Sunday, June 17, 2012

Of Fathers and Unexpected Choices.

The last time I preached at church I felt quite awkward, I felt there was something in the air that resisted the topic I was talking on... so much so that it made me pretty tense and I rushed my talk. Thankfully this morning was an altogether different experience, which is just as well given that I stuck with a similar message as one of my central themes.

The passage I chose to preach on was 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13. It relays the story of how Samuel (still grieving over God's rejection of Saul),  travelled to Bethlehem to anoint the king's eventual successor - David.

Seeing as the Olympic Torch is due to pass through my town in matter of weeks, I decided my talk would carry an Olympic flavour to it. The first question I posed was this:

Olympic Torchbearers
What connects these people?
The answer is that they have all been chosen to be Olympic torch bearers. The first two  (Diana Gould of London and Dominic McGowan of Birmingham), are the oldest and youngest people to have been chosen respectively; the latter four (Holly Parker of Redditch, Sandra Lopez of Miami, Youssou N'Dour of Dakar and Sophie Witherford of Malvern), are the torch bearers who have been chosen to run through my own town of Alcester on Sunday, July 1st. Of these, the most well known is going to be Youssou N'Dour (although many in my congregation had not heard of him), as he is is probably the most famous living musician to come out of Africa and for his work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.

However the important thing about their selection is that it has nothing to do with athleticism. The people who have been chosen to participate in the Torch Relay are those who have been perceived as community heroes of some description. Between them, the people above (and the myriad of others), have clocked up a huge amount community work & voluntary service between them. The criteria for selection was not based on their levels of fitness... indeed there have been some torch bearers who have been running entirely on prosthetic limbs.

Well that in essence is what the passage today was all about. When Samuel was called to visit the household of Jesse in Bethlehem, he was presented with an impressive procession of young men. To my imagination, it must have resembled the conveyor belt from The Generation Game. Samuel saw their strength and stature and was clearly impressed by all of them.. and yet he was surprised to discover that God did not share his enthusiasm.

In the same way that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), used completely different criteria to what we might expect, God did exactly the same with regard to his choice of king. Who is it that God chooses? He chooses the runt of the family... the ginger (yes David's physical description says he had red hair), in short... exactly the kind of person who might get picked last by his peers in a school football line up.

The crux of what was happening here is found in verse 7:
"But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
There's an important parallel and lesson here for us both nationally and locally; The Church of England and the Alcester Minster will shortly be due to choose a successor to their current leaders. As touched upon in my previous post, there is a heated debate going on with regard to who the next Archbishop of Canterbury should be. You see people advocating candidates on the basis that they are "liberal", or "traditional" or "evangelical". All the time it seems to me that they are looking for their candidate and not God's. As a character on Babylon 5 once put it:
"Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the centre of the universe. God looks astonishingly like we do!"
G'Kar - Meditations on the Abyss

Aren't we all a little guilty of that from time to time? If we are honest (as we are called to be), aren't we?

The choice between a liberal candidate or a conservative candidate is a FALSE choice. In the wake of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, there was a debate on Newsnight as to whether or not the Papal choice should have been liberal or conservative. A woman was arguing strongly that the cardinals had let the world down by electing an ultra-conservative pope. Yet a Roman Catholic priest came back with a very valid comment. He argued that the duty of a pope isn't to be liberal or conservative, that shouldn't even come into the equation when choosing a new pope. A pope should be chosen because he is faithful to God.

That is God's criteria... while we stumble around looking for a candidate who scratches our particular theological itches, we should actually be hoping, praying and seeking out a man of God who is faithful to the will of God... our views and the views of the public aren't nearly as important as that. i can't state it enough.

However God's choice isn't just about people in positions of religious or secular authority. It is about us too. As unseemly as we may think we are, we too have a calling. We too (those of us who choose to accept it), have been chosen.

We stumble... we stagger and sometimes we fall, but it is at those times that God's grace shines so brightly in our lives and maybe that is a major reason why he calls us:
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
How can God nullify the world's standards of success by using our weakness? Well perhaps on Father's Day, I can offer you a poignant illustration. In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, British athlete Derek Redmond was preparing to run the race of his life; he was tipped for a medal in the 400 metres. The race began normally enough, but 150 metres or so into the race, Derek felt a twang in the back of his leg and a searing pain. He collapsed to the ground in agony as the rest of the racers sprinted towards the line. Broken and defeated, Derek had every reason to give up.

He didn't.

Redmond picked himself up off the ground and hobbled along the track like a lame chicken towards the finish line. As he did so, the officials and stewards ran up to him and tried to stop him... but he insisted he wanted to carry on. Suddenly from out of the stands, a short, stock built older man ran out and head for Redmond. Stewards tried to stop him too... but he shrugged them off. As he reached Redmond he told him that he didn't have to finish the race... he'd done enough. Redmond insisted that he needed to cross the line. The man put a hand on Redmond's shoulder and reassured him "then we are going to finish it together".

That man was Derek Redmond's father - Jim Redmond.

The two of them walked to the finish line and received a standing ovation from 65,000+ onlookers in the stadium. I can't watch the footage of that race without welling up, it speaks more to me of the Olympic spirit than even the largest medal haul of any athlete or nation. Furthermore I can't tell you who won that race... I can't even tell with certainty who went on to win the gold medal in the final... but I can tell you that I'll remember what Derek Redmond did until the day that I die.


That is what God can do in our lives with his grace. When we struggle or even fail, we have the cosmic assurance that 2,000 years ago a God came down to Earth to atone for our mistakes and make us whole again... and that every day he is with us in the power of the Holy Spirit... not content to watch from the stands, the Father draws near to us and brings us home, to his glory.

How deep the Father's love for us... how vast beyond all measure.

1 comment:

  1. Mel C9:30 pm

    Interesting as 'how deep the Father's love' was a line used by our speaker this morning and made me think of that great song. There's nothing like your first Father's Day without your earthly father to remind you of the amazing grace and majesty of your heavenly one.


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