Saturday, 23 June 2012

Fighting giants

1 Samuel 17 v 32-49
32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” 38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.
40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. 41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Last weekend I was involved in a National Assessment Conference. assessing applicants for Church of Scotland Ministry – some of you might have heard of Selection Schools as they used to be called – an extended interview process designed to test God’s call.
This is some of the most intense work I have undertaken – but also some of the most fulfilling.
Being able to affirm the call of God on someone’s life, being part of that incredible process of discernment is amazing.

David, as a youngster, had the call of God on his life affirmed by the prophet Samuel and was anointed king while Saul, whom he would succeed, still reigned.
Today, we read a story from David’s life, while he continued to tend sheep, when he stepped up to act with faith and courage.
Its hard to place this account in the time frame of David’s story – was he still a shepherd or was he serving in the royal court?
Like many of these inconsistencies in biblical narrative, though, the historical accuracy is not essential to allowing us to discover the challenges that the story raises for us.

Not so long ago, every child, whether in church or not, would have known the story of David and Goliath – it’s just one of those Bible stories that has captured folks imaginations and, though bloody and violent, was told to children – perhaps something to which many of you can testify.
And, while we might lament that, nowadays, few youngsters get to know these old stories, it does rescue them from the sanitizing effect that familiarity has on them.
So let’s take some time this morning to wrest this story from the recesses of memory and take a fresh look at it – from the perspective of those portrayed, the main characters’ perspectives: David, Goliath, King Saul:

A man like Goliath would have had few options in life, being born a freak, a giant, whose only prospect was to be adopted by some army so that he could use his size and strength to bring victory. Far from the bully as he is portrayed, he was a man forced into a stereotypical role.

Saul, the king, knew that his days were numbered. Although he had been chosen as the king that the people had implored God to provide, and though the early days of his reign are peppered with stories of God’s blessing bringing about victory for king Saul, he had fallen out of favour with God. And, more, he knew that God’s spirit had already been withdrawn – that God had already chosen a new king to succeed him. In this story, he comes a cross as a bit pathetic, mirroring all that was going on for him as king.

David, the unlikely hero of this story, a shepherd boy who knew that God had other plans for him.
As he tried on the armour given to him before discarding it, surely he had second thoughts.
Could God really be on his side?
And that very question opens up a whole other line of enquiry, of debate and discussion: What is the nature of the God being portrayed in this story?
Are we to believe that God discards people or withholds blessing?
Does God abandon some and take the side of others?
I don’t remember any of these questions being raised far less discussed in Sunday School.
Maybe just as well.
But many of us have not grappled with such questions since.
We prefer the simplicity of the faith of our childhood.
Today, we have the opportunity to open our hearts afresh to this story – to wrestle with the discomfort it might stir in us and be encouraged to see God as the God of opportunities, the God who continues to challenge us and enable us to live courageously today.

One of the reasons that David was so bold while the king’s armed forces were paralysed by fear is that David had experienced the power of God in helping overcome difficult situations. David had faith that this was just one more situation that God would see him through.
David also refused to listen to the voices around him – the voices that mocked and ridiculed him, the voices that sought to dissuade him from his seeming stupidity on taking on such a huge adversary.
How often are we put off doing what we know is right, because of the negativity and discouragement of those around us.
And how often are we the ones who are offering that discouragement, derailing others from deeds of courage, preventing others from being adventurous, distracting them from stepping out in faith?
David, far from seeing Goliath as too big to fight saw him instead as too big to miss.
Sometimes, perspective makes all the difference.
And we don’t find alternative perspective in the most obvious places, so we discard the opportunity to look at things differently.
Today, this story, a story dredged from many of our childhoods, calls us to re-evaluate the faithfulness of God.
A faithfulness that prompts us to be courageous.
A faithfulness that prompts us to disregard the negative murmuring around us, to see things differently and to be assured that, through God, we can overcome unlikely odds.
A faithfulness that calls on us NOT to be the negative forces but to see in the most unlikely places the possibilities of God.
God is not contained by our limited perspective.
The disturbing message of God can not be cleaned up to make it more palatable.
The good news is scandalous.
May we be open to ridicule as we become brave in responding to God’s call in our lives.
May we see with God’s eyes the amazing possibilities that God holds out today.
And may we know that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome by faith.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The voice of God

A reflection on Psalm 29
Strumming across the rainbow
with crescendo and diminuendo
as the colours fade in and out.
Rippling through the treetops
with trills and turns
as the leaves catch the rhythm
swaying in and out of the stave
or floating untethered on the wind,
freestyle, unfettered by rules and forms.
God’s voice refuses to be pinned down
but weaves around us
in beauty and majesty,
in oceans of calm,
in tempest and storm
lulling us into pausing,
ensuring our rapt attention
before compelling us to act
in response to words of wisdom
so beautifully spoken.
Compelled to take up the cry
for justice and sharing,
compelled to act until all God’s children
hear the voice of God
as wonderfully loving and affirming
and splendid as creation.