God's Call, Our Desire
A Sermon Preached by
Rev. George V. (Tripp) Hudgins
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday June 17, 2012
Texts: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
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." (1 Samuel 16:7)
Just to remind us all a little about this morning's story, perhaps you remember from last week that Israel wanted a king. God (and Samuel) suggested this was a really bad idea, but they gave way and found a king for Israel: Saul. They were all convinced that Saul had all the qualities of a good leader. But, sadly, things would fly off the rails and Saul would become a problem for Israel...God would reject him as king and send Samuel to look for another. So, God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, for there Samuel would find a king for Israel.
Samuel believed he knew what to look for, too. Everyone knows what a good leader looks like, right? Someone tall, smart, talented, or maybe someone who has a deep, commanding voice. These are the qualities of good leadership, right? Maybe...maybe not. We don't know what Samuel was thinking specifically, but when Eliab was presented to Samuel he was pretty convinced that this guy looked like a king. Fortunately, God stepped in and interrupted Samuel before he made the wrong choice.
“Samuel, not this guy. I know he's tall and looks commanding, but I have something else in mind. You see,” said God, “you are all caught up in appearances. You must learn to see as I see. I see the heart.” Samuel met all of Jesse's children that day...from oldest to the youngest before he met David, the boy who would eventually become king of Israel.
“I see the heart.”
“I see the heart.”
This right here is why it's so very hard to define (and perhaps teach) the qualities of leadership. They cannot be seen. We have to look deeply into someone's heart, into their soul, to find the leader hidden there. Even Samuel, a very wise person, had trouble doing this. I don't know what makes it so difficult. I just know that it is.
When I was a college student, a benefactor made a multi-million dollar donation to the University I attended to establish a school for leadership.
A school for leadership.
Students would study management strategies learned from business, or politics, or grass roots organizing, as well as historical figures who have served as examples (both successful and unsuccessful) of leadership. To this day the school of leadership has received much criticism.
"How can one define or teach leadership?" the critics ask. "Is leadership something you can teach or is it some intangible quality people are born with?" Successful leadership may simply an accident of time and place...
The qualities that make for good leadership are ephemeral...they are hard to describe, but that doesn't keep us from trying to do so. Every year publishers print more and more books about leadership. I have several on my book shelf in the office. Some were required reading in seminary. Others I have purchased on my own over the years.
The authors approach leadership in many ways...some books are a collection of stories. Some focus on individuals. Others focus on communities. They describe the boldness of those who have saved companies and other organizations from the brink of collapse. They describe the moments of transformation and the amount of work it takes to change any organization.
Some of the books are quite specialized.
Leadership Without Easy Answers
What Would Jesus Lead?
Every year, more and more books. Every year, more and more stories. Every year, another attempt to explain this thing called "leadership." And, to be honest, I don't think we're any closer to understanding it than Samuel was in the time of the young David. Why? Well, because there is no formula. There is no guaranteed mixture of qualities that make for good leadership.
Each of these books is filled with stories because leadership is not a science. It's a craft. It is an art. And it takes a certain kind of vision to see it when it's there. And more often than not, our vision is clouded somehow. We're distracted by our own expectations or desires for what we think needs to happen next. We are convinced by our own wisdom and cannot find God's wisdom...and as scripture tells us again and again, it is in just such moments that we should listen for the voice of God. When we are convinced, it's time to listen.
What are the distractions that have your attention? What are the voices in your mind or heart that are louder than the voice of God? Are they memories? Is it a compelling idea? Perhaps, like Samuel, you are distracted somehow. God's voice can be hard to hear through all of that inner noise. Samuel struggles with this. He cannot hear. Not at first. And he cannot see. Not at first.
Samuel had called Saul to be king of Israel. He loved Saul. Saul was like a son to him and when Saul gave in to the greed of those around him in stead of doing what God had asked, Samuel was heartbroken. Maybe Samuel blamed himself for Saul's failure. I don't know. I just know he was disappointed and grieving. This is the Samuel who went to Bethlehem to look for a king.
Samuel was distracted with grief. There are many distractions. Most are totally reasonable...like Samuel's. His grief was entirely understandable. But there it was...in the way.
He looked upon Eliab and saw someone tall and commanding, the eldest of many sons of a great man,
Jesse, a “natural born leader,” if you will, an obvious choice.
“Quiet yourself,” said God. “Let me do this one thing for you. Your heart is broken. Listen for me and I will help you see. I see the heart.”
God sees the heart of us.
He saw the heart of David.
He saw the heart of Samuel, too.
God had a vision for Israel.
God had a vision for Samuel.
So often I forget this truth about God: That God sees the heart. God sees me and you in ways that we cannot even see ourselves. I don't think David saw himself as king...the eighth son. He had no promise, no station. He wasn't even invited to worship that day. He had to mind the sheep and stay out of the way. That's who David was. He was the guy who was told to stay out of the way. I wonder how he saw himself. Was David able to see his own heart?
Sometimes it's hard to hear God's call midst the sound of all our other expectations and desires. Sometimes our expectations are not generous enough. We think too little of ourselves. Sometimes our expectations are misplaced asking one another to be someone that we cannot be. Sometimes we're distracted by all the “shouldda wouldda couldda's” of life. Sometimes we're distracted by how highly we think of ourselves. The list is long...so very long.
But God sees the heart. God sees the heart.
God sees the truth of us that we cannot see for ourselves.
God sees the truth of our neighbors that we cannot see for ourselves.
God sees the truth of our enemies that we cannot see for ourselves,
distracted as we are by disagreement and conflict.
God sees the hearts of the educated and uneducated.
God sees the hearts of the accomplished and the humble.
God sees the hearts of the wealthy and poor alike
and does not judge our hearts by what we have or what we don't.
We live in a world of measurable outcomes.
We live in a world of pedigrees, of strategies, and formulas for success.
We live in a world that looks for outward signs
of something that exists only deep within each of us,
in the depths of the earth itself.
And God loves this world. Have no doubt. God loves this world so much that God came to us as Jesus to demonstrate that love.
God loves all creation because God can see the heart of it, of each of us.
God's call to each of us is hidden in the recesses of our hearts. God's call is kept in that deepest place where love and grace and beauty reside. God's voice is there...calling to each of us. God sees the heart.