It seems a shame not to focus all our energies on the Gospel after listening to all 41 verses. But I’m drawn first to our reading from 1 Samuel.
A new leader
Samuel had quite a problem. He had to anoint a new king without God getting rid of the old king, or indeed without the old king even knowing that there was a new king. How and who should he choose?
It’s 6 months since the Conservatives first decided which candidate they wanted to lead their party and become Prime Minister of the UK. You might remember a rather chaotic process, where each member had to weigh up economic credibility, moral character and who was most likely to get voted in at the next election. Oh, and the candidates dress sense was apparently important too.
It’s also 6 months since Prince Charles became King Charles III. His accession was carefully planned and choreographed. Most of his adult life has been preparing for this time, as he looks to continue the work of his darling mama. But imagine if a kingmaker, the equivalent of a Samuel, had picked Edward, say, rather than Charles, or if there had been a public vote?
Closer to home, our Benefice is in interregnum. After much deliberation, I’ve no doubt that we’ll eventually put a profile together which describes us and the kind of person that we’re looking for. Quite whether we’ll get a Hebrew scholar with a good sense of humour who can leap over tall buildings in a single bound is debatable (but if you’re out there, please get in touch). And of course, now the old Vicar has gone we miss him terribly, but whilst he was here…(only joking Dave).
Unless it’s recently changed, we’ll just get to see one candidate at a time, when looking for a new Vicar, without knowing if there are any others. But Samuel gets to see eight in one day. Well, you know how it goes. He starts with the tallest and eldest and ends up with the youngest and smallest: David.
David was the one with no previous experience of leading anything other than sheep. David was the one who was ruddy and young, handsome and with beautiful eyes (and if you’re out there, please get in touch).
There aren’t too many people described as ‘ruddy’ in the Bible. Perhaps our minds are meant to drift to the first human, made from red clay and the breath of God. Or the lover in the Song of Solomon (5:10). Or maybe to Esau (Genesis 25:25). Certainly David seems to be a mix of all of those – earthy, charismatic and impulsive.
But here’s the thing. God says to Samuel that he doesn’t look at appearances, he looks on the heart. David is ‘the one’ and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him from that day on. And it needed to, since we’ve another 15 chapters before Saul ‘retires’ at his death in chapter 31. David and Saul spend most of that time scrapping.
What gets done
This takes us to our Gospel reading and a different kind of scrap. I think the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon the blind man too, along with a nice play on words from John.
The blind man, initially, cannot judge by appearances. He hears Jesus before he sees him. He relies on what gets said and then what gets done. Scientists tell us that most of what we absorb is via visual clues. But the blind man doesn’t have that advantage. Or that disadvantage perhaps, since we know we can be manipulated by false signals. But our man, accused of being blind because of sin, ‘sees’ what the Pharisees do not – and the Pharisees are called sinners for pretending that they can ‘see’.
Behaviour breeds behaviour
Then, in our passage from Ephesians, and the verses on either side, the mark of the new community of faith is honesty and transparency. They are to be marked by goodness, truthfulness and mutual respect. All have different gifts and abilities that work alongside each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our politics and our nation, and yes, even our churches, were described that way?
It’s sometimes said that people get the leader that they deserve – and vice versa. Maybe if we behaved more like the people described by the author of Ephesians, if we spoke out more in society, if we were known as seekers of truth and of justice, then we might both look for and get a different sort of leadership, both nationally and closer to home.
Old or young, tall or short, ruddy or not, God looks on the heart. We would do well to do the same. Amen
‘Looks on the heart’ was delivered by Ian Banks at Four Lane Ends Congregational Church, on Sunday 12th March 2023. That’s a week early since the readings are for Lent 4. But with Mothering Sunday next week they wouldn’t have been preached on. The readings were 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, and John 9:1-41. You can also find Ian’s sermon in ‘The Preacher’ magazine, issue 188.