(1 Samuel 15:34-16:13)
Many of us have become familiar with Facebook over the last decade. It has some wonderful things about it, catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in years, seeing pictures of growing families, hearing different perspectives on the world, and so on. When you go to find out who someone is on Facebook you can click on a little button, the “about” button to find out who they are. Under the “about” section it tells you first what someone’s name is, then their job title and work information, then their education, the city they live in and their hometown, and their relationship status.
So for instance if you want to know who I am on you will find out that I am Grace Lindvall, Associate Minister at Trinity Presbyterian Church, college educated with a masters degree, and engaged to Matt Lackey. That’s me, according to Facebook.
These are the classic getting to know you small talk questions: “what do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Are you married?” “What school do you go to or did you go to?”
These are the questions that we ask to help us understand who someone is – are they someone I can relate to, are they someone who has a similar background to me, are they someone who is important. It is innocent enough how we all ask them; we’re all trying to get to know each other a little better. But we’ve missed the mark here when we’ve come to understand “what we do for a living” or “where we went to college” as “who we are.” We’ve come to define ourselves and one another by what we are and where we have been rather than by who we are.
The heart of this passage lies in verse 7: “ But the Lord said 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 as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Hebrew verb that is used in this verse to describe what Samuel does is the verb nabat which means to look, whereas the verb that describes what God does is the verb raa meaning to see.
Samuel looks, he looks upon Jesse’s sons and their stature, their age, their appearance. God sees, God sees the heart.
The critical difference that I am talking about – do we look at someone or do we see someone? Do we look at what they do, where they have been, or do we see who they are, the way they find hope in the world, the possibility for what God has created them to be, the grace they share with others, do we see them?
And of course this question wouldn’t be complete without asking if we look upon ourselves or if we see ourselves. Do we define ourselves by our appearance – good looking, well dressed, living in a nice home and good neighborhood, working in an important and busy job, or do we see ourselves as God sees us?
Last month I traveled with our youth to Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia. Each day we spent time after working at our various sites to reflect on our experiences. The facilitators at Broad Street asked us each day the same set of questions to reflect on each new experience, one of the questions every day was “who did you see?”
While at Broad Street we were new places for many of us – urban gardens in impoverished neighborhoods, on street corners selling newspapers, in sanctuaries that have been turned into restaurant style spaces to serve meals for those in need, in gentrified neighborhood churches, places that look different from the places we encounter on our day to day routines. Places where we came in closer contact with people who had different life experiences than us – living in poverty, experiencing homelessness.
This made the question “who did you see?” so powerful. The people we were in conversation with, the people we saw, were people many of us had looked at before but had never seen. Rather than looking at a homeless person, we saw people with names who were experiencing the struggle of homelessness, who had stories and families and joys and senses of humor. The question “Who did you see?” took on a more valuable meaning – who we saw was not just who we had looked at or walked past, for the first time for many of us, it was who we had come to know.
As you heard David in the passage, David was the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons, but he also comes from an incredibly unexpected place and family.
The first line of the passage tells us that Samuel is on his way to Ramah, a place outside of his jurisdiction. Furthermore, Samuel is instructed to go to the home of Jesse. Jesse’s lineage is important to note here. In the New Testament when the birth of Jesus is announced, the writer of the gospel of Matthew goes out of their way to trace Jesus’ lineage back to Kind David and to Jesse. And when we go even further back we find out a bit more about the family that God has chosen to anoint. Jesse’s grandmother is Ruth, the only woman who has a book in the Bible named after her, and an immigrant woman to the country of Israel. And her husband, Jesse’s grandfather is Boaz, whose ancestors include Rahab – the sex worker who protected the Israelites when they came into her city and a woman who is nearly stoned for adultery.
David come from this family that seems unlikely to produce a King, what we would deem “questionable” lineage – immigrants, sex workers, adulterers from the wrong part of town. Not only is he from this unlikely family, You may have noticed in the passage that when Samuel comes to the end of the line of Jesse’s sons and asks if there are any more, David is not even in the group. Jesse did not even bring David to present to Samuel, didn’t even think it would be worth it to suggest that David come before Samuel.
David is not there, and he’s not just not there, he is out tending to the sheep. He is not sunning himself in the garden, or taking a stroll with friends, he is tending the sheep. Tending the sheep is today’s garbage clean up crew – it is a dirty job! It is a dirty job and frankly it would be deemed a disreputable job. David is not at the table because he is out doing his messy, disreputable job of tending to the sheep.
And in the midst of this, God finds, God sees the one who shall be anointed King of Israel. God sees what we cannot see. God sees more than job status, immigration status, God sees beyond where one lives, and God sees what is good. God sees what we cannot see.
The prophet Samuel is drawn to what we are drawn to, prestige, portfolio, appearance. God is drawn to what we cannot see, God is drawn to what God can see.
God sees possibility where we see emptiness.
God sees vessels for grace where we see dirty workers.
God sees opportunities to spread love where we see ordinary humans.
God sees what we do not see.
This Spring I went to the fundraising breakfast for the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. Their Executive Director, my friend, Liz Classen-Kelly, told a story during the breakfast.
Each year in January volunteers from across Charlotte join together in the “point in time” count to count the people in Charlotte who are experiencing homelessness so that they can allocate resources properly and introduce people to available helpful resources. During the point in time count, volunteers head out around 4:30am and walk the streets of Charlotte to see who is sleeping on the street. Liz says she had passed by one man many times early in the morning who had been sleeping in the bus station. She had asked him several times to participate in the count, and each time he refused, telling her he was not homeless, he was just waiting for the bus.
She finally decided that one way to win him over would be to use the best trick she had in her pocket, a Bojangles breakfast biscuit. When she approached him with the biscuit, he warmed a little to her and told her and started talking a bit more, telling her he would participate in the count. She took out her clipboard to start recording all the necessary information for the count.
“What is your name?” she asked him and he told her his first name.
“And your middle name?” she asked.
“Perfect” he told her.
In that moment, Liz says, she connected in the most amazing way possible to that man’s mother. Liz is a mother herself to a 3 year old boy. She said, “and I remember when I had given birth to my son and the doctor’s gave him to me, I held him in my arms and looked at his face and told him ‘you are perfect.’ ‘You are absolutely perfect.’” She knew in that moment exactly what that man’s mother had thought as she held him in her arms many years ago the day he was born, “you are perfect.’ ‘You are absolutely perfect.’” And that his mother named him perfect so that every other person would know him as she knew him, her perfect son.
Liz said she felt like it was her job in that moment to pull down to earth the prayers that this man’s mother had lifted up, prayers that the world would know all the hope and capability she believed he had in him, prayers that the world would see her son as she had, prayers that the world would call him perfect, just as she had,. And it was Liz’s job in that moment to see him as his mother had seen him – perfect.
That is the difference between looking and seeing. Looking would tell you that this man was homeless, that he was jobless, maybe that he looked disheveled or was mean, or unclean. But seeing, seeing is different. Seeing saw this man as someone’s child, someone’s perfect child.
While at Broad Street ministry with our youth, we did another exercise. On three pieces of paper we wrote headings, “how the world sees me,” “how others see me,” and “how God sees me,”
On the heading which said “how the world sees me” most of us wrote things like I mentioned earlier that traditionally define us. Student, Pastor, white, engaged, middle class, runner, works at this place. Things like that.
On the heading which said “how others see me” the group shared words that they would use to describe each other, these were a little more positive and a bit more at the core of people. Things like “kind, smart, funny, good leader, easy to be around, etc.”
And finally, on the sheet that said “How God sees me” the facilitators had gone through and written the world Beloved. Beloved. It may seem trite or what you would expect me to say. But I wonder, why is it that God can call us beloved, God can call us perfect, God can claim each of us as God’s children. And I believe its because God sees what we cannot see. God sees things in us that we do not see, God sees in others what we do not see, and because God sees what we do not, God calls us beloved.
The prophet Samuel looks. God sees.
When we look, as even the prophet Samuel does, when we look on ourselves and look on others, we miss beauty, we miss opportunity, we miss possibility. When we look on ourselves we limit ourselves, when we look on others we limit them. Samuel looks and almost misses the possibility of David, the one who becomes the shepherd King.
When we see, rather than looking, when we see as God sees we open the world up to new possibilities. When we see, rather than looking, we experience life and the world in beautiful ways. When we see, rather than looking we expand our limitations, we enter into the joy that God has set out for the world – a world filled with people that God sees.
God sees. God sees more you for more than what the world has come to define you as. God sees you for more than your job, more than your income, more than your physicality, more than your accomplishments. God sees you, God’s beloved child, with all the beautiful qualities God created you to have, whether or not the world sees them. God sees each of us, God’s children, perfect and beloved.