Texts: I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Theme: God uses the things that are not, the nobodies, and invites them to be recipients of God’s grace; guiding those who are willing to be led into an ever deeper understanding of who the Triune God is.
Among the abundance of this week’s texts, the preacher needs to exercise the discipline to focus on one or two things not everything.
Samuel’s anointing of David is a great story, enough intrigue and secrecy to make it interesting, a surprise twist at the end, and a new king anointed. But in the midst God is working — choosing not the tall and handsome, but the last one — the one who was not there. Why? Because God is not swayed by the outward appearance — God sees the inner life. Those who feel they are overlooked, ignored, that they are last one who is never considered, for such people this story is liberating, life giving, hope inspiring. The things that are nothing, the people considered nobodies — they matter in God’s eyes. They are not only seen by God, they are invited onto his team. For God is building a team of misfits and nobodies; a team of the ignored and the marginalized to be the agents of God’s kingdom. Examples of this truth abound.
Psalm 23 is so well-known that it may either scare the preacher off, or lull the preacher into not a deep enough engagement with the text. The preacher who wishes to make Psalm 23 the central Biblical passage of the sermon, should spend time listening to the passage anew. Craigie’s insight below opens the door to preaching this passage as a call to conversion. Some of those who hear this text need to confront the reality that they are sheep: helpless and in need. This can be a difficult moment, especially for those who see themselves as capable of finding their own way through the good and the bad of life with little help. Other hearers will have little difficulty seeing their need, they, however, may require convincing that God can and will guide them through the valleys of shadows that are part of their lives. Both afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicting are missional tasks, and this familiar psalm opens the door to that work.
The blind man in John 9 is one of the most winsome figures in the gospels. A beggar, a nobody, who even after he was given sight people did not want to welcome. As Witherington notes the blind man also illustrates how faith grows in a person, from knowing nothing about Jesus (“the man called Jesus” healed me (vs. 11) and in answer to the question “Where is he?” said “I don’t know.” (vs. 12)) but having had an experience with Jesus, to believing that Jesus is special (“He is a prophet.” (vs. 17)), to owning the change Jesus made in his life (“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (vs. 25)), to an affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God (“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”…”Lord, I believe.” (vs. 35, 38). The gradual growth in faith understanding serves as a model not only to those on the journey towards a deeper faith, but also as instruction to those people of faith who want to see others come to faith. The preacher can use this text to teach people how to help others grow in the faith, the John 4 account of the Samaritan woman at the well often gets preached as a model of evangelism, this passage too allows for a similar conversation. The preacher can also use this text to note that people with little or no background in church have experiences of the holy, of the Spirit, of Jesus affirming God’s presence in those moments and invite people to explore the meanings of those moments.
There are two challenges with the John 9 passage. First, it is long. It might best be handled through the sermon being a running commentary on the text, rather than reading 41 verses in a block. Second, the debate about who was responsible for the man’s blindness will raise for some hearers the questions: what is the cause of illness, what role does sin and judgment play in illness? While an important pastoral care question that deserves some air time, it could so dominate the sermon that the preacher misses the opportunity to talk about one pattern of faith development and to help people explore their experiences of God.
Mother Teresa is an example of a “nobody” who is lifted up by God. Check out her life story on line.
Derrick Coleman, fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, is deaf. An ad for Duracell about his life has been running recently, indicating that people saw him as a nobody. Coleman is a Christian who is quoted as saying, “I always say that God blessed me this morning and I can do what I do.”
“We have had some important rejections here. We have had the legitimated king rejected. We have had the oldest son rejected, one of the beautiful people. That is politically important to the tribe, if the tribe be understood as the assemblage of the marginal. The powerful and the beautiful are always chosen, no us. It is nice to have a tale in which the usually chosen son is rejected. The narrative works critically and knowingly against that common practice. When there is the next choosing, it will be “one of us,” one of the uncredentialed nobodies. Already there is the sense that God chose what is lowly and despised in the world to bring to nought the things that are (I Cor. 1:26-31). This is a nobody of an eighth son!” – Walter Brueggemann
“Throughout my childhood, in my mother’s telling of the story, I became David. I was always David. I’m still David. It’s the intent and skill of this scriptural storyteller to turn everyone who reads or hears the story into realizing something essentially Davidic about him- or herself: “In my insignificant, sheep-keeping obscurity, I am chosen.” – Eugene Peterson
“The psalm [Psalm 23] is written consistently from the perspective of the sheep; that is, its expression of trust and confidence presupposes as awareness of helplessness and need on the part of the one who trusts.” – Peter Craigie
“This story [John 9] then could be used as a paradigm to reveal the progress of a soul and so lead others in the same direction. It is also a negative paradigm about how not to respond to Jesus and his deeds, and the Pharisees pale the negative side.” – Ben Witherington
- Amazing Grace
- I heard the voice of Jesus say
- Praise the One who breaks the darkness