If you’ve watched a professional or college football game, more than likely you’ve seen footage of the stadium and the city where the game is being played, filmed from the Goodyear Blimp. In fact, they’ve been covering games for nearly sixty years, since their first Rose Bowl in 1955! From high in the sky, the stadium itself can seem small, and more beautiful than its sometimes mammoth proportions of seating would suggest, as the view captures much more than the individual seats of 100,000 screaming fans, hotdog vendors, players, and news crews. From high in the sky, the first down marker seems to be merely inches away, and the injuries, penalties, and struggles of each team fade into the soaring picture of the panoramic view of the blimp.
Sometimes, I wonder if that’s not what God sees. Not that the details don’t matter– we know that even the faintest hair on our head is counted by God– but I wonder if he doesn’t hold a longview of the picture, both in time and space. For problems that seem thisclose to the end of our noses, I wonder if God doesn’t have a different perspective on how they look and their lasting significance. I am sure that God sees all and knows all and that in the process, he has a vantage point that lets him understand more than we can grasp from moment to moment.
I wonder what we would see about our own lives if we could step back for a minute, if we could examine them through a view from the blimp… or a view from heaven. I believe we’d see different nuances than what we can see now. It’s what worked for David in our story today from I Samuel 16, and it might show us something about who we are in God’s eyes.
Our story begins with the prophet Samuel – the little boy from last week who heard God calling him in the night is all grown up now – sent by God to anoint the next king of Israel. God has rejected Saul, who had become caught up in his own hype and who disrespected God’s commands for his own pleasure over and over again. God sends Samuel to Bethlehem (the town that Jesus will later be born in but we’re getting ahead of ourselves) to the household of a guy named Jesse who had eight sons.
The eldest son walks in and Samuel assumes that it has to be him. It’s always the oldest in the ancient days who receives the blessing and is built for the best, right? But God tells Samuel not to worry about this son’s looks or his height, implying that Samuel saw what everyone else did: this guy was big and strong and a GQ model! God says he’s more concerned about what is inside the young man’s heart.
[Sidebar: this doesn’t bode well for the guy’s heart! But it is interesting that we see a pattern where good looks, and the accolades of others, are not in line with what God is looking for. I wonder if pretty, athletic people don’t have to attend to the same things because they find other avenues easier. Guess God is evening the playing field for short, ugly people?]
Jesse’s first seven sons get the big red America’s Got Talent “X” from God. I have to feel for Samuel a little here. He’s already expressed fear that Saul might become angry that a new king was being anointed while Saul was still king, alive and kicking, and now God was crossing off the most obvious choices after Jesse had shown Samuel hospitality. It had to have been uncomfortable, and frustrating, and at least a little embarrassing.
But Samuel dutifully asks if there’s another son, figuring there has to be something, right? So Jesse summons in the youngest [read: least important] who has been left out watching the sheep while the ‘big kids’ were paraded before the visiting priest. David wasn’t even invited to his own coronation! He was considered too small, too weak, too young, too everything to be included, first by his own father and then by Samuel.
And then God says, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” And Samuel knows that this is who God has chosen. God already told Samuel- and Saul- that God had “sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of the people” (I Samuel 13:14)! God looked down at the world and out of all of the men he could’ve chosen to lead his people, he picked a guy who was the eighth son, the one with no blessing to grasp and nothing about himself to hold onto.
We can see that God loves the underdog, that God looked into this young man’s heart and saw something he could love and respect. That David would grow to be a mighty king with God as his leader and his heart aimed at doing God’s will. This was bound to be amazing!
But the David story isn’t always so amazing. And that’s what makes us stop and scratch our heads this morning, to consider how after all that David does, how he could be a “man after God’s own heart”?
Sure, things start off pretty well. In I Samuel 17, David shows courage and integrity in standing up to and defeating the Philistine giant Goliath, and later leads his men again and again to defeat the Philistines (I Samuel 23ff); David repeatedly refuses to kill Saul, who is trying to kill him, because David knows that God had raised Saul up as the king (I Samuel 24, 26), and later cares for Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth (II Samuel 9).
But there’s a flip side to David’s glory, too. David lies to a priest to get he and his men some bread that was really for the Temple (I Samuel 21:1-6); he later deceives a Philistine king and wipes out whole cities to bring wealth to himself while running from his call (I Samuel 27). And then there’s the story of David and Bathsheba in II Samuel 11.
The lowlights: David sees a beautiful woman bathing, while he’s walking around the palace. [It should be noted that David gets up out of bed and is wandering around: nothing good ever seems to happen late at night!] David finds out that she is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah; the connection to her father and to her husband are both made known to him, and he still has her brought to him to sleep with her.
David is driving down the center of town here, through one red light after another, just ignoring all of the warnings. David, the man after God’s own heart…
So Bathsheba gets pregnant! And David engages in a cover-up to end all cover-ups. He has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah brought back from the warfront so that he can hide who got her pregnant. But Uriah won’t sleep with his wife because his brothers at the warfront aren’t safe and comfortable. David even gets Uriah drunk, and he still won’t go to his own home.
So the man after God’s own heart…. has Uriah murdered in the midst of the war.
How many red lights is that? How many times were there for David to pump the brakes, to back off of the temptation he was pursuing, to make things right? And yet he didn’t. But David gets criticized by the prophet Nathan, and he repents (“I have sinned against the LORD”). It’s a pattern that we’ll see again later, in II Samuel 24:
-The people of Israel have offended God, and God ‘incites’ David against them, much the way that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh in the story of Exodus (10:1).
-A census is done, but not in the way that forms are filled out today. No, this was more barbaric, more forced, more invasive and unjust.
-David recognizes that he has messed up, that he has gotten too big for his britches and says, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant” (II Samuel 24:10).
-God provides David with three options for punishment. (Does this remind you of giving a child a vote in the appropriate response to something they’ve done wrong?) David chooses the one which will keep the hurt in God’s hands and not in the hands of Israel’s enemies
-David cries out, again and again. “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD for his mercy is great” (II Samuel 24:14) and “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These (people) are but sheep. What have they done?”
But we can still look back at the story of David and see the high and low spots. We can see Goliath; we can see Bathsheba. We can see courage and faithfulness; we can see selfishness and willful sin.
And then we recognize that God can see both sides, too. That the God who would look not at the outward appearance but the heart of a fresh faced teenager watching sheep could also judge the decision-making of a king, whether it was two o’clock in the morning or four o’clock in the afternoon.
That God sees the whole picture, from end to end, every choice and every thought, every mistake and every success, every sin and every repentance.
And calls David a man after his own heart.
Does that make you pause? Does it make you consider that the picture of God’s love and mercy might be bigger than we can see? That the things we do wrong might be made right and that the grace of God flows deeper and farther than we could ever imagine?
That our judgment of ourselves and each other must be dead wrong, because God sees the whole world and not just our vision of it?
In Romans 5, Paul wrote, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In the recently released film God the Father about New York City mob boss Michael Franzese, who was convicted of fourteen counts of racketeering, extortion, and counterfeiting, in 1985 as a member of the Columbo family and associate of John Gotti. But in 1992, thanks to the faithful prayers of his wife and mother-in-law, he repented of his sins, claimed Jesus as his savior, and left the life of crime behind. Once a nominal Catholic and violent criminal, he turned one hundred eighty degrees, started an organization called Breaking Out to help youth avoid some of the same temptations he fell to, and began sharing his story from “Godfather to God the Father.” Michael Franzese represents those second chances of grace, the reminder that it’s not the good-by-their-own merits that Jesus died for.
David wasn’t righteous. But he tried to be good, to make amends when he’d done wrong. David did good but he wasn’t “good” on his own. He needed accountability, he needed grace, he needed God’s forgiveness.
When David sinned, he didn’t always see it for himself, but when he recognized his sin, he repented.
We can see now that God’s plan of grace is bigger because we can see that he sent Jesus to die on the cross.
While we were yet sinners.
While we were dealing unjustly with our family members and business acquaintances.
While we were getting angry when we shouldn’t have been offended.
While we were talking poorly of other people who are broken just like us.
While we were struggling to adjust our attitudes and our points of view.
While we were still sinning….
Jesus Christ died on the cross for us then. Not after we were done. Not after we repented. Not after we got all of our stuff together in a nice neat box with repentance and forgiveness wrapped all around it.
While we were still stuck, Jesus died for our sins.
Friends, you are forgiven, not to go and sin more, but to recognize the freedom in being forgiven. That we don’t have to be people who are mean spirited or selfish or arrogant anymore. We know what we are really like; God knows what we’re really like.
And God loves us anyway. Because God judges the heart.
I pray that if your heart is not right today, that you would take a moment to surrender it to God. Repent of your sin and the attitudes you have toward yourself and others that are not what you’re supposed to be. Ask God to make you new, to help you day-by-day to practice loving yourself, loving others, to let go of the things that don’t really matter from the blimp’s eye view of the world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Glory to God, Amen.