A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

"The Heart of the Matter"

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13

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Expectations. We all have them. Some expectations are small, some expectations are huge, some of them are justified, and some of them are misplaced.

We have small expectations. You go to your favorite restaurant to get your favorite meal and for some reason on this night, the steak’s a little too well done, fish is a little dry, so the normal expectation of that meal… well, so much for expectations.

Or you decide after the first of the year to make a resolution. I’m going to start exercising and get in shape, diet, and eat right. So you do that for two weeks and get on the scale and it’s moved absolutely nowhere. So much for expectations.

Now some expectations are a little more important. I go to the doctor with some symptoms and I expect that the doctor is going to give me a prescription, and I’ll go home, take the pills, and after a few days be okay. But actually, I walk out of there with an appointment to see a specialist. So much for expectations

Many expectations are certainly justified. We raise our children to embrace certain values, certain things parents deem important, and over time we come to expect that they will live in a certain way and when they don't, our expectations are not met. We have certain expectations that chores will be done and sometimes they're not; and it’s okay to have those expectations because expectations teach responsibility. It’s a way to remind each other that we’re accountable. Of course, we could have unexpected or unfair expectations of our children. We can expect that they have to be certain things that maybe they're not geared to be. “In our family we’ve had five generations of doctors, and you will be one too!” Maybe we expect things of them that we shouldn't> Perhaps, sometimes we’re living our frustrated dreams through them?

In my younger adult days, I spent some time coaching boys baseball and girls softball. It was a lot of fun, but there were some parents who not only thought that every game was game seven of the World Series, but that right there if they didn't get the hit they should have, or if they didn’t make the play they should have made, that parent had to tell them right in front of everybody about their failure.  Unfair expectations can cause much mental trauma.

By the way, it’s good to have expectations for ourselves. All responsible people have expectations. I have certain expectations for myself, you have certain expectations for you, and it’s good that we have that, but sometimes we also expect things from ourselves that are unfair. We put too much of a burden on ourselves. We expect things that just can’t possibly happen, not because there’s anything wrong with us; it’s because our expectations are too high. Then when those expectations aren't fulfilled, we beat ourselves up.

We have expectations of ourselves and others because in order for us to live the way we need to live and do what we need to do with our responsibilities, often we are counting on others to do their part, and if they don't do what we’re expecting then we have the problem of not meeting the expectations of others.

I wonder if sometimes our expectations are unfair because we want others to be just like us. We want them to put importance on things that we put importance on, and if they don’t do that, but place priorities elsewhere, we deem them irresponsible.

God has expectations too. God has expectations of his people, but God gets to the heart of the matter of what's important. What God expects is always appropriate. God’s expectations are never unfair, they’re never misplaced.

Often in the Bible, God has to deal with folks whose expectations are misplaced. The disciples expected Jesus to be the kind of Messiah they were taught as children in the synagogue. The Messiah was going to be the one to raise an army and lead a revolt against the oppressors and drive them out of Jerusalem and Judea and finally set up the kingdom. But their expectations of Jesus are continually dashed when Jesus doesn't act like that Messiah. He’s going to be a different kind of Messiah.

In our Old Testament reading, we have a familiar story about the anointing of David as king of Israel. This story is about expectations. God expects his kings to be righteous. That’s very clear. They are not perfect, but God expects them to be consistent of moral character; and they get judged when they’re not. Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, the rulers are judged by one of two statements: "The king did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” or “the king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” For God, leadership is not just functional, about making sure certain things get done; it’s about reflecting the kind of character that reveals the divine image in the world

The first king of Israel is Saul. When Saul is anointed king, he fits the description. Saul looks like a king. He looks like what we would envision as a good king. He’s tall. We are told that Saul “stands head and shoulders above everybody else.” Saul is good looking. He probably has chiseled features, and he's perhaps he’s built like a guy you wouldn’t want to face in battle. In today’s world he could be the captain of the football team. When Saul is anointed, the people raise up in one voice with a confident exclamation: “This is our king!” Saul is going to be a great king. How did the people know? Well, just look at him.

But it isn’t long before it becomes clear that Saul is not a good king. Saul is selfish and self-centered. All he can think about is hanging on to his own power. He's ignores the word of the Lord that comes from the prophets. He rejects the admonishments of the priests. In fact, Saul is going to do something that was unheard of for a king of Israel. He executes priests. Saul, the man who looks like a king, is not a very good one.

Saul's life ends tragically, but before that happens God decides that making Saul king didn’t work out so well, so God is going to anoint a new king. The Lord instructs the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse because he has chosen one of Jesse’s sons rule over Israel.  But God tells Samuel not to look at his height or his appearance, because God doesn’t judge in the ways humans judge. God judges the human heart.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with qualifications for a job. When we hire people who have applied for employment at the church, we want their resume. We want to know their experience, their education, and their gifts. Then we do interviews and then we choose the person we think is best qualified for the job. That’s not what God is talking about here. God's not saying we’re just going to have anybody who wants to submit their name, and we'll pick a name out of a hat because we don't want to judge by appearances. That's not what's going on. Rather, God doesn't make judgments based on the trivial appearances we human beings give importance to. There is a long human history of people willing to follow other people who give great speeches, who are charismatic, who say what everybody wants to hear, and then history judges that the people judged incorrectly. God cannot be swayed by the shallow trappings of personality to what we human being so often fall prey.

So, Samuel comes to the home of Jesse. He has Jesse’s sons parade by and God indicates that he will inform Samuel of his choice as they pass in front of him. All the men parade by one by one. Some of them are in the Israelite army and no doubt look the part of king. Not one of Jesse’s sons are to be anointed. Samuel asks if there is another son. There is the youngest, David, but he is out tending the sheep. For some reason, Jesse doesn't seem to think that his youngest son would be one of the prospects. Perhaps David doesn’t look the part even to his own father?

David is brought before Samuel and we are given an interesting description. He’s ruddy. David's complexion is light and fair which clearly made him a standout in the ancient Semitic world. He also has beautiful eyes, not rugged eyes or piercing eyes. He has soft eyes. And while most translations say that David was “handsome,” this word can very well be translated “pretty.” In other words, David may have slight, almost feminine-like features. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, if you're comparing David to Saul, if you put Saul and David next to each other and had to choose one of these men to be king, based on appearance alone, David would not be the choice. As just mentioned, when Saul was anointed king, the people shout in one voice, This is our king.” When David's is anointed publicly, the people will ask, “Is this our king?” Yet, despite superficial human expectations, David goes on to be the king who becomes the shadow of the great future Davidic king, who's going to bring in the kingdom, who for Christians is Jesus Christ. No, David wasn't perfect, but he was very concerned about doing what what was right before God; and when he’s called out for his sin, he doesn't dig in his heels, and he doesn't blame anybody else. He accepts that he has sinned, and he repents.

God gets to the heart of the matter in all of us and in everyone else. We try not to judge superficially. I think all of us would believe we dislike doing that; but let’s confess how often it is difficult. The people who have studied this kind of thing say that when we meet somebody new for the first time, we’ve already made at least three value judgments about them in 10 seconds, just by looking at them. I don’t like that. I don’t want that done to me, and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. However, I need to acknowledge that I probably make such superficial judgment more times than I care to admit. When we judge superficially, we don't get to the heart of the matter for us and for others, and we end up with unfulfilled expectations and disappointment. Perhaps, at times, we need to ask ourselves if the problem isn't with the other person, but with our expectations. I am so glad that God has gifted us in many different ways. No human being is a complete package. The strengths of character that we all have also means that are certain weaknesses as well.

As we continue in ministry as the church, let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to get to the heart of the matter, and thus conform our expectations of ourselves and one another to what God deems important. May we be satisfied with the person in front of us whom God has made, who is different from us; and may we be satisfied with the person God has made of us.

Once we do that, we will then be able to work together as the Body of Christ. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the church, the Body of Christ has many different parts, and the parts work together for one purpose. That begins, I think, with fair and reasonable expectations of ourselves and one another.

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