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    Sep 23, 2018

    Succession Planning

    Passage: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Category: Discipleship

    I know that we can trust the One who knows us better than we know ourselves to lead us to those we don’t yet know.  I know that God will lead – even (and maybe especially) when we reach the place of deep trust.  God, after all, is the ultimate succession planner!

    It was not Israel’s finest hour.  As Barbara explored last week, the people had stepped pretty far off the path.  They carried on until God relented and gave them a king so they could be like all the other nations around them.  And for a while it went – well, it went okay.  

    But if you remember the rest of the story, Saul got very caught up in his own glory – his power.  He was in the process of setting up a monument to himself when God sent Samuel to tell him he had messed up.  God told Samuel that God regretted making Saul the king, “because he has turned away from following me and hasn’t done what I said.” 

    Samuel was dejected.  He didn’t see a way out that wouldn’t make things even worse. But there was something God could do. And so there was something Samuel could do. 

    It was understood, at least by some, that it was God who provided the king. God could make a king, just as God had raised up judges and prophets, and, if needed, God could make another one. The new one couldn’t rule while the first one was alive. But the process of identifying the new one could begin at any time. 

    God was done with Saul, because Saul had proven himself to be done with any real allegiance to God. 

    It was time to identify the next king. [1]

     Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

    “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

    Have you ever noticed that when we think we have run out of options and ideas, God shows us another way?  Have you ever found that when you think there is absolutely no way, God makes a way – and often the way was there all the time because God gave us the gifts necessary – the creativity, the knowledge, the resources.

    In verse 3, God says, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

    Can you just imagine how anxious – how scared – Samuel must have been?  At this point in the story, Saul had shown the world how dangerous he could be.  He even declared that his son Jonathan should be executed because he ate honey on a day when Saul had decreed that none of the Israelite soldiers were to eat anything.  It didn’t matter to Saul that his son had not heard the order.  Jonathan was saved by the troops.

    It would not be wise to cross Saul. It’s a season of anxiety. Samuel can’t go anointing the next king willy-nilly. Madman Saul would have him killed the instant he heard of it. 

    In a season of anxiety…you tend to become really clear about what you can’t do. You may easily lose sight of what you can. 

    So yes, Samuel couldn’t travel from Ramah to Bethlehem and announce, “I’m here to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king.” But that didn’t mean he couldn’t do the anointing. He didn’t know that. But God did. 

    God reminded Samuel of something Samuel seemed to have forgotten. He wasn’t just a judge and a prophet who could anoint kings. He was also a priest who could offer sacrifices. He could take a sacrifice and his priestly gear with him and offer a sacrifice to which he would invite Jesse and sons. 

    Sometimes in a season of anxiety we find ourselves asking, “Who, me?” and we forget our own gifts that make us perfect candidates for what is needed at the time. 

    But God doesn’t.

     And God didn’t. 

    So Samuel went. He wasn’t wrong to be anxious. Having the former judge of all Israel on the move in this anxious season could send all sorts of anxiety-raising signals, all by itself. Having that ex-judge arrive at your city gates to do something there—this might not be good. The elders of the city saw him on the road, and in their own panic (they were even trembling, as noted in verse 4), they asked whether he was coming to their town with peaceful intent. Seriously, they’d have reason to worry if he were not. If he were going to organize an army of Bethlehemites against Saul-- not an inconceivable thought in those times-- and Saul heard of that, Saul would have every person and everything in the town destroyed. They couldn’t risk that. 

    Samuel was admitted, probably escorted to the sacrificial site, then sent out word for Jesse and his sons to meet him there. He would get everything ready to offer a sacrifice there, but he would not offer it until he had anointed the next king. 

    Samuel didn’t know whom he would anoint. He only knew it was to be one of the sons of Jesse. That pairing of knowledge (one of the sons of Jesse, the one God would designate personally) and ignorance (of which son it would be) may have been the key God used to prevent Samuel from falling prey to a tunnel vision that would prevent him from seeing God’s choice. 

    You know the story. From the oldest to the youngest son called to the sacrifice, one after another of Jesse’s sons was summoned to appear before Samuel. The very first one, Eliab, appeared to be right out of casting central for the part: tall, great looking, and the oldest of Jesse’s sons. But Samuel heard God tell him, “Not this one. I look on the heart” (vs 17). [2] 

    Then not the next, nor the next, nor the next. Until all the sons present were rejected. 

    There is assurance for us in Samuel’s anxiety.  His very anxiety is a lesson in trust – in having a solid faith in God.  He shows us the way forward.  Take each step, Samuel.  I am with you.  I will show you the way. 

    It was Samuel’s task to simply listen for God’s direction and then take the next step – God promised to show up and make the next step and the next and the next plain.  

    You know, every year as we have worked on the Nominations Report for Church Conference, I am usually anxious.  For the last 5 years, each time we work on that report it has been slow and agonizing – lots of “no’s,”  despite our prayers and our deep discernment of our congregation’s gifts and interests. 

    You would think I would learn that God will show up.  That I don’t always have to understand God’s ways.  But do you know what?  This year’s nominating work has been different.  Almost all yeses – and they were enthusiastic yeses.  Answers like “I’d love to work on that!”  I don’t have a clue why this year it was so much easier – how we got the work done before Church Conference instead of it hanging over us until December.  Thank you, by the way! 

    The really interesting thing is that I wrote this whole sermon before I knew that Kelly had decided that God was calling her to a new place of ministry.  I wrote this sermon the week before heading to Virginia to do Alison and Tim’s wedding.  And I had highlighted the last several paragraphs thinking where did THAT come from?  I thought The highlights meant I needed to completely rewrite the ending of this message.  But when I finally sat down this week to rewrite and finish this message, I knew where it had come from.  

    There is one thing that I know.  I know that we can trust the One who knows us better than we know ourselves to lead us to those we don’t yet know.  I know that God will lead – even (and maybe especially) when we reach the place of deep trust.  God, after all, is the ultimate succession planner!

    [1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/post-pentecost-2018-worship-planning-series/june-17-2018-fourth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b/fourth-sunday-after-pentecost-2018-preaching-notes
    [2] Ibid.