The kingdom of heaven isn’t like a human kingdom. It doesn’t depend on worldly wealth or power, on who has the largest army, or the most nuclear weapons. It doesn’t depend on who is the most charismatic leader, or the cleverest, or the richest. It’s not like earthly power structures.
God can see through the outward appearances – when he sent Samuel to anoint a new king, after Saul had proved disappointing, the obvious choice was rejected. Sure, Jesse’s first son Eliab was tall and good-looking, but he wasn’t the one. He may have had all the worldly attributes, and being the first-born has gone a long way to promoting someone’s chances of ruling. No, Samuel was instructed to look at the other promising boys, until he had gone down the line of all 7 of them. Imagine asking someone who has 7 kids if there are any others? It would be a bit odd wouldn’t it. But that’s all about God’s provision. Just when we think that the possibilities are exhausted, God has something new in store. Is there another also? Yes, but he’s working. Tending the sheep. I wonder why he wasn’t included in the original roll-call. Maybe he was too young and of too low a status to be considered. Maybe his mother was a concubine or slave, and he was relegated to second-best. He wasn’t even deemed worthy to come and join in the sacrifice.
The story of David being anointed to serve God is very encouraging for anyone who feels that they are overlooked all the time, because they are too young, too insignificant, born to the wrong parents, in the wrong city or country, and that a significant life is only for the powerful and attractive. Unlike all the other lads, David was actually doing something useful, getting on with is life. This is a hint for us too. Instead of putting our life on hold while we wait for God to give us instructions about what to do next, we just need to get on with it. If God has a task for us – and here is something for everyone to do to grow God’s kingdom, then we will be called at the right time. Not our time, but God’s time.
I think it’ s significant too that David was tending the sheep. This is a little hint at many of the images we see in the gospels of a Good Shepherd, and of Jesus’ last words to Peter – tend my sheep, feed my lambs, feed my sheep. David was faithful in the small task of doing his livestock chores, and he was given, eventually, a much greater task to do.
Our gospel reading has two parables in it which illustrate how the kingdom of heaven starts with little things. First Jesus talks about the miracle that is in a seed. A tiny thing is placed in the ground, and it starts to push up a shoot, a leaf, a flower, a head of grain. Then it can he harvested and used to nourish people. Jesus repeats the idea with the mustard seed parable, using a bit of typical Jewish exaggeration. I know as a gardener that the mustard seed is not in fact particularly tiny, nor is its plant particularly large. But the people hearing Jesus’ story got the point. And this parable finished in the same was as the other one – the mustard tree wasn’t just big for the sake of being big, but big so it could give shelter and perches and nest spaces for all the birds of the air. Something small, by the power of God, grows big, so it could be useful.
How has the kingdom of God, of heaven grown in your lives? Did it start off with Sunday school, stories from the Old Testament like the one we heard today where Solomon anoints the boy David? And Noah’s ark, and tales of Jesus taking a little child on his knee? Many of us came to faith as children through these stories and teaching. Or did you discover Jesus as an adult, through the testimony of someone whose life had been changed forever? These early stories, testimonies, experiences of God’s power for ourselves, can grow into a changed life.
Or they can sit on a shelf. I have some mustard seeds at home. Some of the seeds at my place are in the potting shed, ready to be planted out when the weather warms up. Some of them will be grown on until we can sell them at the plant sale in September! But my mustard seeds aren’t in the shed. They’re in the pantry, ready to be ground up to make a yummy whole-grain mustard to eat with roast meat. These ones don’t have a future of growth, just of being used as they are.
Do you have a future of growth, or just staying where you are? You may well think that you’ve done your dash, you’ve been involved with all sorts of church activities, outreaches, programmes for the last umpteen years, so it’s time for a rest. But the kingdom of heaven keeps growing in us all the time, if we let it, changing us as we respond in love to the world around us. Have you noticed that you might tend to react differently to stories you hear in the news to how you might have reacted say 20 years ago? Do you see the world less in black-and-white terms, and more as a shimmery rainbow of colours and possibilities?
I think raising children can be a great way to learn that black and white doesn’t fit with the real world. When my brother and sister-in-law became parents, I had been a mum for some years. They had all sorts of wonderful ideas about how they would raise their children, and I just sat back and laughed to myself. No matter how we plan our life, be it with children, or relationships, or work, things always happen along the way to change us and make us react. As we grow into the kingdom of heaven, we start to appreciate other people more for who they are. We stop judging and excluding people who are different to us. We start to see the good in people, to like them more, and celebrate the broad tapestry that is the kingdom of heaven on earth.
In any tapestry or work of art, there needs to be contrast so we can see the details. If we were all the same it would be very monotonous. If there were no dark areas, there would be no three-dimension shadows. If there were no bright and crazy folk, there would be no sparks of colour.
Our reading from 1 Samuel says that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
We can relax in this, knowing that God doesn’t judge us for the things that people judge us for. We don’t need to feel too fat, too short, too stupid, too poor, too old, too young, too disabled, too mentally ill, or anything else, because God looks at our heart. And as God looks at our heart, we can look at other people’s heart too.