front land” of how God works is a further testament to His testament that “His Word does not return empty.” His Word that assures you that you are a saved child of God. His Word that we take before the world in our humble or highly exclaimed social statuses that it pierce the soul of those who do not know or believe it not. Not that it drive them away in despair and anger that they not return, but simply take His Word as best we can in our actions, in prayer, in recital and understanding to those that God places before us, knowing that amongst it all, be we insecure of language or in doubt of worthiness, amongst it all God will be God that the humble will stand and the proud kneel before the same throne and that though here on earth it may all still seem as “back to front land”, that they too will see like we will see when all is revealed in our heavenly home. To see how our roads were straightened, our valleys raised and the mountains flattened, that as we made our way home, it most certainly was a great time for a Christian, to be a Christian. Amen.