Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Fear for the Future

1 Samuel 15: 34- 16: 13; page 202
Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.”
Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.”
Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these,” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence o f his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me.”
I have put a lot of childish ways behind me in the past seven weeks of fatherhood – like all you fathers, I guess I had to put something behind to make room for the worry that I now carry.
I can pinpoint an exact moment when I realized that this change had occurred – that I was no longer a 28 year-old worried primarily with my own well being – that I was now a 28 year old primarily concerned with a little girl, who, I proudly add is in the 95th percentile for height and weight.
You see – I had a premonition that helped me realize just how worrisome Fatherhood can be. I was ridding down 5 Forks towards Stone Mountain, and a little girl, 7 or 8 years old, was riding her bike down the side walk. In my imagination it were as though Lily was riding her bike, and I was watching as she rode all by herself, just one bad move away from the on-coming traffic. I could feel my palms sweat and my stomach clinch. But it got worse, because on the next block is that great Sunflower field – the one with the scarecrow always dressed-up in seasonally appropriate outfits – and back a few weeks ago when I was having this experience he happened to be dressed in a graduation gown.
I almost had to pull over.
So when one of our congregations finest Bible scholars, Marilyn Eckman, asked me in our Monday afternoon Bible study where we had just read our passage from 1st Samuel – the passage where young David, too small for Jesse to consider that he might be the one God was choosing to be the next King – how I would feel if the prophet Samuel came into our house to anoint Lily to be the Queen. I couldn’t reply any other way than to say, “Marilyn, I can’t physically handle the idea of my little girl riding a bike, much less becoming a monarch.”
So I can understand why Jesse left little David out there with the sheep. Why put the young, precious, children we father’s and mother’s are entrusted with in harms way, asking them to take on responsibilities, face danger, and temptation before they absolutely have to.
I can tell you that I am most comfortable knowing that Lily is safe, and I can only assume that Jesse, David’s father, felt the same way.
Proud at the idea that his oldest son Eliab – tall and experienced – would be considered to take Saul’s place as King of Israel. Even Abinadab or Shammah should surely be considered. They would be jealous of their oldest brother if they weren’t, and even the four other brothers should tag along – who knows what this great prophet might see in them.
But David – not David.
I wonder if Jesse had premonitions as well. Surely he could handle the idea of David riding a bike, after all his youngest son was out defending the sheep from wild animals and thieves, but might Jesse have dreamed of his young son going up against the Philistine Goliath armed only with his sling. Just the idea would have been enough to scare Jesse into leaving his youngest son at home. If that’s what God wants from me, then forget it. You ask too much Lord.
It certainly feels like too much to ask. So we wonder why God can’t just be satisfied with what we are comfortable giving.
But, you see, God seems to have this awful habit of needing that thing just beyond that comfort level of yours.
In my very short time as a parent that is one thing I am already struggling with. That what is demanded, what Lily’s development demands, is that I do not fence her in with my fear. That while I would prefer for her to never fall down, without doing so she will never learn to walk. That while I cannot stomach the thought of her teetering on a bike, I cannot dare deny her that feeling of the wind in her hair and her neighborhood at her disposal. That while today she needs me, I must willingly teach her to be independent, because she cannot be my little girl forever. The world needs her, God needs her, and she needs to be needed.
So like Jesse I’ll have to be ready to call her away from her flocks, to come down to the sacrifice that prophet Samuel arranged – though what is really being sacrificed is not that heifer that Samuel brought, it’s a part of me.
In Jesse there you parents are – there we all are. Living with the reality that what is demanded is not what we are comfortable giving, but beyond.
In my life then there are only a few things I’m willing to make that kind of sacrifice for. I am proud to sacrifice for my daughter, I’d be a fool not to sacrifice for my wife Sara, but more than once I have felt led to sacrifice for this church.
Certainly today this church today gives me a reason to swell my chest when I tell someone I am your associate pastor. But I know that this church holds potential that does not immediately meet the eye.
So I want you to be brave, and look down 5 Forks with me. Just as I could see my little girl ridding a bike, my little girl graduating high school, can you see your church reaching out farther into the community, music filling the sanctuary in ways that reach beyond the quality we already know, our mission, our ministries, growing. Our influence, our charge to preach the good news of the Gospel spreading beyond.
And can you imagine, that it will happen, if we are willing to step out beyond what we are comfortable giving, to step right over our fear, letting go out of faith.
Today some of us are stewards of children, but we are all stewards of this church – and this Stewardship Sunday I know that it is more comfortable keeping money in your pocket and keeping your time and talents to yourself – but imagine if Jesse had kept David just where he was comfortable keeping him. The greatest King of Israel would have never left his flocks of sheep, never would have become the great shepherd of Israel.
You see – God has this awful habit of needing that thing just beyond what we are comfortable giving – but our God also has the incredible potential to take that thing and to use it in a way that will defy our expectations completely.
I know it is easy to be satisfied with what we have today – but as you consider your pledge and your time and talents form one last time, imagine what this church could be, what you could be, if you are willing to step out in faith.