As you read last week with Jody… Samuel was called by God to be a prophet, to speak to and lead the people of Israel. As a matter of fact, Samuel was last of the leaders in Israel we call judges
The Judges were a series of leaders who came after Joshua, who led after Moses. God used these women and men to unify the people, get them to repent, deal with the spiritual problems of the nation, and also deal with the physical threat.
They are sometimes military leaders who know how to mobilize the nation for war against an enemy, but their real power lies in their knowledge of the Torah and ability to adjudicate Jewish law. Like Deborah and Samson before him, Samuel was a combination of prophet, judge and warrior.
In his early years, Samuel would travel the land, adjudicating the law, and giving people advice. But as happens as we humans age, there came a time he just couldn’t do it all any more. His two sons, who were meant to take over for Samuel, they were corrupt and not surprisingly -unpopular with the people.
Meanwhile, the people of Israel realized that the series of wars they were engaged in with the prior inhabitants of the Promised Land weren’t going to end any time soon. They thought maybe things would go better if they had the same kind of political ruler that the nations around them had.
So a delegation was dispatched to ask Samuel to anoint a king instead:
And the the people said [to Samuel] “Behold, you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now set up for us a king to judge us like all the nations. And the thing was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel …” (1 Samuel, 8:5-7)
Samuel doesn’t want to do it, but God tells him to go ahead and find a king for the people. I always imagine God saying to Samuel, something like “Yep. Bad idea. You know it, I know it, but they clearly need to see it for themselves…Let’s do it”
And so the Time of Judges comes to a close.
Samuel functioned as a leader for 13 years, the last two of them co-leading with the first king of the Jewish people. That first king – whom Samuel grudgingly anointed- was named Saul. Saul was indeed a great warrior. And he unified the people. Saul made mostly good – but sometimes problematic – decisions.
Then he usurped Samuel’s priestly role. And he helped himself to some of the spoils of war, essentially disqualifying himself from the job. Samuel told Saul as much, but he wasn’t happy about it. So things are more than a little tense.
So to recap as we head into our passage for today (1 Samuel 16:1-13):
Israel wanted a king. God gave them one. Along with their king, Israel now has palace intrigue and a brewing violent conflict over succession.
When Saul became King there was an interesting mixed reaction. Saul himself tried to hide from all the attention, but Samuel was having none of that. (1 Samuel 10:23-24; 26-27).
By all appearances Saul would be a great king – and he did have a good start. But those who knew him best – those who really knew him – they didn’t think so highly of him.
Yet, even when Saul failed miserably due to a lack of integrity and faithfulness, Samuel mourned the loss of his reign. But God knew it was time to move on and told Samuel as much. God chose a new king and Samuel was sent to anoint him.
Actually, the Hebrew phrase translated “I have provided for myself” Is more directly read as “I have seen” for myself a king. God has seen, has a close eye on, the King that God wants Samuel to anoint. And now Samuel must listen closely, because his human vision stops at the surface.
Kind of like our vision can be lacking as we look around us… I ran across an interesting story along these lines. It’s about a woman named Rita Belle and a man- Richard Walters. They met at a senior center, a mission in downtown Phoenix for the poor and homeless where Rita worked.
Richard was more reserved, but Rita was outgoing. She spent time talking with him, and they became friends. He had never married, didn’t have children, and was estranged from his brother. He told her he had no home and slept on the grounds of the senior center. Richard ate at the hospital and used a telephone there when needed.
What Rita couldn’t see when she looked at Richard… What Rita didn’t know… was that he was a retired engineer; an honors graduate of Purdue with a Masters degree; and a Marine. In time, Richard became ill. Rita became his nurse and ultimately the executor of his estate.
Here’s the thing… it turns out that Richard Walters was wealthy.
He left behind 4 million dollars, which was given to places like the senior center.
Among his few possessions was a radio. If you listen to NPR, you may have heard an announcement like this:
“Support for NPR comes from the estate of Richard Leroy Walters, whose life was enriched by NPR, and whose bequest seeks to encourage others to discover public radio.”
See, Mr. Walters left close to half a million dollars to NPR. But no-one, not even Rita, would have imagined it. The way someone appears doesn’t tell the whole story. We are sometimes taken in by the appearances of others.
As author Agatha Christie once wrote, “The human face is, after all, nothing more nor less than a mask.”
When we judge by appearance, we can give credit to those who don’t deserve it, and we can fail to acknowledge those who deserve to be encouraged. Deciding who is worthy of our love and friendship based on outward appearances is an all-too-common problem for humans.
Pre-judging someone has a name – prejudice. We often think of prejudice as primarily about race, but we can find ourselves discriminating or facing exclusion based on gender, primary language or an accent, jewelry or headgear that expresses religious beliefs differing from ours, or body shape, age, or even the way we dress.
We know not it’s not right to judge a book by its cover, but I do it anyway…
Anyone else in that boat with me?
Sometimes, we get to know someone just a little… and after learning one fact or hearing one story….we paint an entire picture of who we think they are…Never really seeing, much less getting to know, the real person within.
That’s not the way that God sees you.
That’s not the way that God sees me.
And that is very good news.
That’s also not the way that God saw David
God looks on the heart.
And God being a God of relationships, looks with the heart.
God saw in David’s heart the makings of a king:
He was not the oldest
He was not the tallest or strongest
He was young and ruddy and the last person Samuel would have chosen, even if David had come through earlier in the parade of sons.
This is why God needed Samuel to stop mourning Saul and listen closely.
It was time to stop looking backwards, to the past…
God was ready to do a new thing. Again.
For Samuel to get this right, he was going to need to connect with God’s heart.
To hear God’s voice over his own internal dialogue
This required the prophet to do the same work we must do in our hearts.
To connect to our hearts to God’s and hear God’s voice more clearly,
We must cultivate the habits of confession…
Of confessing our awareness of our own habits and sin
Of confessing our earnest desire to clear away the clutter that threatens to separate us from God.
We must cultivate an attitude of prayer that comes from faith, not fear
We must cultivate a life of prayer that flows out of a deep trust in the God who created us, and who loves us best.
Because when we can open our hearts to God, leaving them fully open to God’s love and grace, then we can live fully into the people God made us to be
Our work is offering God open and honest confession, seeking to be free
God’s work is beautifully described in our Psalm reading for today
God creates in each of us a new heart
God puts in us a new and right Spirit
God does the work of renewal, renovation and restoration.
God brings us into relationship and brings us back… over and over again.
We see this more clearly… more tangibly… in the descriptions we have been given in the gospels of the way Jesus lived and moved among people. Even after his reputation grew and crowds began to follow him or to come out to meet him in the villages and towns he visited, Jesus’ ministry was all about powerful encounters with individual men and women.
He would see or hear someone
He would call them out of the crowd
He would look them in the eye
Jesus could be so aggressively personal as to be invasive. And… his personal interaction was never restricted by human societal expectations of which people a good Jewish rabbi should be around
He saw people.
I’m sure the fully human side saw the lepers’ sores, the twisted forms of the paralytics and epileptics, the hard lines of pain etching into the faces of the women forced into difficult labor or selling their bodies to survive.
And, I would imagine, there was a part of him that recoiled, a fully human part of him that wanted to look away or pull back and look at the crowd as a sea of indistinguishable faces.
But the divine in him?
No, the divine in Jesus always looked beyond the outward appearance
Beyond the human reasons to turn away, to exclude and to deny
The divine heart that beat within Jesus Christ looked to each of their faces and then looked at their hearts, and he saw in every single one of them the heart of a beautiful and beloved child of his own father God.
He ate with them
Drank with them
Mourned and partied with them
Jesus saw their sorrows, their pain, their needs
He heard their desires
He gave them hope
He restored and renewed those broken hearts
He made a way for each of them to rejoin the community
He loved them.
In the same ineffable, undeniable, indefatigable way that you and I are loved.
And then he commanded us to do likewise.
Doggone that Jesus.
He commanded us to do that very same thing.
That very hard, very personal thing.
Not theoretically, but tangibly
Regardless of what our neighbors look or smell or sound like.
But remember, it’s more than just the outward appearance…
What we think we know about someone can shape the way we see them, too. An article circulated a while back about an experiment that Canon – the camera manufacturers – conducted.
They wanted to explore the power of perspective in portrait photography. So they enlisted the help of 6 photographers and asked them each to independently shoot portraits of a man named Michael.
But as in every experiment, there was a variable. A twist: each photographer was told something different about Michael’s background. The photographers were told that Michael was: a self-made millionaire, someone who has saved a life, an ex-inmate, a commercial fisherman, a self-proclaimed psychic, or a recovering alcoholic.
Meanwhile, Michael, an actor, did his best to take on some of the personality of each character. Enough to make it believable.
They shot their photos in the same studio with the same props, but the six sittings produced radically different results. The choices made by the photographers – poses, angles, lighting, even their interaction with Michael – had at least as much impact on the images as the actor and his physical being.
They thought they knew who they were seeing in front of them, but that knowledge was incomplete. The photographers had just enough information to put Michael into a category or stereotype. Their decisions were based on a surface understanding of who he was, almost like a label.
In a culture that would break us into demographic segments competing for resources and attention, power and influence, we are called to look beyond those outward labels, beyond the markers that separate US and THEM
We are called to look beyond
Left and Right
Blue and Red
Old and Young
Traditional and Emergent
North and South
Black and White
Right and Wrong
We who call ourselves Christians must live into this truth:
We are made in the image of God, who looked past the outward appearance to the heart.
We are made in the image of God in Christ, who humbled himself, setting aside a comfortable seat in power, and taking on the form of an infant, became vulnerable:
Became the target of ethnic cleansing
Became a refugee
Became a poor carpenter in a minority enclave
And he obediently modeled and taught the way of love that eventually meant his death at the hands of the Empire.
We are made in the image of God…
And we are made in the very human image of the Son of God…
Who felt the tug of a hand at the edge of his robe even while the crowd pressed in all around him
Who saw Zacchaeus up in the trees and joined the little tax collector for dinner
Who told the woman at the well every little detail about her life because he knew her heart was thirsty for living water
We are – each of us- image-bearers.
And we are – together as the church – the embodiment of Christ- the ultimate image of God.
Each and all of us are called to see more than skin deep, to look beyond the labels
We are called to see and restore and defend the dignity and humanity of each of God’s beloved children
And we are called to trust that sometimes, God will surprise us,
Pointing us to people we least expect
Speaking through those we would choose to ignore
Leading through those we would prefer not to follow
We are called to look beyond the outward appearance and using the hearts that God graciously, consistently and patiently cleans restores and renews within us,
We are commanded to follow in Christ’s way of love.