What God Sees

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
June 13, 2021

Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1–13

We gather this morning during the season of Pride. This is the season when Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people and their allies step forward in celebration as beloved community to offer safe and affirming spaces for all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity and expression. But there will be many who will not see that. They will not see diverse and affirming beloved community, not because they are not looking right at it, but because they refuse to see the fullness of the heart and humanity of others. There will be some religious folk especially who will look at LGBTQ people and their allies and focus exclusively on the outward appearance of same-sex intimacy, rainbow flags, and body positivity and affirmation and see only what they consider to be dark, profane, and forbidden. In the failure to see differently, to look at the hearts of others, to look at their character and their deepest longings as God’s beloved, many will miss the movement of God.

The prophet Samuel in our scripture lesson today was on the verge of missing the movement of God because he assumed that he could tell who and what God was looking for based solely on appearance. And if last week’s proclamation was all about listening well, today’s lesson is an invitation to consider seeing rightly.

When God sent Samuel to Jesse because God had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king of Israel, Samuel had an image in his mind of what a king should look like. Samuel was ready to pick the first person he saw, Jesse’s oldest son, because he fit the cultural and traditional picture of leadership. God intervenes to caution Samuel against the rush to judgment based on outward appearance and to provide a lesson on what God sees: God does not look at the things people look at; people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Samuel could only see someone who looked the part and nearly missed the one God had chosen. God saw a young shepherd boy with a good heart and strong character and picked someone who would faithfully live the part.

Because of the way God sees, seven of Jesse’s sons are not chosen to lead God’s people. Because of God’s sight and insight, it was David, the last son who was considered the least, rendered by his father and tradition as unsuited and unexpected for such a future, that led God to declare, “This is the one.” Apparently, God is not looking for piety nor perfection, neither the strongest nor the smartest. God is looking beyond the surface. God is looking for someone with a good heart.

Our tradition has become satisfied with the understanding that God is watching, but that’s quite a different approach from reflecting on what God sees. Even when we say God sees all, that understanding appears to be of a distant God watching with an eye toward knowing everything we do, especially if it is bad. But it is rare that we wonder who, what, and how God sees with an eye toward what we must look like to God. What does God see when God sees what God lovingly made? Who does God see when God looks at each of us? And if we take God at God’s word to Samuel that “God does not look at the things that people look at; God looks at the heart,” then something else, something mysterious, something good is happening when God initiates and authorizes us from Divine sight and insight to participate in God’s work. God is inviting Samuel and us to not judge people by what we see on the outside but what we discern from their hearts. It is risky, frightening, and uncomfortable trying to know people beyond the snap judgments we routinely make based upon what we see on the surface.

Perhaps some of the difficulty we have in seeing the way God sees and the way God invites us to see is because we find it hard to believe that God sees us for who we truly are. Unfortunately, we are enmeshed in a culture that markets to us by reminding us how often we don’t measure up. We are invited to buy products that will help us look better or look like the celebrities we admire. We are told what clothes we should wear, what places we should go, and what products we should purchase to seem younger, wealthier or more hip. We have been conditioned to look on the outward appearance—ours and others’—as a way of knowing. That preoccupation with the surface often overwhelms curiosity about that powerful inward journey on which our neighbors may be embarking.

It raises the question: What do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see what God sees? Are we attached to the image of ourselves that was stamped on us by those who hated us, shamed us, or disregarded us? Are we curious about the deepest longings of the heart? I am not asking us to look at ourselves to justify or rationalize who we have been conditioned to be or who we assume ourselves to be. I am asking us to see through the eyes of God, who does not see as people see but who looks on the heart. Are we able to see that beautiful soul made in the image of God, shorn of all other identities assumed or imposed except simply as God’s beloved?

Over the years, I have met so many people who have been victims of our preoccupation with the outward appearance. Black and brown people who are almost always seen as criminals, profiled and targeted for policing. LGBTQ people who have discounted their witness, testimony, and chosen-ness. Too many talented people who do not see their promise because someone told them they do not look the part; who have been hanging back in the fields with the sheep because someone told us that is the only place for which we are suited. Too many of us have accepted the current religious wisdom that we have to have the right amount of piety or perfection to be the ones through whom God is willing to work. But I hope we accept God’s challenge to see what God sees; to trust in God’s sight and insight; to take that risky, frightening, and uncertain act of right seeing by looking at the hearts of God’s beloved.

I believe we can trust the practice of looking at the heart. As David’s future unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that God did not chose David because he was perfect, or sinless, or even the most reliable. God chose David because God looked at his heart and saw someone who would faithfully live the part. Regardless of who we are or what we look like or what people say about us, God sees our character and capacity to faithfully live out the work God calls us to. Trusting in God’s sight and insight, perhaps it is truer than many of us have allowed ourselves to believe that I can declare without reservation: You are the one. Rise and be anointed. You are the One.

Beth Hoffman Faeth and Seth Patterson discuss the sermon: