I Samuel 16: 1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In much of the world, there is a big difference between greeting someone sitting down, and greeting someone standing up. Stay standing up when you greet someone at their house or in their courtyard, and you can take your leave whenever you wish. Sit down in the premises of the person you are visiting, upon their invitation of course, and you can take your leave whenever they wish. In today’s passage from I Samuel 16, Samuel came to Jesse on God’s urgent business, to anoint a new king over Israel. So, Samuel told Jesse, David’s father, “We will not sit down until he arrives,” Until David, the youngest son, that is.
God is still about this very urgent, important business: finding, preparing and anointing the royalty who will rule the earth. But don’t look for them on the covers of the celebrity magazines in the check-out aisle of the grocery story. Yes, there’s a royal wedding coming up soon I’ve been told, somewhere in London, I presume. I don’t know; I didn’t get an invitation yet. But the royal wedding to which all of us have been invited will dwarf anything you’ll see at Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral. John’s Revelation calls it “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” And we are the Bride. The Bride, the church, is also called a holy nation and a royal priesthood.
I remember the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana some thirty-odd years ago. It was an extravagant display of beauty: beautiful setting, beautiful ceremony, beautiful people, all the more beautiful for their youth, wealth and power. From some of the weddings I have celebrated ever since, I get the impression that that royal wedding set a bar by which some couples are still trying to do their wedding ceremonies today. That’s why our church’s wedding policy encourages couples to go easy on themselves and their credit cards.
God is just as concerned about beauty as are we. God is the original creator and artist, after all. As God prepares his royalty for the wedding Feast of the Lamb, the wedding of heaven and earth, God is also arranging everything for maximum splendor and beauty. But we must remember what Jesus said about how God sees beauty and glory: that “The things that mortals honor are often despised by God, and the things that God honors are often despised by mortals.” And as for royalty, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” said Jesus, perhaps because they most appreciate the earth.
You wouldn’t know that watching the news, as armies and air forces clash, as rebellions rise around the world and as brutal dictators try to put them down at all costs. A neighbor recently confided to me that all the wars and uprisings around the world of late leave him feeling quite powerless. I agreed. “Powerlessness” is the feeling that makes me sigh when I open up the newspaper or watch the news anymore.
But “powerless” is also a word that I wager would describe the feelings of people who should feel anything but powerless, people who, with a telephone call are able to send fighter jets and battle ships into action, and expect things to happen according to their wishes. Or at least to switch off nuclear power plants. All this power at our disposal, and why do we feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? You know, the young man in the folk tale, or the mouse in the Disney Fantasia cartoon, who set in motion powerful forces that he couldn’t stop?
For centuries our race has chased the glitter and glory of wealth, weapons and titles, in a desperate search for security and worth, only to find increasingly that they lead us down a blind alley. Yet we must respect our need for security and worth, because God made us with those needs. Now, more than ever, we need new understandings of where to find security and worth. More likely, we need to rediscover the older ways of finding security and worth. God spoke of them to the Prophet Samuel, when he said, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
We have harvested the power of fossil fuels, and they threaten now to cook us and to drown us. We have harvested the power of the atom, and it won’t stay in the reactor. Our powers of warfare and weaponry dwarf, by far, our powers to make peace or to keep it. Every military solution becomes tomorrow’s cause for war. But there are power we have yet to harness, powers by which God is renewing Creation, powers hidden in the human heart, that God sees and values more than anyone of us.
God saw such power and beauty in David, the youngest son of Jesse, who tended the family’s sheep. No coincidence there; it is the power of a shepherd’s heart, a shepherd who would take on a lion and a bear to protect his flock. It is love, like that of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for his flock. The Bible describes David as “a man after God’s heart,” yes. But the record also reveals him as a scoundrel, an adulterer and even a murderer. Evidently, God saw more in David’s heart than David ever even saw in himself in those times when he gave in to temptation.
God still sees more in us than we often see in ourselves. Or in others. For we are trained, from childhood on, to judge and evaluate ourselves and each other by all sorts of external and temporary criteria. Like youth. Or weight. Or age, income, class, language, color, talents, accent and clothing. As for clothing, I emailed one of the main designer label fashion companies this week to ask how much they would pay me to wear their name, rather than me paying so much to wear their name. Doesn’t that make more sense, that designer label companies should be paying us to advertise their names? But they didn’t respond. So, why is paying to wear their names a sign of status? Unless its connected to the price they charged for the label?
This all began as far back as when our first ancestors said Yes to the first snake in the grass who told us that we can know good from evil apart from knowing God. From knowing good from evil we’ve gone on to knowing better from worse, as in, “Who’s better than me? And Who’s worse than me?” We compare ourselves not with the unchangeable standard of God Almighty, but by the ever-changing, fluctuating standards of each other, like currencies on the global market, fluctuating in value based on perceptions, perceptions of their status, their strength and their popularity. When we do that to ourselves and each other, in reference to ourselves and each other, we are left with fear and insecurity. As someone else has said, “Whenever we ask, ‘How do I rate?’ that’s all we get: irate.”
The good news today is that God looks at the heart, not at the designer label we wear, nor the Rolex watch, and views us by another standard of worth, beauty and value than the brutal and expensive ones by which we too often judge ourselves and each other, and find everyone wanting. The things that God values and treasures, which make of us true royalty, are such things as, simply put, how and who God made us to be.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” said David in the Psalm. And God delights in his creation.
And there is the person whom God is making us to be, emerging, like the ceramic artwork on this altar, through three other things that God values in us: the three greatest things that Paul identified in I Corinthians 13: faith; hope and love.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” we read in Hebrews 11, “for everyone who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him.” Its like with marriage, friendship or even business; they flounder without trust. If you tell a friend, “Tomorrow I’ll help you move to a new apartment,” how will you feel if he asks you, “Is that really true?” How much more does the One whose name is Faithful and True value our trust in his word? Does God not have the right to value all the more our faith in his promises, and his power to deliver?
It stands to reason then, that if we trust God and God’s promises, we will have hope in this life and the next. And that we will act on that hope in love. For God is love. The glory, splendor and beauty to God of these attributes and actions will be revealed on the day when God will have finished making all things new, including us. In fact, I believe that it is through our faith, hope and love that God is making all things new, including us. Last year, Becky and I saw the splendor and beauty of all the plants and flowers at the Macy’s Spring Plant and Flower show. I recommend it as therapy for the long, brutal winter we have endured. Its a foretaste of the spring that is coming; have faith! In our lives and labors of faith, hope and love, we too are planting seeds from which we will reap the fruits and enjoy the beauty, in what we will have become, after the beautiful and holy image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So even as we age and lose the bloom and vigor of youth, there could well be another kind of beauty emerging in us, in spite of the wrinkles, the worry lines, the crow’s feet, the stretch marks, the bent back, the cranky joints and the age spots. Or just as likely, the wrinkles, worry lines, crows’ feet, stretch marks, bent back, cranky joints and age spots could even be signs of beauty, in as much as they were earned by years of caring, by loving, by serving, sharing, hosting, giving, praying and trusting. But its a beauty that God alone sees in full, in the heart, beauty we will see in full only on that day when all secrets are revealed, and we shall know, even as we are known. So let’s suspend all the usual worldly judgments of who’s better, who’s worse, who’s up, who’s down, who’s lovely, who’s ugly, who’s weak, who’s strong, who’s in, and who’s out, and trust God to honor us even as we honor God first and foremost.
If we’re still looking for something to give up for Lent, how about this: That we give up the old worldly way of seeing power, worth, or better and worse, and open ourselves to a new way of seeing, or rather, the old one of Samuel the Seer, or more simply put, God’s way of seeing ourselves and each other. Like giving up chocolate or coffee for Lent, it may leave us feeling empty and hungry for a while, as though we were giving up a piece of ourselves, or at least, part of our identity. For that is how we often identify ourselves. I’m a Vikings fan. Or not. I’m a coffee drinker. Or not. I’m a Calvin Klein or a Tommy Hilfiger person. Or not.
Yet none of those things really define us. They may entertain us. Or enslave us. But they are not our identity. Nor are they our beauty, worth and security. Inasmuch as we are the meek whom Jesus called “blessed,” inasmuch as our hearts hold something of Jesus’ faith, hope and love, we are secure, we are beautiful and we are royalty, at least, royalty in the making.
So let’s be gracious and patient with ourselves and each other. Because everyone we meet could be a surprise in the making, royalty in rags, a prince who looks and talks like a pauper for now, a frog awaiting an expression of love to become the king he really was all along, even those who tax our patience the most. The normal worldly standards by which we usually judge ourselves and each other and find everyone wanting have little to do with what God looks for and sees in us and treasures. If I haven’t explained myself very well, well, what I’m trying to say is better said in a song that was popular at the evangelistic meetings of Dwight L. Moody more than a century ago, “When The Mist Has Rolled Away:”
When the mists have rolled in splendor from the beauty of the hills,
And the sunlight falls in gladness on the rivers and the rills,
We’ll recall our Father’s promise in the rainbow of the spray,
We shall know each other better when the mists have rolled away.
We shall know as we are known, never more to walk alone
On the glory of that morning, on that bright and happy day
We shall know each other better when the mist has rolled away.
We shall come with joy and gladness as we gather round the throne,
Face to face with those who love us, we shall know as we are known.
And the song of our redemption shall resound through endless day,
When the shadows have departed and the mist has rolled away.