Sermon preached June 17, 2012
Texts: I Samuel 16:1-13; II Corinthians 5:16-17
Two summers ago we spent some of our vacation in Tennessee. I was in Nashville for a workshop and then we traveled to Memphis. In Memphis we visited the National Civil Rights museum including the old Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. While in Memphis we toured Sun Studios – where Elvis Presley made his first recordings and other famous musicians like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis got their start. We toured the Rock and Soul museum, across the street from the Gibson Guitar offices. We also drove by the studios of Stax Records. Stax Records was housed in an old movie theater and on the marquee, it read, “Soulville USA.” From 1957 to 1975, Stax Records recorded a number of significant artists in southern soul music: Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes. Among the artists who recorded for Stax was a group called “The Dramatics.”
The Dramatics, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
What you see is what you get. That is a pretty good sentiment. What you see is what you get. It speaks of consistency and authenticity – things we strive for personally. I would like in my life for there to be consistency between my words and my actions, my intentions and the results of my actions. I know I am not perfect here, but I strive in that direction. I would like there to be authenticity in my life. What you see is what you get.
I think we would kind of like that for our church, as well. We want to be a place where our actions are consistent with our words and intentions. It is a good thing, even when it may come at a cost – and sometimes it does.
Last Sunday afternoon and evening our church was the site of a rally sponsored by Duluth and Minnesotans United For All Families. It is a group whose focus is defeating the Marriage Amendment that will be on the November ballot here in Minnesota. We provided space for this gathering, and we did so believing it to be consistent with who we are as a congregation. Voting “no” on the marriage amendment would be consistent with being a welcoming and reconciling congregation. That is not to say every member of this church feels the same way about that issue, and we talk together even when we may disagree. But hosting this rally fits with who we are. Some outside our church don’t like that one bit. This week I received two phone calls from persons distressed, even angry that a church might not be opposed to same-sex marriage. One caller was emphatic – “It is against, God’s law, moral law and natural law.” This caller told me I better think long and hard about the kinds of things I am teaching. These were not my favorite moments of the week, but they are a part of being authentic as a congregation who believes following Jesus means welcoming all, and having one’s theology and ethics shaped by the lived experience of others who may be different.
If it weren’t a copyright violation, perhaps I would add the song to our phone message – First United Methodist Church: What You See Is What You Get.
Yet, sometimes “what you see is what you get” may not be very helpful. Sometimes what we see is not all there is to be seen. Here’s an example. First United Methodist Church – copper top and stone structure – architecturally perhaps we don’t exude warmth. What you see is what you get? I hope not. Sometimes what we see is not all that there is to be seen.
God sends Samuel to look for a new king for Israel. Saul has been rejected and God conspires with Samuel to keep this search for a new king a secret from Saul. It will be one of Jesse’s boys. Samuel is impressed by Eliab, presumably Jesse’s oldest. Indications are that Eliab is tall and strong. God whispers some advice to Samuel. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” None of the seven sons Jesse presents to Samuel passes the heart test. Samuel wonders if there are any more. Well, one more – “the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” Well, sheep or not, Samuel wants to see him, and turns out he is the one – David. Interestingly, just after God has told Samuel that the Lord does not look on appearance, what we are told about David is that “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Even for the Biblical writers, consistency can be a struggle.
What you see is what you get? Perhaps, but we always need to be asking if we are seeing widely and deeply enough, if we are seeing all there is to see. Most importantly, are we paying attention to the heart?
So if God is paying attention to the heart, what is God seeing? God sees into the depths of who we are. God sees it all. Here are a couple of other things to remember.
When God looks into our hearts, God sees God’s own good creation. Each of us is part of God’s good creation, beloved by God, a person in whom God delights, even if we have disappointed God at times. One way to think about God’s grace in our lives is to remember that God always sees us as part of God’s own creation – good and delightful.
When God looks into our hearts, God also sees a new creation in process. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” When God looks at our hearts, God does not just see who we are and where we have been, God sees who we can become in Christ. God sees our potential – the bulb in the flower, the tree in the seed, the butterfly in the cocoon. God knows we are on a journey, on a journey to make Christ more real in our lives, in our life together, and in our world.
When God looks into our hearts, the deepest part of who we are, God sees it all – the good, the beautiful and the ugly. God also never stops seeing God’s good creation in us, nor does God ever stop seeing who we can be in Jesus Christ – a new creation.
I believe this to be true for each of us, and I believe it to be true for all persons. There are some powerful implications to that. If God sees in all God’s good creation, and the potential for new creation, we should see no less. What you see is what you get, only if you see a bit like God – see the beauty of God’s good creation in all others, the potential of new creation in Christ in all others. Sometimes our seeing is quite myopic, and God challenges us to see more clearly and deeply. This belief that God sees in all God’s good creation challenges every human seeing that views only race, or only class, or only sexual orientation, or only gender, or only height, or only education, or only the past – and often carries with these limited views negative stereotypes. If what we see is limited and negative, then “what you see is what you get” becomes insidious and damaging. Part of the work of God’s new creation in each of us is to expand our sight beyond negative and limiting stereotypes.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new. The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
God in Christ is working in each of us and on each of us – doing heart work. God is creating us to be real people, authentically loving people – not made of plastic or wood or stone. God wants to work new creation in us so that we can sing “If what you’re looking for is real loving, then what you see is what you get.” May it be so. In Christ. Amen.