June 20, 2021, The 4th Sunday After Pentecost

June 20, 2021, The 4th Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin 
Readings:  1 Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41 

From the Collect of the Day, “O Lord … you never fail to help … those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness.” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

     I have commented before that, while I might have an idea on the particular shape and message of the Sunday sermon, sometimes the Holy Spirit has another message, a different message, to be proclaimed. So it is this morning. See, I planned to avoid delving into our Old Testament story about David and Goliath because I had no sense of how this violent, gruesome, historical event complete with its name calling and threats uttered by Goliath and by David could possibly be edifying for us in this particular moment in time. The funny thing is, The Revised Common Lectionaryseems to agree with me because it offers an alternative reading for this morning. A reading about what happened afterDavid slew Goliath. And that is where I was heading. But the Spirit kept nudging me back to what I slowly discovered are some subtle and encouraging truths found in this incredible story from Israel’s history. And I hope that when all is said and done this morning, you will join me in thanking God for the Holy Spirit’s direction.

     Most, if not all of us, know the story of David and Goliath very well having heard it over and again as children in Sunday School. Let’s face it: there is something appealing about a story where the little guy overcomes the big guy. But this story is so much more than a battle between two seemingly unmatched adversaries. In fact, its truths are incredibly timely for us as people of God. And those truths tie in very well with our reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark, and our reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

    Throughout that second letter, St. Paul has been warning the church that rumors and slanderous statements about members will destroy a community of faith faster than any outside influence or person. In today’s particular reading Paul, who has borne the brunt of vicious criticism from those envious of his close relationship with the congregation, and grieves that the very church he founded is on the brink of schism, chooses to take the higher road. Paul, while having every right to respond in anger to those who have sullied his reputation, says the time has come not to argue, but to be reconciled: to forgive one another; to see and treat each other as equals in Christ and as equals in the sight of God. Paul says the way to resolve any division, any dispute, the way to build community, is not through might or violence, but rather by, “(Opening) your hearts to each other as my heart is open to you.”  Paul doesn’t let the scary circumstances he found brewing in the Church get in the way of his commitment to witness to, and to seek and serve, Christ in all persons – even those who were hurtful and critical of him.

     The first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark opens by stating that Jesus of Nazareth came preaching the good news of God’s kingdom saying, “Repent” – or re-think how you live – “for the Kingdom of God is at hand – it is here, right now:” A kingdom where God, alone, is sovereign and every person – every one of us – equal in our need of God’s grace. In today’s reading, the disciple’s question to Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” quickly turns as Jesus calms the raging storm threatening to overwhelm them so that they now ask, “Who … Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Mark doesn’t answer that question, but rather, he leaves it to us to realize that Jesus isthe Son of God who does care about those who are perishing because he is the fulfillment of God’s promises of redemption; and he alone is able to restore all things to wholeness and peace.

     Both of those lessons bring us back to our reading from Second Samuel. This story of David and Goliath affirms that for the believer, for people of God, we are never alone in our circumstances. See, Goliath appears as someone utterly invincible. So much so that the Israeli army is ready to surrender or run away without even trying to fight. David steps forward and volunteers. At first he is clad with not just any armor or weapons, but King Saul’s personalarmor. But David finds he can’t even walk in it let alone do battle. And that’s an important part of this story because David decides to take off all that armor and in so doing, prepares for battle solely by relying upon his God-given gifts and abilities, and on them alone. The interesting thing is that Goliath – that huge giant of a man – is clad from head to toe in armor: very heavy armor. So much so our text describes him as simply approaching David. The actual Hebrewtext here uses words that suggest the weight of all that armor has slowed Goliath down while David, in contrast, is free and able to run here and there, back and forth, until the right moment to strike. Some scholars have suggested that because of all his heavy armor, having fallen face down onto the ground, Goliath could not lift himself up or even roll out of danger. And David wins the day.

      Now, what on earth does this story have to do with life in 2021? This story reveals that he who appeared as mighty and invincible was no match for him who simply relied on his God-given gifts and abilities. This story encourages us to recognize the strengths we possess by the grace of God – all those abilities and gifts of God. And not only recognize them but use them to confront the Goliaths we find in our lives right now. Confront them just as we are, confident that the God we know in Christ, the God of our salvation, the God who looks not upon our outward appearance but what abides in our hearts and minds, the God we know, is ever-present and with us in times of peace and in times of danger, fear, worry or dread. See, one of the things that David did in this story – and I find this to be an incredible teaching – is rather than join the soldiers in complaining to God about how big Goliath is, instead, David proclaims to Goliath how big God is. And that’s an important lesson for us because each of us faces Goliaths. Think about all that has happened over this past year – these past 15 months. The truth is the pandemic, and everything associated with it, has traumatized not just individuals, but whole communities, including communities of faith: Communities that could not gather to say farewell to loved ones no longer with us; Communities separated geographically like so many families still unable to meet face to face and in person. Traumatized by the fact that while we may see one another on a computer or TV screen, we could not reach out and physically hold that person and clingto them. These past 15 months have been one heck of a Goliath that has affected this community, not to mention those Goliaths you encountered on your own.

     You know, walking the Christian way of life is always a challenge. It requires focus and commitment, just as it also requires regular reflection, repentance, and amendment of life. There are times when, like the disciples in our Gospel reading, we might feel like our boat is being swamped, when we think we are sinking, that our adversaries like Goliath are too powerful and intimidating. That people we cherish are being taken away. That everything we held dear has been forever changed, or just thrown down. That our God-given gifts and abilities are not strong enough in the face of adversity. Our lessons this morning affirm that they are strong enough regardless of our circumstances because God is present with us. God is standing on the field next to us when we face our Goliaths. God is sitting next to us when, like St. Paul found, someone in the Church maligns us. And as revealed in our Gospel lesson, God isn’t off elsewhere in some cushy place but right there with us in that sinking boat … there with us to calm the storm.

      Now, do not misunderstand me: God never, ever promises that nothing bad will ever happen. God never promises smooth sailing and blue skies every day of our life. As my colleague Rick Morley says, “If you think that is what God promises, you haven’t read your Bible lately.” But what God does promise, beloved, is that when your world comes crashing down, God is right there with you. Jesus is there with you: in the sinking boat; in the Church; and when facing and confronting the Goliaths in your life. And you know what? As people of God, we, too, are there with you.

     I wonder this morning, what Goliaths you are facing right now; what storms are threatening to overwhelm you? And how can we as a community of faith stand with you and assure you of not only God’s presence and love, but ourpresence and love as well? I hope you will let us know because that is what community is about. That is what not only heals trauma and fear, but overcomes Goliaths and storms, and enables us to find peace in the midst of them together.

     Friends, as today’s Collect affirms, our Lord never ever fails to help … those whom God has set upon the sure foundation of God’s loving-kindness – that foundation of God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love. And whom is it that God set upon that foundation? You and me.

     May God grant us the grace to not only realize that truth, but be that truth to one another this day and always. Amen.