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1 Samuel 16:1-13
I want to begin by asking the question I posed in the title: Do you see what God sees? It is raised by the text today: "for the Lord does not see as mortals see" I think if we are honest with ourselves and with God we have to say "no." We do not see as God sees. At least that is true for me. I know I do not always see what God sees. I resonate all to well with Paul’s words in the letter to the church at Corinth- "for now we see in a mirror, dimly…"
The more I read the Bible the more I realize that I don’t always see what God sees.
If I had been there, I would not have seen Abram and his descendants as the choice of blessing for the world. Abram would not have been my first choice.
Then there is Moses… Moses didn’t even see what God saw when God was looking for someone to lead his people out of slavery… to free them and send them to the promised land. He wasn’t running for office! God calls and Moses’ objects… resists… he just doesn’t see it. He doesn’t see the gifts and qualities Moses saw. After all, he was just a shepherd after all.
Then there is Israel-God’s chosen people. Chosen to be " a kingdom of priests and a holy people for all the earth is mine" (that’s how he said it to Moses).
Really? Israel?… that group of people who would whine their way through the wilderness? That group that God must have known would be tempted by idolatry… be seduced by their success and slip into sin. That’s the group God sees as his chosen ones to bless the world? Not the superpowers like Egypt… not people of influence and connections like Pharoah. Surely Pharoah was in a much better position to bless the world than Moses and his bunch. I just wouldn’t see it, would you?
Then as you fast forward into the New Testament… God decides to personally come down to the world to the little town of Bethlehem of all places-not Rome-the center of world power… not even Jerusalem the center of religious power for the Jewish people.. but Bethlehem… God decides to be born as a baby to a poor couple from Nazareth. Not a good priestly family? That’s where Messiah’s should be born, don’t you think? To a religiously respectable couple-not an old man and a teenage girl under the cloud of controversy. This is the way God would choose to enter the world? I just wouldn’t see it, would you?
Then there is Jesus’ choice of disciples…Some coming from the peasant working class. Right off the docks. Fisherman. Some come from the despised class of tax collectors and government workers… collaborators with the occupying power…
Some are women… didn’t women know their place in his day? Many were simply called: sinners. None were pre-loaded with a deep faith.
They will become the ones who will take his gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world? Who knew? Would you see it coming? I wouldn’t.
Then there is Paul… Paul… Before he was Paul, he was Saul… a well educated Pharisee of Pharisees… a lover of the law… who’s main goal in life became to kill Christians who were a threat to his faith and tradition. Tell me that you would have seen Saul-the persecutor becoming Paul, Christ’s greatest spokesperson-planting churches and spreading the gospel beyond the middle east. Tell me you would have seen that coming?
Do you see what God sees? I doubt it. Neither do I.
But that is okay… because we’re in good company. Samuel, God’s own prophet is a bit short sighted himself. Here Samuel has been given the difficult task of anointing a new King because Saul has failed God. Failed to obey God and failed to be the kind of King God needs a king to be. So, God sends him to anoint the new King he has chosen. But Samuel doesn’t know who that will be.
It’s a great scene isn’t it? God has told Samuel that the new king will come from Jesse’s family. So Samuel calls Jesse and his sons together for a sacrifice. When they come, they are lined up in my mind… almost like a star search kind of event. The first one Samuel sees seems like the obvious candidate. He is the oldest after all. The oldest and the most experienced would seem like the obvious choice. Besides, he’s tall, dark and handsome. He probably even had a deep voice and was athletic. He looked like king material. He was a "man’s man." When Samuel sees Eliab… he sees a King. But that is not what God sees and this is a teachable moment for Samuel and if we listen, for us.
The Lord says 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 what mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. "When God looks for people to lead or to follow… God is looking beneath the surface… to the heart.
And as the story unfolds… Samuel keeps looking until all the sons have passed his way… which is interesting for the one that God has chosen-the youngest and least likely one… is overlooked even by his own father. The baby of the family is left to tend sheep while the brothers get to go to the sacrifice. But God has chosen David… again as God sees something no one else saw.
And to Samuel’s credit… he finally will see the choice God has in mind… as he patiently waits, listens and seeks to discern who God has chosen. Samuel offers us the glimpse of how one might go about seeing as God sees… Samuel doesn’t rush to a decision… the choice will be revealed in God’s time… He will keep listening hard to God… as the brothers pass by, he hears God "not this one… not this one…" and in time… in God’s time… seeking to see as God sees… Samuel will anoint the one who would become the greatest King Israel would ever know… the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of Israel all rolled into one. Give Samuel credit… with patience and with a desire to seek God’s will… he was finally able to see what God saw…
Still, I wonder, don’t you… what is it God saw? I mean, I know David’s story and still I wonder. Sure David is talented… a great musician… a composer… a great military mind… reminds me of a Colin Powell type. He will conquer all enemies and bring a time of prosperity and peace to Israel that they would never forget. He is a great political leader-bringing together all those tribes and unifying them. So revered he would become that when people would hope for a Messiah… they said that he would have to come from the line of David. So, I get that.
What I don’t get is this. Did God see that David was morally weak and would break some of God’s most important laws. Impeachable offenses if you ask me. He would have the adulterous affair with Bathsheba that was complicated when he arranged to have her husband Uriah sent to the front line of a battle so Uriah would be eliminated. All to cover up the baby born of the affair. That day when God chose David, did he see that? Would you have put him on the list for leadership? Did God see that David’s family would fall apart? One son would rebel and try leading a revolt against his father. After he died his sons would split up the kingdom. Did God see that? If so, what was it that God saw in David that day years earlier?
The text tells us. God saw his heart. Not only his outward failures and inward sin but also his heart. A heart that if you read the Psalms that loved God. A heart, that when confronted with his affair and his complicity to kill Uriah by the prophet Nathan… was repentant and sorry. (that’s what sets him apart from Saul). This is the heart that would write in sorrow, "Against you have I sinned… create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me." That’s a heart that loves God.
When God looked at David, he didn’t see moral perfection… but he did see a heart that would love God… and would seek to obey God… a heart that would lead him astray… but would always return. A heart that was teachable. A heart capable of saying, I’m sorry. That’s what I think God saw in him.
And what about us? What does God see when God looks at our heart? At your heart? Mine? Do you think Perfection? I think not. But it’s not perfection that God is after, it is your heart.
God seems to be able to even see beyond our sins and failures to the possibility that we can be of great use to God. God doesn’t see what we see, God looks at the heart… and with a teachable heart, God is able to forgive, even forget and work wonders.
When I read this story about God looking at the heart, my mind went back to a poetry story that I first heard when I was a teenager. It stuck with me. Perhaps it made such an impression on me then because I was only a teenager… and I likely was struggling with my own demons and wondering if God would love me even when I failed God. But then, I remember hearing this poem that taught me the lesson that God sees what others don’t.
I bet many of you know this poem but I doubt you know about the woman who wrote it: Myra Welch. When she wrote it, she was old and confined to a wheelchair… battered and scarred from severe arthritis… which had taken away her ability to make music. To most of the world, I bet she looked like someone whose life was spent, used up and over. But with her badly disabled hands she took a pencil and wrote this poem.
"Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who’ll start bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar – now who"ll make it two _
Two dollars, and who"ll make it three?
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice,
Going for three". . . but no!
From the room far back a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet,
As sweet as an angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bidden for the old violin?"
And he held it up with the bow;
"A thousand dollars – and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand – and who’ll make it three?
Three thousand once, three thousand twice
And going – and gone," said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
"We do not quite understand –
What changed its worth?" The man replied:
"The touch of the masters hand."
And many a (one) with life out of tune,
And battered and torn with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd.
Much like the old violin.
A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on,
He’s going once, and going twice –
He’s going – and almost gone!
But the MASTER comes, and the foolish crowd,
Never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul, and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the MASTER’S hand.
May God give us the vision to see the difference our God can make in the life of anyone, whose heart belongs to God. May God give us the vision to see what he sees. Amen.