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.” 1 Samuel 16:7, NIV
Loving God, we pray today for the same instruction that you gave to Samuel: that we learn to disregard those things of human significance that do not help you in providing us the leadership we need.
When we hear you say, “Do not consider his appearance or his height,” we hear in these words, shaped by a much earlier time, that we should be cautious when we are impressed by beauty, or by power, or by wealth. We pray for the insight to overrule our perfectly human tendency to prefer the beautiful and the elevated. At the same time, we pray for the wisdom to suppose that your love and your compassion go even to those beyond our own reckoning. It is hard for us to acknowledge that neither the Yazidi woman condemned to sexual servitude by the Islamic State in Iraq, nor her face-to-face abusers, nor their commanders live and breathe outside your concern. Neither the hapless North Korean peasant slowly starving for lack of food, nor the workers who construct ever more effective fences to keep smugglers from bringing food to him, nor the soldiers who guard the fences, nor the officials who face brutal punishment, including execution, for forms of corruption long tolerated or encouraged; none of them live and breathe outside your concern.
We want to pray for people like us. We want to pray without acknowledging that we tolerate large systemic forces that give more than is earned to a few and that deny basic goods and services to many. We dare not hope for change to these systems, worrying that improvement for others might mean that we lose something in turn. Instead, we pray that someone else or you will take the burden of caring and responding from us, a burden we can seemingly carry but not set down. Be generous, we pray, with your divine grace and your divine wisdom, that we may better understand the logs in our eyes and the specks in the eyes of others. They are all offenses to the way you would have us live. They are all offenses to the deeds you would have us do.
We would pray amiss if we did not offer our thanks for the diversity of interpretations and understandings in our world. When you counseled Samuel, it was in a cultural context that did not take into account the needs of children or women in and of themselves. When you counseled Samuel, and you led him to anoint David King, it was done in a language that honored masculine courage, most especially when that courage became manifest in unexpected ways, such as when David challenged and defeated the giant Goliath. When you chose David, you chose a flawed man. He proved capable of cowardice as well as courage, of gross sexual misconduct as well as touching familial loyalty, of calculated betrayal as well as stunning friendship. Over time, we have come to understand ever widening circles of need and accomplishment. We have learned, most of us, to treasure the particular needs of infants and young children, but the knee-jerk reaction of many to an American Presidential candidate expelling a baby from a campaign event is a vivid reminder that we are still not quite sure how to acknowledge the youngest among us. Still, we pray in gratitude for what understanding we do have that your children come in tremendous variety. Thank you for the understanding that we have achieved, and thank you for the researchers and thinkers who are extending our understanding. Thank you for the many parents and caretakers and friends who pour their efforts into meeting the needs of all your children from birth to death.
Amidst the blessings of lives led in the glorious natural setting of this planet, grateful for those who have shaped and sustained us, and hopeful for the future and for our own role in helping to make that future better for everyone, we bow before you and ask your blessing. Amen.