Looks Can Be Deceiving – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, June 17


A small country church was in need of a guest preacher to fill the pulpit one Sunday morning so the pastor arranged for someone he knew to come and preach that morning.  The person who was asked to preach had never been to this church before and he also had a heart for missions and the homeless.

Since the congregation had never met him before, he decided to take advantage of his anonymity by being a little sneaky but also creative in preparing for his sermon.  Here’s what he did.  He dressed up as a homeless man and arrived at the church long before the first people arrived.

Wearing a tattered old coat, smelly jeans, and torn shoes, he huddled near the entrance of the church to see how the church members would react.  When it would be time for worship, his plan was to then enter the sanctuary and surprise the people by being their guest speaker.  He was then going to preach a sermon on how God calls us to reach out to people in need.  That was the plan, anyway.

The first few people who arrived that morning were horrified to find this man huddled next to their church door.  They didn’t know what to do so they ignored him and came into the church and found their place in the pew.  This was pretty much the response of everyone else who arrived that chilly fall Sunday morning.  They just walked right by this man in disguise and prepared for worship.

It was time for the service to begin but there was still no sign of the guest speaker.  The congregation assumed that he had either gotten lost or that he simply forgot.  One man decided to use their extra time to take care of the problem of the homeless man and so he called the police.

My pastor friend who was telling me this story said that his guest speaker friend was startled when the police cruiser pulled into the tiny church parking lot.  His plan had taken a twist that he didn’t anticipate.  After explaining to the officer that he wasn’t really homeless and that he was actually the guest preacher, can you imagine the expressions of shock and horror as this man took his place in the seat next to the pulpit?

You have to hand it to him.  He made his point.  Looks can be very deceiving!  One thing is for sure.  The people in that little country church will probably never forget that Sunday when a homeless man preached the sermon.

The Story of the choosing of David as the King is one of the most familiar and favorite of the Old Testament stories. We already heard the story.

Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find the farmer Jesse to select from among Jesse’s sons a new king for Israel because the sitting King of Israel, Saul has lost God’s favor.  So one after the other, the sons of Jesse are paraded before Samuel.

And what a family this is.  What a proud father, Jesse must have been.  He had it all.  He was a prominent man in his community and probably well off.  And just look at his picture-perfect family.  We’re introduced to Jesse’s first son, Eliab.  Picture in your mind, six foot five, 220 lbs., handsome.  And he’s just the first of several sons introduced to Samuel.  I mean, any of his sons would be potential recruits for Urban Meyer.  These are five star prospects.

This is the family that would definitely want to send out Christmas cards with a family photo and a description of how each son is either in law school, studying to be a doctor, or won a medal at this past Winter’s Olympics.  This is that kind of family!

Samuel immediately thought Eliab was the one.  “Well that was easy.  Eliab, the Lord has chosen you to be…Wait a minute, what was that Lord?  What do you mean he’s not the one to be the next King?  He’s perfect.  Why wouldn’t you want him?”

But the Lord tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And one after the other, each of Jesse’s impressive sons are rejected by the Lord.

Finally, the youngest of the sons, David, is brought forward—almost as an afterthought.  Compared to his brothers, David is more of a delicate and ruddy-skinned boy. “This is the one who is to be King,” the Lord whispers in Samuel’s ear. Samuel immediately anoints David as king in the presence of his brothers, and “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.” For God sees what we cannot see.

Looks can be deceiving, can’t they?

I must say that I’m a little conscientious of this whole height thing.  The McDowell family has never been known for being that tall.  Taking a family picture when we get together is a problem because when the person with the camera asks the taller people to stand behind the others, nobody moves. None of us are that tall.

My brother has a sign at the top of his stairs leading to his home office warning people to duck because of the low ceiling.  The sign says, “If you are taller than a McDowell, you’d better duck your head!”

About ten years ago, I got to meet basketball legend, Jerry Lucas. Here’s a picture of Jerry and me during his visit with us.  I’m the guy on the right if you can’t tell.

I served a church in which the pastor before me AND the pastor who followed me were both body builders. And there I was in the middle of these two chiseled physical specimens.

But looks aren’t everything, because I have dimples and they don’t, so there!

This story about God choosing one of Jesse’s sons to be the next King of Israel reminds us that God’s calling isn’t just for the one with the degrees, the charismatic personality, and the movie star looks.  God’s call also comes to the one you’d least expect, especially to the one you’d least expect.  Like my father.

Dad always felt like he lived in the shadows of his older brother.  I remember him telling me several times how he always wanted to be more like my Uncle Mac.  When my dad would be out in the garage having trouble fixing a motor, he would say, “Your Uncle Mac would have been able to fix this in no time.”

In one way, dad was complimenting his brother when he said those things.  But I don’t think he truly realized what a wonderful man he was as well.

The story is told that when mom and dad came back from their Florida honeymoon in 1950, dad was the one who suggested which church they should begin attending together as a married couple.  That Methodist church located in a small south central Pennsylvania town became the place where they would raise their four children in the Christian faith and where two of those children would go on to become United Methodist pastors.

Several years ago, the four of us were cleaning out our mom’s attic, and we were surprised to find a diary that belonged to our grandmother, our dad’s mother.  It only covered three years from 1970 to 1972 and each entry was only a sentence or two.  One of the entries talked about the astronauts being in trouble.  That’s all it said.  She was referring to the astronauts that were on the Apollo 13 mission.

In another diary entry, my grandmother wrote that my dad had stopped by to visit with her after he had dropped me off for a youth group meeting at the church.  That little diary entry reminded me that even though dad didn’t talk a lot about his faith, his church and his faith were very important to him.

When I went to college, somebody in the church told my mom and dad about a troubled teen who was homeless.  It was my dad who said, “We have room in our home.”  It was the love of my mom and dad that helped this person know that somebody cared.

My dad didn’t need to live in his brother’s shadow.  He was quietly living out his calling to be a great dad and a follower of Jesus.

In this story of the Lord calling David, the last of Jesse’s sons to become the new King of Israel, there’s a very important verse that I want to leave us with today.  It’s the last verse, verse 13.  “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed David in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

The reason that the Lord doesn’t worry about our outward appearance or how tall we are is because when God calls us, it’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do what we are being called to do.  We can step out in faith because it’s not about our strength or our looks.  It’s about the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

In one of the churches I served, someone shared with me how someone in our church responded to God’s calling following worship one Sunday morning.  It was the Sunday that we had focused on the importance of prayer and praying for others.

We had these little heart post-it stickers where we invited the congregation to write a prayer request on the heart and then stick it to a large prayer door that we had made.

This person in our church felt called by God to take this idea beyond our church walls that very day.  After worship, this person went to the prayer door and peeled off several blank heart post-it notes that were next to that prayer door.

This person then went to the hospital and gave several patients one of these hearts in which this church member had written the words, “Praying for you.” And next to that line, this person included the name of our church.

But that’s not all.  This person then left the hospital and visited one of the nursing homes giving people these hearts with the same message.  This person responded to God’s calling that Sunday morning.

And my goodness. And just to think, that person who did this was probably only half as tall as I am.

Not bad for a seven year old.

Life of David: Looks Can Be Deceiving

Small Group Questions

I Samuel 15:34-16:13

June 17, 2018

This week’s scripture reading on the life of David is when Samuel came to the home of Jesse to select one of his sons to be the next king of Israel. Instead of choosing one of the older and more experienced sons, the Lord chose the least likely son, David who was the youngest and least experienced to become the next king.

Share a time when you were asked to take on an important task even though it seemed like there were other more qualified people. How did you respond?

At the end of our scripture reading on the selection of David as king, we are told that the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Pastor Robert shared this thought: “The reason that the Lord doesn’t worry about our outward appearance or how tall we are is because when God calls us, it’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do what we are being called to do.  We can step out in faith because it’s not about our strength or our looks.  It’s about the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.” 

Share how you have sensed the Holy Spirit empower you to follow God’s calling in your life? What helps you to be open to God’s empowering Spirit?

Pastor Robert ended his sermon by talking about someone who responded to God’s calling after worship one Sunday by giving heart-shaped encouragement notes to people at the the local hospital and to a nursing home. Those notes blessed the people who received them. The person who did all of this was just 7 years old!

Share some other examples of where you have seen God use people in surprising ways to bless others.