This sermon was preached on July 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Psalm 51: 10-14
1 Samuel 16: 1-13
Ok, I have to admit something to you, I’ve never quite known what to do with all of the “heart” language that seems to permeate the Christian vernacular. I mean, think about it. We’ve got “what a kind heart,” “what a tender heart,” “they wear their heart on their sleeve,” “lift up your heart,” “check your heart” (whatever that means), and the often passive aggressive “bless your heart.” We talk an awful lot about our hearts. In modern times, our hearts are associated with emotions but in the ancient world hearts held knowledge and wisdom and in the Hebrew tradition faith and loyalty. One’s heart was what mattered more than intellect or bodies. Hearts gave insight to the world around us. So when reading our psalm and the 1 Samuel text this week, all of the heart language had me pondering this anew about our hearts and God’s heart.
In 1 Samuel, we read that God looks on our hearts and not on our outward appearance. When I hear that my initial thought is “yay! That’s great news! I don’t have to worry about my gray hairs, my lack of height or my middle aged body because God sees my heart.” And then I think “uh oh, God sees my heart.” David had the same reaction in psalm 51 when he implores God to create in him a clean heart. God sees what I barely want to see myself-everything that goes on in my heart. The truth is, I’m not even sure I completely understand what is in my heart most of the time. I know what I WANT to be in my heart, what I WANT God to see: that I truly love everyone, that I love God, that I only see the best of everyone, that I’m totally trusting of God, that I’m the most faithful follower of Jesus ever….but I have to admit that’s sometimes not what’s there. These days what’s often in my heart is skepticism, judgment, frustration, and imperfection. I might try to cover up and deny that truth by doing really saccharin sweet Jesusy things such as only posting uplifting scriptural memes on Facebook or what other people expect me to do as a Christian, such as never have an emotion outside of serenity. Oh I want to be this, I really do, but I simply can’t sustain that right now or ever. My heart is messy and complex, and my heart really wants peace and hope. God sees this. All of this.
God sees that the prophet Samuel’s heart has been through the ringer by the time we get to chapter 16. Samuel was dedicated to God when he was just a child, and has been a prophet to the Israelite people a long time. He was leader of sorts, so when the Israelites demanded a king, God told him to anoint Saul, who’s main qualification for king was that he was big. He did so and became Saul’s friend and confidante. But Saul’s leadership didn’t work out. It was perplexing to Samuel exactly why God wasn’t happy, and if you read Saul’s story, it isn’t evident to even the most learned of scholars. Maybe God saw something that rest of us don’t? All we know is that when Saul’s leadership didn’t live up to what God wanted and it seems that no grace was afforded him. It’s not exactly the picture of God that we all want but it’s what we have here. When God rejects Saul as king, for Samuel, it’s as if Saul is dead and he is angry with God. He will have no further contact with Saul until the day he dies. Samuel’s heart must have also been concerned about how the Israelite people will see him in light of this debacle. What will people think?
Samuel’s heart is further troubled when God tells him to go to Jesse’s family in Bethlehem to anoint a new king. Remember, Saul is still on the throne, and this would be a coup. So, Samuel is looking for anything to soothe his heart, to give him insight on what God is up to. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s first son, and he is big and strong, that is reassuring, except, he’s not the one God says. Son after son is presented, and God says no. Finally, Samuel asks if there is anyone else, and Jesse offers his youngest, the shepherd. David is small, the last in line and pretty, maybe too pretty for a warrior king. Samuel’s heart couldn’t see the new direction, the new thing that God was doing through David, as it didn’t make any sense in worldly terms. But God confirms that David is the one and Samuel anoints him. Even as Samuel’s heart is conflicted, he does God’s bidding, secures Israel’s future, and God worked through him for the future of Israel. It wasn’t about Samuel’s heart, but God’s heart for the Israelites and for the world. God was doing the unexpected through the least expected.
Samuel, and we, forget that it’s not about our hearts, it’s about God’s heart. God’s heart vision that does see our hearts, and loves our hearts, and works through our hearts, messiness and all. We know that David was often called a man after God’s own heart and we know that David was complicated, imperfect and fallible. And yet, God’s heart, God’s loyalty, faithfulness and wisdom was offered to David time and time again, and David responds. God extends this same heart vision to us, when God sent Jesus to show us how expansive, faithful and merciful God’s heart is for us and creation. Through Jesus, we see that God’s heart will do a new thing with our hearts. Through Jesus, our hearts are opened, like the tomb, to respond to God’s heart and see our neighbor and world with this same heart vision. Just as God’s heart extended to Samuel and David to do a new thing in Israel, so too, God’s heart is showing us right now a future of God’s promise of newness, where all hearts rest in hope and are unified, cared for and loved. God sees this in our hearts, in our future, and gives God’s whole heart to us. Amen.