2 Pentecost Yr B, 14/06/2009
I Sam 15:34-16:13 & 2 Cor 5:6-10, 14-17
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The LORD looks on the heart”
We’re all familiar with the old adages: “Appearances can be deceiving; never judge a book by its cover; looks are only skin deep.” I’m sure that most, if not all of you here today have experienced—either negatively or positively—the truth of these adages, which are rooted in the Bible.
Here’s a contemporary story that underscores these adages. Mr. Swiller was known far and wide as a hard-nosed boss who watched his employees like a hawk. He was making one of his regular tours of the factory when he spotted a young man leaning against a pile of boxes just outside the foreman’s office. Since George, the foreman, wasn’t around, Swiller stood off to the side and watched to see just how long the young man would stand around doing nothing.
The young man yawned, scratched his head, looked at his watch, and sat on the floor. He took out a nail file and began cleaning his nails. Then he stretched, yawned again, and leaned back on the pile of boxes.
Swiller stepped from his hiding place and walked up to the young man. “You!” he boomed. “How much do you make a week?”
The young man looked up indifferently. “Two hundred and fifty dollars,” he said.
Swiller swooped into the cashier’s office, took $250 from the cash box, and returned. “Take it,” he said, “and get out! Don’t let me see you around here again!”
The young man took the cash, put it in his pocket, and left. Swiller snorted at his lack of remorse, embarrassment, or any other feeling. Then he went looking for George. When he found him, Swiller was red with anger. “That idler in front of your office,” Swiller said. “I just gave him a week’s pay and fired him. What’s the matter with you, letting him stand around as though he had nothing to do?”
“You mean the kid in the red shirt?” George asked.
“Yes! The kid in the red shirt!”
“He was waiting for the twenty dollars we owe him for lunch,” George said. “He works for the coffee shop around the corner.”1
Appearances are deceiving; never judge a book by its cover; looks are only skin deep.
In both our first and second lessons today, these adages are affirmed. The anointing of David as king by the prophet Samuel is full of political intrigue and surprise. Samuel, regretting having anointed Saul as king, goes to Bethlehem under the divine decoy plan of offering a sacrifice. His real reason for going there is to carry out God’s directive to anoint a son of Jesse, whom God shall show Samuel. We are surprised to learn that the most obvious sons are turned down.
Why? Well, there are at least two reasons. The stated reason comes from the voice of the LORD to Samuel in verse seven: “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.” Then, after all Jesse’s sons present are rejected, the youngest son is fetched and Samuel is told by God to “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” God’s omniscience, his all-knowing capacity to see into the heart—the true essence and character of a person—causes him to choose David as king, likely much to the shock and surprise of everyone else.
The second reason that the other sons are turned down is more implicit in this story. However, to understand the second reason, we need to remember an important biblical principle that Martin Luther and other interpreters of the Bible have found most helpful. The principle is: scripture interprets scripture. What we mean by that is there are certain themes written large repeatedly in the Bible and it is helpful for us to read the Bible in its larger context to help us discover deeper meanings. In this passage of I Samuel, we have the theme of God choosing the youngest son. Now that theme runs throughout the Bible. Remember, for example, that God chose younger Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. God favoured Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Joseph over his older brothers. In the New Testament, God seems to favour the youngest, prodigal son over the eldest son. So, in today’s first lesson that theme appears again. God favours and blesses the least likely—those who are excluded by the majority because they are considered too young for the job at hand. As Jesus also said: “The last shall be first, and the first last.”
Our second lesson also connects us in a similar way as this story of God choosing David. The apostle Paul is speaking about his longing to leave this life and be with Christ in heaven. The key to understanding what Paul is saying here is found in verse seven, where he says: “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
We quite often say, “Yes, I’ve heard of that person but I don’t know him by sight,” or, “I’ve spoken to her on the phone, but I don’t know her by sight.” Our knowledge of God is similarly “not by sight.” Our knowledge of Jesus is “not by sight.” We do, of course, know so much of Jesus, both historically through the Gospels, and in the present by his Spirit, that seeing him, marvellous though it would be, would simply confirm what we already know. Nevertheless, seeing is what we long for, and the promise of it gives us confidence, as Paul repeats in verse 8.2
Walking by faith, not by sight is an act of trust, as the following story attests:
Al was not excited about being at this workshop on team-building, but his boss was on a big kick about it, and Al needed at least to look cooperative.
But know the workshop leader was asking people to pair up for a trust walk, to be blindfolded and led by voice through whatever obstacles were ahead.
Al hated that. He had always been afraid of the dark, something he carefully hid from others because it embarrassed him. He didn’t know why darkness was so frightening to him, but he did know that he did put stock in anything he could see.
If it were a concept, a promise, an idea, a dream, forget it. Give him something tangible, something concrete, and he could deal with it. Give him something he could control, and he was fine.
But now this. Al didn’t even really know the partner who was to lead him around. His nametag said Larry, but that told him nothing.
The workshop leader gave instructions.
“I want you to walk by trust, not by sight,” she said, “Let your partner guide you, using only the voice, and get a sense of letting go of your own control, so that you may be responsive to someone outside of you.”
“There is that word again,” Al thought. “Control. It is mine. Why should I give it up? I’m comfortable with it. Why should someone else get to take it away from me?”
Larry handed Al his blindfold, and said, “Let’s get started.”
They exchanged some small talk, but Al was not listening. He was hearing his head instead, telling him just to get it over with, that it shouldn’t be this hard, that people do this all the time.
Then he was hearing his gut tell him otherwise: “Don’t do it,” it was telling him. “You take charge.”
Al stalled, but Larry was persistent. “Give up,” he smiled.
So Al reluctantly placed the blindfold over his eyes. “All right, I give up,” he said to himself.
The voice began to lead him, but Al suddenly realized it was not Larry’s voice, and it was not the voice of the workshop leader.
“Follow me,” the voice was saying. “Give me control of your steps, and I will show you the way. Trust me as you walk, I will guide you. Don’t you see that?”
Maybe Al did see something when the blindfold went on. Maybe he did see that it is possible to see by faith what is not seen by the eyes. Maybe the voice assured him that these steps would be the first steps out of the darkness of his fear.
“Trust me,” Larry said.
Al sighed, “I’ll try,” he replied.
Larry smiled and said, “It’s a step in the right direction.”3
“The LORD looks on the heart; we walk by faith, not by sight.” Let us pray: Jesus, we struggle with many fears. We bring them to you, and in return, we ask you to help us place all of our trust in you. In your Holy Name. Amen.
1 I do not have the source of this story; however, it came my way via e-mail a few years ago.
2 N.T. Wright, Reflecting The Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 1998), p. 44.
3 Paul Lintern, “Believing Is Seeing,” in: 56 Lectionary Stories For Preaching: Based Upon The Revised Common Lectionary Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), pp. 73-74.