Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Of Goliaths and storms in our lives . . .

     Our lesson from the Old Testament and our lesson from the Gospel lesson are well known, indeed.  There is enough residual Christianity in the world around us that many non-Christians can recite the basic details of David and Goliath and know the basic story of Jesus calming the storm.  No doubt you  have sat in pews here or in other churches and listened to sermons that promised you that God would slay your Goliaths or calm your storms.  No doubt the sermons inspired you until you ran into that next Goliath or that next hurricane in life.  Truthfully, brothers and sisters, I struggled a bit this week on this sermon.  You have all been very kind these first few months with respect to my sermons.  I know a number of you live for the practical application.  You have told me that’s the best part of my sermons and teaching.  We preachers do God a terrible disservice, I think, when we fail to bring His wisdom, His instruction, into the world around us.  When we fail to bring His instruction to bear on our current situations, I think people in the pews are left with a “so what!  How is that supposed to help me?”

     I say that because I had a horrible time thinking of modern applications for the message I think I was being encouraged to convey this week.  We know from experience that God does not always slay our Goliaths and that He does not always calm the storms in our lives.  Each of us can point to Goliaths in our lives or storms in our lives where we think we barely made it out, where God seems to have let an obvious Goliath live or a terrible storm rage, no matter our fervent prayers.  Collectively, of course, the big Goliath, death, seems to have won the battle yet again, and one of our families, as well as their close friends in the parish, are struggling in a storm of mourning.  I’m speaking, of course, of George and Babs and the rest of the family.  All of us prayed to God to heal our beloved brother.  God, by worldly measures, seems to have turned a deaf ear to George, to Babs, to Georgie and Dee, and to anyone else who interceded.  Now, we are left in the swirl of a storm.  There is the pain of George’s absence for some; there is the worry that maybe our faith impacted God’s response; and there is the worry that we might not be up to the task of ministering to George’s family, who are the ones really battling Goliath and storms right now.

     Even the news cycle seems to be testifying against the idea that God slays the Goliaths and stills the storms in the lives of His people.  Unless you were vacationing on Pluto this week, you probably watched coverage of the massacre in Charleston.  A Bible Study invited a young man into their midst.  After some time in prayer and study, the young man opened fire, all the while shouting horrible, hateful things at his intended victims.  If God cares for His people like so many of us believe and teach, if God slays the Goliaths in our lives, where was He when this group of people needed Him?  These weren’t just “Christians” in name only, these weren’t just Christians who come to church for worship on Sundays; these were brothers and sisters who took seriously God’s command that they study His Word.  They took it so seriously that they welcomed a stranger into their midst to study Him and His Word more.  And look what it got them.

     By Thursday, of course, I was starting to get worried about modern applications.  The Goliaths and storms dancing around in my head were defeats.  No David had wrestled the gunman to the floor saving lives; no Moses had interceded successfully with God on behalf of George and his death.  Even the illustrations my colleagues suggested seemed impersonal.  One suggested I preach on William Wilberforce and his allies in the fight against slavery.  This colleague had noticed I had not used much human trafficking imagery with you yet, but that seemed a stretch comparing Wilberforce, a man with power, to a young boy named David.  Another was going to use Rosa Parks and her efforts in light of this newest tragedy to preach about gun limits.  I liked the idea of Rosa, a black lady in the South, as a modern fill-in for David.  I obviously loved the idea for the need of courageous people to change the world in significant ways.  I cannot say, however, that I think the best use of the deaths of those martyrs is gun control.  There are far too many more significant possibilities of redemption in their martyrdom, such as the press’ fascination with their families’ willingness to forgive the young man who took their lives.  And yet, we all know there are Goliaths and storms waiting around the corner to assault us.  So, what shall we do?  Trust that the Holy Spirit will speak specifics into your heart and into your mind.

     Our OT lesson begins with an interesting scene.  The armies of Israel and the Philistines are facing one another for battle.  A giant of a man has come forth and proposed a battle of champions.  The two chosen men will fight, thus sparing bloodshed for the rest of the armies.  Unfortunately for God’s people, the champion of the army is so big that his name will become synonymous with giant.  The bible gives us a great description of Goliath, his armor and weapons, and his attitude.  He is, to use the words of the psalmist, a mocker of God and God’s people.  Of course, he would seem to have reason to believe that he should mock.  Of all the men standing before him claiming to serve in the Lord’s army, not one is willing to come forth and face him in battle, not even its king.

     Saul, you might remember from last week and the week before, has had God’s Spirit taken from him.  Saul has refused to obey God and, unlike his successor, to repent when he has sinned against God.  Saul is, as his cowardice before Goliath demonstrates, king in name only.

     Meanwhile, Jesse has been supporting the commander of the squad of men that oversees his sons.  From time to time, Jesse sends supplies to the commander via his youngest son David, ensuring that his sons have food and drink and anything else they might need.  However many times a week, David heads back home from the flock, gathers the supplies from his father, and dutifully carries them to the frontlines.  This trip, of course, is different.  David, now anointed by Samuel and full of God’s Spirit, hears the mocking derision of the uncircumcised giant.  As the giant continues to mock the Israeli army and, more importantly, God, David is incensed.  We are told he finally chews out his brothers and the men around them, asking why they don’t go teach this fool of a giant who really is God.  The brothers, for their part, tell their younger brother to shut up.  If they listen to him, they will surely be killed.  It is one thing to worship God; it is another to rush headlong into one’s death.

     David, furious at the dishonor being shown before God, then decides he will slay this giant.  David goes to Saul and says he will kill the giant.  Saul is so far removed from the Spirit of God that he even argues with the boy.  You cannot do this.  You are a boy; he is Goliath.  He has been a soldier since his youth.  Left unsaid is the “you are just a little shepherd boy.”  David, though, is having none of it.  He reminds the king that he has fought lions and wolves and bears to protect his flock.  The Lord who has protected him even as he has protected his flock will let him see this victory.  For Saul, such a rebuke should have stung doubly-hard.  The boy has taken up the role the king was supposed to fulfill.

     We then get this comical scene where Saul dresses David in his army.  In my mind, this looks like that scene in the Lord of the Rings where Gimli tries on the Elvish mail.  The mail was made for someone 6 and ½ feet tall.  On Gimli, a dwarf, it falls in a pile around him.  David realizes that the armor will encumber him more than help him, so he has it removed.  He chooses five smooth stones from the wadi and strolls forth to meet the enemy.

     Goliath is not impressed.  He mocks David, the army, and God.  David, of course, stands his ground.  When the giant threatens him, David tells him to prepare for his death.  The very God whom Goliath mocks will deliver him into the hand of David.  As Goliath strides forward, we are told that David hits him in the head with a stone from the sling.  Once again, God has delivered as promised.  He told Israel that He would deliver them without spear or sword.  Once again, He has kept His promise.  David has also kept his.  He takes Goliath’s sword and cuts off the giant’s head, leaving the dead body for the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth.  If I am not going to promise you that God slays all your Goliaths and calms all your storms, how are we to read this story today?  How does God’s Word inform our lives these many thousands of miles and thousands of years distant?

     It seems to me there are a couple lessons we should take away from this Sunday’s readings.  I have been here now nearly six months.  Those of you who are bit braver have wondered into my office or elsewhere to question calls on your own lives.  I have had a few interesting discussions with people stressing about perceived calls.  As people have bravely shared possible calls by God on their lives, they have quickly followed those claims with the Goliaths that stand in their way.  I’m not trained to do mission trips.  I haven’t studied the Scriptures like you?  I’m not good at public speaking?  I don’t know where to start?  On days where I am less tired, I have probably reminded you that God does not always call the equipped, but He always equipped the called.  It is not so much that we need supernatural gifts and talents but to be reminded of the skills that we have and to direct them to His service.  How many rocks had David slung as a boy shepherd?  Our modern version might be shooting bottles or cans off fence rails, but I am sure shepherds had their own ways of practicing and of passing the time.  Plus, David had exercised this skill in the face of death.  Before battling Goliath, he reminds us that lions and wolves have turned on him, even as he sought to rescue his lambs.  David did not so much need supernatural guidance as a new target!  Similarly, you and I are prepared for whatever it is that God calls us, both individually and as a parish.  Our focus will be different, no doubt, but the skills are really just the skills.  Some may be the important need in a ministry; others may be the foundation for something far bigger, far greater, than we ever could have asked or imagined.  But that is how God works.  He delights in making the worldly wise look foolish, the worldly strong look weak, and the marginalized as near and dear to His heart.  If God is calling you to do something, you are equipped or you will be.

     How do we know?  His word and experience are certainly good teachers, but think especially of the motivation of our David this morning.  What drove him to fight Goliath?  Was it the likely fame and fortune?  Was it the opportunity to go live with Saul and be attended to day and night?  It was not.  Pay close attention to what motivates David.  He is consumed with zeal for the Lord.  What motivates David is not his own glory, his own well-being, but the honor and glory of the Lord whom he serves!  It is a characteristic he shares with martyrs and saints throughout the ages.  Even our collect today called upon us to have perpetual love and reverence for His holy name.  What if we considered whether every action we took and every word that we said honored or dishonored God?  They do, don’t they.  We dishonor God when we give the universal sign of respect to the guy who cut us off in traffic.  We dishonor God when we sheepishly look away as those men and women sell those papers on the side of the road at lights.  We dishonor God when we ignore worship, ignore prayer, ignore those things to which we know He calls us.  We dishonor God when we value ourselves and our own lives more than we value and trust in Him.  Thankfully, and mercifully, He has born the price of our dishonor.  Thankfully and mercifully, He asks us only to repent, and He forgives us.

     Brothers and sisters, I am not letting you in on a little secret this morning.  I am reminding you of what you already know and of what God has shown you.  There are always Goliaths and there are always storms in our way when we serve God.  I often wonder if the giants don't get bigger and the storms don't get stronger the more important the work.  No matter what it is you are called to do, you can bet that His Enemy wants nothing more than for you to fail.  His Enemy will create Goliaths in your mind, and His Enemy will send real Goliaths into your path.  Sometimes, God empowers us to overcome those Goliaths; sometimes, though, God uses our seeming defeat to demonstrate His redemptive power.  All we can do, all any Christian can do, is that to which God has called us.  The real results, the reconciliation to God and to our neighbors, that’s up to Him.  But in the end, God will not be mocked.  He may show patient restraint for a while; He may seem absent or uncaring to those who really desire a thunderous slaying of giants; but in the end He promises that He and all who serve Him will be vindicated and glorified in Him.  What matters is our motivation; what matters is our faith.  Do we trust Him to rescue us from the paws of those wild animals that turn on us?  Do we trust in Him enough to face those inimical giants in our lives, confident in our faith, that He will redeem us in the end?  The answer to that question, beloved brothers and sisters, is to be found only in your heart.



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