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1 Samuel 15.34-16.13 & 2 Corinthians 5.14-17

                Wart is the unlikely hero of T.H. White’s book The Sword in the Stone. He’s an orphan living in the castle of Sir Ector. Ector is sort of a foster parent to Wart, though he doesn’t seem too thrilled about it. After all, he has a natural son, Kay, a strapping, handsome lad who will one day be a knight and inherit his father’s castle and lands. Wart, by contrast, is small and thin and not much to look. Everyone assumes that one day he will be Kay’s squire, his attendant and armor bearer. Oh, and it should be mentioned that Wart is not his actually name. It’s a nickname given to him by Kay, because Wart rhymes with his real name, Art, more or less. But everyone calls him Wart, which tells you a great deal about their estimation of the boy and his future.

          Early in the story, Kay takes out a hawk to hunt for rabbits, but he doesn’t know how to properly handle the bird and it flies off into the forest. Kay quickly gives up on pursuing it, but Wart is far more persistent and ends up spending the night in the forest looking for the bird. The next day he happens upon a cottage deep in the woods.

          There he meets Merlin, an ancient wizard. Merlin sees something in this awkward boy, something no one else sees. He looks beyond appearances, beyond status. He sees character and potential. And so, he becomes Wart’s tutor.

          Sometime later, the King, Uther Pendragon, dies without an heir. Soon thereafter, a sword miraculously appears in a London churchyard. The sword is embedded in an anvil atop a stone, its blade passing through the metal and into the rock below. Upon it’s pommel are emblazoned the words, “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.” [T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone, 1938; Fontana Lions edition, 1978, p. 271] But no one is able to dislodge the sword though many try. So, a tournament is declared for New Year’s Day in London, with the hope that a new king will emerge victorious. Thus, Sir Ector and Sir Kay set out for London, with Wart, who has heard nothing of the sword in the stone, accompanying them as Kay’s squire.

          It is in London that Merlin’s lessons will bear fruit and his insight into the lad’s potential will be borne out. On the day of the tournament, Kay, in his excitement, leaves his sword back at the inn. So, he dispatches his squire Wart to fetch it. But the inn is locked and no one is around to open it because they are all at the tournament. He begins to search for someplace he can get a sword for Kay. Just down the street, there is a church and, in its yard, Wart sees a fine-looking sword struck through an anvil atop a stone. Thinking it’s a war memorial, he decides to borrow the sword for Kay. It takes a couple of tries, but the sword finally comes free. [White, pp. 277-81]

      In Disney’s animated adaptation of White’s novel, the disconnect between people’s expectations of Wart and what he had in fact done is made even more clear than in White’s novel. When Wart presents the sword to Kay, Sir Ector sees the inscription and declares in wonder, “It’s the sword in the stone!” Several people nearby hear him and come to see for themselves. Soon a crowd has gathered around. Ector asks Wart where he got the sword and the boy tells him that he had pulled it out of an anvil on a stone in a nearby churchyard. The claim is met with laughter by the crowd. Surely this slight, unimpressive lad could have done no such thing. Ector tells him to tell the truth and Wart insists he did indeed pull it from the stone. The laughter and disbelief continue. They only believe him when the sword is placed back in the stone and—after multiple older, stronger men have failed to pull it back out—Wart pulls it from the stone with ease, as a heavenly light suddenly falls upon him and ethereal music fills the air. Only then do they understand that the boy is not Wart the squire, but Arthur, King of England.

          Sir Ector, Kay and the crowd, you see, had judged Wart based on his size and his social status—one such as him could not possible be a future king. Merlin, though, did not view young Wart from a human perspective, based on outward appearances. He saw into the boy’s heart, saw his character and his world-changing potential.

          Wart is much like young David.  David is almost an afterthought in his own family. When Samuel comes to Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice, and look for the next king on the side, God has instructed him to invite Jesse to the proceedings. This in itself is strange. There is nothing to suggest Jesse was well-to-do, influential or in any way distinguished. King Saul’s father, Kish, is described as “a man of wealth” (9.1), wealth being a translation of a Hebrew word that can also mean power. No such thing is said of Jesse. In fact, Jesse’s family tree is anything but distinguished or powerful. His grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite, a foreign immigrant who came to Judah as a poor recently widowed woman. Jesse’s grandfather was Boaz, whose family tree includes Tamar, a Canaanite woman who barely avoided execution for adultery, and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who helped the Israelites at Jericho. As Bruce Birch observes, “In the world’s usual power arrangements, this would not be the stuff of royal lineage, but in God’s plans sometimes ‘the last shall be first’” [NIB, Vol II, “1 Samuel 16.1-13, Reflections,” 1100]—oftentimes, it seems, this is God’s way. We might remember a certain descendent of David born to an unwed mother in a stable, the son of a carpenter, who was executed as a criminal on a Roman cross.

          Well, even in such an undistinguished family, David is an afterthought. His seven brothers are taken to the proceedings by their father, but David is left back in the fields tending the sheep.

          Samuel, who knows his primary task is to anoint the next king, sees Jesse’s sons coming and his eye is immediately drawn to Eliab. He looks on the young man’s appearance—he is apparently a tall, strapping, handsome lad—and he is convinced this must be the man. “Here he thinks is the Lord’s anointed, the future king.” However, Old Testament scholar Robert Alter suggests that Samuel is about to repeat the “fatal mistake” he made when he anointed Saul. He was convinced that God was directing him to do so, but, says Alter, he was deceived by his own ideas of what made a man worthy, deceived because Saul was “head and shoulders taller than all the people.” [Alter, The David Story, p. 96]

          But God stops Samuel, saying, “Have no regard for his appearance or [lofty] stature, because I have not selected him. God does not look at things as humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” [16.7, CEB] The “heart” was thought to be the seat of the will and of a person’s character. It refers to a person’s deep inclinations and beliefs; it reveals who one truly is. So, says Walter Brueggemann, “Yahweh needs, wants, and will have a king with a rightly committed heart.” [Brueggeman, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation, p. 122]

          So, Samuel moves to the next son, but God’s response is the same. Samuel works his way through all of Jesse’s sons, but none of them is the one. Neither brawn, nor youth, nor experience, not even intelligence  seems sufficient to qualify any of them. So, Samuel asks if Jesse has any other son. And Jesse says, “Yeah, the youngest, but he’s keeping the sheep,” wondering all the while what all this is about and why in the world Samuel would want to see David. It’s hard to avoid the impression that David is not very impressive beside his brothers. But David is sent for and the proceedings put on hold till he arrives. When the lad arrives, God tells Samuel, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” [16.12, CEB] And then, imagine everyone’s surprise, imagine the mouths hanging open and the dumbfounded expressions when Samuel pulls out a flask of precious, sacred oil and anoints David king right in front of them.

          No, God does not see as we see. God sees deeper, sees the heart, sees the possibility, sees the hidden beauty and the untapped potential in people. God saw David’s heart, his character, his world-changing potential. God is not deceived by wealth, or power, by stature or education. God’s vision is not distorted by prejudices or fears or biases. God does not dismiss people when God sees their race, or gender, or nationality, or sexual orientation. God sees deeper. And God calls and uses the most unlikely people to accomplish God’s purposes.

          Like Merlin in The Sword in the Stone, we must look beyond appearances. We must not judge by cultural standards of beauty or power or importance. We must not be blinded by custom, or prejudice or fear. We must not limit our view of people to a label, be it black or white, young or old, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, foreigner or enemy or criminal. As Paul says, because Christ died and rose for all, we can no longer regard anyone from a human point of view. [2 Cor 6.14 & 16] We must begin to see them as God sees them, from a Divine point of view.

          Jürgen Moltmann, the influential German theologian, died on June 3 at the age of 98. I’m reminded of a transformative encounter he had when he was a young prisoner of war who had only recently come to Christ. In the summer of 1947, Moltmann and some of his fellow German prisoners were permitted to attend the first international conference of the Student Christian Movement. He recalls, “We came still wearing our wartime uniforms, and we came in fear and trembling. What were we to say about the wartime horrors and the mass murders in the concentration camps?....[A] group of Dutch students came and said that they wished to speak to us officially. I was frightened at the prospect of meeting them, because after all I had been at the front in Holland, during the fighting for the bridge in Arnheim. The Dutch students told us that Christ was the bridge on which they were coming to meet us, and that without Christ they would not have been able to speak a word to us. They told us about the Gestapo terror in their country, about the killing of their Jewish friends, and about the destruction of their homes. But we, too, [they said] could step on this bridge which Christ had built from them to us, even if only hesitantly at first, could confess the guilt of our people and ask for reconciliation. At the end we all embraced. For me it was an hour of liberation. I could breathe freely again and felt like a human being once more….”  [Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, Translated by Margaret Kohl, Fortress Press, 2008, 33-34]

The Dutch students had suffered greatly during the war at the hands of the Germans. From a human point of view, they had every right to be angry, to hate Germans, even to seek vengeance. But because they were “in Christ,” [2 Cor 6.17] they did not regard Moltmann and the other former German soldiers from a human perspective. Through Christ, the Dutch students had become new creations who viewed their former foes through the lens of Christ’s love. Thus, they recognized that the Germans were made in God’s image and Christ that had died for them also, so that they also could become new creations. The Dutch students regarded the Germans as brothers and sisters in Christ and that view proved to be life changing for Moltmann.

*{It should be noted that the Dutch students could not know what effect their gracious welcome might have on the former German soldiers. Nor did they know anything about the Germans as individuals, save that they had served in the German military but were not Nazis. In fact, many of the Germans were training to be teachers and pastors and would eventually help to reshape a more peaceful Germany, a nation which repented of its past crimes. And Moltmann would go on to become the most widely read and influential Protestant theologian of the last 50 years—a man whose thinking was shaped by the violence and desolation of the war and the hope, healing, and “grace upon grace” he received when he was found by Jesus, the crucified “divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection.” [Moltmann, “Wrestling with God,” in The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, p. 5 (found by Jesus and “divine brother”) and p. 8 (“grace upon grace”)]  But the Dutch students knew none of this, indeed, could not possibly know it. They simply recognized the Germans as fellow humans made in God’s own image and as brothers “in Christ,” whose incarnation, death and resurrection united them across the divides of nationality and war. They saw the other, the former enemy from God’s perspective and that made all the difference.}    

If the Church and we as individual Christians are to live out our call to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God; if we are to live our call to love God and neighbor and to share in word and deed the Good News of God’s love and grace with the world, then we must change our way of seeing and seek to see the heart of others. [Birch, 1100] Even if we cannot fully and clearly see their heart, we must see the image of God in every one of our fellow humans and we must see their infinite value to God, a value so great that God in Christ would rather die than stop loving any of them.    

          Because, as Mihee Kim-Kort observes, “What God sees is what ultimately matters. When we make the effort to see what God sees, we will encounter the anointed in the most remarkable places and, most definitely, in the most astonishing people: ‘the least of these,’ whether children, homeless, foreigner or immigrant, the stranger. To see others in this way, in God’s way, is truly world changing.”   Amen.