“Cash, check or charge?” the sales associate asked after folding items a woman wished to purchase. As she fumbled for her wallet he noticed a TV remote control in her purse. “Do you always carry your TV remote?” he asked. “No,” she replied. “But my husband refused to come shopping with me, so I figured this was the meanest thing I could do to him.”
Did you hear about the minister who said he had a wonderful sermon on humility but was waiting for a large crowd before preaching it?
I want to talk to you this morning about how God lifts up those life knocks down. You see, God makes the most from the least. As scripture says, “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap….”
One moment we may be down but God has other plans. At one time we may be struggling hard but the Lord is smoothing things out. There may seem to be no wind in your sails right now but don’t worry there’s a breeze picking up behind you. So don’t abandon ship. The Lord has you in his sights.
There’s a saying in Swedish that goes: Ju senare po dagen ju vackrare. Translated it means, “The later in the day the prettier.” Marit’s family says it to the last person up out of bed on weekend mornings or when we’re on vacation.
If you’re the last one up and out of bed, you’ve been sleeping in and probably sleeping quite long. One tends to look well slept in by the time you finally show up where everyone else is on the move. It’s a very cute and family way of saying, “Nice of you to join us finally,” while subtly commenting on one’s bed hair or face with which you make your glorious appearance.
We also say, “Last but not least,” meaning just because you’ve come last doesn’t mean you’re not valued. There’s a place for last or for the least in God’s eyes. God has a love affair with the underdog, the ones from whom
others don’t expect much. Those who are down there at one time will not be there for very long.
When asked if he was the one John the Baptizer and his disciples were waiting for Jesus pointed out who he was doing all his heavenly works for: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
That’s a collection of not your top ten most likely to succeed. But God doesn’t leave behind who others would leave behind. God doesn’t write off those who the world dismisses as too little, too late, too low.
A reporter once interviewed the incomparable African-American Marian Anderson and asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. She had many big moments to choose from. There was the night famed conductor Arturo Toscanini told her she had a voice “heard once in a hundred years.” There was the private concert she gave at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She had received the $10,000 Bok Award as the person who had done the most for her home town, Philadelphia. In 1955, she was the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
There was that Easter Sunday in Washington in 1939 organized because the leadership of the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor and President Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.
Which of those big moments did she choose? None of them. Ms. Anderson told the reporter the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to do other people’s washing anymore.
The humble will be lifted up. The shaken will stand. The fallen will rise.
If I asked you who is mentioned most in the Bible, most wouldn’t say David. But he is. His name occurs three times more often than either Abraham or Moses. He’s mentioned more even than Jesus, totaling over 1100 times in the Bible, including 58 times in the New Testament. Four books and 61 chapters of the Old Testament tell his life story. David wrote at least 73 psalms. In the 30 centuries since his death, he has been painted, sculpted, idealized and immortalized. To this day parents still name their children after him.
His resume was very full: Jesse’s youngest son. Teenage shepherd. Giant-slayer. King’s court musician. Prince’s best friend. A fugitive on the run. A hero to thousands. A man of blood. Israel’s greatest king. A poet of exceptional skill. A gifted architect. Handsome. Powerful. Charismatic. Loved by multitudes. Adulterer. Murderer. Father whose favorite son led a deadly, kingdom-tearing revolt against him. He rose from obscurity to lead his nation.
Through his own foolish choices, he destroyed his family and ended his reign amid trouble and intrigue. A glorious triumph and a very human tragedy. Called and gifted, human to the core. He’s not like Michelangelo’s polished marble statue in Florence, Italy. He is one of us, entirely human, made of flesh and blood. Up one moment and down the next.
We study David’s life so that parents whose children rebel, people who squander one opportunity after another, teenagers who feel forgotten and lonely, and everyone whose life has been quite a bit less than perfect will know that God remains our God. There’s something in the Lord that just refuses to give up on you and me. Praise God!
Now of course we know before David became the most mentioned name in scripture, he was nothing but a shepherd boy, and the last born among eight sons. Talk about your last.
But you know what, David was really good at what he was, even then. We later find out that he took his job deadly seriously. He didn’t joke around. He may never become a king but he would become the best shepherd around. He killed any animal that came to attack and eat his family’s sheep.
Here is a great key to becoming who God has for you to become. If you want to know where you’re headed tomorrow, get up in the morning, wash your face, brush your teeth, have a good breakfast, and then go out the door and do what is yours to do this day. In doing God’s will today, we take the path to God’s will for tomorrow.
When the prophet Samuel goes to Bethlehem, he doesn’t know how God’s choice will be revealed. Samuel makes his way to Jesse’s house and asks to see his sons. The Bible doesn’t say if he told Jesse what was on his mind but it doesn’t matter because Samuel was well-known throughout Israel. It would be a great honor to have the prophet visit in your home. So Jesse gladly calls his sons.
They line up and the first one is introduced. His name is Eliab. Evidently he’s a bit like Saul—tall and handsome. He must have impressed Samuel because when he sees him, he thinks, “All right, Lord, good choice. He even looks like a king.” And the Lord says to Samuel, “What are you talking about? That’s not the one.”
You see, Samuel should have learned from his experience with Saul. We all have the tendency to flirt with Eliab even when we’ve been burned by Saul. We make the same mistakes. We’re impressed by outward success, appearance, money, power, names, titles, connections, clothes, cars, and degrees.
Even in church we like to pay attention to how people look on the outside. We notice who drives the nice cars and how people dress and where they work and that sort of thing. Occasionally someone will tell me about a certain person they’ve invited to church. And, meaning well of course, they’ll say, “I hope he starts attending here. He could do us a lot of good,” meaning he has money and influence. That’s never said about a homeless person or the unemployed. That’s not how God looks at things.
You’re the one who is good for the church. You’re the one, not someone else, who’s doing the Lord’s will. You’re the one called to commit to God’s works, to giving your time, talent, and treasure.
So in comes the next son. This time Samuel doesn’t do anything. And God says, “Nope.” Go to the next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Samuel is 0 for 7 in picking the next king of Israel. He’s utterly bewildered. He has come to anoint the new king but the new king is nowhere to be found.
Finally Samuel says, “By the way, you don’t happen to have any other sons, do you?” Just an afterthought, really. A shot in the dark. Jesse tells him yes but he’s the youngest and he’s out tending the sheep.” Meaning, he’s just a kid and he really doesn’t count for much. It was Jesse’s way of saying, “He doesn’t have the gravitas to be king.”
Every youngest child knows exactly what’s going on here. The firstborn comes along and gets everything he wants. All the privileges and priorities start with him or her. Then it goes, second, third, fourth, right on down to the baby. Good luck, kid, because you’re gonna need it. And be sure and wear your nametag so we won’t forget who you are.
If you have a photo album, the first 200 pictures are of the oldest child before the first birthday, then the next 50 are for the second, then maybe 10 for the third child. After that, it’s all group pictures. If you’re a fifth child, your first picture comes the day you graduate from college.
Samuel said, “Go get him.” No doubt Jesse shrugged his shoulders. In comes David straight from the pasture. He hasn’t had time to wash up or change clothes. And there stands the future king of Israel. He’s maybe 12 years old. He doesn’t look like a king. God says to Samuel, “Anoint him.” And he does.
Are you uncertain about the future? Fearful over what might happen next? Rest in these two words: God knows. While we worry, God is up ahead of arranging the details of your future. Let that thought lift your spirits. Wait on the Lord. Be encouraged. The Lord lifts up the low places and brings down the high places. God has your future secure.
On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on
it. She accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed. She went to the piano and played the opening of Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.”
The guard shook his head. “Padarewski (the famed Polish pianist) was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.”
You know, the Lord lifts us up when we’re fallen not in order for us to forget the grace and kindness given to us, but that we might be a testimony and our lives might witness to the abundant gifts God bestows. Don’t forget the gifts, and this way you won’t forget the giver.
It only makes sense that the best start at the bottom. We ought to know what it’s like to need help, to need compassion, grace and blessings that only come from God.
When the Lord was telling his free people the statutes and ordinances for them to keep now that they were out of Egypt, Moses kept repeating one message: Remember you were once slaves in Egypt, therefore be compassionate, be merciful, help the orphan, care for the widow, look after the resident alien.
Remember you were once down and out. Recall to yourself how much you needed the Lord in those days. Remind yourself whom you needed to turn to in order to make it through, and how much has come your way, and how good life is. Those who do so are like David, whose heart loved the Lord, and whom the Lord loves and blesses. Can anybody say Amen?