7-9-17 “Hero Central” Series - “God’s Heroes Have Heart”
Who was your favorite comic book superhero when you were a kid? Or, if you weren’t really a fan, which was the first that you were aware of?
It was probably Batman for me. I was just 7 or 8 years old when the Batman TV series with Adam West was on, so that was probably the first superhero of that nature that I was aware of. Later, of course, I learned of Superman, Wonder Woman, The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, Iron Man, Spiderman, and others. Now, that said, I was never one to spend my money on comic books. If I was a fan at all it was because they were on TV, either in live action or in cartoon form.
With the recent renaissance of superheroes in film, I’ve learned that there are many more characters out there than what I had previously known.
For example, I had never heard of the likes of the X-Men or Wolverine until they became a movie franchise. But that said, I’ve only seen a couple of those films.
I do like Tony Stark as Iron Man, at least as I’ve seen him portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man doesn’t have any super powers in and of himself, but Tony Stark invented the Iron Man uniform that allows him to do superhero things. And any number of actors, from Michael Keaton to George Clooney to Ben Affleck, have played the Dark Knight, Batman over the last twenty years - some better than others - but none with the campy flair of the recently deceased Adam West, God rest his soul.
And the people of God said together, “Kapow!” KAPOW!
One superhero film that I hadn’t seen until preparing for this sermon but had heard really good things about, though, is the first Captain America film, that tells how U.S. soldier Steve Rogers, not to be confused with the former Crossroads pastor of the same name, became Captain America.
Now, and not to nerd out on you here, but Captain America was created during World War II, so the story takes place in that context as well. Rogers tries desperately to enlist in the Army, but because of his encyclopedic list of health issues, is always rejected.
His persistence and desire though, catch the attention of a doctor working on a special team, and so Rogers is accepted, but this new recruit is definitely the runt of the litter. He’s slower, weaker, scrawnier, and sicklier than any of the other soldiers in his unit.
But he’s also among the smartest and most dedicated. Watch this clip - you’ll be able to pick out which one is Rogers.
And this is why I liked the movie Captain America. Captain America tells the story of one man’s character, integrity, courage, and heart. He didn’t inherit his powers. He didn’t earn them by being the strongest, the wisest, the fastest, or the best looking - in fact, Captain America doesn’t really have what we often think of as “super powers.” But he was chosen to be part of the experiment that led to his becoming Captain America based on his integrity.
When asked if he was ready to go kill some Nazis, Rogers replied, “I don’t want to kill anybody.
But I’ll stand up to a bully no matter where he’s at.”
This scrawny guy from Brooklyn refused to back down from any injustice. To test Steve Rogers' moral fiber prior to him receiving the super soldier serum, an officer threw a dummy grenade into a group of soldiers.
While the other soldiers ran for their own safety, Steve Rogers willingly offered to sacrifice himself for the others by falling on the grenade. Steve Rogers has heart.
What Captain America says to this and any
generation is that heart matters. Character matters.
The way you treat others matters.
The way you deal with injustice matters.
That's the message in our scripture passage today as well. After the period of Moses, Joshua and the Exodus, after the people of Israel had settled into the Promised Land, God raised up a series of Judges to rule over Israel in God’s place. The people of Israel, however, clamored for a king, a human ruler - like all the other nations around them had. Even though Israel had been set apart by God as a “chosen people,” to be different from those nations that surrounded them, they considered kings to be powerful and the judges to be weak, and they wanted to be seen as strong like their neighbors.
So as we get to our reading today, Samuel, the last of the Judges, had at God’s direction, previously appointed Saul to be Israel’s first king. (1 Sam 9).
We never learn God’s rationale for that choice, but Saul we read is the tallest, most handsome man in all Israel.
And while he was initially a good king, he slowly turned away from God’s way and God eventually rejects Saul
(1 Sam 15). So in our reading today, God sends Samuel to find a new king among the sons of Jesse.
Going to Bethlehem under the pretext of making a sacrifice so as to avoid endangering his life if Saul were to learn that Samuel was anointing a new king while Saul was still alive, Samuel resorts to the same old job description, tall, good looking, and, I guess, “kingly,” when he approaches Jesse about his sons.
And Jesse, starting with his firstborn, Eliab, parades his sons out one at a time like runway models, only to have them rejected by God, via Samuel. Tall, good-looking, and kingly are not at the top of the list of what God is looking for in the next king apparently, saying 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.” (1 Sam 16:7, CEB)
So, in the same way each of Jesse’s sons is presented and each is, in turn, rejected. “Are there no more?” Samuel asks, to which Jesse replies, “only the youngest, he’s out watching the sheep.”
How many of you here are oldest children in your family?
How many are middle children?
So, a show of hands if you’re the youngest child in your family?
I’ve never really studied birth order in psychology, but I’ve heard that often times first born children have a rougher way to go than do youngest children, is that right? I was a middle child so I didn’t have any of that, but I’ve heard that in families with multiple children that the carefully crafted parenting plan and rules that were developed for the first child are often thrown out by the time the last child comes along. I’ve heard it put that the oldest child is a trail blazer, a family “crash test dummy” if you will, while the youngest often has it easy, has the parents wrapped around their finger, and all of that.
I don’t think that’s how it worked out for David.
He was Jesse’s eighth Son, according to 1 Samuel. Interestingly, when this story is told in 1 Chronicles, the writer says David was the 7th son of seven, so historical accuracy is clearly not the point here.
Regardless of which son he was, David was just a kid
and he got the unenviable task of tending the sheep, probably because nobody wanted that tedious job.
First of all, it could be dangerous because of the threat
of either wild animals or thieves.
Second, it was the loneliest and smelliest work in the family. You were out in the fields with the sheep all day - you couldn’t leave them to come have lunch with the family so you took your lunch with you and ate with the sheep. And if you’ve been with the sheep all day, then you also smell like the sheep.
And if you were an observant Jew, then being with and handling the sheep all day meant you were always, always ritually unclean. You couldn’t make a sacrifice, you couldn’t go to synagogue, you couldn’t touch things that other people might touch.
Technically you couldn’t even give your mom and dad a hug really, because it would make them unclean as well. No, being chosen as the shepherd in the family was neither the plum assignment nor the ideal lot in life.
But that’s where David was. In fact, David was of such low consequence, that in our passage today - did you notice? - he’s not even named. It’s not until the next verse that we learn that the youngest son’s name is David, and that when Samuel anoints him, the Holy Spirit comes upon him.
David hadn’t distinguished himself among his family or his peers in any way. He was just a gangly, pimply faced kid at this point in his life who was viewed by his family as having nothing more to offer the family than to care for the sheep.
It’s ironic then, that even though God said that God doesn’t look upon the outward appearance but on the heart, that our narrator still gives us a physical description of David that tells us he’s a good looking kid. God doesn’t consider the outward appearance, but the narrator does. God, we’re told, looks at the heart.
Theologian Donald P. Olsen tells us about how the heart was thought of in that time. “Heart,” he writes, “was not the center of emotions for the ancients, although it was included. Heart was the center of one’s being: emotion, intelligence, discernment, wisdom, commitment, and character were all elements of heart - perhaps what we call soul,” he says.
So God is looking into David’s soul when he instructs Samuel to anoint the eighth son of Jesse as the next king.
He’s looking not at his physical appearance, although that is not a problem, he’s clearly not looking at birth order or even age, he’s looking deeper. He doesn’t care that the yet-to-be-named king David was given the lousiest job in the family, he cares about the heart and soul with which he does the job. Like Jacob being chosen by God over the firstborn Esau, or young Joseph being chosen to save his older brothers in Egypt and with them Israel, God has chosen the least likely of Jesse’s sons to be the next king of Israel.
He doesn’t fit the mold of what culture expects - he doesn’t do the things that people expect would-be kings to do; he doesn’t fall in first position in the lineage from which we expect a king to be named. Considered in our present day context, he’s not steadfast, loyal and long-suffering like Britain’s Prince Charles, he’s not the dutiful young family man like Prince William, and he’s not yet the rakish swashbuckling but troubled warrior like Prince Harry. He’s the shepherd, the least and last, the odd man out, the nearly forgotten and seemingly forgettable son of Jesse.
This choice would never fly in our world today if it were left to public opinion. In our Kardashian-crazed culture we struggle to get beyond the glitz and glamor any more. We so easily fall prey, or buy into the idea that muscle, beauty, money, fashion, or celebrity are what make a difference, or worse, that they’re all that matters. Television, from ads to late night informercials, preach a false gospel of get-rich and get-thin, to a society in which wages have shrunk and waste lines have expanded.
But the reason this story is relevant to us, the reason this story should matter to us in our modern, self-absorbed culture is simply this: this story is not about us, it’s not really even a story primarily about David for that matter. No, this is a story about God, who God is and how God is.
Remember, David isn’t even named in this passage. And while he’s the least likely to be chosen as king, this story really isn’t about him, it’s about what’s important to God. What we often miss in this story is that this is an insider’s look at what God values. God doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, thin or fat. God doesn’t care if you’re the first born, the last born, or a test tube baby.
God doesn’t care about what you may have done in the past or what aptitude testing says about your future potential, God cares about your heart.
God cares about how you care about others.
God cares about whether you think of yourself first or consider others first. Like Steve Rogers in Captain America, God doesn’t care how much you know, God wants to know how much you care. God searches our hearts to see if we’re the kind of person who would throw ourself on the metaphorical, theological, political, or economic hand grenade to save others, or are we just in this for ourselves, to make ourselves look good?
Captain America teaches us to value things not like
the world values things but how God values things.
This superhero story teaches us what the Bible has been saying all along… but either we forget it or we don’t fully buy into it… that integrity matters…that injustice ought to be fought against regardless of where it comes from…that it’s personal character that truly defines a person.
If God values a person’s heart, shouldn’t we?
If God can use a murderer to lead the people out of Egypt, if God can raise up a lowly shepherd to be a king after God’s own heart, and keep using him after he shows his many human failures, if God can raise up heroic women even in the midst of the overwhelmingly patriarchal culture of biblical times like with Abigail who we’ll talk about next week, if God can use a teenaged girl Mary to bring the savior into the world, don’t you think God can use you? And don’t you think God can use others whom we, with our less-than-superhero-vision, think don’t fit the bill? Forget the perfect body, forget the designer clothes, don’t worry so much about your or anyone else’s good looks or lack thereof; God calls us to value what God values, to find important what God finds important. You see, superheroes teach us truths about ourselves.
And one of those truths is that too often we value outward appearances, in ourselves and others, when we need to value heart. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, the psalmist writes, and renew a right spirit within me. God is looking for some heroes in our world today, and is not looking for the rich and famous, the powerful or beautiful, or even at TV and movie stars, but is looking for heart. Like those nurses and doctors and medical assistants and aides that Kayla pointed to earlier, God is looking for people who have a heart for other people, for helping other people. God’s heroes have heart. Do you have the heart to be a hero for our community? Do you have the heart to be a hero for the kids in Freedom School, or VBS, or our tutoring program? Do you have the heart to be a hero in our food pantry, our community meal, or our homeless outreach ministry?
I believe you do, and I believe God is calling you to bring your heart into God’s mission for the world - to be a superhero for our small corner of the world.
And all God’s children said Kapow! Kapow!