This sermon was preached on October 20, 2013 at Winnetka Presbyterian Church. My text was 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and you can hear the sermon below.[audio:http://www.pomomusings.com/wp-content/mp3/Give-Me-Your-Eyes.mp3]
You’d think God would have made it a little bit easier…God tells Samuel, “I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.” I would think that Samuel’s initial response might be, “Okay…you want to tell me his name…? Or at least give me a clue…?” Instead, he was thinking more about the big picture…how could he possibly go and anoint a new king while Saul was still alive and acting as king. That just wasn’t how you did things. But I think I would have jumped to the more basic question: “okay, who is it? You picked a king…then, tell me who it is.”
But…Samuel did what the Lord instructed. He went to Bethlehem in search of the next king of Israel, and he didn’t really have much information other than the fact that the king would be one of the sons of Jesse, who lived in Bethlehem. Not a lot of information to go on, but…he heads out on this quest nevertheless.
If you think about it…that’s kind of how God rolls…God tells Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you…” and Abram goes. He trusts that he’ll get some more information along the way, or that God will in fact show him the land that he’s called to go to. Jesus tells his would-be disciples to drop their nets and follow him…and they do. Just like that.
And I’m guessing there are some of you who have experienced God in that way before. Perhaps you had a sense that God was saying “Do this” or “Go to this college” or “Get to know this person” or “Take that job…” and you didn’t have a whole lot of information otherwise…You didn’t know how the story was going to end, but you took that step of faith to begin that journey…
And so Samuel begins his journey. Eventually we see that he’s presented with the sons of Jesse…and it’s not hard to see who God meant to be king…I mean, just look at Eliab. Tall. Strong. Kingly looking, kind of looked like Saul…just the kind of guy you’d want to serve as a judge over the Israelites, and more importantly, the type of guy who you could really follow into battle. Well, that was easy. The text tells us that Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, “That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.”
We can guess that maybe Jesse made Eliab stand in front because even Jesse knew that this wasn’t going to be too tough of a choice. As he rounded up his sons, and prepared them all to go to the sacrifice, he had been thinking there were a few contenders among his boys…but, Eliab clearly stood above the rest in so many ways. If there was a king to be found here, Eliab was the one.
And yet, Eliab was not the one. For the Lord said to Samuel: “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” The Message paraphrases God’s statement to Samuel in this way: “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”
And so, just as Samuel needed to work on his hearing and listening when he was initially called by God, now he has to work on his sight and vision now…he has to try to see with God’s eyes.
And so one by one…Jesse’s sons are presented to Samuel and we see that none are up to the task of becoming the next king. You have to imagine that Jesse would be getting pretty nervous by the time we get to his seventh son…and still, nope. Not the one. Samuel must have been a bit confused as well, because he asks “Is that all of your boys?” And then Jesse must confess…”No, there is still the youngest one. But…he’s out keeping the sheep. He’s watching over sheep…certainly not the task of the next king of Israel…why would you want to see him? Take my word for it…he’s not the one.” But Samuel says, “Send for him.”
And then we see David. Ruddy. Good-looking. With beautiful eyes. Other translations tell us that he is handsome, that he was a “fine boy” and tanned. My favorite is perhaps the King James Version which says that David was “ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.” And as soon as David appears, the Lord says to Samuel, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.”
Now, I have to tell you that when I was first reading this text this past week, it seemed that God might have been speaking out of both side’s of God’s metaphorical mouth. At first God says, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature…God doesn’t look at things like humans do…” but…hey. Look at THIS handsome young man – that’s the one! That’s the one I want! That’s who I choose. Anoint him now!” But, I appreciated how one commentator addressed this:
“The ruddy youngest was fetched from the flock he was shepherding. The boy with beautiful eyes passed by them all and, even knowing that God was looking internally, Samuel (or the narrator) could not help but comment on the lad’s appearance. The beauty of one’s heart, the loveliness of one’s soul surpasses its physical container and is often seen through its portal to the world: one’s eyes. David’s name was finally used and he was anointed” (Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 3816-3819). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
We see that while David did have good looks, God saw something within…God looked deeper than humans often look, deeper than David’s father, Jesse, had looked…and saw that David was the one to lead God’s people.
And that’s one thing I love about this story…it’s a helpful reminder that we should constantly be striving to look with God’s eyes, to look deeper than the surface…how many times throughout our days do we see people, and make judgments and assumptions about them just by a quick glance…and yet, we are told to look beneath the surface. You know, it’s the whole proverbial, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
And that’s why I titled this sermon, “Give Me Your Eyes” – because I thought that perhaps this might have been Samuel’s prayer as he began his journey to find the next king of Israel. God hadn’t given him a lot to work with, and so Samuel may have been praying for the vision of God to help him find the right person for the job. And it’s certainly something we would all do well to pray from time to time…God, give me YOUR eyes…give us YOUR eyes, that we would see people as YOU see them, that we would love people like YOU love them…
But as I was finishing up this sermon, all of a sudden, something stood out to me even more, and it was when I read this verse again: “Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” As I read that verse this week, and as I’ve heard it over the years, I’ve always thought it was pretty comforting…it’s good to know that God doesn’t look at us and judge us as the world does…God looks into our heart. God sees into our hearts…God knows our thoughts…God truly knows us.
And then the more I thought about that, the more terrifying that idea became to me. God looks into my heart? God sees into my heart? I’m not always sure that I want God to know everything that’s going on in my heart…
And that’s when it hit me. God saw into David’s heart. David, the youngest son of Jesse, comes up from keeping the sheep, and God looks upon him and sees into his heart. And I’m sure that God did not see a perfect heart. Sure he may have been king material, and he may have had beautiful eyes which were a window into the beauty of his heart…but, we all know that David’s heart was not perfect. We know the rest of the story, and the ways in which David would stray from God’s path. We are reminded of the David and Bathsheba story, how David would commit adultery with Bathsheba and would then send her husband into battle to his death…
While David sought to follow God throughout his life, his reign as king was certainly not perfect by any means. And yet, the pace of our story this morning seems to suggest that God didn’t miss a beat in looking upon and then choosing David. David shows up and before Samuel, Jesse, David or anyone can say anything, God says, “That’s the one! Go anoint him!” God didn’t look upon David’s heart, weigh the pros and cons of choosing him, think through all of the good decisions that David would make, and the awful ones, and really have to do some serious discernment…God saw David, and said, “That’s the one!”
And as I read this story – I was once again reminded of the amazing grace that we receive from God. The fact that God sees into our hearts…that God knows us, knows the parts of our lives that are beautiful, and the parts of our lives that are messy…that God accepts the ways in which we seek to love and serve God, and the ways in which we have turned away from God and sought our own ways.
So yes we need to pray, “God, give us your eyes” that we might see as God sees, that we might love as God loves, that we might live our lives with the same radically inclusive spirit that Jesus modeled throughout his life…that we might extend grace to those around us.
But we also need to accept God’s grace for ourselves…we need to accept the fact that when God looks into OUR hearts, when God sees us as we truly are, with all of our accomplishments and failings, with all of our grand successes and utter failures, with all of our loving and kind thoughts and with all those things that we wish God didn’t hear and see and know, we need to accept the fact that God will still see us and, without giving it a second thought, will say, “You’re the one! You’re who I want…you’re who I choose.”