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Putting our Faith in the God of Surprises

A sermon preached June 14, 2015
The Reverend John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia

This is the second of a three part sermon series leading up to next Sunday, when we hear the David and Goliath story.

Last Sunday, we pulled the lens way back to see David’s story in context of the people Israel, being ruled by judges and prophets but finding themselves surrounded by political and military enemies, insisting on having a King appointed over them so they could be like other nations.

Last week I made the point that God saw their desire for a king as symbolizing their rejection of God as their ruler and protector, making the wider point that among the many choices we made in life and each day, we choose what, or who to put our trust or faith in: will it be the good, and even God-given “cardboard boxes” of Kings – political leaders human mentors and heroes, education, money in the bank/financial security, a strong military, family/friends, or will we put our trust or faith in the giver of these gifts, the brick, the solid-brick foundation of God?[1]

I want to pick up this week where I ended last week, and that is by saying the amount of faith we have is not nearly as important as that (or whom) in which we are placing our faith. We can have all the faith in the world in something flimsy, and it won’t support us; or we can have the tiniest bit of faith in something strong, and it will.

The “something strong” in which we can have the tiniest amount of faith but will support us is God, but now that I’ve given you a powerful metaphor – God as a brick – I’d like to forget all about that, because while all images of God are inadequate, a brick is particularly inadequate image of God,
because look, I can carry this brick around,

move it where I want to,

make it do what I want it to do.

Bricks are inanimate, and so if there was some way I could make this brick into a dove, or better yet a strong and gentle wind that darted around the room with little flames of fire, that’d be better.
Put your faith in the strong and gentle wind which you cannot control, that’s better.

The wind that is powerful enough to knock down buildings and topple empires but gentle enough to barely feel on your cheek, that’s better.

Put your faith in God: a breath of fresh air that’ll knock the wind out of you. The uncontrollable and uncontrolled God – yet upon whose force we can rely.

You see the problem with a brick is that bricks don’t often surprise us or delight us; bricks don’t have wings! Or senses of humor.  Or inherent healing power.

Bricks are not delicious, or intoxicating, which might be why Jesus choose bread and wine to be outward and visible signs of God’s inward and spiritual graces.

The point is, of course, that God is a god of surprises. The Kingdom of God is like…a mustard seed(!)

The people Israel insist on having a king, God gives them Saul as their first King, then God is “sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel,” so God decides to raise up another king to replace Saul. 

And how does God accomplish this? Will this new, hand-picked King over God’s chosen people be the eldest son from the most prominent family from the most prestigious city?

No, Samuel is made to go through seven older and therefore more prestigious sons of Jesse – Jesse, who owns a flock of sheep and goats, and who lives not in some large, grand, city but a little town of Bethlehem (or should I say “O Little Town of Bethlehem?).   

Seven sons are made to pass before Samuel before we get to David, the youngest and therefore least significant son, whom they didn’t even think to call in from the fields and get showered and dressed for the occasion. But they send for him, and when Samuel sees him, God says, “him! He’s the one!”
So David it is, and David is anointed in the presence of his brothers, as the next King of Israel.
And the Spirit of the Lord -- the strong and gentle wind which you cannot control comes mightily upon David from that day forward. The spirit of God, that uncontrollable and uncontrolled God – yet upon whose force we can rely – enters into David.

Here’s the thing to remember as we transition from this story to next Sunday’s story of the actual fight between David and Goliath:

Who Goliath is, and who David is.

Goliath is, of course, a giant. He’s described as a “champion” and as an “expert and seasoned soldier.” His height is described as between 6’ 9” and 10 feet tall.  And he’s heavily armed, with a helmet, coat of mail, and carrying a spear that is described as being as large as “a weaver’s beam” – think of a fence post with an iron tip weighing 15 pounds.

Now granted, I’ve not been in a lot of hand-to-hand fights in my life, but the idea of an armor-piercing spearhead the weight of a bowling ball coming at me is not something I’d look forward to.
That’s the Goliath we’ll meet in next week’s story. And because of Goliath’s size and strength and experience and equipment – larger, better, more experienced – we’re used to thinking of David as the underdog in the fight.

But remember this week’s story of David being anointed as King of Israel.

David has been anointed by Samuel as the next king. That is a promise. More than a promise, it was a prophetic pronouncement, a message from God that one day David would rule over Israel.

Except when David goes out to fight Goliath, David is NOT KING YET. He’s still a shepherd boy.

We’re used to thinking of David as the huge underdog in this story, he actually has a huge advantage!

David has a strong sense of his destiny: his calling, his fate, his future. He’s heading into a man-to-man fight to the death. So as the author Graham Cooke points out, David is likely thinking, One of us is going to die.  I’m destined to be king. But I’m not king yet. So Goliath, it sucks to be you right now!”

That’s God-confidence.

It reminds me of what they say about fighter pilots.

Apparently when fighter pilots find themselves in an impossible situation – outnumbered 10 to 1, surrounded by enemy aircraft, what do they do?  

They radio back and say, “I’m in a target-rich environment.”

A target-rich environment!

You are in the toughest circumstances imaginable, and what is your attitude to be?

Wow, lookit my opportunities!

Which one to pick first?

Let me bring this home, first in regard to the wider culture, and then as individual people of faith in it.

Regarding the general culture: I was at a conference last week, and once again we were reminded of dynamics going on in our society:

1) People are busy and stressed.
2) Society is superficial.
3) People have lost interest in organized religion

As I heard about those dynamics, I thought of the story told about the shoe salesmen. You know, the shoe salesmen who travel to a far remote country. They get there travel around a bit, and the one sends a telegraph back:

“Very bad news: no one here wears shoes!”

The other guy telegraphs back:

“Fantastic great news: no one here wears shoes!”

That’s the “target rich environment” attitude.  

People are busy and stressed?!? The church is a place of rest, refuge, restoration, and recuperation – it’s a place to learn about the patterns of Sabbath rest, and resting in God.  

Society is superficial?!  That means people are hungrier than ever for a cause that matters, a church with deep historical roots, rich liturgy and worship customs, and God’s eternal, substantive, satisfying Word

People have lost interest in organized religion?!?  Thank God! I want to paraphrase Will Rogers. You may be familiar with Will Rogers’ famous quote: “I’m not a member of any organized party; I’m a Democrat.” Well, I’m not a member of any organized religion, I’m an Episcopalian.” We put our faith in the strong and gentle wind which you cannot control; we put our faith not in uniformity of opinion on Issues of the Day, but in the Spirit of God, in an uncontrollable and uncontrolled God – yet upon whose force we can rely.

And as far as individual people of faith: each time there’s a baptism we are reminded of our calling in life as Christians to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” to “respect the dignity of every human being,” and “to strive for justice and peace.”

Those are practical, every day things we can do to put love in action. To “be” the church. Sunday morning is only such a small part of being the church. It’s what we do the other 167 hours of the week that we are the church.

How? We can adopt a little four-word mantra, when we are facing troubles, or prejudices, or difficulties, or hungers or injustices. And the little mantra is “HOW CAN I HELP?

It causes a fascinating shift in mentality.

If we have a service mentality…a “how can I help?” mentality, we can practice a kind of spiritual Judo on the world: when we see trouble, prejudice, face difficulty, hunger, or injustice, oddly enough, the bigger and stronger whatever it is that is coming against us, the more opportunity there is throw its weight into doing good.

That’s a “target-rich environment, wow, what do I do first?” attitude.    

That’s David-like God-confidence,

allowing us to BE the church in the world…

…overcoming, with God’s help, seemingly impossible odds.


[1] In last Sunday’s sermon, I used the “box and brick” analogy: I placed a cardboard box on the floor, and had a volunteer come forward, and asked the volunteer to have lots of faith that if he stood on it, the box would support him without crushing. To really, really believe, with LOTS of faith, that the box would support him. He stood on it and of course it crushed, immediately. Then I set a brick down, and asked him to stand on it, but before doing so, to have just a tiny amount of faith that the brick would support him without crushing…or perhaps even to doubt that the brick would support him. And when he stood on it, of course it held him. The point being “the amount of faith we have is not as important as that (whom) in which it is placed.” 


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