Dear Grace Church Friends and Family,
I can’t believe that I actually did this! Last week, I watched a “Reality” TV show. The hard part for me with this scripted form of “reality,” is watching folks who are basically famous for being famous, (or infamous), for whom image is everything. I found myself thinking all sorts of critical and unkind things as I watched, until a sudden thought hit me because of a Scripture passage I’d just read. When we consider I Samuel 15-16, maybe these folks have a point. Have a look and see what you think.
I Samuel 15-16: Is Image anything? You probably remember the name, Andre Agassi. He was a huge tennis star back in the 90’s. You may also remember his trademark flowing blond, lion-mane mullet hairstyle. In 1990, Agassi cut a commercial for the Canon EOS Rebel camera with the iconic tagline, “Image is everything.” The spot featured Andre riding in a Jeep, smoothing back his hair and generally looking like the essence of California cool. That tagline caught on as a slogan for two decades after that, and it still gets reverential mention in so-called Reality TV.
Our cultural obsession with image is huge. Yet, it’s not something altogether new with us. We could argue that the ancient Israelites were as image-obsessed as we are. In our Old Testament lesson from I Samuel today, we find that the Israelites are rather taken with the celebrity kings of the Canaanites. In fact, they are wondering why their own judges, like the old prophet Samuel and his sons, look so scruffy by comparison. So, they lobby for a king to govern them; a handsome celebrity action hero to go out and fight their battles for them. Despite Samuel’s warning, they want the image of a king who will make them “like other nations.”
So, as God is often wont to do in Scripture, God punishes the Israelites by giving them exactly what they want: the prototypical image of a tall, dark, and handsome, matinee-idol monarch. King Saul, however, is like so many celebrities whose shiny outward appearance hides a dark and broken interior life. Saul’s reign quickly starts to look like a reality TV show. The Israelites, however, seem to be pleased with the image their king is projecting. Besides, Saul is willing to play to the adoring crowd, and give the people what they want even if it’s against God’s direct command.
God, however, has already determined that Saul’s image is lacking in substance, and so God commands Samuel to anoint a new king (15:34-16:1). As Samuel goes in search of the new king, God lays out to him the criteria for those who will take a starring role on the stage of God’s purpose. “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” (16:7).
And that is the big point here: image is everything; not the image we create, but God’s own image in us. In the case of a new king, God is looking for someone after his own heart. In our case, that is also what God is looking for.
The image of God in us is everything. That is why God cuts through all the appearances and masks we love to wear for each other and looks deep into our real self that’s often hidden under all those layers of material things and make-believe roles we play. That image is why we invite God to do that cutting through every time we meet for worship. Recall the words of our opening prayer of worship: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
You and I are created in God’s image for a purpose. Each one of us is chosen for a purpose that has nothing to do with fame, fortune, or face time on TV. Our purpose is to reflect the image of God in us. We do that by living as people who authentically love. God defines our true identity as his created and loved image, and then calls us to live out that identity in community for the whole world. That is how we come to perfectly love God, and be made worthy to praise God, to magnify God, in the world.
As it turns out, Andree Agassi was right after all. Image is everything! That is, if it’s the image of God, visible in you and me!