THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A
I SAMUEL 16:1-13
MARCH 26, 2017
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN
In this morning’s Old Testament lesson the prophet Samuel reviewed the sons of Jesse. He gave each one of them a good looking over. After all, he was sent to Bethlehem to look for the next King of Israel. The Lord told him to do that, so that’s what he did. That’s what he was sent there to do.
When he looked at Eliab he was much impressed. He thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” Samuel was impressed, but the Lord was not.
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look upon his appearance or 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.”
“Oh,” Samuel must have thought. “I never looked at it that way before. I always thought a big, handsome, strapping guy like Eliab was God’s favorite. That’s what I was taught. Maybe I was taught wrong.”
Maybe he was. Good looks aren’t everything.
There was once a TV show called The Dating Game. Some of you may remember it. Some you may have been dating when you watched it.
It went like this: there was a so-called “bachelorette.” She sat on the left side of the stage. Three “bachelors” sat on the right. They were divided by a screen. The woman could not see the men, and the men could not see the woman.
The “Bachelorette” asked the men a series of questions. Some questions were predictable: “Bachelor Number One, describe the best date you ever had.” Some questions were downright silly: “Bachelor Number Two, of Snow White’s seven dwarves, which is your personal favorite and why?” And some were mildly suggestive: “Bachelor Number Three, have you ever gone skinny-dipping?” You get the picture.
Anyway, at the end of the segment the Bachelorette had to make a decision: “Will it be Bachelor Number One, Bachelor Number Two, or Bachelor Number Three? Which one will take you on a date to Acapulco?” with a chaperone, of course.
Then she made her decision.
And then came the best part of the show. The men came out from behind the screen, and the “Bachelorette” saw them for the very first time. The two losing bachelors were presented first. Then she met the man she had chosen. Her reaction to seeing these three men was revealing and often very funny.
The creator of The Dating Game, Chuck Barris, explained. He said he always selected three different types of men: one was extremely handsome; one was good looking; and one was, well, not the best looking fellow, but he always had a super, winning personality. And of course, the third guy was almost always selected by the Bachelorette.
Invariably, the woman was gracious. She hugged all three men. But you could tell from the expression on her face that she was disappointed. She wished she had chosen the extremely handsome guy. I guess you could say she had Bachelorette’s Remorse.
By the way, some of you may remember Tom Selleck. Tom Selleck was an extremely handsome Hollywood actor who eventually had a successful TV show called Magnum PI. Earlier in his career, Tom Selleck appeared on The Dating Game several times. How often was he chosen? Never. And you should have seen the faces of those women when he walked out from behind that screen. Their jaws dropped every time.
I share this because The Dating Game reminds us of something we probably already know but sometimes forget: looks aren’t everything. Ultimately, looks don’t matter much at all, because looks have nothing to do with the heart.
As the Lord said to the prophet Samuel, “Do not look on [Eliab’s] appearance or on the height of his stature… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Ultimately, it’s the heart that matters.
So, for me, there are three lessons to be learned here. Lesson Number One: I am mortal. And by nature, I notice outward appearances. I can’t help that. But here’s what I can do: I can look beyond outward appearances and look at hearts. Good looks don’t last forever. Good hearts do.
And to be fair, let’s keep this in mind: many, many people with good looks also have good hearts. I’ve known quite a few. Let’s not be jealous. Let’s just focus on hearts.
Lesson Number Two: When it comes to me, my heart matters more than my looks. At this point in life, it’s highly unlikely that Hollywood will come knocking on my door, and that’s fine. Current cultural standards of beauty and masculinity aside, my heart matters most. I get that.
At the same time, my body matters, too. I want to be responsible with the body God has given me. That’s part of stewardship. I want to watch what I eat and drink. I want to exercise. I want to present myself well. That’s part of self-respect.
Vanity is one thing. Self-respect is another. Stewardship of the body matters.
Lesson Number Three: If the Lord looks on our hearts and not on our outward appearances, should we not do our best to look on the heart of God, and not on God’s outward appearance?
Here’s what I mean by that: God may not be the way God looks. Many people see God as angry, vengeful, and mean-spirited. For many people, God is basically a monster. You can’t blame these people because that’s what they’ve been taught. God is to be feared, not trusted. God is out to get you, not embrace you. Basically, God is downright mean, so deal with it. Get saved and behave yourself, or go to hell and burn.
Is that the heart of God? No, it is not.
Holy Week is coming up. Holy Week is when Christians encounter the heart of God, front and center. It’s when we see what God really looks like.
On Good Friday the heart of God hangs on a cross, and we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high… so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals.. he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.”
Jesus on the cross: that’s what the heart of God looks like.
We’re human beings. We notice appearances. That will not change. What we can do is this: we can look beyond appearances. We can look at others the way God looks at them. We can look at their hearts.
And we can continually examine our own hearts.
Our bodies matter. We must pay attention to our physical condition. And how we present ourselves to others is a reflection of self-respect. But what about our hearts?
When God looks at your heart, what does God see? Does God see cynicism, envy, bitterness, ingratitude, despair? Does God see generosity, kindness, sincerity, good will, peace, hope, thanksgiving? What does God see?
Finally, we can search for God’s heart. The heart of God may be much more loving than we ever imagined.
God, give us grace to look beyond appearances, to examine our own hearts, and to seek after your heart this day and always.
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