Surprise Surprise Surprise

God has many surprises in store for us, and don't we love to be surprised!

Proper 6b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

We heard in last week’s Scripture readings about how the people of Israel rejected God and asked to have a king instead. Samuel agreed, and Saul became king, but as we can see from today’s reading it didn’t take very long for the glow to fade from this particular rosebud. King Saul enjoyed a very short honeymoon, and things quickly went from bad to worse. It got so bad that God had to step in, and even while Saul was still king, set about choosing someone else to take over when the inevitable total collapse of Saul’s leadership would come to pass.

This is one of the few sections of First Samuel that we have heard in our Sunday lessons, but this time around it comes with a different twist, given the other readings that accompany it. And that twist is about the power of God to surprise even a prophet, even a saint, even the church itself.

The big surprise for Samuel — as we’ve heard before when this passage comes up — is that for king number two God doesn’t want another king like Saul. Saul is a kind of Hebrew Hercules, a strong-man military leader; but this time around, God chooses the runt of the litter, the youngest of all of Jesse’s sons; not big tall Eliab, high of stature, but the shepherd boy David — the one even his own father Jesse doesn’t think is a likely candidate to throw his yarmulke into the ring and call him home from keeping the sheep. But when the boy finally comes, God lets Samuel know that this is the one God chooses to be the new king — and Samuel anoints him in the presence of all his brothers and his father.

In addition to perhaps reminding us of the pile-up of presidential candidates we see around this time every four years, this passage should also remind us of another Scripture about younger brothers and older brothers. We read one, and studied in it in Bible Study not too long ago — the one where Joseph’s dreams are realized and he stands before his father and his brothers as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Does that ring a bell? This is a theme that runs through Scripture — God favoring the younger over the older: Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers and David over his, and even, you might note, Jesus over John the Baptist (though they were more distant relatives than brothers. Jesus was younger than John by six months; and as John himself finally had to admit, “He must increase; I must decrease.”)

Still, in spite of how often it happens throughout the Scripture, this seems to come as a constant surprise — that God is not impressed with age or power or strength, but on the willingness to do as God says, and respond to God’s call. That shouldn’t surprise us, and more than that it shouldn’t have surprised Samuel or Jesse. Maybe it’s just that God knows his children, and that deep down we love surprises. And like a child who never tires of peek-a-boo, so too we always respond to God’s surprising grace, no matter how often God bestows it.

In this game of divine peek-a-boo we do, to a large extent, have our eyes closed — walking by faith and not by sight — so that when God does tell us to open our eyes and behold the surprise, we can rejoice like the children of God we are. For if anyone is in Christ — which is what it means to be a child of God — there is a new creation: we are reborn in Christ. Everything old has passed away; and see — peek-a-boo — everything has become new.

Saint Paul, while still known as Saul, experienced this himself on the road to Damascus; he thought he had God in his hip-pocket and was doing what God wanted by arresting the first Christians and sending them off to prison. He was no better than his namesake Saul the king, who thought God wanted sacrifice instead of obedience — Saul the king and Saul who later became Paul just couldn’t understand and couldn’t follow directions! God gave the second Saul a second chance — showing him in a surprising flash, a flash that blinded him for a time, how wrong he had been about his religion and his God. And, peek-a-boo, the scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight — and he saw the whole new-created world with new eyes. And everything looked new. Not just because it was new, but because he was new: he was reborn.

God is always out to surprise us, and Jesus shows us one more way God does so in the parables of the sower and of the mustard seed. The first parable emphasizes the hiddenness of God’s subterranean working. The one who sows the seeds scatters them — but does not know how it is that the seeds sprout and grow. It happens out of sight. He knows when they have grown, however, and he eagerly sets about the work of the harvest. Now that’s not so surprising, though it does emphasize that the one who sows does so in faith and not by sight — that is, much of the sprouting and growth is underground, and it is only when the stalk, the head, and the grain appear that he can truly rejoice in this new creation.

So Jesus follows up with a truly amazing parable — as if you were to take a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, and plant it, but instead of a mustard plant growing up — a mustard plant which is a bush a few feet high — up sprouts a mighty tree so big that birds can build nests in it. I mentioned Cinderella in connection with our readings last week — but this week it’s more like Jack and the Beanstalk! You wake up and look out your window and instead of a shrub you see a gigantic tree reaching for the heavens. As Jim Nabors used to say, Surprise, surprise, surprise! The kingdom of heaven is never what you expect, it is always an amazing surprise.

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Do we still have the capacity to be surprised by the grace of God? Have we become blase or accustomed to the same-old same-old and lost the wonder a child experiences when Grandma plays peek-a-boo — or more importantly, when God brings us a personal miracle, whether of healing from disease, or being delivered from an accident, or just being able to wake up in the morning and get out of bed! Isn’t that a miracle enough to give thanks for — that each new day is a new creation, and if we will let it everything will become new for us in that day? For every day is “the day that the Lord hath made” if we will open the eyes of our faith and behold God at work in every instant of our lives — every day in every way: in our journeys and our resting places, in our sitting down and rising up again. If only we can know of God’s presence, not just in the parts where our eyes are open and we can see, but even, and maybe especially, as we sleep and the deep subterranean work of God goes on we know not how, germinating and sprouting underground but preparing to burst forth in an avalanche of blessing at the harvest time? We may have to, from time to time, cry our eyes out when we go out carrying the seed; but Oh! how we can rejoice when we behold the harvest and bring in the sheaves!

Keep that spirit of readiness, my friends, that willingness to be surprised by the grace of God as it fills and forms your life — for without that grace we can do nothing at all. But with it — surprise, surprise, surprise: all that we do can be done to God’s glory, and to the praise of God’s most holy Name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.