You remember the story: one by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, who is impressed with their height and bearing, and each time God says, “Not this one.” God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance [...]; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” Finally, after God has rejected each one present, Samuel asks Jesse if he has any more sons, and then the last and least is brought forward-the young David, with his beautiful eyes and ruddy, handsome looks. Samuel anoints him at God’s command, “and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
Consider all the things that Samuel cannot see and will never know about David and about the future of God’s people. Consider David’s complete ignorance of what lies ahead of him. And then, consider our own situation as God’s people in our present moment. How much can we see and understand about what lies ahead of us?
The news and the Internet are full of dire predictions for the future of the church. If we listen to those voices, we will hear that we are doomed to fail: the latest Pew Research report documents the rapid decline in American’s religious affiliation; denominations chart their own dwindling demographics; religious leaders and faithful members wring their hands and shake their heads over empty pews. We try to figure out how to make the Christian message “relevant” and church-going attractive. This is not a faithful response.
The Church is not going to die. Christianity will not cease to exist. Both have withstood far greater tests and strains than our current culture’s casual dismissal. When we look back over the story of God’s people, we are reminded that we are no longer led by tribal kings and that we no longer organize and express ourselves as did the early Christians of the Book of Acts. God’s plan for us is not something we can foresee, but we can do what Samuel did and get up to answer God’s call. We can remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “we walk by faith, not by sight. [...] So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”