My dad’s favorite shirt of all time was his magic mushroom shirt.
My dad wasn’t into drugs or drug culture or anything like that. He simply liked this shirt. It was a purple tank top with this really big mushroom in the middle surrounded by a bunch of little mushrooms. And it was as ugly as it sounds. My dad wore it everywhere. He’d wear it to the store. He’d wear it fishing. He’d wear it to the track while he was walking. I mean he wore it everywhere. We would have to beg him NOT to wear it when we went out somewhere. I mean eventually it had holes in it. All over. The front. The back. You name it. But my dad would still wear it. At some point, my dad did give up the fight and got rid of it. I know how hard that must have been for my dad to finally give up that shirt. I know because I had a magic mushroom shirt, too. It wasn’t a purple tank top or anything and it didn’t have any mushroom pictures, but I had this white polo shirt with a blue collar that I absolutely loved. I mean LOVED. It was by far my favorite shirt. I must have owned that shirt for 15 years. I know I did because it was the only XL shirt I had that still fit me. I had worn it so much and pulled and tugged at it in so many different ways that the shirt actually GREW with me. I had worn it on so many different memorable occasions that it had a lot of meaning for me. I even wore it the day Emma was born. Over the years, whenever the Goodwill truck came around or we were dumping off a load, Cassie would ask, “Do you want to get rid of this shirt?” And I’d always say, “no.” It wasn’t for a long time when I realized that this shirt was my own magic mushroom shirt. To the rest of the world, it was this ugly, old, beat-up shirt. But to me, I saw something different. And even though it was special to me, it was embarrassing to the people around me. People I cared about. Eventually, I gave it up, too.
There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite shirt.
Or favorite sweater or favorite anything. And at some point in your life, you probably had your own version of the magic mushroom shirt, but when we let our biases and prejudices get in the way of our reasoning and purpose, it’s time to re-evaluate what’s really important. In other words, when we let what we “want” get in the way of what we “need,” then what we need is to change our perspective. When we let what we “want” get in the way of what we “need,” then what we need is to change our perspective. That’s the lesson that we hear from the life of the prophet Samuel in our reading this morning from the Old Testament. If you want to follow along, we’re going to be reading from 1 Samuel 16, beginning with verse 4. 1 Samuel 16:4. This is the first time in the Bible that we encounter Jesse’s son, David, who would eventually become king of all Israel. In our sermon series this month, we’re going to investigate the life of King David, and through our readings of his life, hopefully, we’ll come to understand better the life God wants us to live. Hopefully, we’ll see David’s life and some of the stories of his life in new ways. In this reading, God has decided that Saul, the current king, is not fit to lead his people and he withdraws from Saul and tells the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king from the house of Jesse. Samuel is understandably worried. To anoint a new king while Saul is alive and on the throne is just asking for trouble, but Samuel is obedient and faithful to the Lord and God gives him a way out so he will not be suspected for what he is doing and he goes. This is where we pick up in our reading today.
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
When Samuel got to Jesse’s house and he is introduced to Eliab, he’s sure this is the man.
This must be who God has chosen to be the king. But the problem is that Samuel is basing this only on Eliab’s appearance. He doesn’t know anything else about him other than his looks. We can guess that Eliab is tall and probably good looking, at least enough to impress Samuel right away. But that isn’t enough for God who knows us inside and out. How often are we like Samuel and jump to the same conclusions? How often have we given our hearts to some good-looking man or woman only to realize that what lies underneath is nothing like what we thought it would be. Or sometimes we go the opposite way. We tend to hold see only the qualities we want to see, and we ignore those qualities that are negative or harmful or useless. We hold onto an ideal that no longer exists, a memory, a symbol; when to everyone else, they see it for what it is – a purple tank top with holes all over it or a white polo shirt that needs to be retired. God says to Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Meaning that God is more concerned about the true nature of something and not what it appears to be to us.
This same lesson is taught to David himself later in life.
In 2 Samuel 7 we read about God’s promise to David to establish him and his kingdom forever. But the part that is not often cited are the first few verses of the chapter where David is contemplating the building of the temple. David tells his advisor, Nathan, it bothers him that he lives in a nice place made of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant lies in a tent. But after hearing God’s response, Nathan tells David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ It’s not that God doesn’t appreciate the heart David has, but David got this one wrong. Honoring God isn’t about building a fancy place to worship or about stained glass windows or sound systems that can blow the roof off. It isn’t about being adorned in gold or dressing up nice on Sundays or the size of the building you have. David wants to honor God like this because those are the ways in which the world honors him and honors those they hold in esteem. So David wants to do the same for God. But where we worship isn’t as important to God as how we worship, who we worship, or why we worship. Where we worship isn’t as important to God as how, who, or why we worship. Like the lesson he teaches Samuel, God says that what is important to people isn’t the same as what is important to God. So “what does the Lord require?” To quote the prophet Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
It’s easy to forget that sometimes the things we think are important are not very important at all.
To us we attach meaning to rituals, to objects, to routines that to others have no significant meaning at all. We add meaning to meaningless things. And pretty soon, those things take on a life of their own because we attach them to events, places, and memories that DO have GREAT meaning to us. And in all honesty, there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. It’s only when we place those things above what God has told us is more valuable that we get in trouble. Things like people and community and relationships. When we value money and buildings and toys and sports teams and beat-up shirts more than we value God is when we stop seeing like the Lord sees. It’s only when our actions are more about ourselves than about being the person God created us to be that these things get in our way. What are the magic mushroom shirts in your lives that you need to get rid of? What are the objects, rituals, and routines you place such a high value on, that it holds you back from what God has in store for you?
Our churches are standing at a crossroad at this point in time.
It would not be the first time they’ve stood there, but it may be the first time in OUR lives that they do. And what we do in the coming days and how we behave and treat one another will be a testimony to who we are as God’s people. What will it be that dictates our behavior? Who will govern our hearts? God or the world? Because whether we grow or shrink, whether we come together or stay apart, one thing is certain – change is inevitable. And with the financial situation in both churches, change will happen sooner than later. So who will we be through the transition? Will we be loyal to God or loyal to ourselves? We must challenge ourselves and one another to think with clear heads, to pray with pure hearts and to take action with right intentions. We will be tempted to cling to the past. But I want to challenge you to ask yourself at each step – is this what I want or what God wants? Is the choice I make God’s will or my own? Because I firmly believe that if we follow God’s will, we can find a way to be productive, healthy contributors to God’s kingdom. But if we do not, we will certainly fail. Both churches have such rich histories and have done so much for this community and for one another that the best way we can honor the past is to move boldly into the future – whatever that future may be. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.