I Samuel 16:1-13
I don't remember the grade exactly, but I do remember the moment of revelation. Up until then recess had been a time of a soccer game with no boundaries – literally there was no out of bounds. We'd run and run and run until someone scored a goal or the bell rang when we would file back into the building red-faced, sweaty and panting. Our game always began on the field where two boys would pick the teams. It was never said out loud, but everyone understood that they got to pick because they were the best at soccer.
I was usually the 1st girl chosen after the boys, sometimes second after Dawn who was a fleet forward compared to my willing but slow soccer speed.
But on this day on the playground, the first girl chosen was Liz.
As my friends and I gathered around the lunch table later I lamented, "Liz? She doesn't even know how to play soccer, all she did was lean against the goal post and look pretty."
Whenever it starts - and I believe it starts earlier now - it happens. That sudden realization that what your parents had told you about what is on the inside mattering more than the looks on the outside - is all a lie.
I can be a cynic, but more often than not I am an idealist. Sometimes I interact with the world as I think it should be, rather than see how it actually is. I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but I can’t balance that out with the knowledge that I do not have one African American friend or colleague who has not been pulled over or questioned by a police officer and I have plenty of white friends and colleagues who don’t even think that’s a real problem because it’s so outside of their understanding of what happens in our society.
I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but sometimes I’m privy to information where I learn that two final candidates for a 2000 member Head of Staff ministry position include one who had 15 years of ministry experience as both an Associate Pastor and Head of Staff and the other one who had 26 months of ministry experience in an Associate Pastor position and the one with the least amount of experience and credentials got the job. Did I mention the one with more experience is a woman and the one with minimal experience is male?
I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but when Martha read an article to me about a criminal, I was picturing him in my head… and when she turned the laptop to show me his picture I was chagrined to realize that the picture in my head did not match the fairly clean-cut image of reality.
I want to think we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us… but we all know better than that.
We all do it and in varying degrees we've all had it done to us.
Truly – and sadly – it will be not until the banquet in heaven that we will see Apostle Paul’s vision of true equality become reality – no longer Jew or Gentile, no longer male or female, no longer slave or free…
no longer Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or …
no longer gay or straight or trans or…
no longer lower class or working poor or the 1% or…
Then we will leave these childish judgments behind, sadly for now we judge and we are judged.
It does make me feel a little better that Samuel does it too. He had already done this before picking Saul out as the first king. Saul described in this way: There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else (I Sam. 9:2).
Eventually Saul wore out his welcome with God and Samuel (or was it Samuel then God). Either way, God tells Samuel to get over it and go find the next king.
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 goes where he’s supposed to go and looks and sees the one he thinks he’s supposed to find. The firstborn of Jesse who looks like what Samuel thinks a king should look like, but God tells him to move along. ‘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.’
And it is not until Samuel listens to God, that he finds the right one – David.
The shepherd boy.
What God wants is often not what the world wants. God’s desires rarely look like what we think they should look like. And the thing is… we know it.
We live in a nation where 20% of the people own 89% of the wealth. That means 80% of us are getting by – or not - with the 11% that’s left over. And some have so little they don’t even show up in the statistics.
Whether we think the government should be involved in helping those who are food insecure or whether we think it should be left to individuals and nonprofits and churches to cover the gap… we know in our hearts, something is not right.
What is God telling us to do? Are we listening?
Samuel goes to find the next king, but he can’t identify him until he hears and accepts what God is telling him.
God calls us too – but when we look in the mirror do we think, “Well, that can’t be right.”?
I’m too short, too old, too busy.
I’m not smart enough, not spiritual enough, not experienced enough.
What if God knew about me what I know about me – there’s no way God would want me on God’s side.
Grown up King David did amazing things, but he also did things that weren't pleasing to God.
He decided that he liked his neighbor’s wife. He got her pregnant. He then attempted to cover his tracks by having his neighbor killed.
In one tawdry story David breaks at least 50% of the commandments.
You might think that would be the end of the relationship between God and David. But the Lord looks into the heart of David and although it’s a mess, God still loves him. God doesn’t give up on him.
But God does expect more of him.
David gets the message. And David responds…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
There are many reasons we might think there should be no relationship between God and us.
But the Lord looks into our hearts and believe me, it’s a mess
– and yet God still loves us.
God doesn't give up on us.
But God does expect more of us.
How will we respond?
Let us pray... Holy One, we give you permission to carve away all that is not pure in our hearts. We invite you to create space in our crowded hearts for you to dwell. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. We ask you to align our priorities with yours, and awaken our hearts from their sleep.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - Amen.