Sunday 7th November

People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7)

One TV programme I always used to enjoy watching was Keeping Up Appearances

Hyacinth Bucket was a complete snob whose family were always spoiling the image she tried to present to the outside world. To Hyacinth outward appearances were all important – as the programme title suggests – whether it is the pristine state of her house or the people she is seen with. And part of what made the programme so funny is that Hyacinth is a caricature of a type of person we have probably all come across at one time or another – the sort of person who is desperately concerned about what people think – what will the neighbours say?

But as we all know outward appearances can be deceptive – as Samuel found out when he went to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king.  When he got there he went through the list of Jesse’s sons only to find that God rejected each one in turn. And then, as so often happens in life, God sent along the right one

Just as we sometimes begin to give up when things are not going well and think that God has forgotten us, God steps in and provides an answer. Samuel’s problem was that he was looking at the wrong things. He had assumed that a future king would be tall and handsome – but God had other ideas.

God did not want the tall, handsome one – which I’m sure is a great relief to those of us who are not tall or good looking. God does not judge by outward appearances – he looks beyond that to see how we are on the inside. No one took David seriously. But God knew what he was looking for and made Samuel wait until the right one came along.

So what does Jesus have to say about outward appearances?

While Jesus is teaching in the temple he uses the example of the scribes to talk about hypocrisy. He criticizes them for walking round in their long robes – in other words showing off. But beneath this outwardly respectable appearance they were not living up to God’s expectations. Jesus accuses them of defrauding widows who were among the most vulnerable in society – probably encouraging them to make financial offerings which were beyond their means.

Having disposed of the scribes, Jesus then sees a poor widow making her offering to the temple treasury. Unlike the people before her who had put in what they could spare, the widow put in two small coins which was probably all she had to live on. And in contrasting her to the scribes and to the rich people putting money into the treasury Jesus is making the point that it is not outward show which is important, but what goes on in the heart.

So we can see that as disciples of Jesus our standards are to be different from those of the world around us. We should be above worrying about keeping up appearances and the desire for status symbols – the need to look good in the eyes of the world. It’s what goes on inside that counts, not the externals – the need to distinguish between what is important and what is window dressing.

Are we worrying too much about the image we present to the world?
Are we too apt to rush to judge other people?
You can fool some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time – but you can’t fool God. God is not concerned with our outward image – he is concerned with what goes on inside us.

So let us focus not on the externals, but on what is really going on in our hearts

People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7)

Revd Roz Harrison