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1 Samuel 17:(1s, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

Not too long ago, I was asked a very serious question by a group of people:

When you are meeting and working with leaders, this group asked, what is it that frustrates you most?

I didn’t have to think long to come up with my answer:

I get frustrated, I replied, when people tell me something is impossible.

And it’s true. Nothing frustrates me more than having someone tell me something is impossible simply because it will be hard … because it hasn’t been done before … because we’ve never done it that way … because there’s not enough money … because it’s a lost cause

And the worst excuse of all: Because we are afraid

The Scriptures tell us that nothing is impossible with God, that God has made promises to us, and that God will always fulfill those promises.

And yet, far too often, we live our lives as though nothing is possible with God.

And quite frankly, I don’t get it.

I do not understand – and I am quite frustrated by – the belief that something is impossible.

Which leads me to wonder:

Why don’t we believe that all things are possible with God?

What are we afraid of?

That God might actually do what God has promised to do?

• • •

Look at the story of David and Goliath. We all know the gist of the story: Little David takes on giant Goliath, kills him with a slingshot and a stone, yay, Israel is saved.

And the moral of the story, so we are almost always told, is this: Never count out the little guy.

Well, that’s a nice moral, I grant you. But that is not what this story is about.

The story of David and Goliath is not about how the little guy always wins.

David and Goliath is a story of faith.

Of David’s faith.

And of our faith.

And I’m not just talking about our faith in God. I’m talking about our faith in the fact that God keeps God’s promises.

This story really boils down to one thing:

Do we believe that God can do all the things we say God can do?

Do we?

Or do we let our fears get in the way?

• • •

If we really want to understand this story, we need to learn a few things, first.

Goliath was a giant. He was a 9-foot-9-inch-tall descendant of the Nephilim, the giants who roamed the earth back in the days of Genesis.[1] He served the Philistines, who were in constant battle with the Israelites, and he was a terror.

But that wasn’t why he was considered the bad guy in this story. He’s the bad guy here because he and his people did not believe in God. The Nephilim were the descendants of the rebellious sons of God – you can read all this in 1 Enoch.[2] The sons of God were angels who came down to earth, saw how beautiful the human women were, did that – well, that thing – and presto! The giants were born. Goliath was one of those giants, a big honking giant with a big honking spear that had a big honking head on it, wearing a big honking helmet and a big honking armor with a big honking shield.

This was the champion the Philistines sent out … in what was really a much more humane way of fighting a war. You line up your army on one side and I line up my army on my side, and we send out our champions to fight to death, and the if you win, we become your slaves. If I win, you become our slaves.

And for 40 days and 40 nights (have we heard that amount of time before?), he stepped out in front of the army of the Philistines and insulted the Israelites, who were so scared by Goliath’s size that they didn’t do a darned thing. They didn’t send out a champion. They didn’t attack the Philistine army. They didn’t retreat. They didn’t negotiate. They simply quaked in their boots.

Because they were afraid.

They were so afraid that t their big honking fear of big honking Goliath got in the way of their faith that God would fulfill God’s promises to them.

That is, until David showed up, David – who probably was afraid but wasn’t going to let his fear get in the way of God.

David, who was so young – ruddy and handsome, yes, but still just a boy – that he couldn’t wear the armor that Saul gave him.

So he went, picked up a stone, whipped his slingshot, smacked big, honking Goliath in the forehead, Goliath falls down and dies and (and we don’t get this part in the reading, but it’s there), David takes Goliath’s big, honking sword and cuts off Goliath’s head.

According to Walter Brueggemann, one of the greatest Old Testament scholars and prophets of the 20th and now into the 21st century, this battle was “a paradigm of bold faith in an arena of fear, threat and defiance.”[3]

And whaddya know?

Because David was able to overcome his big honking fear, God prevailed over evil. God kept God’s promises. God overcame death and destruction and slavery and unfaithfulness by being faithful to God’s promises to God’s people.

So the question for us is this:

What big, honking fears do we have that get in the way of God doing exactly what God has promised God will do?

What is it that we fear so much that we no longer believe God can do all the things even we say God can do?

We all have these fears, you know. It wasn’t just Saul and the Israelites.

We are just as afraid as they were.

And every time we let that fear control our lives, we get in God’s way and keep God’s will from being fulfilled.

We are the ones who proclaim, “Well, that’s impossible.”

Not because “that” – whatever “that” might be – really is impossible, but because we are afraid.

Because we are consumed by our fear.

And then indeed, whatever it is that God is trying to accomplish comes to a standstill, and all of us end up standing around the like Israelites, quaking in our boots and doing nothing.

• • •

Yesterday, at the Baccalaureate service for Stanford University’s graduation, Sister Joan Chittester told the students that if they wanted to be leaders – not followers quaking in their boots going along to get along, but leaders, they were going to have to rebel.

“Rebel, rebel, rebel – for all our sakes, rebel!”[4]

To be a leader, she said, you have to say no to the “lies” – the lies that paralyze us with big honking fear – the lies that the world tells us and that we allow to control us.

“The lie that there is nothing we can do about discrimination, nothing we can do about world poverty, nothing we can do about fair trade, nothing we can do to end war, nothing we can do to provide education and health care, housing and food, maternity care and just wages for everyone in the world. Nothing we can do about women raped, beaten, trafficked, silenced yet, still, now, everywhere.”[5]

We are afraid no only that we cannot change the world, but that God cannot change it either.

We let the big honking fears of our lives get in the way of God’s life for us – and in us – and with us – and through us.

Fear that we might …

Lose a job.

Lose a house.

Lose a life.

Fear that …

People might not like us.

People might shut us out.

People might think less of us.

Fear that …

The problem is just too big.

Or too complicated.

Let me tell you something:

The worst thing that will ever happen to us – the absolute worst thing – is that we will end up having breakfast with Jesus.

And since that’s what we are about to pray for in the Nicene Creed, I really don’t understand what we have to be afraid of!

So here’s what we have to do:

Let go of our big, honking fears, and get out of God’s way!

Or, as Sr. Chittester says, “Rebel!”

Because we do not have to be afraid.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B, at Grace Episcopal Church, Goochland, Va., on 24 June 2012.



[1] Commentary on Goliath comes from Samuel Giere, Professor Homiletics, Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, “Commentary on Alternate 1st Reading,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=2&alt=1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brueggemann, Walter. “First and Second Samuel.” Interpretation. James Luther Mays, et al. editors. (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1990). (pp. 1-7 and 127-134). Via http://www.kirkofkildaire.org/quest/FQlessons/D&GLeaderStudy.html

[4] Sr. Joan Chittester, Baccalaureate speech, Stanford University, 23 June 2012, http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/june/baccalaureate-text-chittister-061612.html

[5] Ibid.

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One of my favorite theologians posed the question about this morning’s Gospel the other day, asking, “Do you have to be a little crazy to preach the Gospel?”[1]

To which my response was, “Crazy to preach the Gospel? Nah. But you do have to be crazy to live the Gospel!”

Because, let’s be honest, from the days of Jesus himself, anyone who dared to live the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, not just proclaiming God’s love but actually living it, was considered crazy.

The Gospel, you see, is not something that fits in well with society. Never has … never will.

Society in the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth was exactly like it is today. In fact, I hate to tell you, but society has pretty much been the same since … well, ever since Cain killed Abel: It’s been about putting ourselves first. Putting our kith and kin first. Putting our tribe first. Today’s society, just like society in Jesus’ day, is based on the attitude of, I’ve-got-mine-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-ever-get-yours!

Everything that Jesus did in his ministry – feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, making the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak, the lame leap for joy, including the excluded, loving the unloved, cleansing the unclean, giving hope to those who have known no hope from generation to generation – everything Jesus did went against societal norms. That’s why the scribes came down from Jerusalem … because Jesus didn’t fit the norms.

And I am telling you: If we really live the Gospel – not just proclaim it but live it – I guarantee you, you, like Jesus, will be called crazy. People will say that you are out of your mind.

When I told my family and friends and my parish that I was going to Sudan to be a missionary, they told me I was crazy. Sudan wasn’t safe. It wasn’t stable. It was a country riven by nearly 50 years of war, war that had not quite ended.

When I went to missionary training – if you want to serve as an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church, you have to go to a two-week “missionary boot camp” – they brought in a security trainer who looked just like Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, who talked to us about security issues and how we could keep ourselves safe. We each were allowed to tell him where we would be serving, and he would tell us something about the area where we were going. When I asked about Sudan, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t go to the border region … it’s really unstable and you never know what’s going to happen there. Where are you going?”

When I told him, “the border region,” all he could say was, “Well, good luck.”

When I lived in Sudan, the Sudanis themselves told me I was crazy, Northerners because I was living in the South, Southerners because … well, because I was living in the South. There was no clean water, very little food, the area was very insecure, we had very little electricity, and people were pointing guns at me all the time.

At least once a week, the Sudanis would ask me: “Why are you here? Why haven’t you left yet?”

When I did leave Sudan, and transferred to Haiti, my family and friends again told me I was crazy. “Why do you want to go to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?”

And then when I got to Haiti, the Haitians themselves asked me: “Are you crazy? Why would you leave the comforts of the United States to come here?! We’re trying to leave here to go to the United States?”

You have encountered this reaction as well, haven’t you?

Every time you decide to do something because Jesus says so, isn’t it true that people question you?

You’re generous people, I know, so when you stop to help a homeless person on the street, giving them $20, someone somewhere asks, “Are you nuts? He’s just going to drink that money, you know.”

When you stop along the road to help a stranded driver, taking them to get some petrol, isn’t it true that your parents or spouse looks at you and says, , “Are you crazy? That person could have been an ax murderer!”

You decide to tithe to your church, and then you go to see your broker, who looks at you and says, “Are you out of your mind? Did you stop to think that you might need that money someday, you know, to retire? Or to pay for your kids’ college education? Or to pay for that wedding you’re daughter’s been dreaming of all her life?”

I am telling you: Living the Gospel … every moment of your lives … is … well, it’s just crazy!

Look what happened to Jesus – his love for God’s people led him to the cross!

If we are going to be Christians, if we are going to truly be followers of Jesus, we are going to have to be just a little bit crazy.

• • •

NY Times columnist David Brooks

Last week, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times entitled “The Moral Diet.”

In it, he talked about David Arielly’s new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, a book that shows that “nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little.”[2]

Arielly’s social science experiments show that people these days “live by the Good Person Construct, try[ing] to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory.”[3]

Brooks compared how we live our moral lives to the way we follow our diets. We have all dieted, right? So we know how this works. We get up in the morning, and we have a banana and yogurt for breakfast. Then for lunch, we have a salad – a small salad – no dressing, please, because I’m on a diet. For dinner, we have a piece of baked chicken and some broccoli. And then what do we do? We count up our calories and we realize we’ve been really good today, so we say, “I can have ice cream for dinner!”

Brooks points out that what we do with our diets, we do with the rest of our lives.

The Good Person, he wrote, “isn’t shooting for perfection any more than dieters are following their diet 100 percent. It’s enough to be workably suboptimal, a tolerant, harmless sinner and a generally good guy.”[4]

Brooks finished his column with this thought: “As we go about doing our Good Person moral calculations, it might be worth asking: Is this good enough? Is this life of minor transgressions refreshingly realistic, … or is it settling for mediocrity?”[5]

I have to say, when I finished reading the column, my reaction was: “’Good enough’ is not good enough. Not if we are going to live our lives as followers, as disciples of Jesus.”

Because Jesus didn’t do mediocrity.

Jesus, my friends, went the whole way. He lived his life – and he died for us – as a crazy radical, loving beyond anything the world had ever seen.

And Jesus is calling us to be just as crazy and just as radical as he was!

And when we do this, and the world laughs at us or scoffs at what we are doing, or ridicules us and says, “You’re out of your mind” (which the world will do)? Well, Jesus basically is telling us to respond to the world by saying, “So what?”

So what if the world around you thinks you are out of your mind?

So what if your actions and your attitude makes people say, “You are out of your mind!”

This is what Jesus commanded us to do, and if we are going to follow Jesus, this is what we’re going to have to do.

Be a little bit crazy.

• • •

My favorite theologian points out that Jesus’ life was centered in a very specific vision, and that “at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God’s creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us – indeed to anyone and everyone.”[6]

Let’s be honest:

That vision – it’s pretty crazy.

Because it goes against everything society says.

But that indeed is God’s vision, and it was that vision that Jesus lived, and taught us to live as well.

So the question for us on this Sunday morning is this:

Are you willing to be crazy for Jesus?

Are you?

 Amen.

Sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Manassas, Va., on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year B, 10 June 2012.



[1] David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, “Out of our minds,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=596

[2] David Brooks, “The Moral Diet,” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/opinion/brooks-the-moral-diet.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120608me

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lose (emphases added)

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A cup of boldness, courtesy of the Trinity

The other day, I went to Starbucks – that was no surprise, because y’all know that I love Starbucks and that I go there because I love their chai lattes. And you know that whenever I come out here on Sundays, I stop at Starbucks multiple times along the way. So my going there the other day normally wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Except for the fact that the other day, I went there not just for my chai, but to take a stand.

You see, there is a group called the National Organization for Marriage, which is so anti-gay marriage that it organized what it called a “DumpStarbucks Day” because this group is upset. Really upset. Why? Because Starbucks has had the audacity to offer health benefits to its employees’ domestic partners.

NOM’s response to this offer?

It wants Starbucks punished.

So it started a Facebook page, “DumpStarbucks Day,” and asked people to boycott Starbucks on Wednesday last week.

Of course, a slew of my friends, who support gay marriage, among other things, were outraged and expressed that outrage on their Facebook pages, which meant it showed up on mine, and finally, after seeing all kinds of references to this, and wondering why my friends would support an attack on Starbucks, I checked out the whole thing and came away thinking, “Really? NOM is outraged that Starbucks treats its employees and their loved ones well? Hmpph! Not gonna let that happen!”

So on Wednesday, I made a point of going to Starbucks, where they know my green cup (if not me) quite well, and after I ordered, I told the barista I was there to support Starbucks against the DumpStarbucks movement.

Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained it to her, and reiterated that I was there to show support for her employer.

“Someone has a problem with Starbucks giving us health benefits?”

“Not just you. But domestic partners as well,” I said.

“Huh?”

I had to explain that domestic partners frequently but not always are gay, which is when one of the other customers piped up: “What? Some group is objecting to what?”

So I explained – again – the whole idea, and that I was there to support the company, and that I would be back later in the day, to really show my support, and then the barista asked, in great confusion,

“Why would anyone care who Starbucks gives benefits to? What business is it of theirs?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“It’s nobody’s business but Starbucks and its employees,” the customer said.

And then the barista asked: “Is this group Christian?”

“Yeah, that’s what they claim,” I said.

“See, that’s what I hate about churches,” the barista said. “I hate it when they … they …” She was literally stumbling over her words, trying to figure out how to express what it was that she hated.

“Hijack your faith?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she said. “I hate that.”

“Me either,” I said. “As an Episcopal priest, I can tell you: This is not what Christianity is all about.”

The customer chimed in again: “My dad goes to this church in Fairfax, the Unity church,” he said, “where they welcome everyone, and they relate their faith to what’s happening today, instead of just telling us what was said thousands of years ago.”
“You gotta make the faith relevant to our lives today,” I agreed.

We talked for probably another 10 minutes, ending with me inviting people to The Episcopal Church (alas, I had to tell them the commute to Blue Grass was pretty long), and then I headed on to my appointment.

Afterward, I thought about how, in that short encounter, we – the barista, the other customer and I – had formed a community. Just for a short time, yes, but a community nonetheless.

And isn’t that what we’re talking about when we talk about the Trinity, the feast we celebrate today?

Aren’t we talking about community?

Because isn’t that what the Trinity is all about? Community?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The way we read the Scriptures, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always work together … in the beginning and from the beginning. You never find two of them off working while one stays behind, drinking a martini. The Trinity is a community, and it is always together.

And remember, my friends, this is the image in which we are made, the image of God, which is one of love and one of community.

Which means that we are created to live in community just like the Trinity.

• • •

I can tell you that there are many, many of my colleagues this morning who claim that you cannot explain the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who say the Trinity is a mystery and we are not made to understand mysteries, who allege that anyone who even tries to explain the Trinity is … well, is a fool. That really, we are all like Nicodemus, confused and wondering what the heck Jesus is talking about in the depths of the night.

To which I reply: Anyone who cannot explain the Trinity isn’t really trying, and that to fob the whole thing of as some sort of inexplicable mystery is … well, let’s just say it’s foolish. Because we are not Nicodemuses! We, my friends, are God’s creation, made in God’s image. And we do not need to stumble around in our faith and say, “Well, I can’t really explain the Trinity because it’s a cosmic mystery”!

Because the Trinity is, in its most basic form, nothing more – and nothing less – than community.

So let’s get the basic explanation of the Trinity out of the way so we can get to the heart of the matter, OK?

See this blue water? This is God the Father, the one who created us not because we are necessary – remember, we are not – but because God loved us into being. (pour water into glass bowl)

See this yellow water? This is God the Son, the one who lived among us as one of us, who laughed and cried, who celebrated and suffered, who died for us. (pour water into bowl, making water turn green)

See this red water? This is God the Holy Spirit, the advocate who comes to us to lead us, guide us, give us the breath to be bold in our faith. (pour water into bowl, making water turn amber)

Now … you tell me … which one is which?

Can you separate God the Father from God the Son from God the Holy Spirit?

No?

That’s because you can’t separate God into pieces. You. Cannot. Separate. The Father. From the Son. From the Holy Spirit.

Three in One. One in Three.

A community.
Because, my friends, that’s the Trinity … an inseparable community that you can’t really tell apart and can’t possibly tear apart, always together, always united, always in love with each other.

And we, who are created in the image of God, are created in that image of community.

Which means that wherever we are, we need to be in community.

But we can’t simply show up and hope community somehow magically “happens.”

We, created in the image of community, have to make community.

We have to work at community.

And just like the community in whose image we are created, we have to be bold at community-making.

Because God the Father certainly was bold in creating us and inviting us  –inviting us! – to love one another and ourselves and God, knowing full-well that we might just turn down that invitation, but boldly taking that chance anyway.

Because God the Son certainly was bold in everything he did, preaching, teaching, healing, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute and making the lame leap for joy! God the Son was bold in choosing not only to live for us but to die for us!

And God the Holy Spirit? Oh, my gosh, the Holy Spirit is nothing but boldness personified, inspiring us – literally, giving us breath! – guiding us, giving us the right words to speak, helping us choose the right actions to take. Oh, my, the Holy Spirit defines boldness!

This bold image of the Trinity is the image in which we are created! To be bold in our community!

• • •

I read an article yesterday by a church musician named Nicole Keller, who was lamenting the fact that so many Christians seem to give up on their faith.

“… I believe that there is no such thing as a non-extreme Christian,” she wrote on her blog, Under the Cassock.[1] “Christianity,” she says, “is a radical faith, even in its utmost humility. … [T]he core of Christianity includes bringing Christ to those who do not know him by showing them who he is. That doesn’t mean I have to go door to door like our Mormon friends … It could be as basic as helping a random stranger pick up the groceries they (sic) dropped in the parking lot, bringing up your children to be faithful Christians, or feeding the poor at the local soup kitchen – that’s living the Gospel, baby,” she writes. “But along with those actions we must be willing to admit openly, when necessary, that we do them because our faith inspires and requires us to do so with a loving heart.

“Is that really so hard?” she asks. “When someone asks me, ‘Why are you helping me” I can simply say ‘because my faith inspires me to love those around me.’ … It is simply showing them who I am.”[2]

And who we are is a people created in God’s image of community … and not just any community, but a bold community, willing to go out and live our faith and willing to go out and proclaim our faith!

This is what the Trinity is all about …

Boldly living …

Boldly proclaiming …

We are not nice – we do not love one another – just “because.”

We do so because we are created and commanded to do so.

So when you think about the Trinity, here’s what I want you to think about:

Not that the Trinity is some inexplicable mystery about God that will only be fully explained once we reach the Omega of this life so we can get to the Alpha of the rest of our lives.

No!

The Trinity, my friends, is the very essence of our being that empowers us to boldly live and boldly proclaim our faith every moment of our lives, with every person we meet, in every thing that we do.

So the next time you stop for that cup of coffee, make sure you get the bold kind. The kind that builds a community (even for a moment) in the image of God.

Live your faith boldy. And then talk about your faith boldly. Be clear with people: Whatever kindness you are doing, whatever blessing you are bestowing, whatever love you are showing, you are doing so because you are created in the image of God.

Don’t be Nicodemus, showing up in the middle of night, filled with fear and confusion.

Instead, just be who you are.

Bold children of God.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Feast of the Trinity, Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 3 June 2012, Year B.



[1] Nicole Keller, “Saving The Church From Itself,” Under the Cassock blog, 2 June 2012, http://underthecassock.blogspot.com/2012/06/saving-church-from-itself.html.

 

[2] Ibid. All emphases original.

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