March 30, 2011

Internalizing what Externals Mean

by Jake Wilson
1 Samuel 16:1-13

We live in a culture obsessed with appearance.  Tanning beds promise us sun-kissed bodies year round.  Moleskine notebooks remind others of how creative we are and our designer eye wear helps us not only to see but to be seen.  In this image obsessed culture we are tempted to continually modify the external, often in an effort to avoid the work of tending to the inner life which cannot be so easily dressed up. 

God, however, is not so easily distracted by the temptation of the external.  This episode in the life of God’s people is a brilliant example of the declaration God made to Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8-9)

As we see in 1 Samuel 16, the election of David is not dependent on a skillful political machine managing his image or his deft use of talking points.  In fact David is completely silent in the text.  Rather it is the LORD who speaks.  And the LORD speaks decisively for David, “Rise and anoint him for this is the one.” What this anointing means and how this election will play out is yet to be seen.  We bring to this text our fascination with the David who will play the harp, slay the giant, live on the run and dance before the Ark of the Covenant.  However none of that has happened yet.  In fact, as the text presents him, David is almost a non-factor in his own election.  Rather than achieving his fame through military victory (“Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 1 Sam. 18.7) David receives the Holy Spirit. This anointing with oil and the Holy Spirit come to David as a gift independent of his past and empowering his future.  Much like the radical break between Genesis 11 and the election of Abram in Genesis 12, God has made a decisive break with Saul and embraced a new future for both God’s people and the nations.

According to the text this new beginning comes as a recognition of the state of David’s heart.  In 1 Sam. 13.14 we are told that God has chosen a new leader, “a man after His own heart.” When Samuel is tempted to reward the external (“He looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD”) he is reminded that “The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” David’s election comes as a gift not based on his external achievements or appearance but rather as an acknowledgement of the desires of his heart. 

This text is well suited to the inner journey of Lent.  In a culture obsessed with the external, Lent offers us the time and space to reconsider the state of our own hearts.  This is hard work because the terrain of our inner life is marked by the brokenness of anger, pride, depression, betrayal, addiction and all of the other trials that assault the Christian both internally and externally.  All of us enter into the season of Lent heart broken in one sense or another.  For this reason the preacher my profitably pair this text with a service of spiritual and physical healing that includes anointing with oil.  As David was anointed with oil, “the Holy Spirit fell mightily upon him.”  That same Spirit is active in the Church today piercing our external charade and beckoning us to care for our inner life.   As we are anointed with oil the Spirit of God is offered freely to us through the gifts of creation for both physical and spiritual healing.  In a time when we are constantly being tempted to ‘Re-Think Church’ by addressing our parking lots and small group systems this week we have the opportunity to be reminded that the LORD looks upon the heart.  By God’s grace may ours be found tuned to sing God’s praise.

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