But the Lord said to 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. 1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord sent the prophet Samuel on a mission to Jesse’s homestead. Samuel would find among one of Jesse’s sons Israel’s next king and anoint him. One son was missing from the line-up—David. He was the one God had chosen, for God knew David’s heart apart from his family stature or birth order.
Through what lenses do we look to size up others, those seemingly different from or similar to us? We all hold deeply ingrained biases in how we see the outward appearance of a person. It’s human nature. We often begin writing another person’s story in our minds before ever getting to know him or her. We make assumptions based on personal life and cultural experiences.
After worship last Sunday, we gathered in small groups around tables to enjoy a brunch made by members of the Altar Guild. The initial task was to list barriers that prevent us from fully living out the second sentence of our “working” welcome statement, (also the Risen Lord mission statement): As followers of Christ, we share God’s love through words and actions.
Groups at the various tables named emotional barriers like fear of rejection, bias and timidness. Then, each table had a surprise “guest” coming to take a seat at each table. How would they welcome the “guest”?
Each table was given a picture and name of this unknown guest. The table groups were invited to imagine their guests’ interests and background. We were all surprised how easily we made assumptions about the guests by their picture alone. Clothes, background, accessories, facial features and skin tones played a factor in making those assumptions.
Finally, we learned the real story behind our “guests” whose pictures we’d received. Each of the guests have been featured in series called “I am a Lutheran” in Living Lutheran magazine. (To learn more, visit I'm a Lutheran Archives - Living Lutheran)
We discovered the things we held in common with our guests, like being Lutheran and sharing common prayers for peace and hope in the world as they did. Each of them have a unique and personal faith story to share, just like we do. Making assumptions about others is a barrier to real, heart-felt and loving listening and learning.
As followers of Christ who are committed to sharing God’s love in all we say and do, how can we teach and support each other’s growth in how we receive those who come into our midst, whether in personal encounters or in our worshiping community?
The good news is that there is no barrier to God’s grace and love coming to us and the world through Jesus. Together, we can learn to embrace that grace, a freedom that can help us seeing others with our hearts, the place where Christ is dwelling.