Surprised by Hope

1 Samuel 10:20-24                                                              October 16 2011
During the Antique festival last week, Christine and I set up a table in front of the church and sold baked goods for most of the day on Saturday.  Our thinking was that any money we made would go towards our adoption expenses, and we thought it would be a good chance to meet some people too.
So we spent Friday afternoon and evening making a bunch of baked goods in hopes that at least a few people would stop by and find something they’d like to buy from us.
It was a beautiful day and we did make a little bit of money…but what was most interesting to me as a pastor was having the chance to just sit and watch people walking by.
Some would walk along the sidewalk, and about 30 feet away from our table, they’d suddenly find the sidewalk or the other side of the street to be the most interesting thing in the world.
These are the people who wouldn’t make eye contact at all.  They acted like we weren’t even there.  I’ve been in their shoes more often than I like to admit.
Other people would approach, we’d greet them, we’d have a short conversation, and then they’d politely decline to buy anything and go on with their day.
Still others would come up and have their money out before they even saw what was on the table!
I decided that was the kind of person I wished I could be.
They were just enthusiastic about being there, and their generosity seemed to permeate their being.  They knew they were going to spend plenty of money downtown, so they seemed to want to spread the wealth!
We interacted with a lot of people last Saturday; but I think my favorite interaction was with the guy who tried to pay for parking!
This guy parked his car in our parking lot, and he and his wife saw our table as they were walking downtown, so they checked with us to make sure it was ok to park there.
We assured him it was, and they went on their way.
Several hours later, they were returning to their vehicle.  He struck up a conversation, found out we were raising money for adoption, and then tried to give us some money for letting him park there.  (He didn’t want any food).
You have to know Christine to understand the exchange that followed.
He was trying to give us money, and like a good Mennonite, she was trying to turn it down.
She kept trying to make him take something from the table in exchange for his money instead of just letting him give it to us for parking.
There was a good amount of back-and-forth conversation–you could say arguing–until this guy finally said with a smile on his face: “Would you just shut up and take the money?!”
I still smile when I remember that interaction.
What is it that makes us so reluctant to simply receive the gifts that strangers have to give us?
What are we so afraid of?

The passage Christine read is a small, eccentric piece to the story of Saul’s calling.
By itself, it doesn’t mean much.  But when you read it in light of the previous nine and a half chapters, some interesting things start to come out.
So, before I get too far into the sermon this morning, I need to give a little bit of the back story to these verses from 1 Samuel.
The story begins when Israel began to want a king to rule over them just like the other nations around them.
Samuel had been their leader for most of his life, just like Eli before him.
He wasn’t exactly a king; he was more like a prophet, or a seer.  Sometimes we hear these early leaders of Israel referred to as judges, because they ‘judged’ the people.
They were leaders of the community because they were wise and they ministered before God.  Their words had weight.
They carried a lot of responsibility and they had a lot of authority, because they spent their days in the presence of God.
Well, Samuel was getting old, and his sons were wicked and couldn’t be trusted to take Samuel’s place…So the people started crying out for a king.
Even though they knew a king would eventually take their money, their land, their crops, their sons and daughters…even though they knew a king would lead them into a kind of slavery…they still persisted in their request.
They wanted to be like the other nations.
They were tired of being set apart.  They were tired of standing out.
Did you know that the meaning of “Holy” is “set apart”?  “Separate”?
So in a sense, you could say that the people were tired of being Holy.
Can you relate?
God didn’t want them to have a king.
Political Kingship is not part of God’s plan for his people.
He can work within it just like he can work with whatever people give him; but it was not a part of his plan.  It wasn’t back then and it isn’t now.
But the people persisted, and so he gave them a king.
One lesson we could take is that we should be careful what we ask for.
Anyways, God chooses Saul.
What’s interesting is that Saul didn’t know anything about it.
It’s not like he campaigned for the position like people do today, and it’s not like there were political powerhouses working behind the scenes to have him take the throne like a story straight from Hollywood.

Rather, Saul was just minding his own business.
His father’s donkeys had wandered away, and Saul went out to find them.
He was looking for donkeys, but what he found  changed the course of his life, in a very literal way.
Not for the better.  Not for the worse.
He met the voice of God, spoken by the prophet Samuel.

-Now, I’d like to suggest this morning that the story about Saul’s calling and anointing is our story too.
Like Saul, each one of us has been given a radical chance to follow God’s leading as we’ve gone about our business.
And like Saul, each one of us has probably hidden among the baggage when our name was called.
You’ve heard of a wild goose chase.
Following God can often feel like that; only instead of chasing wild geese, we spend our time chasing down donkeys.
What I mean is, we start off with a single task in mind, like Saul.  We focus our time and our energy on what needs to be done, and we set off to do it.
It’s a good thing.  In fact, our culture rewards people with single-minded devotion to their job or their families or whatever it is they are seeking to succeed at doing.
But there comes a problem when people of faith become so focused that we’re not flexible, so rigid that we can’t bend.
In many ways, Saul is no example to follow.

But one thing he did right was to allow himself the flexibility to change his plans and let Samuel speak into his life.
It doesn’t mean it’s all peaches and cream after that.
All we have to do is read the rest of Saul’s story to see how many times he screwed up.
He was paranoid and jealous, and I might suggest a little bit arrogant!
But for all his faults, he was called by God and anointed for the task of leading God’s people.
It’s not important that we find our donkeys.
What’s important is to look for them with open hearts and minds to the stranger who carries the word of God within them.
Saul and Samuel had never met before.  They were complete strangers, and yet God had an important word to share between them.
How often do we avoid receiving a word from God because we’re too busy chasing down our donkeys?
Saul certainly wasn’t perfect.  He had his flaws, and he messed things up to the point that the text says God actually regretted having made him king.
But here in the beginning, we get a picture of a guy who was just trying to be faithful to God.
Be careful that you don’t get so wrapped up in what you’re doing that you miss out on something important that God wants you to hear.
Now, there’s another lesson here that actually comes from the text we heard this morning.
It has to do with baggage!
If donkeys give us good excuses to avoid the call of God, then our baggage can always provide a good hiding place.
No matter what it is that God is calling us to do, no matter how noble a thing; sometimes it takes other people to call us out.

It’s human to want to hide from it.  All of us have enough baggage to safely hide us from anything God might want us to do.
But we can only hide for so long.
Sooner or later we’re going to get called out.

Now, what is it that you’re hiding from…or Who is it that you’re hiding from this morning?
I learned something important from the bake sale last Saturday.
God comes to us not unlike all those people who stopped by our table.
He comes in the voice of the stranger.
We cannot hear all of what He wants to say merely by staying within our familiar circles of family and friends and people we know.
Maybe that’s one reason God seems to speak less frequently today; because we surround ourselves with familiarity and insulate ourselves from the stranger who just might have a word from God, like Samuel had for Saul.
To hear the voice of God, we can’t stay home.
You can’t receive blessings from strangers if you don’t interact with them.
We might grow tired of being holy and yearn for a king to enslave us in a way.
We might rather be chasing our donkeys rather than following God.
But at the end of the day, we’re here to call each other out from the baggage and spur each other on to the future God has set before us.
And so I encourage you to pay attention to the stranger this week.
What might God be saying to you through him or her?

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