We Know Not How
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

June 17, 2012


1 Samuel 15:34–16:13
Mark 4:26-34

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In First Samuel, the prophet has gone to anoint a new king. He does this in secret, of course, because the old king thinks he isn’t done being king yet, and doesn’t like the idea of a new king. The new king, God has told Samuel, is among Jesse’s sons. And in Samuel’s appraisal of these young men, we find three views of Jesse’s sons.

Jesse sees his sons one way. Parents see their children more closely than just about anybody. But such a close look often means we lack perspective. In many traditional cultures, the initiation of young men and young women was not done by the father or mother. They are too close. It is the aunts and uncles and elders of the tribe who have the distance needed to see the child properly.

The prophet of God sees Jesse’s sons differently than dad. Having gotten the word from God, Samuel thinks he knows what he is looking for. But each time he says, “Aha!” he hears “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

Perhaps this is a warning. We sometimes remember to pray for God to be our springboard, our launch pad, our starting block. But once we are underway, we forget. We need to pray the whole way through if we are to follow faithfully, lest we forget to let the Holy Spirit guide us. To do otherwise risks climbing the ladder only to discover it is set against the wrong wall. To presume we see the way God sees is something for which we constantly need repentance.

So if the parent, who sees his sons so closely, and the prophet of God, who has been given a mission and a task, cannot see which one to anoint, what hope is there? The hope is that God sees them God’s way.

This story is about anointing the king. It is a particular blessing for a particular job. But it is worth considering those blessings we all need. And there are plenty of people who do not receive the blessings they need from their family of origin. There are plenty of people who do not receive the blessing that they need from us religious types. Maybe we got too preoccupied with what we think we are supposed to be doing, or because we still hold old prejudices and partial visions.

But God sees us as we are, and not as we see ourselves, or as we want to see ourselves. As parents, as church, as just regular people, we need to pray to better see one another as God sees us, and to ask forgiveness for smaller visions.

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus constantly challenges people to see one another differently. Jesus constantly rebukes those who use religion to sit in judgment of others. Jesus constantly speaks words of love, and forgiveness, and grace, especially to those that others condemn or curse or dismiss or write off.

The parables of the garden and the mustard seed continue this theme of God’s ways and our ways being so very different.

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground,
and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow,
he knows not how.

The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

We can do the work of sowing, weeding, pruning. But the growth is something beyond us. We can help or hinder it, but actual growth lies beyond our powers. When it is ripe, we harvest it and grind it and mix it and bake it and eat it. But we dare not presume to think that we made it all happen.

Doctors can set the arm, surgeons can cut or repair or stitch closed, but the life that they are dealing with is not their own doing. That comes from beyond them. They are merely working with it as best they are able.

God has already done all that is necessary for us to live. We know not how. We have known healing and forgiveness and resurrection, but we cannot fully explain them. We live because of these things, because God saw us differently than our parents saw us, differently than others saw us, differently even than we saw ourselves.

And the mustard seed, the smallest seed, used here as a metaphor for our faith, we want to hear that it grows into the biggest of all trees, overshadowing the cypress trees and the cedars of Lebanon. Jesus says it grows into a shrub. A shrub! Granted, it is a big shrub. But it is not what we expect.

We want a tree. God wants a shrub.

We want big and flashy and new and mighty. God wants mercy and compassion and neighborliness and thankfulness.

We want to control life. God says, “That’s not your job.”

Regardless of what we want, God provides what we need.

Regardless of how we see ourselves or one another, God sees us as we truly are, and loves us.

We may now know how. We just know that it is so.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.