Rev. Sandy Johnson
Bootcamp for the Soul: Redefined
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Old – young, tall – short, fat – skinny, democrat – republican, gay – straight, black – white, out of shape – healthy, rich – poor, slow – quick, liberal – conservative, stupid – brilliant, worthless – worthy, not good enough – perfect. These are all definitions that we can place on ourselves or on others. Are these the only adjectives that define us?
What about familial definitions like mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather. Or definitions that relate to our careers – lawyer, engineer, secretary, salesperson, nurse, librarian, social service professional or minister?
How do we define ourselves? I would guess that we define ourselves in a variety of ways. I am a woman, a mother, sister, daughter, aunt. I am a Christian, a progressive, a reiki practitioner, a Rotarian, and a pastor. I would define myself as kind, passionate, loving, smart and also pudgy, out of shape, hot headed at times, what’s the opposite of chef? Hungry?
What is the standard? Who defines what “normal” is, what is respectable or whole today? When JJ and I went camping last summer we bought a used tent trailer and were super excited at the prospect of going camping for the first time in many years. We had always tent camped in the past and as we have gotten older, we decided we wanted to step it up a bit, redefine our method of camping; so, we bought a tent trailer and were set. The first week things were good. It was a little small and there wasn’t a bathroom, but it was ok. Much better than the tent we had used years ago.
But then…we went into Cedar City for the weekend to take showers and enjoy some live theater at the Shakespearean festival. As we drove down the main drag in Cedar, we saw a parking lot filled with brand new trailers! Oh my! “Just for fun,” I said, “Let’s go look.” Immediately the definition of our tent trailer as being just the right rig for us was redefined. Now it was old, too small, for goodness sake it didn’t even have a toilet! And we were hooked. We needed a trailer.
Through the act of comparison, we discovered that the tent trailer was inadequate. Our poor tent trailer was redefined out of a job! That got me thinking into the definitions that we use to describe ourselves, our situations in life and how much these definitions guide us, knowing that we’re in a constant state of redefinition. Through Lent we have been defining what it looks like to be in the Bootcamp for the Soul. We have considered what tools, experiences, exercised we might engage in to improve our spiritual core, to empower us to be in our best spiritual shape.
Let’s evaluate where we are. Do you know how you define yourself? Or does it happen deep in the dark cavity of your subconscious and lead you astray into places you shouldn’t go? What if we could redefine ourselves as Christ sees us? What if we could live into that definition every single day? The whole act of redefinition is the salvation story. We are all bogged down in wrong definitions and through Jesus Christ we are redefined from sinner to saint, from not enough to just right, from useless to useful.
In our gospel reading this morning, we read the story of the blind man that Jesus healed. When Jesus came upon the man the disciples asked Jesus whether the man who had been born blind, was a sinner or whether his parents had sinned. In Old Testament times, it was commonly understood that if you had physical ailments, it was the result of sin. Jesus was quick to redefine this man, not as a sinner, but as someone who would be healed in order that the work of God might be demonstrated through him. The blind man was a tool that God used to demonstrate God’s power. In an instant and with a bit of spittle and mud, the man turned from a blind man to a sighted man. His life transformed in an instant.
Jesus also redefined Sabbath in this story. Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for being a sinner because he healed the blind man on the sabbath, an offense that justified stoning. Jesus listened to God’s calling rather than the rules of the time. The Pharisees then confronted the man as they tried to make sense of the story they were told. Their definitions were altered as well because surely someone who worked on the sabbath was a sinner, but could a sinner invoke God’s healing power to this result?
What about story from 1 Samuel? We must first consider the biblical definition of king? How would you define a king? Regal, powerful, majestic, warrior, charismatic, influential, some (I’m thinking of King Herrod) might be described as murderous, self-centered, or tyrant? When God called Samuel to go and find the new king, the king that would replace Saul, Samuel was terrified that he would be found out; that Saul would discover the reason for Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem. God’s intention had been clear. Saul was being replaced, the role of king was being redefined and it was up to Samuel to follow God’s call and identify who this new king would be.
God told Samuel that the new king would be one of Jesse’s sons and that in order to hide the reason for his trip, Samuel should take a heifer with him and tell those who ask that he was coming to Bethlehem to sacrifice to the Lord. “What are you doing Samuel? Ah, nothing!”
Samuel did what the Lord commanded. As he approached the city, the townspeople came out and were afraid. They were trembling and asked what he was doing there? “Have you come in peace?” they asked? Samuel assured them that he was there for a peaceful meeting, he was there to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. So, he invited Jesse and his sons to join him in this act of worship. Each of Jesse’s sons were present and as Samuel looked at each one, God said no, this was not the one. God told Samuel not to pay attention to the appearance or stature, God said “ignore the definitions,” I am redefining what it means to be king. Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
After seven of Jesse’s sons had been examined, Samuel looks at Jesse and asks, “Are all your sons here?” I’m sure Samuel thought perhaps he had missed something. God was clear that he would identify the right one, but so far nothing. Then Jesse reveals that he has one more son, out tending the sheep. What do we know about shepherds? They are the lowest of the low. They spend days on end with the sheep, I’m thinking he was dirty and smelly? I imagine this youngest son in his mid-teenage years, skinny, pimply and awkward, not yet fully grown but not a child either.
Enter David, scripture says “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Now we just got done hearing from God that we aren’t to pay attention to the outward appearance, and scripture goes right there! Here is David, a good-looking boy who is the new definition of “king.” Young, inexperienced, unworthy, but exactly who God wanted because he knew David’s heart.
Years ago, this congregation redefined itself, from being part of Grace Community Church to being known as Boulder City United Methodist Church. This congregation of faithful servants redefined themselves into a welcoming, safe and trustworthy family of God, where we can be in Christian community together, following the call of God on our very lives. We look past the individual definitions and look toward the definition that God has placed on our church – welcoming, accepting, loving. We work hard to maintain this space where everyone is welcome and feels safe, and part of the family.
Imagine what would happen if we were all able to redefine ourselves and embrace the continuous changes in our lives as we live to follow Christ in all things. We know from John Wesley, the found of United Methodism, that we are all “growing in grace to perfection,” not that we will ever actually attain this status, but we can safely say we are working on it. We are in a constant process of redefinition, resurrection, recommitment.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we do our best to do the things God desires of us, but it’s hard sometimes. We get bogged down because of the unhelpful definitions that have haunted us for a lifetime. What if, what if we could eliminate those unhelpful definitions and claim the only definition that really matters? The definition that we are Christians, children of the King, beloved sons or daughters of the Lord God Almighty! That is a definition I will claim again and again and again.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us to be redefined and transformed into the people you want us to be. Help us claim a new identity and be defined by the power of you working within us. Amen.