Last year at my daughter's band concert a flute player got up to play a solo. This was a middle school band, you know, 7th and 8th graders. Now, my middle schooler, I mean, she's amazing. But the rest? Well, it's a middle school band, you know? So I didn't hope for too much. I mean, mostly, if I'm being honest, I just hoped to stay awake.
Truth be told, I don't know much about classical music. Some of you might think that's weird for a Lutheran pastor, but it's true. The teacher said the name of the piece, and I had no clue what it was. You might. It was Paganini's Caprice 24. I talked to my Dad about this later, he loves classical, and he said "That's a violin piece."
I said, "Well, this kid did it on flute."
"Huh," my Dad says. That's how you know my Dad is impressed, when he says "Huh."
And it was impressive. No, it was more than that. It was amazing. I mean, this kid started playing, and that flute, man, he made it sing. The notes bounced and flew and the music soared and the flute sang and, I gotta tell you, it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It really was. And the funny thing is, I can't remember the tune. Not at all. Not a lick. I just remember how it made me feel, the swooping and soaring and how intense and emotional it was. It was amazing. And I never, EVER, would have expected THAT from a middle school flute player.
I mean, think about it. If you were looking for someone to play this piece of music, is that who you would have chosen? A kid who doesn't even shave? Who only picked up a flute up three years ago? Is that who you would have picked? No, you would have picked someone with experience. Someone who had played it before. Who had played in symphonies and orchestras and operas and all that classical stuff that I don't know about. You would have picked someone who knew what they were doing. You would not have picked a middle school flute player. I'm sorry, you just wouldn't. I wouldn't either.
But there he was. There he was. A middle school flute player, playing one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, without anything on his resume at all.
Samuel isn't looking for a flute player, he's looking for the next king of Israel, but we can see that he's going about finding him the same way we would go about finding our flute player. It's the same process we used just a few months ago in this country, except it wasn't a king, it was a President, but it's the same idea, right? We were selecting a leader, just like Samuel's doing.
And everyone had their criteria for what they wanted in a President. For some people, it was jobs. Ok, for most people it was probably jobs, that's always a big topic, but there were plenty of other issues. Immigration. Environment. Health Care. And we all had our positions, we knew what we wanted, and we voted for the candidate that best fit our criteria. I've got my list, let's see who matches my list, that's who I'll vote for. That's what all of us did. That's what all of us do anytime we're looking for anyone to do anything, whether it's a flute player, a President, or a King. We all have our list of criteria, and that's who we look for.
So, that's what Samuel is doing. He just can't help it. It's what any of us would do.
So he goes to Jesse, because God says that the next king is one of Jesse's sons, and he's like "Alright, Jesse, let's have a look." First up is Eliab. And Samuel gives him a look, and he's like, "OK. This has to be him. Just look at him."
You know, kings back then weren't like Presidents today. Ok, I mean, in some respects, they were. They had to be smart and clever back then, just like today. That hasn't changed. But they also had to lead soldiers into battle, and not just lead, but the kings were expected to fight. It's not like today where the President sits in the Oval Office and sends in the United States Marine Corp from behind the desk. Kings fought. With swords. And shields. And all that stuff. I know as much about that as I do about classical music, but I do know that several of the ancient kings of Israel died in battle. This was no joke. Kings had to be able to fight. And that means that kings had to be physically imposing, right? They couldn't be couch potatoes, sitting around watching ancient talk shoes. No Maury Povich or Oprah for these guys. They had to be specimens. Had to be tall. Strong. Watch a lot of football. That sort of thing.
So, Samuel checks Eliab out and he's like "OK. Tall. Strong. Watches a lot of football. Gotta be him!"
And God's like "Nope."
And I can imagine Samuel scratching his head here. Like "Uh, God, what are you up to? This guy is tall, strong, watches a lot of football, and most importantly...he's where you said the next king would be!"
But God's like, "Nope." So, Samuel shrugs his shoulders and says "OK" and moves on down the line. Same list of criteria, just moves down the line. The next brother in line is younger; so, probably a little shorter, a little weaker, watched less football, but still...
"Tall, strong, still watches a lot of football, gotta be him!"
And God's like "Nope."
Now, Samuel has got to be wondering what is going on. And as he goes down the line, one after the other, you can see the bar getting lower and lower. That bar just keeps dropping and dropping. He's lowering his standards every time, and every time, God says nope, until finally, there's no one left. He's out of options.
Ever been there? I have. I bet we all have. I bet we've all gotten to a place where we thought God was gonna do something, and we run out of options, and there's just nothing there. Nothing. So Samuel's like "Uh, God? You told me he would be here, and there's no one left. You know, like, at all."
Except, of course, that there is. The problem is that that one doesn't have the resume. He's not qualified. He's not tall, he's not strong, the kid doesn't even like football. In fact, he's just a middle school flute player. There's no way HE could be King.
But he is. This is the one God intends. This is God's chosen.
Not the one with the resume. Not the tall, strong, strapping man who watches a lot of football. And keep in mind, I love football. I may not know classical music or ancient battles, but I know football. But that's not what God's looking for. No, God's looking for a middle school flute player.
And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Well, God knew! God knew how amazing and spectacular David was gonna be." Of course God knew. But what did God know? We look at David later and think "Well, David's wise, and he's kind, and he loves the Lord, and he writes the Psalms, and he was the greatest king ever, and of course God knew that was what he was gonna be!" Well, yeah, God did know that.
But Samuel didn't. And there was no way he COULD know. But he looked anyway. He looked, and what he needed to do was listen. Because only God knows who God has in mind.
Maybe your church is looking for a pastor, and you're hearing this, and you're thinking "Yeah, let's just find someone like David. All we need is someone who is wise, and kind, and loves the Lord, and writes Psalms, and is the greatest pastor ever." Sort of a hippie poet architect type at a church with a membership of 100,000. If we can just find someone like THAT, we'll be in great shape!
That does sound great, and if you find someone like that let me know, but let's not make the same mistake that Samuel made and think that we are the ones with the criteria. That we will know them when we see them. But we might not. In fact, we probably won't. Because most of the time, only God knows, and God's criteria are very different from ours.
That's not to say that Samuel was an idiot or that criteria are bad. Samuel was a smart dude, and we all have criteria when we're looking for someone. Criteria can be very helpful. I'm a pastor, and the criteria my church had when they found me definitely helped both of us make the match. But the criteria aren't the main thing. The resume isn't the main thing. It's just not. Not when you're looking for a pastor, or a Sunday School teacher, or a friend, or a mate, or a President, or a king.
God does not always choose the tall, strong person who watches a lot of football.
Sometimes, sometimes it's the middle school flute player.
Sometimes it's the unqualified, the inexperienced, the one no one would expect. Sometimes that's who God calls.
Sometimes that unqualified, inexperienced person that God is calling is the youngest son of a shepherd.
Sometimes, that unqualified, inexperienced person that God is calling is a middle school flute player.
And sometimes, the unqualified, inexperienced person that God is calling is you.
Let us pray.
Lord, this Lent help us to keep our eyes open. Help us to be open to who you might be calling, who you might be calling to serve you, who you might be calling into our lives. And help us, Lord, to be open to the ways you're calling us. Help us to realize, Lord, that it's not our own skill, experience or resume or criteria that matter. It is only following you. That is what matters most. Help us to do that this Lent and always. In Jesus' name, amen.