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    Mar 22, 2020

    Look on the Heart (audio unavailable)

    Look on the Heart (audio unavailable)

    Speaker: Bethany Nelson

    Series: March 2020

    Category: Lent

    Audio of worship/sermon unavailable.

    We are going to pick up in the middle of a story with this scripture reading, so let me set the scene for you.  Before the passage we will hear today, God had called a man named Saul to be king, and God had told the prophet Samuel anoint Saul as king.  Samuel and Saul ended up developing quite a close relationship – Samuel became like a father figure to Saul.  However, Saul was not the greatest king, and God came to regret having chosen Saul to be king.  Eventually, God asked Samuel tell Saul that God had rejected Saul as king.  No one said the life of a prophet was easy!

    Our story picks up after Samuel has given the difficult news to Saul, and he now has to anoint the new king that God has chosen to replace Saul.

    1 Samuel 16:1-5

    The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

    Look on the Heart

    At this point, each of Jesse’s sons gets paraded in front of Samuel.  Samuel first looks upon Eliab and is sure that he is the one God has chosen to be king.  We can assume that Eliab was tall, strong, and good looking.  Excellent king material.  But God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Remember that line … we are going to return to that later.

    Jesse then brings forward his next son, Abinadab, but God has not chosen him.

    Next is Shammah, but God has not chosen him.

    Seven of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel tells Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”

    Let’s pause here for a moment.  Imagine being one of these seven sons – thinking you might have a chance to be king, and then not being chosen.  What a disappointment!  One might read this passage and start to wonder what it felt like for them to be rejected by God.  However, it is important to note that God was not rejecting them as people.  Instead, God simply did not choose them to be king.  That doesn’t mean that God didn’t choose them for something else.  As much as we might think we want it, we can’t all be king.  But we can all be the wonderful, unique individuals that God chooses and calls us to be.  It can be incredibly disappointing when we want to do or be something and it doesn’t work out – for whatever reason.  We can feel rejected.  But what if we are simply being chosen for something else?

    There could an entire sermon there, but I want to finish the story.  Maybe I will preach that another time.

    After Samuel has seen the seven sons, he asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

    Jesse says that his youngest son is left, but he is out keeping the sheep.  Samuel asks Jesse to send for him at once.  When this youngest son arrives, the narrator of the story describes him saying, “He was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” God tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Samuel takes the horn of oil and anoints David in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.

    I want to return to the line I mentioned earlier – “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Now, intellectually, we know how important it is to look on the heart.  We have all kinds of sayings encouraging and reminding us of the importance of looking past outward appearance.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”  “It’s what’s inside that counts!”  We know that people are about so much more than what they look like.  And yet, we are so trained by our culture to be concerned with our outward appearances.  Even the narrator of this story, gets caught up in outward appearances.  The narrator has just told us how the tall and handsome older sons of Jesse were not chosen to be king because God looks not on the outward appearance but on the heart.  And then, what are the first words he uses to describe David?  Not, “he was kind” or “he had wonderful leadership potential.”  No, the first thing we hear about David is, “He had beautiful eyes and was handsome.”  Wait, didn’t you just tell us that is NOT what is important to God?  It is hard to not get caught up in outward appearances.  We are so conditioned to do so.

    I have just finished a memoir by Glennon Doyle called “Untamed.”  She covers all sorts of topics the book, but her main theme is the importance of women breaking out of the metaphorical cages that society has trained them to live in.  One of these cages is body image.  She tells many different stories from her life, in the book.  I want including this one about her daughter, Tish.

    “When Tish was nine, she and I went to our favorite bookstore together.  As we walked inside, Tish stopped and stared at a magazine rack – a wall of cover models, each blonder, thinner, and more vacant than the last.  All ghosts and dolls.  Tish stared.  As usual, I was tempted to distract her, hurry her along, put it all behind us.  But these messages cannot be put behind us, because they are everywhere.  Either we leave our kids alone to make sense of them, or we wade in with them.  I put my arm around Tish, and we quietly looked at the covers together for a moment.

    ME: Interesting, isn’t it? What story are they telling you about what it means to be a woman?

    TISH: I guess that women are very skinny.  And blond.  And have white pale skin.  And wear a lot of makeup and tall shoes and barely any clothes.

    ME: What do you think about that story?  Look around this store.  Do the women in this store match the idea about women these magazines are selling?

    Tish looked around.  A gray-haired employee was straightening books near us. A Latina woman was flipping through a paperback on a memoir table.  A very pregnant woman with blue punky hair was wrangling with a cookie-eating toddler.

    TISH: No. Not at all.

    We drove home, and Tish disappeared into her room.  Fifteen minutes later, she opened her door and yelled down the stairs, “MOM! HOW DO YOU SPELL PETITION?”  I googled it.  Hard word.

    A little while later, she came downstairs to the kitchen holding a handmade poster. She cleared her throat and began to read:


    Dear world, this is a petition to show that I, Tish Melton, strongly feel that magazines should not show beauty is most important on the outside.  It is not.  I think magazines should show girls who are strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, unique, and show women of all different types of hair and bodies.”[i]

    There is a girl who is seeing as God sees.  She is looking on the heart – hearts that are strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, and unique.  I hope that we can learn from her example and do the same. 

    This is an interesting scripture passage to consider when we aren’t really seeing much of anyone in person right now.  But what a perfect time to practice looking on the heart.  If someone is a little snippy on the phone or in an email, how might we look past the outward appearance and look on the heart?  Perhaps that person is especially worried about a family member who might be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus.  How might we tend to their anxious heart?  If someone doesn’t return an email or a phone call in a timely matter, how might we look past the outward appearance and look on the heart?  Perhaps that person is trying to work full-time from home while supervising children utterly confused by their home-school assignments.  How might we tend to their overwhelmed heart?  If someone is being incredibly annoying with their complaining, how might we look past the outward appearance and look on the heart?  Perhaps that person just lost their job because the small business where they were working had to close, and now they don’t know how they will pay the bills or put food on the table.  How might we tend to their devastated heart?  By the way, those are not made-up examples.  Each of those is someone I have interacted with this past week.  Looking on the heart is certainly about learning to move past our societal standards of outward beauty, as young Tish learned.  But it is also about meeting people where their hearts are, just as God does. 

    This does not mean that we condone harmful, hurtful, or abusive behavior.  That is never OK.  But, especially in our current very challenging times, may we look on the heart of each other and offer just a little bit more grace, kindness, and love.  Amen.


    [i] “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle, pp. 171-172.