When People Underestimate You, Are They Right?
Getting more than you bargained for. That’s what all of our scriptures are about today.
And it’s not a concept that is very familiar in our capitalist society. We are used to paying an agreed upon price, and receiving exactly what we’ve paid for, no more and no less.
I sometimes wonder if we carry that consumer mentality into our relationships as well.
If I make dinner x number of times this week, my partner will mow the lawn without having to be reminded.
If I attend x number of recitals or soccer games of my grandchildren, my daughter will pick up the phone when I call her.
If I read x chapters of the Bible this week, God will answer my prayers.
That’s not how God’s economy works.
The Greek root from which we get the word economy means household and refers to how people manage the day to day finances and organization of their homes and families.
And God’s economy has a very strange balance sheet.
Things are simply not predictable with God.
Two plus two does not always equal four.
It often equals five, or a hundred and five, or a purple elephant.
With God, we are always getting more than we bargained for.
That was certainly the case for both Samuel and David in our lesson today.
As you’ll recall from last week, the Israelites had whined and moaned and complained like children begging for candy in the check-out line until God allowed them to crown a king for themselves, Saul.
It had not turned out well, and there was a great deal of turmoil in the land.
Everyone was very touchy, so much so that our lesson today says that when Samuel went to Bethlehem, “the elders of the city came to meet him trembling.”
They had already learned that things didn’t always work out according to their plans when they tried to control God’s household.
But Samuel is a little cagier, a little more wily after all these years in the Lord’s service.
All of Jesse’s sons are brought before him, and he calmly rejects each one of them, knowing that when he has rejected all of them, there must be another because God’s Spirit has not spoken to him about any of them.
Samuel, after all, has always been able to hear God’s voice particularly clearly, ever since he was called in the middle of the night as a young boy, answering, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
He is still listening as an old man, and he anoints David as the future king.
David was definitely not expecting to be called in from tending the sheep to be crowned king.
But this strange and wondrous event having happened, he might be forgiven for expecting to be ushered into a palace and given a government to manage.
But like in so many other places in scripture, he got way more than he bargained for.
He has to walk a long road of violence and wilderness and fear before he comes into his true power.
But there is one thing that can be relied upon in God’s economy, God’s household: the underdog comes through in the end.
David is one of so many examples of people in the Bible who were underestimated, people who should not have succeeded but came out on top with nothing to their credit but faithful love of God.
Moses was a tongue-tied murderer who went from palace luxury to tending sheep to leading the Exodus.
Ruth was a penniless foreigner who founded the House of David.
Paul was a persecutor of Christians who became their biggest champion.
The people we least expect to be channels of grace are often the ones who affect the life of the people of God the most.
How many times have you been underestimated?
How many times has someone looked at you, met you, seen you, and judged you?
It happens to all of us.
Someone sees our age, our gender, our orientation, our income or any other stupid way we have of judging each other and assumes we must know nothing about entire categories of things.
People assume a senior citizen would never like rap music or a teenager would never listen to Chopin.
People assume a straight man would never like flower arranging or a gay man would not be into motorcycles and pro football.
It’s funny when we think of breaking stereotypes like a fifteen year old starting a bridge club and a sixty year old starting a skateboarding club.
But it’s a lot less funny when we realize we’re judging each other’s potential for ministry.
It is so easy to assume that someone would not manifest a gift of the Spirit like preaching or teaching or pastoral care or stewardship because we have made a snap judgment of some kind.
But as the Bible so abundantly illustrates, the person we think least likely to teach a fantastic class or run a stellar stewardship campaign or comfort someone with gentle insight at a hospital bed may be exactly the person for the job.
As often as we underestimating each other, we are probably underestimating God.
And as often as we’re underestimating God, we’re underestimating ourselves.
God teaches us over and over again in the scriptures that the smallest and most unlikely of beginnings can end with the world being changed.
That is exactly what Jesus teaches us in the parable of the mustard seed.
The mustard seed is underestimated, we’ve seen that, just like so many of God’s servants and change agents in the Bible, just like so many of us.
But what is the difference between being underestimated and being judged rightly to have little potential?
The willingness to be changed.
When someone looks at us and sees mustard seeds—a tiny little church without much money, with a half-time priest—what do they expect out of us?
How will we prove them wrong?
By participating in God growing us into something great.
Think how different the original mustard seed is from the great plant it eventually grows into.
You would never know one came from the other.
But if the mustard seed had stubbornly hung onto its little shell and its tiny space and form and everything it knew, nothing would have happened.
It would have stayed sitting in a corner, pouting about how everyone underestimates it, but never letting go into the radical change necessary to grow into something great, but totally unrecognizable.
Growth can be a painful process. Growth requires change, and change requires both mourning the past but then being brave enough to go boldly forward into the future.
David, Samuel, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene—they were all mustard seeds.
No one expected anything out of them.
But they let God change them radically and they grew into greatness, greatness that inspires us, little mustard seeds today who haven’t yet sprouted.
What it comes down to is how badly you want it.
How badly do you want spiritual transformation as an individual?
What are you willing to give up, to change, to sacrifice, to experiment with, to try and to fail, for this church to grow and change?
Until we accept the radical change God is offering us if we but welcome it, we remain unsprouted seeds, fulfilling every negative prophecy anyone makes about us.
It reminds me of a poem by Charles Bukowski about embracing the process of change and growth. It’s called “Roll the Dice.”
I want you to listen to it and picture it as God’s dream for us:
“if you’re going to try, go all the way.
otherwise, don’t even start.
if you’re going to try, go all the way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.
go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your endurance,
Of how much you really want to do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
you can imagine.
if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with fire.
do it, do it, do it.
all the way
all the way.
you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, it’s
the only good fight
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