Rev’d Jonathan Gale
1 Samuel 17: 11, 32 – 49
11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
32 David 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!’
38 Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, 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.
41 The 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. 44 The 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.’
48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards 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.
2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13
As we work together with him,* we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
Mark 4: 35 – 41
Jesus Stills a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
We are so individualistic in the West we all know what it is like having our agendas opposed. Opposition is something we are sensitive to. At an evolutionary level too we are sensitive to what affirms our progress and what works against it.
In all three of our readings this morning we discover that the Christian life is not without opposition. It is naive to think that what Christian tradition calls the three enemies of the soul: i.e. “the world, the flesh and the devil” do not oppose anyone who is serious about God.
Paul presents this opposition as a triad in the Letter to the Ephesians 2: 1–3: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses…”
Opposition can come in any number of forms:
- The message a secular world consistently sends out is that faith is a figment of the imagination. The question, “And how is your imaginary friend?” has been asked of many a Christian. The world can wear us down.
- Our own inherent selfishness can undermine our best intentions to follow Christ. The flesh, unless crucified consistently, gets in the way of our attempts to walk in harmony with God. Our old nature, that supremely self-interested side of us, when not crucified (and the symbol of burial in baptism is a symbol of its death) can cause us to suffer from great guilt. I’d love to have a banner strung across the church that reads, “I AM WORTHY” because we are intrinsically worthy, all of us, and even more so when we know that as Christians we have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.
- The most underrated of all opposition is satanic influence. C.S. Lewis once said we make two errors as regards the devils: we either ignore their existence or we take an unhealthy interest in them. Most Christians are woefully ignorant of the knowledge and skills required for living a Christian life free of demonic influence.
But I don’t want to focus on these today. It is enough to establish that opposition exists and probably increases as we determine to serve God.
The question I ask of us this morning is how was this opposition handled and what does this say to us where we are today?
In our readings today we see opposition that comes in the form of people and that is common.
Some people will discourage you
33 Saul 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.’
Probably the most common form of opposition today is criticism of the efforts to serve God that you are associated with. When someone criticises the church they are saying that the people you associate with have it wrong and that you are wrong to be associated with them and their efforts.
Let me just say this; the church has got it wrong at times over the span of history but one needs to be very careful before criticising the Body of Christ. It’s not just the individual criticised who is often wronged, it is Christ himself. He is not a disembodied head. He is intricately linked to his Body the church. We need to be aware of this. This kind of criticism can come from within and without the church.
But how do you handle opposition?
Well, firstly, you should not give in to fear
David arrived at the battle front and in spite of the fear that characterised the Israelite response to Goliath, he immediately responded in faith. 32David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’
Goliath may have been impressive but David knew he was on the wrong team. One man and God are a majority, as they used to say. David had trusted God before and he was about to do so again. I want to repeat that because in a way it is the theme of my sermon today: David had trusted God before and he was about to do so again.
Jesus ignored the disciples’ fear and calmed the storm.
It’s not always easy to turn one’s fear on its head, but it is when your faith is already strong. If you have suddenly to search your pockets for some faith, like an absent-minded person looking for his car keys, you’re in trouble. David could draw on a life of faith, and we are no different.
But there is one sure way of not retreating in the face of opposition, and that is by actively advancing. It’s not so much that the best form of defence is attack, but rather that we should stretch ourselves in faith.
You should be prepared to do more than you have done before
David progressed from dealing with lions and bears to dealing with giants, and he did it by realising that he was working with 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.’
Jesus progressed in Mark’s Gospel from exorcism and healing to commanding nature. In the case of both David and Jesus, they responded to a crisis by building upon what they had done before. This is an important spiritual principle. Practice makes perfect.
When we have trusted God often enough in lesser things we learn to do so in greater things. That is why we should not, as our sentence for the day says, despise the day of small beginnings. Small beginnings are just that: beginnings. They can go on to grow if carefully nurtured.
Today’s reader is tomorrow’s liturgist who is the day after tomorrow’s preacher.
You should not try old solutions to new problems
Saul immediately assumes David needs armour so he loads him up with it. Why he thought it would help the boy, heaven knows. 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.
You’ll notice David got rid of the armour and took up what he knew he could make use of. He may have used old skills but he was applying them intelligently to a different situation.
Saul mindlessly applied an old solution to the problem. David creatively adjusted his solution and intelligently applied it to the new problem.
What are you good at and what new problems or circumstances can you apply those basic skills towards such that the Body of Christ moves forward? When familiar skills are applied to a different problem – that is innovation – and it too takes faith.
You should forecast victory and solution
David consistently spoke triumph, spoke winning over the problem. He could do so because the life of faith he had led up to that point provided him with a strong sense of who God was and what he could expect of God. It’s about being prepared.
There’s a bit of banter that we’ve all heard and it goes like this: “Are you ready?” And the response is, “I was born ready.”
And if you’re ready, you act decisively
David removed the armour 40 Then 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.
In one sentence David discarded what hindered him and was heading into battle.
48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. In a crisis (if you’re ready) you act, and quickly.
Jesus – 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’
In our reading from 2 Corinthians Paul says See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way.
Most of us in life act from motives of either preference or profitability. What I mean by that is we will embark upon something because we like doing what it involves. If that is our only consideration we may fall short on profit.
Or we decide to do something because it is profitable. If that is our only consideration we’ll be miserable, because unless it is an activity we enjoy we won’t sustain it.
The secret of course is to find profit in what we enjoy.
David did just that. He knew how to handle himself as a shepherd with a sling against wild animals. That is what he enjoyed. He was not, at that point in time a soldier. But he found a military application – he found profit – for what he enjoyed doing and he became a successful soldier.
His life as a shepherd prepared him for life as a soldier and later on his life as a soldier prepared him for life as a king. One was preparation for the next.
This is all on a human level. The ingredient David had in the mix that was common to all phases of his life was a trust in God. Later in life he explains his success as a soldier in these words, With you I can attack a line of soldiers. With my God I can break through barricades. (Psalm18: 29) Praise the LORD, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle. (Psalm 144: 1)
David knew that there was a good reason for his actions: 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.’
The Psalms make it clear that David spent much time in prayer, as did Jesus. They were prepared. And they acted.
We face a few challenges as a parish. We need to be prepared to face them.
We face the same old opposition that Christians throughout time have faced:
- The world
- The flesh and
- The devil
In the battles we face both personally and as the gathered community of God, we the church, like David, will find that in a life of prayer lies our best preparation for action.
God bless you.