1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13 and Psalm 20
"Mighty Shrubberies," Rev Fred Kinsey
For this Father’s Day, George Goehl traveled to South McAllen, Texas, as part of a protest action just outside the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center. George, a father himself, is motivated by the compassion he has for all parents and their young children, because he knows how it feels to be separated from his own daughter. It was nothing on the magnitude of what’s going on at the border, but having gone through divorce when she was young, he knows the tears and helpless feeling, just a little, that fathers and mothers are feeling, as daughters and sons are forcibly taken from them.
George is Chair of People’s Action, one of the many national organizations coming together from community organizations around the country this weekend, to do something for migrant families at our Mexican border.
They will not be armed, but they may link arms. They may be citizens already, but they are concerned for how migrants, knocking at our doors, can be so brutally treated. We’ve all seen it on the news, or heard about what’s been happening this week. And, despite what some have claimed, there is no law that directs the Attorney General to do this. It hasn’t been done before, but has just been instituted newly in the past couple months. And it’s amazing and heartening to see that people from every religious stripe are equally upset and voicing their objection to the White House.
Ever since this failed rule has been created, the administration has been in search of a justification for it. The latest, and most outrageous being, Jeff Sessions’ text-proofing, one passage, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, out of context, a scripture notoriously used to justify slavery and Jim Crow in this country. Let us not go back there!
The policy for decades at the border has been to accept those from Mexico and Central America fleeing violence. How could we even think of adding to their pain and shame and fear, by needlessly and traumatically separating children and parents.
So today, clergy and concerned citizens, from a coalition of community organizations from around the country, including ONE Northside, who we are member of, are now standing up for those being mistreated, in what they’re calling – the Father’s Day Vigil. Today is the beginning of ending the administration’s brutal practice. It may be starting small, but it will be mighty.
Our First Reading today continues the story of Israel, trying to be mighty, by choosing to have a human king, for the first time. You may recall last week in 1st Samuel, that God tried to persuade the people not to go in that direction, to no avial. And sure enough, the first king, King Saul, turned out badly. He should have been great, by all accounts. Saul was part of a leading Israelite family. “Tall, handsome, the son of a wealthy family, Saul seemed to have everything,” says Alphonetta Wines, “ -- everything that is, except confidence in God and himself.” And he fell like a tall and mighty cedar tree. (
“And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel,” says First Samuel. So the LORD sets Samuel out a second time to seek a new king, this time from a little known family of sheep herders in Bethlehem. God knows who it is, and will guide Samuel in picking Jesse’s son, that God has in mind.
And, as soon as Samuel entered Jesse’s house, he was sure it must be Eliab, the best looking of all his sons. But the LORD said, “looks aren’t everything. You see the face, but I look into the heart,” – the inner character. (cf. Saul)
So Jesse called up Abinadab, but Samuel said, nope, not God’s choice either!
Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, not this one either.
Jesse made 7 of his sons pass by before Samuel – but he said, “the LORD has not chosen any of these.”
And he asked Jesse, ‘Is this it? Are there no more sons?’ Well yes, says Jesse, there’s the runt – the youngest – but he’s out tending the sheep. ‘Well, go get him, says Samuel! We’re not leaving until we can get a look at him. Jesse sent and brought him in.’ “Now, he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” And God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him [Samuel]! This is the one.”
And finally we learn his name, when First Samuel records that, ‘the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.’
God chose the runt of the litter, and David proved to be the successful king the people were yearning for. Under David, the kingdom expanded greatly, and made Israel respectable on the world map – though, David was far from perfect, and it turned out to be a brief time, in the life of the nation. Beginning with his own son, King Solomon, the experiment of king-ship came crumbling down, never to fully recover in that form, again.
Jesus, who also was hailed as king – as you might remember, for we enact it on Palm Sunday every year – will indeed become a new and pleasing king, as far as God is concerned. But not a military ruler. Though like David, God saw that his heart was good.
In our parable today, Jesus says the kingdom of God can be compared to “a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth…” Parables are images, metaphors, aphorisms, that help us digest and understand who God is and provide a glimpse of God’s realm, or kingdom. Jesus “did not speak to the people except in parables,” says Mark. “But he explained everything in private to his disciples.” It’s hard to nail down that which we cannot see. But one thing we know is that parables are not just about ‘pie in the sky, bye and bye,’ but that Jesus taught us to pray that the kingdom of God will come to us here and now, as it is in heaven.
So what comes when you plant the tiny mustard seed? We might expect that it grows into the largest of trees, like a mighty cedar, or oak tree. But Jesus says, when the mustard seed is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all … wait for it… shrubs! That’s right! The mustard plant is a good size shrubbery or bush. Maybe some sparrows could nest in it. That’s kind-of impressive, in its own way. But oak tree? Not so much!
The mustard shrub was more of an invasive species, in Palestine. And those little nesting birds carried its seeds far and wide, and you never knew where the next mustard bush would be sprouting up. It tended to multiply and take over – that’s what the kingdom is like!
You have to admit, Jesus has a good sense of humor, and his listeners probably chuckled at this parable!
“In any case, the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop,” says Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary. “Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well-manicured garden, or your farmland. It can grow dense, but it is hardly magnificent. …It shows up, to take over inch by inch, and eventually to transform a whole landscape… [in this parable] Jesus is not aiming to impart insights about the relative worth of shrubberies, but to shock people into a new way of perceiving greatness,” Skinner says. (Matt Skinner on workingpreacher)
God chose a small band of people to go to Texas on Father’s Day to take on the highest office in the land. God chose David, the runt of the family to become Israel’s mightiest king. And Jesus took the tiniest of seeds to show, in a parable, how the mighty mustard shrubbery was like God’s realm and kingdom growing among us.
The kingdom and realm of God are not like the brutality and ego-mania of the deal-maker’s of this world. God stands in vigil with the poor and the excluded, the
widow and the migrant, and urges us to take on this mission too.
We may only feel small, like un-noticed shrubberies. But even mustard plants spread, here and there, one at a time, unexpectedly – and that’s how we grow and become mighty, as the chosen people, says Jesus. That’s how with God, we can grow the kingdom!