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1st Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 16:1-13

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I’ve known my wife for almost 10 years; you know that’s almost a whole decade!  We knew each other as acquaintances/classmates for about 2 years, we were dating and engaged for about 2 years, and this year we are going on 6 years of marriage!  That’s almost 10 years!  We’ve moved about 5 times together, lived in 3 different states together, traveled together, done all kinds of things together, are in the process of raising 3 kids together, and after all that and after doing all that together, spending all that time together, I still can’t actually see inside my wife’s heart. J

Now, I’ll bet if you asked anyone in here who’s been married to their spouse for even over 50 years!!  (Can you imagine 50 years together and all the things you’ve done or been through?)  My guess is that they’d tell you that they, too, can’t actually see inside their spouse’s heart.

And yet, even though I can’t see inside Katie’s heart, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that she loves me.  Why?  She’s shown it to me in many countless ways!  Told me in more ways than I can ever remember!  But I can’t actually see into her heart of hearts.  God has reserved that ability to look inside someone’s heart only for Himself.  But even though we are limited from seeing each other’s hearts, our relationship still works.  How is that?  Because our relationship still depends on what’s inside our hearts.  What goes on inside of us – the love, the compassion, the commitment, the forgiveness- that keeps us united as we live out our days together.  And I’m confident that’s true about every married couple here today.

Well it’s also true about another relationship you and I have: our relationship with God.  What matters most of all is our heart.  The heart makes all the difference.  Our text for this morning illustrates that so well.  Samuel was a prophet of God, someone with whom God spoke directly.  And when the people of Israel complained to God that they wanted a king just like all the unbelieving nations around them, Samuel anointed Saul as their king.  Saul was impressive- tall and powerful.  He looked every inch like a king was supposed to look.  If you were there and saw him you’d say, “Now there’s a king!”  But unfortunately what looked good on the outside became terrible on the inside, he ended up turning away from God in pride and rebellion and wickedness.

So, God directed Samuel to go and anoint someone else to be king, someone GOD was going to choose.  At first Samuel hesitated, “How can I go?  Not only is Saul incredibly jealous, but he’s likely to kill me if he finds out I’m anointing someone else as king!”  But wait a minute.  Samuel’s talking with whom??  He’s talking with God!  God’s directing him to go!  Come on Samuel!  Who’s stronger God or Saul?  But the same is often true with us, right?  Who’s stronger God or that big challenge were facing?  God or that thing that’s filling us with fear?

Well, Samuel went with a dual purpose to offer a sacrifice and anoint a new king and when he arrived at Bethlehem, at first, the elders of the people were trembling and asked him, “Do you come in peace?”  At first we might wonder, “Why are they so scared that Samuel came?”  Apparently, Samuel had a reputation – especially at this wayward time of Israel’s history- to suddenly and unexpectedly show up and confront and punish sinful and wicked behavior.  In the previous chapter Samuel had just shown up at a certain place and killed a wicked, heathen king in front of a bunch of people because Saul had refused to.

So Samuel assures them that he’s come in peace and then he takes Jesse off to the side and sees his first son, Eliab, certainly a fine young lad with fine features fit for a king.  But the Lord said, “No, not him.”  Then the second son, then the third son, and down the line through each of the 7 sons of Jesse.  Each one was a “no.”  You can just imagine Samuel thinking, “Umm, God, did I miss something here, we’re running out of sons!”  But wait!  There’s one still left, the youngest one, the one his father didn’t even consider enough of to have at the sacrifice, HE was the one God had chosen!  No human would have ever made that choice for the king, but God did.  Why?  Because to God the heart makes all the difference, the heart matters more than the looks, God cares about the heart, the heart that only He can see.

You see God has the awesome ability to look right past our appearances right down to our very heart and soul.  He can see right through us down to our innermost being.  He looks right past our outward actions down to our very motives and our very thoughts.  His ears pierce right through our words and hear the inner attitudes of our hearts.  And that is where God goes to make His judgments about us.

You see, we might be able to hide our hearts from other people, other human beings, but we can’t hide our hearts from God.  And what exactly is it that God sees as he looks right down inside of our hearts?  Does He not see that our actions – even our most pious ones- are still tainted with sin and selfishness?  Does He not see that so often our motivation behind even the good things we do is a false idea that we can earn something from Him?  He sees the uncaring, unkind thoughts and feelings behind our seemingly good words.  The fact that God can see our hearts must leave us with the conclusion that our relationship with God cannot be good.  He hates sin and here I am full of that sin!  That sin that condemns me.  That sin that kills me.

But what about David?  Was he anything special?  Was his heart completely clean when God chose him?  We know what his record was – certainly he did some great stuff- but at the same time he also did some horrendous things!  His heart was just as wretched as ours.  And yet, unworthy as he was, the Lord still chose him, still anointed him to be His servant!  What love of our God!

And what love of our God for us!  We are nothing special before God.  There’s nothing beautiful or special or righteous about us.  But in spite of our ugliness, our sins, God still chooses to make us His own!  If anyone could see inside our hearts, they’d never guess God could pick us.  If anyone could actually see the filth of what’s inside of us, they’d laugh at the prospect of God choosing us.  But, God “saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

It was God’s mercy that led Him to send His own Son.  It was mercy that led Jesus to be baptized.  No, Jesus wasn’t baptized because He had to be, He had no sin, His entire life He had no sin.  His heart was completely pure, completely clean.  His heart just overflowed with love for people to help and serve them no matter the cost, His heart was completely empty of unkind thoughts, revenge or anger.  He wasn’t baptized for Himself, rather He was carrying our problems, our infirmities, our weaknesses, our sins upon Himself, He became like us in every way, He submitted Himself under every law in order to redeem you and me, He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, His punishment brought us peace and He did this in order to fill our empty, sinful hearts with His love and His holiness.

If God did this for David a murderer and adulterer, if God did this for Paul a persecutor and killer, then He’s certainly done it for you also.  How can you know it for sure?  Look to when God anointed you with the Holy Spirit, look to your baptism when God the Holy Spirit entered your heart to make His home there, look to your baptism where you were washed in the forgiveness of Jesus’ own blood, look to your baptism where God removed your filthy heart of sin and gave you a new, clean heart.  He saved you through “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  In your baptism God anointed you, chose you, marked you, saved you, to be his child and heir forever!

Now God looks into our hearts and he sees faith.  He sees His own Holy Spirit working trust and hope in Christ.  He sees a new heart that wants to love and live for God; that wants to be kind, compassionate, caring and serve other people.  You see, our heart makes all the difference because His heart has made all the difference for us.  He looks right into our hearts, he looks at all of us, and because of His Son, he can say of you and me as he did of His own son, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.