God of The Very Unexpected

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1 SAMUEL 15:34-16:13 \ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-10, 16-17

I was speaking with a friend lately about the incredibly amazing nature of scripture – how you can read and hear a passage so many times over the years in sermons and bible studies and even conversations and never really clue in or dial into a particular word or a statement – and then POW! One leaps right off the page at you as if it had never been there before. Presented by the Holy Spirit at a particular time and place for our own edification – or perhaps someone else with whom we will share that word – based on what is going on in our life or their life, right now.

One just never knows when it will happen but God does seem to hide His Word and then reveal it according to His providence. Truly, we don’t so much read the bible as it reads us. It really is alive – and it will spring out and pounce on you when you least expect it!

For me this week it was a simple statement at the beginning of our passage: “And God was “SORRY that he had made Saul King . . .”

 God was “sorry” that he made Saul King? What does that tell us? I mean how can God be “sorry” for doing anything? Doesn’t he already know what’s going to happen? Well, when he is operating in the immediacy of time and space that’s apparently not necessarily so. It would seem that God makes some very definitive calls in this world – guiding things towards the outcomes he desires – but then it is up to us to fulfill his will . . .  or NOT. And when NOT, God is not happy about it and sometimes He clearly regrets the original call HE has made!

And then the planning and the guiding needs to change – and perhaps the most amazing thing is that God seems to always somehow formulate an even better plan from the broken pieces that our sinfulness and lack of discipline leave Him. As a Jewish newsletter I read this week opined: “All that we see, is a plan that is created by a force way beyond our comprehension. God is running this world, and what we witness is only the human role playing in what is the Divine arrangement. When we find ourselves in darkness, we must always be mindful that true and eternal light will come only from God.”

Indeed God’s ability to work with what we give him and build anew to His glory must be one of the greatest frustrations to all that is fallen in this world. For while evil surely wins some of the battles, God always re-orients us and re-directs circumstances so that His greater victory is never in doubt! And we keep getting fresh opportunities to know and trust and love Him and one another with all that we are. The only question that remains is: Will we?

So – sermon point Numero Uno: God often chooses to engineer the most unexpected outcomes. Part of this is because our wayward responses to His grace requires it – and part of this is because our ways are not his ways (and so of course they are unexpected) – and part of this is perhaps simply because He likes to.

Of course the whole of the Old Testament and this passage in particular are all about unexpected outcomes. Samuel receives his marching orders and then diligently sets off to see Jesse about anointing one of his many sons as the next king of Israel and it’s interesting to note that both parties in this transaction are operating with a whole lot of fear. Samuel because he’s sure that Saul will kill him for seeking a new king to take his place – and the town elders in Bethlehem because they have no idea what his real intentions are! These are uncertain times and everybody is on guard against everyone and everything else. Not unlike the present day Middle East.

But Samuel declares himself to be a peaceable man (I guess we have to assume they just took him at his word) and a sacrifice is planned and Jesse and his sons are sanctified and the selection process begins. But right out of the gate God makes it clear to Samuel that he is not to necessarily consider the good looks or the tall stature of the first son Eliab.

“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.” 

But wait a minute. If we jump forward to the end of this whole exchange just three paragraphs later, where God leads Samuel to choose David – he too is described as having “a fair complexion, beautiful eyes, and being very handsome.” So what’s up with that? Talk about unexpected? Isn’t God completely contradicting what he just said?

Well yes and no and this passage should give us a little insight into how often our scriptural interpretations are far too strident and rigid – and not at all in line with God’s far greater perspective and intentions.

Because we hear that first part and think “ah ha! God looks on the inward person, and seems to imply quite clearly that the “outward” isn’t supposed to matter!” But the reality is that God isn’t necessarily limiting himself to that at all. Just because he stresses the critical importance of the inward, doesn’t mean that, given our nature, he isn’t also considering the impact of the outward.

David’s good looks and striking eyes may indeed have been an important asset as he led the Hebrews forward – helping him to attract listeners and followers and rally people to defend and do what was best for the nation. Being both “inwardly wise and humble” and “outwardly good looking,” King David became someone they could all easily assemble around and support.

So maybe what God was really saying to Samuel in the beginning was that human beings tend to look ONLY on the outward visible nature of things . . . And contrary to that predisposition God ALWAYS considers the inward . . . and sometimes, for very good reason – the outward too!

So while David’s seven brothers might have just as easily won a GQ contest, they apparently didn’t quite have enough of what was truly needed on the inside. And the one that did – the youngest – who was left back working at the fast food restaurant, because no one thought he would ever have a chance – is the great unexpected choice who would ultimately establish and lead Israel and the rest of mankind to a far greater child who would also come from the dusty streets of Bethlehem.

In his second letter to the struggling church in ancient Corinth (a crossroads of the world awash in all manner of beliefs, practices and rituals) Paul is trying to establish in his readers a reliance upon the exceedingly high confidence that all Christians should have no matter what they face. Indeed, Paul is insisting that even in times of great plight and peril, God is at work – and while we don’t always understand the world in which we find ourselves and would rather be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” that the goal of all we do must be to please him.

6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

When we trust that that this is true – that God is at work in the world “setting us up” for His best (IF we do OUR part) then we should carry ourselves in complete confidence – and this must be “spirit-confidence” (confidence born of and reliant upon the spirit) – not “self-confidence!” that is born of and reliant upon the self!)

And part of having this “Spirit-Confidence” is acknowledging and accepting that God is often at work in the world in ways that we simply will not always understand. That even when we think we have His will all figured out (based on our interpretation of events and scripture itself) we are apt to discover that God is working in some other far more complete and holy and beautiful way!

Think of how often this happens in our lives! Time and time and time again when things seem to be pointing so glaringly obvious in one direction, that they then turn out to wind up so completely and unexpectedly in the opposite direction!

Perhaps my best and most immediate WORLDLY example of this is last year’s Super Bowl. At the end of that game as the Seattle Seahawks – who were down by 3 points –  lined up on the goal line of the New England Patriots with 20 seconds remaining and four plays to go one yard – with the best short yardage back in the league (maybe the best short yardage back ever), Marshawn Lynch, who had been averaging up to that point 4.4 yards per carry and who is literally KNOWN for his bruising touchdown runs where he carries guys in on his back across the goal line – I probably would have bet you all the money I have (and as much as I could get fronted to me on margin) that Seattle was going to hand the ball to their powerful superstar running back and win that football game. And so would anyone else who has any knowledge of the game.

And we all would have been dead wrong.

For reasons still unclear to this day Seahawk’s head Coach Pete Carrol chose to p-p-p-pass the ball – to a tight end on a quick slant route into the end zone. While generally deemed to be a high probability pass play that would normally result in a completion or incompletion and not an interception, it was nevertheless a bit of a risk and in hindsight a hugely massive and ridiculously unnecessary risk. But one way or the other the Seahawks were going to win this game.

Enter one Malcom Butler – an unheralded . . . undrafted . . . unknown . . .  rookie . . .  reserve . .  who a few months earlier had been was working at a Popeye’s chicken restaurant. He is only in the game because of injuries to others and, who, acting as though he had knowledge that no one else in the world had and prompted by what must have been a legion of angels pushing on his small frame with everything they had, took three short quick steps and met the ball right at the exact moment that the receiver was getting ready to joyfully accept it into HIS waiting arms. Ahh, all the super bowl winning touchdown glory that was surely just a split second away . . .

The two collided. But it was Malcom who caught the ball. He stutter stepped a moment and then wisely dropped to his knees. Game over. Billions of dollars switch hands. An equal number of jaws hung deathly open. Seattle fans let out a groan that could be heard on Neptune.

Never – and I mean NEVER has defeat been snatched from the jaws of victory as it was for the Seahawks that night.

It will in all likelihood be THE most boneheaded play on the one side and most unexpectedly fortunate on the other, in the annals of all of sport. So uncanny and improbable an outcome that even committed atheist were jokingly said to be re-evaluating their theological positions. But you had to wonder if maybe a few of them really did.

Of course this is just one example of the unexpected being played out on the world stage by someone who truly did have the courage and “spirit confidence” of his convictions. When asked how it all happened, unknown, unheralded and undrafted former chicken fryer Malcom Butler gave a brief description of the moment and then pointed skyward . . . “It’s Him.” Was all he said.

Compare that to the arrogant and obscenity laced tirade that SEATTLE superstar cornerback Richard Sherman (who happens to play the same position as Butler) unleashed before millions in a game played just weeks before – and the contrast makes you think even more that the Spirit just couldn’t help but make his point – and as usual, so wildly unexpectedly and through someone, who though meek and unknown, had the humility and spirit-confidence through which great and wondrous things almost always do happen.

Of course this was just a football game – albeit a big one. But perhaps it’s more of the day to day moments wherein we discover the vastly more important ones: the dweeby and awkward guy or girl we meet in school and judged as so different from everyone else, who turned out to be the coolest and best friend ever . . . The job that was meant to be just a short term summer experience that turns into a life’s calling . . . The run down little house you buy because you can’t afford much more, turns out to be the place where you build your very best memories . . .

This is the great and holy and inspired stuff of life folks – and it’s always happening at its best on the fringes where our assured-ness and worldly confidence ends . . . and God’s mysterious will and spirit-confidence begins. Where we are somehow bold enough to trust His inner workings in the every moment of the everyday and the great big moments into which we are occasionally, if only rarely, thrust . . . The monumentally good times and the hellishly rocky and bad times . . . the uncertain times . . . and yes the “sure as heck, it’s bound to go this way” times.

God IS a God of unexpected and unimaginable Glory. Trust Him with all that you are. Give Him EVERYTHING . . .  Everything.

 Stuart Revercomb is the Pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church in Roanoke. Visit them on the web at peace-church.net