Saturday, July 04, 2009

Evensong Sermon - Trinity 4B 1 Sam 15:1-31

‘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.

Don’t judge a book by its cover…
A well worn saying if ever there was one , though not one I always attend to….and I’d guess perhaps you don’t either
Just think about it. When scouring the library shelves for a good read, unless you’re looking for a specific title or author, the cover is probably a major factor in determining your choice. Publishers have established a particular style of cover for particular genres of fiction and are pretty successful in persuading us to choose titles from their stable, by presenting them to match others.
And quite often it works well…We find that we do enjoy books that look a bit like others we’ve enjoyed already…so we continue to judge a book by its cover because we find it can be a guide to what lies within.

We tend to try this with people too.
After all, we’re visual beings
We are drawn to people who match our idea of what is attractive…We’re programmed for this – because like every other species
we are interested in the survival of our genes, and so we seek partners who conform to our ideals.
Initially, visual impact is an important determinant.
I had an great aunt, the product of another age, who swore that you could tell a great deal about somebody by looking at their shoes.
I wanted to laugh it off, to protest that it was nonsense – but at the same time I had to admit that I tended to feel more at home with the vaguely hippy girls who wore open toed sandals and fair trade cotton….
Perhaps there was something in it after all.

And of course, sometimes external appearance CAN give us a clue as to what is going on inside.
Those girls in their fair trade cotton shared at least some of my own priorities…while Great Aunt Marion was right that people whose unfashionably serviceable shoes shone with loving care probably had her own attitude, forged during two world wars, to making things last, doing the best with limited resources.
So outward appearances can be useful…but they are never the whole story.

Think of our Old Testament reading. God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s boys to be the future king of Israel. But God withholds one vital piece of information in advance.
Which one?
There’s quite a range to choose from, so Samuel decides that all he can do is to assemble the boys, in the hope that God will make his will plain.
The first and eldest obviously impressed the prophet with his stature and good looks. It does help if a head of state is easy on the eye... But God announced that his was, and is, a different agenda.
“Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature,
because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as human beings see; they look on
the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart.” [I Samuel 6: 7]
And it’s the same right down the line.
A succession of strong and attractive boys, - any of them fit to be anointed and crowned, - but God’s view is different views.
Not one of the seven is the one he has chosen, so Samuel is forced to ask if Jesse has held any in reserve.
Like Samuel, Jesse had assumed that a new king should display kingly characteristics…Maybe a sportsman? or a proven fighter?…It’s easy to imagine him surveying his fine family with pride. So many splendid lads. No wonder God had sent the prophet here…
The youngest son, though, was surely a no-hoper – not even an also ran.
He was so far down the birth order he wasn’t likely to inherit a thing, a boy whose status in the family was reflected in his job, - a hazardous one, protecting the family flock. If it came to the crunch, the boy David was expendable…of less value than the sheep he guarded. This lad hadn’t even been called in from the fields to stand with his brothers because Jesse assumed David couldn’t be considered.
But God had said to Samuel, “Do not just look on his appearance or on the height of his stature....for
the Lord does not see as mortals see;”
and so the boy was sent for.
You may have noticed that as David came into the room he was described in glowing terms:
“Now David was ruddy and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the Lord said, ‘Arise, Samuel, anoint him; for this is he.”
Now, what’s that all about?
Hadn’t God just told Samuel that appearance wasn’t important?
“Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature.....for the Lord sees not as human beings see;
yet now David is being described in pin-up terms.
Actually, I think this has more to do with his subsequent career as King of Israel than with his actual appearance that day in Bethlehem.
David was to become the stuff of legends. He was the one who killed Goliath, the
Philistine warrior giant. the one who united the 12 tribes of Israel into one nation of Israel.
He was the one who expanded Israel’s boundaries and amassed great wealth for the kingdom.
So as his story was handed on through the generations, he was given heroic characteristics at every turn – including his appearance.
Of course, we know that he wasn’t a flawless hero…remember Uriah and Bathsheba…but to those who finally came to write the histories, he was certainly no ordinary man.

But all that lay ahead…Our reading presents us with a very ordinary boy, called to an extraordinary role.
Someone whose potential for good is clear only to God.
God’s vision, of course, is perfect. He sees the truth of who we are, the things we’d prefer to hide even from ourselves, - and the things that make other people remarkable and precious beyond our wildest imaginings.
Someone once said to Helen Keller, "What a pity you have no sight!" Helen Keller
replied, "Yes, but what a pity so many have sight but cannot see!"

Sometimes, it’s good to ask God to lend us his eyes…though borrowing them may have a lasting impact on every aspect of our relationships.
Let me tell you a story. – one which I may have shared with some of you before, but which has stayed with me as a lasting reminder of what can happen if we try, even for a moment, to see with God’s eyes.
It happened at a diocesan conference a few years ago. At the time, I was working as a charity administrator 4 days a week, running a bed and breakfast business, indulging in a spot of piano teaching, serving as a Reader in our benefice of 3 churches,- oh, and I was in the second year of ordination training. Getting to Swanwick was the nearest thing to a holiday I could see happening for a very long time…I was circling on my treadmill in true hamster fashion, and was generating much more heat than light in the process.
Conferences are strange. You find yourself taken out of your normal routine, into a world apart where new friendships can be forged based on shared experiences and the all important consumption of single malt after hours… Friendships can be forged but in an enclosed community, relationships can also quickly become oppressive.
So it was for me. Wherever I went, I seemed to bump into one particular person, who was friendly to the point of smothering me, By bedtime on day 2 it was driving me MAD. I found myself ducking into the ladies if she loomed in sight, and was pleased when I went into the main hall for the keynote speaker next day, to see that she was already settled, with no gaps anywhere near.
The speakers that morning were John and Olive Drane….and their talk touched places that nobody else had yet acknowledged during the conference. Olive has a ministry as a clown and after sharing her own story via a moving series of dialogues with God, she invited anyone who wanted prayer to come and have a cross painted in grease-paint wherever felt right…
"Hands, forehead, eyes..." she suggested.
Can you imagine? A room full of Anglican clergy, invited to relate to a clown…in front of each other!
There was a moment when it seemed that nobody would dare to move, but gradually people got to their feet. Some headed for the doors, but a long line began to form, and I found myself on the end of it. By the time I reached Olive, I knew what I wanted to pray about…
“I’m training for ministry…I have 3 children and too many jobs and I’m so busy I just can’t see the wood for the trees. Please paint the cross on my eyelids and ask God to help me focus on Him, the real purpose behind all this busy-ness”
Olive prayed, marked my eyelids, and I returned to my seat. The session ended, and we trouped out for coffee. I did feel better…as if there was at least some possibility that I might survive the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I was getting some perspective? I decided to take my coffee outside. But, oh dear, there was my nemesis only a few yards away from me, and I’d definitely been seen. I went over, and as I approached, X dissolved into a pool of tears.
Only afterwards did I realise that I’d spent almost an hour with her there, listening, praying, being the sort of friend she had believed me to be. And the amazing thing? It felt entirely natural, right, unforced…I was able to love…to see the real person with all the pain and vulnerability exposed, and not the bundle of irritations that had preoccupied me before. God had heard my prayer for clearer vision, but had not answered it as I’d expected. Instead, God had lent me HIS eyes…for a while, I was able to see as He does…

Imagine how our church and our community might be if we all saw with God’s eyes of love….
If we learned to recognise that beneath each façade – whether of poised elegance or of rude aggression – was someone with hopes, fears, joys and sorrows…Someone not unlike us.
I know we realise that intellectually – but if we felt it, too - think what a difference it might make.

God looks upon our hearts. Shouldn’t we try to do the same thing?
And let the people say, “Amen.”

1 comment:

Ostrich said...

Gorgeous! I just imagine you with clown crosses on your eyes. How lovely.