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God Doesn’t See as People See

October 22, 2017 Sermon
“God Doesn’t See as People See”

First Scripture Reading – 1 Samuel 16:1-5

16 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.” 2 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.’ 3 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.” 4 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?” 5 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.

Second Scripture Reading – 1 Samuel 16:6-13

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “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.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He 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.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

“God Doesn’t See as People See”

Last week, I started by telling you how quickly the makers of the narrative lectionary are taking us through the Old Testament this year.  This week, I get to tell you that at least this once, VERY little time has passed:

  • Samuel, the focus of last week’s story, is still alive;
  • He’s grown into a great priest and judge;
  • As judge, Samuel led the israelites back to God so decisively that the greatest uprising of the Philistines against Israel was repelled;
  • As Samuel aged and appointed his sons as judges over Israel, his sons – like Eli’s sons before them – were NOT so faithful to God and led the people astray, which led Israel to ask God for a king;
  • God told Samuel to tell the people what a king would do to them, how a king would oppress the people and force them to do his will so that the people would eventually cry out to God because of the king; the people demanded a king, anyway, and God relented and gave them one;
  • The first king God chose was a man named Saul.  And Saul looked the part: he was a head taller than all the other Israelites and had the charismatic qualities of a seemingly natural leader.  And Saul was quite a military strategist, as well.  But Saul had a flaw that might not have mattered to any other peoples of the earth but that was a problem for Israel: when things got rough, Saul chose the way of pleasing people, of doing what people wanted him to do, instead of following God’s commands;
  • So…while Saul was STILL king, God commanded Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, a son of Jesse, which brings us to our reading for this morning;

God called Samuel to do something both extraordinary and terrifying: anoint a new king while there’s still a sitting king, a sitting king who controls the army and who doesn’t really care too much what God has to say…so he’s not afraid to USE that army against God’s judge and priest…or even God’s newly anointed king.  Folks, there’s a sermon in this aspect of the story, there’s a sermon in the reality that God sometimes calls God’s people to do the RIGHT thing, the GOD thing, even though it puts them in harm’s way.  There’s a sermon in this aspect of the story because I hear Christians all the time saying God must not be calling them to do one thing or another because it’s dangerous…and God wouldn’t call us to do something dangerous.  Well, think again.  There really is a sermon in this aspect of the story, just not a sermon you’re going to hear today.

And there’s a sermon in Samuel’s obedience.  Actually there are TWO sermons in Samuel’s obedience.  There’s a sermon about how to respond when God calls us to do something dangerous, there’s a sermon in this thing called TRUSTING IN GOD, a trust we modern Christians talk about but don’t put into action nearly enough.  And there’s a sermon in the reality that God sent Samuel do a job with INCOMPLETE INSTRUCTIONS; Samuel was told to anoint a son of Jesse but wasn’t told WHICH son of Jesse.  That happens sometimes, doesn’t it? God tells you God’s going to send you to do something grand that will change the lives of thousands of people, but the only concrete instructions God provides are something like “go sit in the desert and await further instructions.”  I can’t explain it, I really can’t, other than to say this incomplete instructions thing is also about trust.  Samuel was forced to trust that God would tell him which son of Jesse to anoint at the right time.  And even though Samuel acted out of trust, I’m sure he felt a little queasy inside, wondering if he was going to gather all the sons of Jesse, telling them he would anoint one of them, and then never receive instructions about which one to anoint and so having to make the decision on his own.  And it ALMOST happened that way.  So, yeah, there are a couple of sermons in Samuel’s obedience to God’s incomplete instructions – but they’re not sermons you’re going to hear today.

What you are going to hear is a sermon about the type of person God eventually chose, versus the type of person Samuel, or anybody else, might have EXPECTED God to choose.

Remember Saul, the first king of Israel?  He’s the kind of guy who people saw and thought of as “king material”.  He’s the kind of guy a PERSON would have chosen for a king…because he LOOKED like a king.  I believe God chose Saul first as a teaching moment for Israel; I believe God chose Saul first as a way of showing the Israelites what happens when you choose a leader based on outward appearance.

If you’re like I used to be, you probably don’t think this choosing leaders based on outward appearance still happens so much anymore; we’ve progressed quite a lot in this area over the last 3,000 years.  I used to think that way…until I was invited to attend a lunch meeting with an upper manager while working as a student intern during my college years.  I was invited to dine with this manager at one of those exclusive private clubs that I’d read about and seen in the movies and tv shows but wasn’t sure really existed.  It had a great view of downtown Dallas from a few miles north of downtown on Central Expressway.  And I asked the manager with whom I was eating about the members of this private club.  It turns out that all of them were upper level managers at some of the biggest corporations in the metroplex.  All of them were the kind of people chosen to be leaders, rising through the ranks of their companies.  Up to that point in my life, I had always thought of myself as a moderately tall person: at 5’11”, I was taller than average, usually one of the taller people in the room.  But when I walked into that private dining hall, I felt downright short.  Every one of the businessmen to whom I was introduced stood at least 6 inches taller than me.  And I thought in that moment about this story from the Bible, and I realized that – whether consciously or subconsciously – we STILL choose leaders based on outward appearance…at least to some extent.

Back to the story…and the question of why it matters that we choose people based on outward appearance.  If you’re wondering why it matters, I’ve got some questions for you:

  • If you require surgery, would you rather have a person who is taller performing the surgery or a person who is a trained surgeon?
  • If you’re going to follow a military leader into battle, would you rather have a commander who has a commanding presence or a commander who is trained in military strategy?
  • If your car breaks down, and you want to get it fixed, will you choose the repairman based on how charismatic he is or based on how well he can fix your car?
  • And, oh, by the way, if you want to be led in the ways of God, does your spiritual guide’s appearance have ANYTHING to do with the job that guide will do in leading you in the ways of God?

Y’all, that’s what this passage is about.  It’s about teaching Israel – and teaching us – that the kinds of things we tend to value in a person, especially a leader in the ways of God – like height, appearance, and charisma – aren’t the kinds of things God looks for at all.  In other words, “God does not see as people see.”

So…Samuel let HIS ideas, his notions, about what he believes makes a good leader get in the way of him seeing what God KNOWS makes a good leader.  Do WE ever do that?  Do we ever let what we believe or want get in the way of us seeing what God wants?  Not just in choosing leaders, but in anything?

I’m guessing we all do.  I’m guessing we can all see that it happens…even if he can’t see how we’re doing it or participating in it:

  • When you look around and you see that some people have great wealth – so much that they can buy multiple homes and cars that cost more than most people make in a year – while other people don’t have a roof over their head or food to put in their mouths, when you SEE this reality in the world, you know down deep in your heart that it’s not what God wants, so some people MUST be seeing differently than God sees;
  • When you hear people saying that they’re done working on God’s behalf, that they’ve put in their time and now it’s somebody else’s time, when you EXPERIENCE this you know down deep in your heart that some people MUST be seeing differently than God sees…because the biblical witness is the witness of a God who called Abraham and Sarah to BEGIN their work for God at about 90 and 100 years of age;
  • When you read stories about people killing other people or abusing other people or hurling insults at other people, you know down deep in your heart that it’s not what God wants, so some people MUST be seeing differently than God sees;
  • When you see Christ’s universal Church split into hundreds of thousands of different units, so many of them claiming that THEY have the whole truth and all the others are condemned, you know down deep in your heart that God doesn’t want Christ’s Church to be so fractured, so divided, and so some people MUST be seeing differently than God sees;
  • And when you turn on the news and read story after story about leaders in this country – some elected and others proclaimed as leaders by other means – when you read story after story about leaders doing reprehensible things, and these stories cross party boundaries and racial boundaries and just about any other boundary you can think of – y’all, we MUST be choosing our leaders based upon seeing as something other than how God sees.

We KNOW how this problem worked out for Israel, right?  Every time the people chose a leader – even the first king of Israel – based upon something other than seeing as God sees, that leader led the people to ruin.  That’s why David, whom Samuel anointed in this morning’s reading, spent a good part of his life on the run.  He was on the run from the madman of a king who had been chosen based upon the criteria of people instead of the criteria of God.  And every time Israel chose ANYTHING based on seeing differently that God sees, the results were terrible.  But, what can be done about it?

Fortunately, something CAN be done.  God does more than simply point out the PROBLEMS of humanity in the scriptures, God also offers solutions.  I’ll share a few of God’s solutions with you.

Solution Number 1:  Be on the lookout for ways that you’re not seeing as God sees.  I’m not sure if you really GET this or not, but most people seem (to me, anyway) to go through life looking for ways to justify their own belief systems and actions instead of truly looking for God’s desires.  The FIRST thing you’ve got to do if you want to see as God sees is to look for the ways that you’re NOT seeing like God.  You’ve got to open yourself to the possibility that you’re not.  You’ve got to accept the reality that you’re human and possibly even fallible.  In other words, you’ve got to turn your thinking around 180 degrees and start assuming that you’re looking at EVERYTHING wrong, that you’re looking at everything with human eyes instead of God’s eyes.  Only then will you be able to recognize HOW you’ve been seeing things all wrong.

Solution Number 2:  Stop looking at appearances.  Start looking at heart.  And since none of us are mind-readers, we’ve got to look at people’s actions and words as a way of knowing their heart instead of looking at APPEARANCES to discern what kind of person they are.  This is, after all, exactly what God talked to Samuel about in today’s reading.  God looks past appearances and into the heart.  And sometimes, quite often in my experience, the most dangerous stuff comes in the most appealing of packages.

Solution Number 3: Intentionally, even audibly if you have to, ask God for help in what is called discernment (which is just a way of saying “seeing as God sees.”)  I actually get a little chuckle inside when I encounter so many people who come to me and tell me they’re having difficulty knowing what God wants, but then, when I ask them if they’ve ASKED God to show them, they say “no” in one form or another.  Y’all, you’ve got to ASK for God’s vision, not just once and then give up if you don’t like God’s response or lack thereof.  Asking to SEE has got to become a habit.  Oh, and by the way, a precursor to ASKING to see as God sees is actually WANTING to see as God sees.  I’m not sure most people really WANT to see the world differently as they do…because ti can be a shocking change.

Solution Number 4:  Read and study the Bible.  After devoting most of my adult life to studying the scriptures, I can tell you that I’m pretty sure God is consistent through time, and God doesn’t change how God sees from a big picture perspective.  So, what God wanted thousands of years ago will be pretty close to what God wants today.  But here’s the thing, you’ve got to read and study the Bible in such as a way as to let the Bible inform you instead letting what you already believe inform what you read.  When you do, you will learn how God sees.

Y’all, when God first called a people to be the people of God, God told them God wanted them to be holy, to be SET APART, for God.  And God spent thousands of years showing them what that meant, and a big, HUGE part of what it meant was looking at the world differently than everybody else, seeing differently and acting differently, acting out of love instead of hate, goodness instead of anger, justice for all instead of hoarding for a few.  And then Jesus came, and he said the same thing.  But Jesus gave us something to help in our seeing as God sees.  Jesus showed us by EXAMPLE what it looks like to see like God sees.  Jesus showed us by example what it looks like to ACT out of seeing like God sees.  And Jesus called US to see the world differently and to act differently than everyone around us…not JUST in selecting leaders but in doing every single thing you do, in making every single decision of life.  If you want to see as God sees, you’ve got to study Jesus, talk to Jesus, figure out the ways that Jesus lived and saw and acted differently than you so you can learn to be more like Jesus; and, you’ve got ask for help in seeing like Jesus, seeing like God, ALL the time, in every situation.  And then, maybe then, you will see as God sees, so that you will be equipped to ACT in ways that will ever usher in the kingdom of God here on earth. Amen.