Sunday’s sermon: More Than Meets the Eye

more than meets the eye
artwork by Maurizio Nannucci

Texts used – 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Ephesians 5:8-14

  • I have to remind you all of something before we start this morning. Once a year, I spend a couple of days holed up in my office, and I plan the sermons for the following 12-18 months.
    • Pick Scriptures
    • Plan various series
    • Jot down a main idea or two
    • Sometimes even get so far as a sermon title
    • For a whole year
    • I’m reminding you about this little yearly practice of mine because as you listen to the sermon this morning, I want you to keep in mind that these Scriptures and this basic theme were chosen months ago … way back in Nov. … funny God moment. Trust me.
  • Now, 1991 was a magical year for one reason and one reason only: Disney. That was the year that Disney released the animated version of Beauty and the Beast.[1]
    • Especially appropriate seeing as the live-action version[2] just came out
      • SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t gone to see that movie yet, you need to. Seriously. It’s amazing … whether you saw the animated version 26 years ago or not. 
    • When the animated Beauty and the Beast came out, I was 7 years old. I vividly remember going to see it in a theater in Lake Placid, New York with my mom and my grandma.
      • First movie I remember seeing in a movie theater
      • Magical theater
      • Magical movie → All of the characters are more than what they appear to be at first glance.
        • Belle à more than your stereotypical, helpless, daydreaming Disney princess
          • Smart
          • Spirited
          • Courageous
          • And she’s a HUGE reader!!! What’s not to love?!
        • Living inanimate objects (talking clock, candelabra, teapot and cup, etc.)
        • And, of course, there’s the Beast – a rude and arrogant prince turned into a horrible beast by an enchantress as a way to try to teach him a lesson about the power of kindness and love.
        • Idea of there being more below the surface than what meets the eye, of course, inspires Belle to get to know the Beast, to eventually fall in love with him, and to break the spell
    • Seeing that movie is one of my favorite childhood memories, and it’s a perfect illustration for what we’re talking about today: uncovering hidden potential, diamonds in the rough, having faith in there being more than meets the eye.
      • Lenten series about boot camp for the soul → time of challenging, intense personal work
        • On our relationship with God
        • On our relationships with one another
        • On our own journeys of faith
        • We’ve talked about how hard – how grueling and demanding and taxing boot camp experiences can be.
          • Tough on the body
          • Tough on the spirit
        • And most people who decide to put themselves through an experience like that do so believing that they can come out better on the other side – that there’s something inside them waiting to be unleashed, something that is stronger … greater … more valuable just waiting to break out of whatever shell its hiding in.
    • Faith has to have that element of belief, too
      • Belief in a strength greater than what we feel we have
      • Belief in a cause greater than ourselves
      • Belief in that we are more than we are capable of
        • That God can save us
        • That God can use us
        • That God can make us new
        • That by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, we are indeed more than meets the eye.
  • Paul’s essential message in Eph passage
      • Speaks powerfully and poetically of Paul’s vision for the church
        • Unity
        • Community
        • Reconciliation
        • New life in Christ
      • Intro from New Oxford Annotated Bible: “The church must recognize both Christ as its Lord and exemplar and its own exalted status as a spirit-filled community that brings the power and presence of God to the world.”[3] → hear this in first verse that we read today – text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.[4]
        • Call to action
        • Call to faith
        • (Maybe not necessarily in that order)
    • Throughout this Lenten season, as we’ve talked about boot camp for the soul and how we can grow in our faith, we’ve talked some about change – about how boot camp experiences are specifically meant to change us and about how sometimes that change is a hard, hard thing. And one of the hardest things about that change is the uncertainty.
      • Don’t know where exactly we’re going
      • Don’t know exactly what the end is going to look like
      • Don’t know what opportunities will arise out of our boot camp transformations
      • We know that something – something new and different – is coming, but we do not and cannot know what that is … and that scares us. [PAUSE] Hmmm … do you remember when I told you to keep in mind that these Scriptures and this basic theme were chosen months ago … way back in Nov. … and that this was a funny God moment. Hmmm … does this seem eerily appropriate to anyone else? “For such a time as this,” huh?
    • Eph text also addresses that tension between what used to be/what is and what can be – tension that motivates us to want to be more than meets the eye – text: Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.[5] → “Test everything” – what we do, what we cherish, what we say, what we believe – that is our call: to test everything about who we are and how we “do” faith, both as individuals and as a community, so that we can continue to live as children of light.
      • Lent = all about that testing
      • Boot camp = all about that testing
      • Testing reveals undiscovered potential buried underneath all the fears, all the uncertainties, all the worries, all the doubts … But only if we have the courage to test it in the first place, and to refuse to “participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.” Only if, in learning how to say a stronger and more faithful ‘yes’ to God, we also learn how to say ‘no’ to the things that hold us back.
        • Presumptions
        • Prejudices
        • Pre-conceived notions
        • Last 7 words of the church: “That’s the way we’ve always done things”
  • That’s what our Old Testament story is all about this morning. → story of prophet Samuel finding a new king for the people of Israel
    • Story where we picked it up today sort of hits the ground running, so BACKGROUND:
      • Samuel = prophet
      • Time when people of Israel were demanding a human king instead of series of judges that had been governing people up to that point
      • Previously, God had directed Samuel to appoint first king: Saul
        • Saul started off as a good king → did what God wanted, listened to Samuel/took his advice, continued to worship God
        • But this blissful state of ruling the people and serving God faithfully didn’t last for Israel’s leader.
          • Began to ignore Samuel’s advice about engaging with other nations
          • Began to make rash, cruel decisions involving his army and war
            • Didn’t consult Samuel
            • Didn’t consult God
    • Today’s Scripture: God directs Samuel to find a new king for Israelites
      • Obviously a tricky deal → Saul hasn’t died. Saul hasn’t abdicated the throne of his own choosing. Saul is technically still the king. He still very much wants to be king and very much enjoys being king. And yet God is telling Samuel to go find and anoint a different
        • Hear Samuel’s hesitation in beginning of this morning’s Scripture story – both grief over Saul’s failure and fear that Saul, upon hearing about being replaced, will fly into a rage and kill him for this betrayal → So God – the Lord Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth – God actually comes up with a sneaky plan to help Samuel find a new king and keep Saul in the dark. – text: “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”[6]
    • So Samuel takes the heifer and goes to find a new king.
      • Comes across a man named Jesse, just as God said he would
      • Meets what he thinks are all of Jesse’s sons – strong, handsome, grown men that over and over again make Samuel think, “Surely, that must be the guy!” “Surely, that must be the guy!” “C’mon God, surely, THAT must be the guy!” → God’s response: But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”[7]
        • (Nerds of the world, rejoice!!)
    • Samuel goes through all seven of Jesse’s oldest sons this way → Not to heap too many Disney references in one sermon, but this Bible scene always makes me think of the end of Cinderella when the prince is trying to find his mysterious princess and tries the glass slipper on one woman after another. “Is this the one?” “Nope.” “Could she be the one?” “Nope.”
    • Finally, Samuel asks Jesse if there could possibly be anyone else – someone that he might have overlooked. And Jesse remembers his youngest son, David, the scrawny little guy hanging out with the sheep. – text: Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?” “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.” “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.” So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.[8]
      • David becomes one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history
      • God saw that in David before he even saw it in himself
      • Remember Paul’s words from Ephesians this morning? – text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. 9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. … But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. → Wake up to your own potential! Wake up to your own worth! Wake up to what incredible, powerful, beautiful, God-given gifts are inside you just waiting to be discovered! God knows you. God loves you. And God has a purpose for you – a purpose for which God has specially and specifically equipped you. You are more than meets the eye.
        • Goes along with what we say as part of every invitation to communion: No matter who you are … no matter where you come from this morning … no matter what you bring with you à All those external things that others judge don’t matter because God sees what’s in your heart. God sees the light in you, and that’s what matters.
  • One last thing for us and who we are here and now in this place: David had hidden potential. David was a diamond in the rough. As the Lord looked not at David’s appearance but at his heart, God saw that there was more to David than met the eye. More than his age. More than his size. More than his inexperience. More than his meager beginnings. God looked at his heart and saw that there were great things in him. … Friends, that is this church! There is hidden potential here – more than meets the eye. We are more than our age, more than our size, more than our meager beginnings. I truly believe that God has great things in store for this little white church on the hill.

[1] Beauty and the Beast (animated), released by Walt Disney Pictures November 22, 1991.

[2] Beauty and the Beast (live-action), released by Walt Disney Pictures March 17, 2017.

[3] “The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians: Introduction” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd edition: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 320.

[4] Eph 5:8.

[5] Eph 5:10-11.

[6] 1 Sam 16:2b-3.

[7] 1 Sam 16:7.

[8] 1 Sam 16:11-13.