God sees the people’s need! This is the chorus of our scripture today, the refrain that keeps being true, that keeps needing to be said out loud. God sees the people’s need.
Imagine a storybook snowy day. Inside, there’s a wrinkled grandmother baking with her tiny grandchildren. The cookies have come out of the oven, and they need to be carefully spatulaed onto the wire rack for cooling. Flour has gotten everywhere! A spill of sprinkles covers the table in rainbow. While the grandma mixes up the frosting, she begins to tell a story. And if that’s what our scripture is —a folk story spoken by a grandma who looks at these children and loves these children, you know what, that might be enough. God sees the people’s need…
Once upon a time, she tells them, the LORD our God found Samuel and said, It’s go time. You’ve got to find the new king of Israel. Go to Jesse in Bethlehem. And Samuel says, If King Saul finds out, he’ll kill me! So God says, Let’s play a trick. Pretend that you’re going to Jesse’s house for a sacrifice, but while you’re there, you’ll find the one who should be the next king. You shall anoint for me the one whom I choose. Off Samuel went taking with him a cow for the sacrifice and oil for anointing.
By now the kitchen is filled with the aroma of gingerbread, the children’s hands are covered with butter, their eyes are shining, so the grandma continues…
Samuel met Jesse at his home and asked to meet his sons. First came Eliab, and Samuel thought, Look at how tall he is! Surely he will be the next king. But God said No. Then Abinadab came, and God said No. Then Shammah came, and God said No. Then all the others, and God said Not this one. Not the tall one. Not the athletic one. Not the well-behaved one. Not the high-achieving one. For while mortals look on the outward appearance, God sees the heart.
Now Jesse tells Samuel, These are the all the sons I have who could be possibly be the next king. The only one left is the youngest — he’s out in the fields probably reading poetry to the sheep! The LORD said, Yup. That’s the one. So Samuel anointed David to be the next king of Israel.
And we love stories like this! And if our whole scripture was the story of an unlikely hero being chosen by God, you know what, that might be enough, but as it turns out, it’s more than that…
The thing about David is that more than anything else, he’s astonishingly— human.
It is David who believes he can take down a giant. Even though the armor is too clunky, and all he has is a slingshot, that’s exactly what he does.
It is David who goes on to save King Saul’s life, even though Saul keeps trying to kill him.
It is David who falls in love with Saul’s son Jonathan, and Jonathan loves him back, and right in the Word of God, we learn of two men who love each other as much as life itself!
It is David who leads his troops into staggering violence; there’s no denying the blood on his hands. And it’s David who has Uriah killed in battle so that he can marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.
Our hearts grieve with David when his baby dies. Our voices yell at David—What do you think you’re doing?!— when he decides to build a house for the LORD when it could be, David just wants the glory.
The whole story of David takes up nearly two books in the Bible, and if the writers of the Bible want us to know anything about David it’s that he is the villain, and the victim, and the hero. He’s a disappointment, and a heart-broken lover, and a fugitive, and a gifted musician.
There’s no telling whether David is really a good person who made some bad choices or if he’s really a bad person who got lucky. Instead David proves there’s no such thing. People are not good at heart; people are not bad at heart. What we are is human.
God sees the people’s need. The Holy Spirit looks at our humanness, and sees our heart, and says: I love you, I choose you.
And can you imagine if we believed that…
In the state of Illinois, a sixteen year-old who’s been charged with committing a serious crime can be automatically transferred into the adult system. Now judges are bound by mandatory sentencing guidelines, and there’s no parole in Illinois, so this means a teenager can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.1 I am grateful to Restore Justice for this information and for their advocacy. https://restorejustice.org
Consider the message this sends. Our kids are being taught that once you commit a terrible crime, that’s who you are and that’s all you are. There’s no chance to repent. Any dream you had for your life doesn’t matter now. But here’s what I want to know: What would happen if we believed that these teenagers are entirely human?
Dementia care is evolving and improving, and it is still a struggle for many institutions. A few years ago, Human Rights Watch issued a report citing instances in which nursing homes were giving antipsychotic drugs to people with dementia in order to make the people compliant.2https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/05/they-want-docile/how-nursing-homes-united-states-overmedicate-people-dementia#
That might make things easier for the nursing home, but you have to wonder whether this is what a person with dementia would want for themselves or whether their desires are even considered. What would happen if we believed that people living with dementia are entirely human?
Because of course we mean to believe this! We know God has a dream for the teenager who’s sitting shackled in the courtroom. God has a dream for the old person who wonders whether he has been forgotten. God sees the people’s need. God sees their hearts.
And can you imagine if a group of caring people believed this, I mean, what would that do to the systems we have in place…
It is no small thing to choose to regard another person as human.
This is the choice that breathes and bubbles inside the gorgeous poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. It’s called Shoulders, and you might have heard me share this poem before, and I hope to share it many more times. It goes like this:
What I love about this poem is it sets us up to think the real work is protecting the child from the cars and the rain, but that’s not even the best part.
Once you hear the humming of the boy’s dream, you can’t pretend you didn’t. It’s making a claim on your soul, it’s bringing you back to life, and who knew that another person’s dream could do that! Who knew that taking seriously the song of somebody else’s dreaming is exactly how we’ll find ourselves becoming human…
There’s no way to believe another person is human and not see that you are too. There’s no way to see another person’s exquisite humanness and not see something of God.
And you and I know we live in a world where this does not happen enough. You’ve seen this. We make people into heroes and insist on celebrating their service. But when we do that, what are they supposed to do with their shame? We make people into villains and blame them for their poverty or their addiction. And when we do that, what are they supposed to do with their dreaming? And the world needs their dreaming! It might save our lives.
Imagine a storybook snowy day. A patient grandmother is helping her grandchildren decorate gingerbread cookies. While they’re working, she doesn’t tell them to be tall or smart. She doesn’t tell them to be skinny, or get better grades, or be sure to win. She doesn’t tell them to say No to drugs and say Yes to Jesus. The world will heap these judgements upon them.
Right now these tiny children with frosting all over their hands, and their faces, and now their clothes—they just heard that God sees the people’s need, that God looks on the heart and sees how we are helplessly, splendidly human. The grandma tells them how God’s face breaks into smiles when she says to every person who ever lived: Oh I was hoping it would be you! I choose you. I love you! Now the children don’t know whether it’s their grandmother who’s saying this, or whether it’s God, and that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s everything.
Thanks be to God who sees the people’s need, who hears the music of our dreaming, who teaches us that we could learn this too. Amen.