The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Sunday (Proper 6), June 16, 2024

May 15, 2024 | by Gabrie'l Atichson

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
1 Sam 15:34-16:13 Psalm 20 2 Cor 5:6-10, 14-17 Mark 4:26-34

God Sees the Heart
When I worked as the Parish Coordinator of a church, my boss often told variations of the same joke. He would say, “You know, there are two kinds of people in the world. The people who believe that there are two kinds of people in the world, and the rest of us.” That said, I believe that there are two kinds of people in the world, introverts, and extroverts. And in our society, we often look to extroverts for leadership.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain defines what she calls, the “Extrovert Ideal.” The Extrovert Ideal means that we often look for the loudest and most brash person in the room and assume he will be the best person for the job. The kid in high school who was “most likely to succeed” was chosen based on his or her gregarious personality, popularity, and cool hair.

One important theme of the lessons this week is that God sees us differently from the way we see each other. God determines one’s suitability for leadership based on one’s heart and courage rather than by one’s outward appearance.

In 1 Samuel (15:34-16:13), God, feeling regret about making Saul king, decides to choose a new king from the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. God enlists the help of Samuel to gather the elders, along with Jesse and his sons under the pretense of a sacrifice. When Samuel looks at Jesse’s son Eliab, he is sure that this is the son God had chosen. However, God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his statute, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Not one of the sons who has been presented to Samuel is the chosen one. Samuel asks Jesse if all the sons are present. As it turns out, Jesse’s youngest, David, is away from the gathering keeping the sheep. We are left to imagine that no one in the situation would have regarded David as a likely candidate for leadership.

David is described as ruddy, and handsome with beautiful eyes. And we assume he is a small person (even though most people would seem small in comparison to Goliath). Due to his outward appearance, and perhaps his role as a sheep herder, David has been overlooked by the others in a search for leadership. In the end, David is chosen by God. God tells Samuel to anoint David, and David receives the spirit of the Lord.

Similar to the tale in 1 Samuel, the early days of Jesus Christ’s ministry had people asking “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” And he was not able to be a prophet in his own town, because they could only see him as the son of a carpenter. God can find value and leadership qualities in the least likely place. And the stone that the carpenter rejected became the cornerstone of the Christian church.
The Epistle continues our lesson about being able to see others the way God sees us. We are encouraged to walk by faith and not by sight, and that we are well known to God. Originally, Jesus walked among us in his humanity; however, now that he is a new creation, we no longer regard him as human. Being in Christ means that we no longer need to regard each other from a human point of view. We have all become a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

In addition to an invitation to see others as God sees us, there is a second theme in this week’s lesson demonstrating that a small amount of faith can go a long way. As a “city girl”, I must admit that there are times when the agrarian references from the Bible go over my head. So, a few years ago, I took it upon myself to purchase mustard seeds. What does it mean to have faith the size of a mustard seed? Once I received my seeds, I was very excited to share my new information with others. I distributed packets of seeds to my family along with an art piece inspired by scripture about having faith the size of a mustard seed. Working on that project provided the visual aid I needed to understand the reference.
In the Gospel reading (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus describes the Kingdom of God in two different ways using the example of seeds. In the first, Jesus explains that the kingdom is like scattering the seed on the ground. We go to sleep and go about our daily lives, and the seed becomes grain. We don’t know how. Nothing we do causes the seed to sprout and grow, but at the end of the day, we benefit from its fruits.
In the second example, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the way a mustard seed, so small, grows into “the greatest of all shrubs,” creating a home and shelter for birds and other creatures. The seeds represent the powerful potential in the small package which under the right conditions can blossom beyond recognition.

The Old Testament text follows a similar theme of the immense potential of faith found in a small package. In Ezekiel 17: 22-24, God explains that God will take a small, tender sprig from the top of a cedar and plant it on a high mountain. The twig will indeed grow into a mighty cedar producing fruit and providing shade and a home for birds and other creatures.
In this week’s lessons, nature provides examples of how if we arrive at the situation with a very small amount of faith, God will meet us the rest of the way. The result of our trust in God can have a mighty impact on our own lives and in the world.

Gabrie’l J. Atchison earned an M.A. in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University. She is an adjunct professor of Gender Studies, a blogger, and an author. Dr. Atchison is the editor of Environment and Religion in Feminist-Womanist, Queer, and Indigenous Perspectives a series by Lexington Books. She is author of Are You The Unchurched?: How to Develop a Relationship with God Inside or Outside of Church and a co-author of More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology with Chris Barbera. She is a contributor to Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God, Edited by Jeff Wells, Thomas Jay Oord, et. al. and The Creation Care Bible Challenge, Edited by Marek P. Zabriskie. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her dog, Jack.