Year B, Proper 7: “To thine own (God-given) self be true”

St Andrew’s, Elyria, OH; Saturday June 23rd 2012/Sunday June 24th 2012

David and Goliath. It’s one of the stories that we grew up with; one of the dramatic biblical episodes that makes it into all the children’s illustrated Bibles; the little shepherd boy who triumphs over the Philistine giant.

I’ll be honest, I am somewhat disturbed by the violence and death that are both present and implied in the story. The Bible is full of violence and death if you look for it, so the difficulty is recurring. Even the writers maybe felt uneasy; they describe Goliath in terms of a fairy-tale monster, with hands that hold a weaving loom beam for a spear shaft; and David likens him to the wild animals on the hillside, the more easily to dispose of him. This morning, I want to talk about David’s call to be the person God made him to be, and his living into that call, but I did want to let you know that if you are uncomfortable with the more bloodthirsty aspects of the story, you are not alone, and we can talk and pray more about that another time, if you like.

Last week, we saw David anointed, secretly and away from court, as Israel’s future king. This week, life for David seems to be back to normal. [This lectionary reading, as long as it is, leaves out a bit of background detail.] He, as the youngest, has the responsibility still to go home from time to time and tend his father’s sheep while his brothers remain with the other soldiers of the king. He arrives on the scene of battle, on the scene of Goliath’s challenge, only because his father has sent him to bring news of his brothers, the real soldiers. David, anointed of the Lord; shepherd and errand boy.

David describes to the king’s men how his life as a shepherd places him daily in danger from wild beasts; how he places himself in danger as a matter of course in order to take care of his charges, the lambs placed in his care. God protects him, and God will do the same for him now, he says. “Let no one’s heart fail. I’ve got this. God has got this.”

That’s why David wouldn’t, couldn’t take Saul’s armour. He did not go into this battle as a soldier – and I’m not saying here that that would have been wrong; I’m not trying to undermine anyone’s faithful service – but that was not who he was, at least not yet. He was a shepherd boy, an errand boy; and he went as himself, with God in his heart and the knowledge of his God-given talents and gifts at his fingertips. And it was to the shepherd, to the errand boy, that the victory was given.

We hear a lot about David’s relationship to Jesus in the gospel; and here is one point of contact in these stories. David defeats Goliath by being his own true self. Jesus, in the story of the storm on the lake, defeats the wind and the waves by being his own self.

The disciples were terrified, convinced they were about to die in the storm. But Jesus spoke the storm into silence. And then the disciples were terrified for a whole other reason; filled with awe, our gospel says; terrified, says another translation. Because Jesus just did what only God can do. Only God has the words to bring order to the chaos of the deep; only God can calm the primal forces of the sea; God’s Spirit moving over the waters of creation.

Jesus showed the disciples once and for all who he was by what he did for them, by saving them from the storm. He showed them the power of God that was within him, and he became for them their safe harbour, their refuge, their home. God with us.

David and Jesus both achieved what they did by being true to the call of God upon them; by being their own true selves, using their own gifts, to the glory of God and to the benefit, the safety, the saving of the people around them.

The question for us from these stories is what is the call of God upon our lives? What is the gift that God has given you to use to God’s glory and for the benefit of God’s people?

Perhaps you are one of those people who can always rustle up a meal to feed anyone who shows up for dinner. Use that gift to feed the hungry.

Perhaps you are a teacher, a singer, a storyteller. Use those gifts to raise up the people of God in faith, to embellish and embroider the lives of those around you.

There’s one detail which is repeated from last week’s David story to this: that he is “ruddy and handsome to look at.” Last week, it was a sign of his immaturity and the surprise that he was the one to be anointed king. This week, Goliath takes note of it and uses it as a mockery: “What can a pretty boy like you do to a man like me?” David uses his physical gifts to charm the king and to disarm the giant. So use what you have! Use your gifts – your charm, your good looks, your sense of humour. I can tell you that one of the gifts that I’ve discovered since moving to Ohio nine years ago is that I can get away with saying some things that would get other people into trouble because, apparently, an English accent covers up a multitude of offences. Use what you have. You can use the gifts that you have to reach out to those who need a word from the gospel, and to be heard.

Perhaps you are one of those people who notice the things that need doing up, cleaning up, fixing up, making better, changing around. You can use those gifts to the glory of God and the saving and helping of God’s people.

Perhaps your gift is to listen, to bring cheer to those who are sorrowful, or simply to hold their sorrow in your own heart. Perhaps your gift is to pray. Perhaps your gift is silence.

God has gifted you, and just like David, perhaps, even, just like Jesus, you in your own true self hold gifts that God intends for the world.

The same is true for us as a parish. We sometimes feel small, but we, like David, have gifts that outgrow our stature.

We feel small in the face of challenges that look large; challenges like unemployment, homelessness and foreclosures, child abuse scandals, conflict between countries and within families. Challenges that seem to try to drain the hope out of God’s people.

And we feel as though we’re maybe not as well-armoured, as well-equipped as some other agencies: the mega-churches, the big fundraisers, the machinery of the political system. That’s ok: their stuff wouldn’t fit us, anyway.

And this parish has its own gifts, and it is perfectly equipped and placed by God to do great things, to the glory of God and the benefit of its neighbours. This parish knows its neighbours, and it has great gifts of mission, of ministry to the community it lives within. It feeds people, it’s planning next month to fix up houses and ramps for people. It loves the people that it is neighbours with. It brings hope into the face of the giants that would take hope away. It has the heart of a shepherd, the heart of an errand boy. Remember Andrew, bringing Christ to the people and the people to Christ?

The challenge for this parish is how to continue to recognize and to live into the gifts that God has blessed us with: the gifts of mission, outreach, love and the tender care of a shepherd for its community – into and beyond this 175th year; to be itself, to the glory of God.

And here’s a further word of hope as we continue this work. The disciples were the ones in the boat who were supposed to know how to deal with boats in a storm. How many of them were fishermen? Yet they still were overwhelmed on at least this one occasion. But Jesus, God with them, God with us, came to their aid. They were not left alone, to rely on their own resources. Their talents were gifts from God, and they were invited to use them. But that didn’t mean that God gave them their gifts then went away. God remained with them, God continued to listen for their cries for help. God continued to save them.

So David, to whom the psalm is attributed, was able to write, many years after his Goliath experience:

“The Lord will be a refuge in time of trouble; … for you never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.”

God is with us, guiding us in the good use of our gifts to the glory of God and the help of our neighbours. As our Collect today prays,

“You never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness.”

And you, your life, is set without doubt upon the sure foundation of God’s loving-kindness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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