Rev. Martha Jacobs
Looking from Our Hearts
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, The Gospel of Mark 4:26-34
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Since it is Father’s Day, and I have just come back from spending time with my brother, as you might imagine, my family has been on my mind. Sitting by my brothers’ bedside gave me an opportunity to think a lot about our family and where our will to persevere came from, despite the odds that might be against us. We are a family that was raised to seek for what is right and to do so looking from our heart.
We were also taught to fight – fight for what is right, what is just and what is needed in order to participate in a society where all are equal and treated with fairness and dignity. Because I was raised Jewish, I was raised with a keen understanding and experience of what it meant to be discriminated against since Jews were not accepted or welcomed by most of society until relatively recently. And as we know, there are places, even in our own country, where Jews are still not welcome. So, we were raised to operate not only from our hearts, but from our heads as well.
As I sat with my brother, I remembered a story about my dad’s father, Samuel – my grandfather, who I never met. I remembered growing up hearing this story and thought it was one of those stories that had grown from something the size of a mustard seed of truth, into what Jesus describes as the greatest of all shrubs – you know, a fish story that grows grander with every telling of it. However, several years ago, I learned from one of my uncles, that it was indeed a real story and had not been embellished. And, I actually got to see, first hand, the outcome of what my grandfather Samuel did in the late 1800’s.
In 1891, my grandfather and several other Jewish men, decided to establish a synagogue where they lived in Milmot, Pennsylvania. This young congregation realized that they did not have a place to bury loved ones who would eventually die, and so, my uncle and 2 of his friends were sent to bargain with a local farmer. Apparently, the land they offered to buy was a scruffy, dry and not particularly productive part of the farmers’ field.
The story goes that the men had shaken hands on the deal, which was the way deals were agreed to during that time. But, the day before the sale was to be officially entered into the court records, the farmer told my grandfather that he had changed his mind. My grandfather and his friends thought that he had probably decided against the sale because they were Jewish, especially since they had experienced a good bit of anti-Semitism when they created the synagogue. So, my grandfather and his two friends decided that they were not going to accept the farmers’ change of mind.
So, late that night, they took their horse and wagon and went to the local hospital. They asked if there was an unclaimed deceased Jewish man that they could take and bury. One man fit that bill, so they took his body, put it in the wagon and traveled back to the corner of the field that the farmer had agreed to sell them. There, under cover of darkness, they buried the body, ensuring that all the Jewish rituals of burial were observed.
The next morning, when they appeared before the judge to finalize the sale, the famer told the judge he had changed his mind. My grandfather told the judge that there was already a body properly buried there. You see, they knew that once someone was buried, they could not be unburied. The judge ruled that because there was a body already in the ground, the farmer had no choice but to abide by the original deal and sell them the land.
I visited that cemetery several years ago. It is a huge place with a Jewish section and a non-Jewish section. My grandfather, Samuel, and my grandmother, Lena, are buried there, along with other family members and my grandparent’s friends. It is a beautiful piece of land with trees and green grass and beautiful flowers. It is not lost on me that out of a scruffy piece of land, which was barely good enough to have anything grow on it, there now thrives a beautiful place for the bodies of loved ones to be buried.
In the reading from Samuel that Rev. Margaret read this morning, the Lord sends Samuel to Jesse the Bethlehemite, who had eight sons, among whom a successor to Saul as the new king of Israel would be found. Samuel went, knowing that the Lord would tell him who was to be anointed as the next king. When Samuel saw the first born son, the writer tells us that he assumes that this first born must be the anointed one because that was the tradition. But, the Lord says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
I truly believe that my grandfather and his friends did what God had instructed Samuel to do – to look not at the stature of someone to guide their decision. My grandfather and his friends were not dissuaded because they were dealing with a farmer, who would have been a wealthy landowner. Instead, they went with their heart. They needed a place to bury their dead and they had honestly struck a deal. These men acted out of a sense of loyalty and love for their family and friends.
What a risk they took – and it paid off for them and will continue to be a place of rest for so many people. These men had a seed of an idea – and they planted that seed – perhaps literally, and it grew into a beautiful final resting place for thousands of people, both Jewish and not. They acted with their hearts – they did what they thought was the right thing to do.
What about us? Are we willing to act from our hearts? Are we willing to do what God instructs Samuel to do and look on our hearts? Because if we are, sometimes there are consequences that may not be too easy to deal with. Acting from our hearts requires that we see things from a different perspective. Sometimes it is not just what we see that matters, but what we don’t see. Sometimes looking on our hearts before making a decision can make it more difficult for us to make that decision. Why?
Because it requires that we see more of a person than what is before us. It requires that we consider all that they are – not just their stature or their place in society – sometimes it requires that we see that they don’t have a place in society to belong, to be treated equally and fairly. Sometimes we have to be willing to say that someone should not be treated differently because of where they were born, or because they are not of a sexual orientation with which we feel comfortable, or their political outlook is different from ours.
When we seek to see the world as God does, and when we do our best to act toward each other as God would have us, we are looking at the world through our hearts. The writer of the Gospel of Mark, writes that Jesus, in trying to compare the Kingdom of God with our world, gives us this parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed, “when it is sown, grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” It cares for those who are in need of a place to rest, especially in the shade. The writer of Mark wants us to see the world as God sees it.
When we care for each other, as God would have us, we are living God’s kingdom here on earth. With the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus is reminding us that we can experience and enact the kingdom of God here and now when we remember that God cares for all of God’s creations. God isn’t done with our world yet. God relies on us to help make our world like God’s kingdom. It is up to us.
Dr. David Lose reminded me as I was preparing for today, that “God is on the move – in our life, in our community, in the world – and God will, in time, complete the work God has started. In the meantime, we’re invited to enact God’s reign wherever we are, acting in the confidence that God’s promises are true.”
As I sat by my brothers’ bedside in the first 24-hours that I was with him, I wasn’t sure what I should pray for. Should I pray that he awaken, even if he was going to have a major deficit of functioning? I knew he would not want to live that way. Should I pray that he not live? I wasn’t ready to deal with the ramifications of that prayer. Should I pray that he only survive if he was going to be fully alive and able to interact with his family? I struggled with this for some time. In the end, I found myself praying that God would be with him – in whatever ways possible. I prayed that we would all have the strength and the will to sit by his side no matter what the outcome. I prayed that the staff would have the courage and the patience and the wisdom to care for my brother to the best of their ability. And, I knew that, no matter what, God would not leave his side.
As I prayed, I felt the power of your prayers surrounding mine. I am not sure how to describe it to you, but sitting by his bedside throughout the night, I found myself filled with peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding. And, I realized, that no matter what the outcome for my brother, I was going to be held and supported by this community of faith. Together we have learned what it means to look from the heart, to operate from the heart, to trust that our prayers will be held with great love. Knowing that all of you were holding us in prayer, made all the difference and enabled me to help my family, to advocate for my brother and to deal with whatever was before us. I give thanks with a grateful heart to God, that, as a community, we look from our heart and care for each other in truly amazing and humbling ways.