31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 13, 2020
Samuel 16:1, 5-13
Isaiah 11:1-6, 8-9
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
It’s that little feeling deep inside that makes you turn around and go back to listen and help. It’s that indescribable pull that tells you that while surprising, challenging, or even unpractical, this is the decision you should make. It’s that person who pops into your mind and then shows up on your caller id, in your email, or on your Facebook or Instagram.
Emmanuel, God with us, God is with us in so many small ways throughout our day. Granted, as I like to remember – the voice of God can often be quiet and the world loud; however God’s voice is still there. God is still speaking. God is always with us.
The prophet Samuel discovered that God was with him over and over again throughout his life. When he was still a boy, God called him three times before Samuel’s mentor, Eli, taught Samuel that this was the voice of God calling. From that moment on though, Samuel knew that Emmanuel, God was with him.
There were times in Samuel’s life when God called him to do a challenging thing, not quite live through a pandemic, but challenging in their own way, and while Samuel might have wanted to turn back, he was God’s prophet and he knew what was important. So even when his heart was grieving, even though Samuel was sorely disappointed at what a terrible king Saul turned out to be for the people of Israel, still Samuel picked himself up and listened to God.
However, even this faithful prophet of God did not always understand. In our scripture this morning, Samuel thought – surely God is choosing Jesse’s firstborn son as the new king.
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.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
And each time, another son of Jesse stood before Samuel, that same feeling, that same knowledge filled Samuel’s heart and he knew that God was leading him, and Samuel knew to ask after another son. Were there any others? Oh, just the youngest, the boy, out shepherding the sheep because he was too young to be invited to this important, grown-up worship service.
As I have been sharing throughout this Advent season, God’s way is to be with us in the ordinary, to be with us in the little things, and to be with us in unexpected and surprising ways.
Samuel and I am sure David’s family were all very surprised to discover that David was being anointed, blessed, as the future king of Israel. I wonder if David was surprised though. I wonder if David had long felt God with him, if David had long felt God’s spirit moving in his life and in his heart. I wonder if David had long felt God guiding him and so this calling was no great surprise to him.
Where are you in your faith journey? Are you in a place like young Samuel where it would be helpful to have a mentor like Eli showing and teaching you the amazing and unexpected ways God is with you and still speaking in your life? Are you in a place like David where you have a strong sense of how God is moving in your life? Or does it depend on the day?
That’s the category I fall into. There are days when I confidently understand that God is with me always and days when I needed to be reminded that God is with me in every moment, the sacred and ordinary.
Emmanuel, God is with us, in the ordinary and in the extraordinary. God is with us in this time of worship, and God is with us in the grocery store or through social media. Emmanuel, God is with us, and God is calling us to show others that God is with them, too.
Chris Amorosino shared this lovely little devotional story with me. It’s written by Kirsten Homberg and entitled “Borrowed Shoes”. The story is about Gabe, a high school senior, who missed the state qualifying cross-country race because of the California Wildfires. For four years, Gabe had been working toward this competition. I imagine he was greatly relieved when the state athletics board said he could have another chance to qualify; however he would have to run -by himself -on a rival high school’s track – and in regular sneakers because his track shoes had been burned along with his home by the wildfire.
This was the only possible way to achieve his dream Gabe thought– to run alone on a different track in street shoes; however God had another plan. Gabe’s competitors, fellow high school students, showed up that day to lend Gabe shoes and to run with him, spurring Gabe on to do his very best. A borrowed pair of shoes, an afternoon spent running, they seem like small things and yet through these small things, these high school students showed Gabe love, that God was with him.
When we hear stories like this, it sounds extraordinary; however these stories of kindness and love are happening in our world every single moment. There is the person who today will volunteer to be a foster parent for a special needs child and through daily acts of kindness and love, will change a life for the better. There are people who volunteer their time with Scouts and youth organizations, with literacy volunteers, Agape House, Brian’s Angels, and Family Promise. Their contributions might be “small”, a meal, sandwiches, soup, hand warmers, hard boiled eggs. And these small ways will are exactly the way God brings love and shares peace.
Just as God does whenever someone smiles and shares words of gratitude and hope with a frazzled and overworked store clerk, just as God does whenever someone pays for the order of the person behind them in the drive-thru line.
These small, unexpected kindnesses make a difference. They transform the world into God’s peaceable kingdom, and we know it because we have been on the receiving end of such small acts of God’s extraordinary love: inspiring emails, lovely Christmas cards, funny pictures shared, thank you notes received. The person who sent them to us might have no idea how much they meant to us, how this small thing was a reminder of God’s love. In turn, we may never know how much our small, unexpected, acts of service and love transform the lives of others, reminding them that God is with them.
In our responsive reading from the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah is acknowledging that the people are going through a hard time, a challenging time, a heavy and despairing time. Of course, they are feeling nostalgic for the good times of the past, the times when King David sat on the throne and the kingdom of Israel was prosperous and great. It’s a normal reaction. The prophet Isaiah reminds the people and reminds us, that as great as they remembered the past being, the future of God’s peaceful realm, that time when all creatures and all people will live together in peace and justice, that time will be even better.
And that time will come, the peaceable kingdom is being built with each small, ordinary act of love we share. These words, these acts, while small and ordinary and sometimes overlooked are important. God is with us in each one of them. God is blessing us, and God is using us to show Emmanuel, God’s love is with us, to others. Act by act, word by word, ordinary kindness by ordinary kindness, God is building God’s kingdom of peace and love for all.