|Alternate Reading 1:
|1 Samuel 15:34-13
|2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17
By Jeanyne B Slettom
1 Samuel 15:34-13
All these readings make a point of lifting up the smallest and the ones typically overlooked. It is both a subtle way of challenging our societal values of biggest and most impressive as best, and, at the same time, a way to demonstrate the intrinsic value of all life to God.
The story of David’s anointing is almost comical in its presentation of one after the other of Jesse’s sons. This one? No. This one? No. Well, then THIS one? No. Stymied, Samuel has to ask if all Jesse’s sons have been presented to him. And then comes David, the eighth and youngest son, out of sight, out of mind, not even a character in the story until there is no where else for Samuel to turn.
How often does God surprise us by choosing an unknown, a nobody in the eyes of the world, to change history? We know that a lot preceded the moment when Rosa Parks decided to stay in her seat on the bus, but history recalls that as a defining moment in the Civil Rights movement. Liberation movements—in organizations, in governments, in societies—come from the bottom up, and from unexpected sources.
The same is true in ourselves. Some overlooked part of us, some truth we avoid or deny or refuse to integrate, holds the key to well-being and wholeness. Like Jung’s shadow archetype, there is an eighth son in us—overlooked, out in the pasture—and there is no answer to our seeking until we bring this one back into the room.
The value of the small, overlooked person, or aspect, or option is apparent in this: that nothing is overlooked by God, and nothing is so small that it does not have at least some influence on the future. Moreover, it is in many small actions that we see the creative and transforming power of God. Rosa Parks didn’t start the Civil Rights movement, but her story was a tipping point that widened the possibilities for change. And what is historical is also personal: help comes from unexpected places; small changes in behavior can tip into life-changing new habits.
This psalm reinforces the distinction between the security of worldly acquisitions (the “outward appearance” in the previous text) and the true sanctuary offered by God. By placing the heart’s desire and the fulfillment of plans in the context of the contrast between pride in God and pride in chariots, the psalmist nudges us toward directing our desires and plans to God, who alone endures.
This alternate text is similar in theme to the verses from Samuel. God acknowledges the tall cedar, but expresses particular interest in the sprig. From this small thing, God will establish something noble, something the bears fruit, provides shady branches for the nests of birds and all winged creatures. We are encouraged again to look at something small—a sprig, hardly distinguishable from the rest of the tree—which God uses to nourish growth, provide shade and sanctuary. Where are the “sprigs” in our churches, our families, ourselves? What is so blended in with everything else that its possibilities are recognized only by God?
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17
The heart of this text comes at the end: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This is the promise—and experience—of transformation that energized the early church and continues to manifest in the lives of people today.
In a process understanding, much of our moments are simple replications of the past; we conform not just to society, but to our immediate past and the memories we drag continually into each new moment. We need to shake up all that continuity and repetition, and with his logic-defying parables and messages of the kingdom, this is precisely what Jesus did. His methods and message interrupted the flow of past into present by suggesting a new way to think about things. Jesus is a master at producing the sudden “game-changing” insight that makes us question all of our assumptions. The gospels call this “aha” moment a metanoia, rather inadequately translated as “repentance.” The word “repentance” captures the sense of a complete turn-around, but its cultural connotations have stripped it of its deeper meaning of transformation.
Look, Paul is saying, we used to see things the old way, but when we had a Christ experience, we died to that old way and were reborn to something entirely new and different. The Christ experience is a definitive turning point—a transformation, metanoia, turning—that forever after causes us to view the past without attachment, and that opens us to new possibilities. We face the future with confidence, with a sense of being “at home” in Christ, because with each moment we open ourselves to his way of seeing the world. We open ourselves more fully to God’s vision and desire for the world, and we open ourselves to the mutual abiding that Jesus himself experienced and taught.
Once again we are dealing with the value of the small. There are obviously so many applications of this text to historical and personal evolution, but from a process perspective the point is simply that from one moment to the next, God is present and offering us a way forward. When we open ourselves to God’s possibilities, it is often the tiniest change that opens up a new trajectory, weak at first, but then growing stronger, until it overcomes resistance, obstacles, habitual behavior. The mustard seed metaphor stands on its own, but there are so many more organic images that reinforce the point—such as the Mississippi River, which starts as a stream in northern Minnesota small enough to step over and becomes progressively wider, until it spreads through the Louisiana delta to the Gulf of Mexico. Wherever we are in journey, God is always ready to gurgle up from underground, to plant a small seed, to open us to more than we can imagine.