God obsessed with Vanity?
As a huge fan of Motown music, one of my favorite groups who helped to create the “Motown Sound” is the Temptations. They had a huge hit record entitled, “Beauty is only skin deep”. The theme of the record (back when music actually had themes and a story to tell, but I digress) is basically, just because someone is beautiful, does not mean they are a good person. Neither is this person better than others, or a more valuable person. As lead singer David Ruffin sings, “She may be fine on the outside, but so untrue on the inside.”
Is it possible that an all knowing, omniscient, all powerful God would reduce himself to pop culture? In particular, what constitutes the lowly human’s beliefs in what is beautiful? I personally think God would have better things to do, being the creator of the cosmos and all that. But, it seems God bought into the pop culture of over three thousand years ago as he searched for another king of Israel.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel :16) in verse 16:11, Samuel ask Jesse if all his sons were present, he said no; his youngest was tending the sheep, and Samuel asked Jesse to bring the boy to him: “He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said ‘Rise and anoint him; for he is the one.” (1 Samuel 16:11-13)
Let’s examine this: oil was very precious during this time. But God used this sought after commodity to contradict himself. He said looks didn’t matter; but he chooses the most handsome, in his opinion, of Jesse’s sons as the new king. He’s an almighty God so I guess he knows how to obtain the spiritual version of G.Q. magazine…
How does your church emphasize appearances over substance? Are the leaders of your congregation “the pretty people”?
William Zinsser, noted writer and instructor, likes to see students explore the King James Bible for its literary merit. The KJV of Psalm 23 is well-known, and verse 4a especially so: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The NRSV reads “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.” Yea, a hijacking of the beauty of the English language, to be sure.
If you have never personally experienced the “valley of the shadow of death,” rest assured; it’s dark all right. Death is a shadow, this I know, for cancer and two heart attacks tell me so. Believe me; I was afraid at every turn. How many sheep in your pasture are in the valley right now? Chances are, more than you know.
I find it interesting that verse two often reads “still waters,” when running water is associated with baptism and new life. And how do we preach resurrection—the core of the Christian faith—from this psalm? For God’s sake, if the waters are that still and calm, who needs the clergy? It has probably been demonstrated that having us around is eminently less satisfying—and less effective—than eating large quantities of chocolate.
This is a time when many people are seeking greener pastures, and most of us are in fear of evil. Our souls are in need of restoration. The right path is difficult to think about because it is invariably the harder one. Is there anything you can say to comfort your people who are stuck in the shadow? Probably not. Can you be present for them—can you anoint their heads with oil and be like the still waters?
Verily, verily! It is meet and right so to do. As the saying goes, “Don’t just do something. Stand there!” May goodness and mercy follow you as you lead … all the days of your ministry.
In Telling Secrets: A Memoir Frederick Buechner shares how when he was ten years old his father “got up early, put on a pair of gray slacks and a maroon sweater, opened the door to look in briefly on my younger brother and me, who were playing a game in our room, and then went down into the garage where he turned on the engine of the family Chevy and sat down on the running board to wait for the exhaust to kill him. Except for a memorial service for his Princeton class the next spring, by which time we had moved away to another part of the world altogether, there was no funeral because on my mother’s side and my father’s there was no church connection of any kind and funerals were simply not part of the tradition.” Furthermore, Buechner’s family rarely talked about his dad much ever again. His suicide was a secret to be kept as best they could. (pp. 7-8)
Later Buechner observes: “If, as someone has said, we are as sick as our secrets, then to get well is to air those secrets if only in our own hearts. . .” (p. 76)
In your congregation are people whose secrets are killing them or preventing them from living a healthier life. Encourage your parishioners to find a counselor, pastor, spiritual director or close friend with whom the darkness can be exposed to the light.
Preachers, with their sermons, try to clean up, sanitize so much of life. What if, from the pulpit, some of life, the darkness of lives, could be described as it actually is?
You may close your sermon with a prayer: “Sleeper, awake. Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
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