Let us pray: Merciful and loving God, your thoughts are higher than our thoughts and your ways are higher than our ways. We thank you for your presence with us: helping to guide us as seek to live faithfully. We regret the times when we fail to look at our lives, situations, and the lives of others through your lens grace, justice, peace, and mercy for all. We pray that you would continue to blow your Spirit-wind into our lives that we may seek to follow you in all we say and do. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you, O Lord, are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Recently, at our annual conference session, Bishop Webb told the following story: there was a college student who was preparing for a final examination in ornithology, the study of birds. The student had heard how difficult the final for this class was, and so he prepared notes on all of the variations of birds. He went through his lecture notes highlighting and memorizing the important information about the birds his professor had taught the class. The morning of the examination arrived; the student walked into the classroom, and at once he knew that all of his preparation had been for nothing. All of his notes and his study prep were not going to help him on this exam. Located on the walls of the classroom were numbered photographs of bird legs. For their final exam, the students were to look at the bird legs and identify the bird based on its legs alone. The student sat at his desk stewing for what seemed for an hour. Finally, the student went up to the professor and said, “This examination is not a fair reflection of all that you have taught. I want another test; a test based on the information that you have imparted to us this entire semester.” The professor, both surprised and impressed by the student’s request responded, “Okay, I will make up another examination for you. What is your name?” The student stepped back, pulled up his pant leg, and replied, “You tell me.”
It is part of our human nature to make snap decisions based on our first impressions. In fact, this is what advertisers and marketers bank on. It is no surprise that when you walk into a grocery store that you are met with the scent of something baked in the bakery or an aroma of spring time flowers—items that give you pleasure. Nor is it a coincidence that when a store is busy, you will hear fast paced music, but when business is slow, a store plays slower music so that we will wander the aisles and make more impulse buy purchases. Whether it is our sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste, it is our nature to make decisions and judgments based on perception.
This phenomenon is not new; in fact, we learned about it last week in our lesson from I Samuel. When the elders of Israel asked for a king to rule over them, God did as the Israelites wanted and found a king, Saul. Saul is described as a “handsome young man,” whose wealthy father descended from the line of Benjamin. After Saul is anointed king, God commands Saul to go and utterly destroy the Amalekites for the way they opposed the liberated Hebrew slaves who were coming up out of Egypt. Saul, thinking for himself, takes the king of the Amalekites for a prisoner, and keeps the best of the sheep and cattle for himself. These actions displease God to the point where God is filled with sorrow for the decision of appointing Saul as king. So, God sets his vision on a new king for Israel.
Samuel, a Seer and a servant of God, is tasked with traveling to Bethlehem in order to anoint the new king. Samuel is fearful of the task, recognizing that if Saul caught wind of what was happening, then Samuel would be executed for treason. So, God sends Samuel on a mission of peace to Bethlehem, to sacrifice a heifer, and to invite Jesse and his family to the sacrifice. Jesse and seven of his oblige Samuel. Samuel sees Eliab. He is “tall in stature” and ‘standing right in front,” and Samuel—old in age with his own eyesight failing, thinks, “This one must be the one who will be anointed.” God responds 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 outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.” We know this story. We know that God does not choose any of Jesse’s sons who are at the sacrifice, but instead God calls Samuel to anoint the eighth-born son of Jesse, the son so low in status that he was not even invited to the sacrifice, but instead kept watch at his post as the shepherd. David is described as “ruddy,” “ handsome,” and as having “beautiful eyes,” and we are told that when David is anointed, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily on him.” This is good news for all of us. First, this story reminds us that we serve a God who is actively present and working and concerned for the welfare of humanity. The historian who wrote Samuel writes that God was sorry; that God was repentant for anointing Saul as King. Our God is not an abstraction without emotion, but is a God who cares deeply for the condition of humanity whom God created. This is good news because God not only saw hope in the handsome, young rich man named Saul, but God sees hope for the people of Israel in the eighth-born shepherd boy who wasn’t even invited to come and offer a sacrifice with his older brothers and father. Later, in the gospel account of Matthew, we will recall the story of how God sees hope for all of creation in a baby named Jesus: a baby whose heritage includes a Moab immigrant named Ruth, a Canaanite woman who was nearly executed for adultery named Tamar, and a relatively well-known prostitute, turned spy named Rahab. Jesus, himself, will live as an immigrant in Egypt until he can safely return to Galilee, where he will grow up learning the profession of the father who raised him, carpentry. We will hear crowds say of Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Galilee?” and Jesus will be crucified like a common criminal on a cross. Yet, it is this one Jesus whom God has chosen as the redeemer of all of humanity.
This morning we, as a community of faith, offer our worship to God through both the sacrament of Holy Baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion. We will celebrate the baptism of Amelia Grace Taylor today. As we celebrate her baptism, we will give thanks to God for already being present and active in Amelia’s young life and we will promise, along, with Courtney, Aaron, and all of Amelia’s family to pray for her, to help Courtney, Aaron and the Meyers and Taylors raise Amelia in a life that will lead her to make a choice to follow Christ when she gets older. The reason that we are able to celebrate Amelia’s baptism at a young age is because as the Lord said to Samuel, “The Lord looks on the heart.” God knows the plans for Amelia, God has loved and cared for Amelia since before she was born into this world, and as she is baptized, it is God’s grace and Spirit that will continue to grow within her. We are called to covenant with Courtney and Aaron. Despite the fact that each one of us, on our own, is not capable of carrying out this covenant, we, as a community, are a mosaic of God’s wonderful creation. We all bring our gifts and our growing edges as we work and walk and pray with and for Amelia.
Then, as a more complete community of faith, we will be invited to come: to come and remember that God loves each one of us, to come and remember that Jesus poured himself out to the point of death for each one of us, to come and receive a sign of God’s everlasting covenant with humanity and to come and renew our covenant with and our commitment to God. For as long as we have breath in our lungs, God places in each of us God’s hope for creation. God gifts each one of us in order that, we, as a community together, will right the injustices and will champion for the voiceless, the marginalized, and the forgotten ones among us. It is a high calling that we receive, and thankfully, we serve a loving God who intricately and purposefully works in us, through us, and sometimes in spite of us, and who sees into our hearts when we find ourselves staring blankly at a pair of bird legs, unable to recognize God’s handiwork in our very midst. Thanks be to God. Amen.