HEBREW BIBLE LESSON I Samuel 16:1-13
EPISTLE LESSON: Matthew 15:1-21
SERMON: “After God’s Own Heart”
There is an old story about two hikers along the Appalachian trail, one of whom shouted, “Look out! A pit!” Both leaped aside in time to avoid falling into a pit covered by vine.
“What was the most important fact about that pit?” one asked the other.
“The fact that someone carelessly left a danger like that?”
“The fact that we smartly jumped aside?”
“The fact that we saw it.”
When Samuel sat reviewing the parade of Jesse’s sons, he began with all the old criteria in order to pick a new king. He was looking for someone who was tall, strong, skilled in battle. But God reminded Samuel that the divine perception of reality differs significantly from our limited human view. God looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart. The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” When Samuel stopped using just his eyes and relied instead on the spirit of God, he immediately “saw” that the “ruddy,” harp- playing, dancing, shepherd-son of Jesse offered the spiritual strength and leadership that Israel would need from its next king.
In one of his famous escapades, Winnie the Pooh, tries to trap an elephant--or, as he calls it, a heffalump. So Pooh digs a hole to catch the heffalump, and decides to bait the trap with some of his own favorite food: honey. But of course, it is very hard for Winnie the Pooh to part with honey, and he just can’t bear to leave a whole jar of it in the trap, so he starts to eat some of it himself...always the master of rationalization, he excuses himself with the thought that it’s important to make sure it really is honey, all the way down. It wouldn’t do to have anything else, perhaps cheese or something, at the bottom. And so of course, by the time Winnie the Pooh is finally sure that it was honey all the way down the jar is empty!
For Pooh, what matters is what the jar really contains, all the way down to the bottom. If it’s only got honey at the top, but something quite different underneath, then what’s the point? And this is what lies at the heart of what Jesus says about the Pharisees and their purity laws. What’s the point of keeping all the purity laws if underneath one is not the kind of person God always had in mind?
What sort of person did God always have in mind? A person who is pure, not just on the surface, but all the way down to the very depths of their being. And Jesus is saying that the purity laws of what is “clean” and what is “unclean” miss the point entirely. What God is offering through Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with Him is a cure for the deep-level impurity all human beings suffer from. Being right with God has nothing to do with trying to follow a bunch of external laws. Some of those restrictions may have had some physical health purposes, some disciplines of obedience to submit to God may help us grow spiritually, but strictly adhering to the letter of the Law will ultimately only make a person a hypocrite, eventually falling into a pit. Jesus Himself is the only remedy for the wickedness and uncleanness that infects us all.
It is so easy to look at people in terms of size - he is short, she is tall. Or, she is attractive, he is not. This one is fat, that one is just skin and bone. Have you ever noticed how some people will come up to you and say, “Hi. Are you losing weight?” Instead of saying, “Has anything significant happened in your life lately?” That would be better. It is so easy to look at what a person is wearing or is not wearing and whether it is appropriate for the occasion. OK, I confess I’ve been watching Downton Abby the past few weeks. Set in England starting in the19teens, it is the story of an aristocratic family and their “servants.” My goodness, these people change clothes at least five times a day. They are shocked when someone shows up for dinner without the appropriate attire. But they never seem to get the struggles of the human spirit.
It is easy to look at a person’s manner, behavior, what he is driving, or where he lives, and to decide by appearances that this is who that person is rather than taking the time to look into his soul to really know who he is. The Lord was right. Not only then but also now, we human beings tend to look at each other and see outward appearances. Is there something we can learn from how God sees us? God saw David and what he saw in him made him choose David to be king. David was called “A man after God’s own heart.”
David absolutely was not a perfect person. He stole another man’s wife and then sent the man off into battle so that he would be killed. He had problems with his kids. He knew he wasn’t perfect. He wrote
Have mercy on me , O God, according to your unfailing love,
According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Grandpa, out.” It was only natural for Grandpa to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
God did not keep the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace, but He went into the furnace with them. God did not spare Paul and Silas the suffering and imprisonment, but He did come down into the prison with them. God did not rescue David from the consequences of many of his poor choices, but he was always with him. God will not always deliver us from trouble and heartache, but He has promised grace for every situation of life.--
So what do we do with that, especially when we find ourselves in a position where someone is deeply hurting us. We let the Lord take over in every situation, because Jesus Christ is the one with the power to change even the most hateful heart.
I recently read about an African woman who gave her heart to Christ. Her husband was the chief of a Zulu tribe. When she told him that she had become a Christian, the chief beat her brutally. As she was lying in the floor bleeding, the man mocked her and said, “Now, what can your Jesus do for you now?”
The woman picked herself up and tearfully said, “He can help me to forgive you.”
As we grow in Christ, we too learn to look on the heart instead of any outward appearance. Then we become men and women after Gods own heart.