The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost –
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul.35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Sermon: “Looking on the Heart”
Andy Richter, Conan O’Brien’s sidekick on his talk show, recently ran an ad for a new fitness tracker he’s developing. See what you think.
Conan and company are having a bit of fun with the Fitbit, a piece of wearable technology that, among other things, can track steps walked per day, calories burned, distance travelled, quality of sleep, stairs climbed, active minutes, and heart rate.
As the so-called “commercial” implies, some may get just a tad obsessed with their Fitbit. We forget what technology can and cannot see.
Here’s how Rabbi David Wolpe put it.
A little over a year ago my daughter told me how my Apple iPhone counts my steps each day. I had lived in blissful ignorance of this invention. Now I check my steps, wonder… how many steps I am ‘missing,” and generally have found an entirely new field to uselessly obsess over.
Yet there is no scale for tenderness or affection. You cannot calibrate kindness. No matter how sophisticated our instruments, there is no computation for creativity, for love, or for the depth of a human heart.
All of which brings us to today’s Scripture lesson, a reminder that there are things beyond the ability of even the best of our technology to measure.
From its earliest years in Canaan, twelve tribes made up Israel. They’d come together for protection or to celebrate their faith, but then go their separate ways again.
Somewhere along the line all that changed. The old model wasn’t up to the challenges they faced from neighboring nations. The Israelites decided that they wanted a king.
Samuel, the last great judge and prophet of Israel, eventually gave in to them, but not without warning about what kingship would mean.
God gave the people their way as well and had Samuel anoint Saul as king over a less than united kingdom of Israel.
Saul looked like a king. Too bad he didn’t act like one. Saul made some bad choices, among them disobeying God’s direct command. So, scripture says, God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to find a replacement.
“Fill your horn with oil and set out; I’ll send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I’ve provided for myself a king among his sons.” (I Samuel 16:1b)
Jesse and his sons showed up as invited. There was just one problem, though. Which one had God picked?
Eliab, the oldest, was Saul the Second—tall, strong, and handsome. Samuel thought he was the one. God didn’t. “The LORD doesn’t see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance. The LORD looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
Jesse’s other sons came forward, one by one. God turned thumbs down on each of them in turn. At this rate, King Saul had nothing to worry about.
Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he’s keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we won’t sit down until he comes here.” Jesse sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” (1 Samuel 16:10-12)
God would never choose a king based on looks and strengths. But if the one chosen for all the right reasons just happened to be good-looking, too—well, Scripture says, that’s okay. Which means, I guess, that George Clooney can join St. John’s anytime he wants.
Despite his “beautiful eyes,” David was an unlikely choice. For one thing, he was the youngest son, and a shepherd at that. God was ignoring all the usual requirements for power and influence in the ancient world.
Then there was David’s family tree. His father was Jesse, and Jesse’s grandmother was Ruth, an immigrant Moabite woman. The Moabites were one of Israel’s most hated enemies.
In fact, the book of Genesis traces the Moabites back to the two daughters of Lot. After the fall of Sodom, they got their father drunk and became pregnant by him. Their children, in turn, founded Moab.
Things weren’t much better for Jesse’s Grandpa Boaz. His ancestors included Tamar, a Canaanite woman almost executed for adultery, and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho.
That kind of royal family tree would have been a deal killer for anyone else, but not for God. “The LORD doesn’t see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
Just as Samuel did, so we, too, must look beyond appearances to grapple with the concerns and needs of the human heart. An example of that has been in the headlines.
Two-thousand children have been torn from their parents’ arms at America’s southern border. The leadership of the UCC sent out a pastoral letter this week sharing their concern:
As people of God committed to the sacredness of all creation and the sanctity of every life, we are compelled to heed the cries of families now being violently torn apart at our borders for political expediency and profitability.
Such violent acts are unnecessarily punitive and place at risk the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and developmental stability of hundreds of families who now find themselves separated, caged, and commodified in a strange land.
This isn’t just a matter of the UCC going out on a theological limb. Here are some of the other Christian voices who spoke up this week.
✓ “While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety,” Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
✓ “Disgraceful,” the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, said in a Tuesday interview. “It’s terrible to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit.”
✓ “Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children,” reads a statement signed by Bishop Kenneth Carter, president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.
I can’t imagine Jesus endorsing this policy. I can only imagine it making him weep. Scripture never said that the law of the land is the will of God.
✓ If that were the case, Paul would never have had to write letters from prison or died in Rome.
✓ Peter never would have died, either, crucified upside down.
✓ Christians martyrs would have recanted their faith and gone home to worship the Emperor.
✓ Martin Luther would never have struck the spark that roared into life as the Protestant Reformation.
✓ For that matter, Jesus would have died peacefully of old age, surrounded by children and grandchildren, a quiet carpenter in a backwoods town.
We must see as God would have us see, and act as God would have us act. Sometimes, it won’t be easy.
It can mean pulling a reluctant prophet out of the past and pushing him into God’s future. It can mean turning a shepherd’s life upside down. It can mean protesting policies that run families through a governmental meat grinder.
God’s justice and power shake our lives down to their very foundations. Then, on those same foundations, they build new life and hope we’d scarcely dreamed possible.
We see that hope in a shepherd pulled from his father’s flocks to be a king. We see it in cross and tomb and in resurrection victory. We see it in our own lives whenever we tear ourselves away from the regrets and pains of the past and embrace the future that God even now calls forth.
May God open our eyes, that we may meet the challenges of our time just as Samuel and David met the challenges of theirs.