Summer Reading: Trinity 4

Back at it again! Today I went really Old Testament on 2 fairly unsuspecting congregations in the parish I cover services for on the 4th Sunday of the month. They are in a vacancy at the moment as their former Priest has moved on. I do enjoy surprising them with my sermons – I’m not quite what they are use to! In a good way – I hope!

This morning my focus was on David & Goliath.  Every one – young and old – were given this on the way into the service…

Image result for david and goliath

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 133
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

You might have noticed that you were given a David & Goliath colouring sheet on your way in – which you are indeed welcome to colour at your leisure (now or later), or make a shopping list, etc. I did this to make my first point that when it comes to the OT many people have a Sunday School view of the stories.

We are told these stories as children and we hold them there. Some cite that the OT is too violent, boring, hard to understand, etc. I hope to go some way in dispelling that for you this morning. These Sunday School stories have far more going on in them!

To summarize the OT, I often describe it as the story of a people who screwed up over and over again and the God who loved them anyway. Israel was God’s chosen nation and people – not totally sure why – but they were. God would provide their every need if – if – they would fear him, serve him, listen to his voice, stop rebelling and follow him. Behave!

But they couldn’t – Israel proved over and over again to be unfaithful, they wanted to be like the neighbours with their own king, they disobeyed God and went their own way, making bad decisions. They were punished for it – until God finally had enough. And sent Jesus to rescue us from ourselves and our sin.

Second point – we can’t separate the OT from the NT. The whole of the OT is orientated towards the coming of the Messiah. He is prophesied about, spoken of – Jesus is very much present in the OT.

This morning we pick up in the middle of 1st Samuel – set in 10th Century BC and it describes the rise of the prophet Samuel and the reigns of Israel’s first two kings – Saul and David. At its heart the books of Samuel tell about God’s involvement in Israel’s history and highlights the fallibility of human choices. Israel gets what they ask for (human kings) and the consequences that follow.

That is a brief explanation of the OT and books of Samuel very widely. Now we focus on the particular story of David and Goliath.

Saul – Israel’s first king is still alive, on the throne but has fallen out of favour with God due to bad behaviour and disobedience. David – Israel’s second king has been anointed by Samuel. As he is maybe 13 or 14 years old and the youngest of 8 brothers – he has been relegated to the sheep fold until he was called into Saul’s service – armour carrying flute player to calm Saul’s tormented soul.

Then the Philistines show up – again. Philistines have been a problem for Israel for about 200 hundred years. Samson did battle with the Philistines – particularly their women! God had forbidden intermarriage between Israel and other people. Problem goes back a while!

More recent to our story – God had told Israel (via Samuel the prophet) if they would return to Him and stop worshipping other gods – He would get rid of the Philistines. There is a brief period when the Philistines went away and didn’t bother Israel.

But – then – Israel fell back into her old patterns and the Philistines returned!

I think this says something about getting to the root of any problems or issues we may be facing– if we don’t get to the root of them – they will inevitably grow back.

At the start of Ch 17 – the Philistines are back! Problem not gone away and bigger than ever. We can use Goliath as the working example. I want you to imagine for a moment what Goliath might have looked like. If he were alive today he would be over 9 feet tall or 3 metres tall!

The Bible describes him as a ‘champion’ but doesn’t tell us what for or why. The rest of the description we have about Goliath is about his armour – his helmet, armour, javelin, spear and sword. Goliath is a giant and well-armed problem standing in front of Israel – pointing to their inability to fear, serve, listen and follow God.

What do we learn from David and Goliath:

First – doing nothing is not always an option. Sometimes the situation we are in simply won’t go away. This current situation between the Philistine’s and Israel has been going on for 40 days when David gets involved. They are each camped on mountains with a valley in between them. Every day, twice a day, the same thing would happen – Goliath would stand up and yell at the Israelites. They would do nothing.

Somebody needed to do something! We will all face situations where we must act – must go and stand in the valley. This can be quite scary and comes with a lot of responsibility. It is David who steps up.
Often in the Sunday School tale he is an angelic little boy – I kind of imagine Prince George! However – think about 13 or 14-year-old boys that you might know! Crazy teenage brains!

David is seriously angry at this situation. He is indignant that the Philistines are defying the armies of the living God. Angry enough to do something about it! According to his brothers, who are in Saul’s army and not stepping up themselves – David oversteps the mark with his comments. David answers his brother ‘What have I done now?’ So not the first time he has spoken out. Yet these words make it back to Saul and David is sent for.

David learned some things in the sheep field – how to defend himself and protect the sheep, he learned about fighting lions and bears. David’s moment has arrived! ‘Don’t let your hearts fail because of him (Goliath) – I’ll go and fight him’ declares David.

He is not going to let what is standing in front of him – defeat him! David took opportunities when they came – despite circumstances. By taking these opportunities David was building up his skills – maybe not realising how they will be useful one day. We need to take the opportunities that come to us to learn new skills, new ways of thinking, being or doing. You never know when they will be helpful, but we can be prepared for whatever comes. No education or experience is ever a waste – even if we can’t see at the time what the point or purpose of it was.

Saul wants to help David by putting his armour on him; but David knew that wearing Saul’s armour isn’t going to work for him. It wouldn’t help him. Sometimes doing things that other people suggest just won’t help us in our situations. Other people might really want to help us, but their advice or help might not be what we need. David knew what he needed – 5 smooth stones and his sling. We know what happens next – words are exchanged, the beautifully ruddy boy slings the rock into the giant Philistine’s forehead and its lights out.

The story is not about the size of Goliath or stones & slings.

The biggest thing that David had going for him was his trust in God. David’s confidence was in the name of God – this was God’s fight. The same God that David trusted and had confidence in – is the same God we have today. He is completely trustworthy. He wants to help us face our challenges. We can trust Him with whatever we are facing, bring it to Him in our prayers and ask for help.

God will calm the storms – the Gospel reading for this morning is Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee. The gale comes up, Jesus is sleeping peacefully the disciples (most of whom are fishermen who knew the Sea rather well) freak out and wake Jesus up. Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, then asks them ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ The wind and waves obey him! Giants submit!

David was not afraid to face Goliath – not because of what David could do himself but because David knew that God would help him and be with him. The disciples saw first hand the power of the one who can calm the wind and waves.

There is no challenge to big that we cannot face when we have God with us – even if he is sleeping in the boat.

Who is our confidence in – as people, as Christians, as a Parish – St Mary’s/St Thomas? That is – at is most basic – what these two stories are about.

Summer Reading: Trinity 3

I think I might be the only person between the 2 congregations doing the ‘Summer Reading’ but I am really enjoying it. I don’t have anything for Trinity 2 as I got a week off! More on 1 Samuel and the exploits of the great prophet and the anointing of Saul as God gives in to human demands; 2 Corinthians and Paul and Mark’s continuation of Jesus’ early days…

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

How is the summer reading going? Hope you didn’t think I would forget!

Samuel – our hero Samuel is getting on pretty well. He remains faithful to the things that God has called him to do – mostly warning the Israelites of the doom that is about to befall them if they don’t get their act together.

Samuel is an excellent study about what the OT is really all about – God calling his people – Israel – to fear him, serve him, listen to him and follow him and it will be well! God will ensure their safety and survival, they will prosper and live in peace.

But they can’t seem to do it. Israel acts out of turn, making bad decisions, do the things that God has expressly told them not to do. The whole of the OT is the story of a people who messed up and the God who wanted them to do better.

Part of the problem with the Israelites is that they keep worshipping other gods along with God. They make some decisions that they did not consult big G God on and they are punished. Samuel pleads with Israel to return to God with all their hearts and put away the foreign gods and God will deliver them from the Philistines. The Philistines are one of the biggest and most troubling enemies of Israel. Goliath was one of them.

Israel’s second problem is that it wants to be like the neighbours – they want a king. By doing this they are rejecting God. He gives in – gives them want they want – with a full warning of what the human king will do to them.

Samuel has the job of anointing that first king – Saul. Saul is handsome, he is from the right family – wealthy father. From the outside he is the ideal king. You know what he did at his coronation?

Saul hid! Samuel has to go and find him to present him to his people!

Saul tries at the beginning – he is given two jobs – reign over the people of Israel and save them from their enemies. Yet Saul acts out of turn, doesn’t obey God, makes his own decisions. God would have established Saul’s kingdom forever – but doesn’t. We pick up the reading this morning where God has finally had enough – He is sorry that he made Saul king over Israel. Samuel and Saul part company too.

Why is this good for summer reading? If we are feeling frustrated at the state of this country or community – Israel provides an excellent example of what it is to get what it wants – and then realize it isn’t that great. The story may have been totally different if Israel had sought out what God wanted for them.

How often do we do that in our own lives? Demand things of God – want him to do things our way? Sometimes he will give us want we want – and we learn the hard way! God wants our obedience, we are to listen and follow him – not the other way around.

In the end God will get his way – it is a new day for Samuel at the start of chapter 16. He is to put Saul and the past behind him so that he can anoint the next king – one of the sons of Jesse. David. The ruddy faced and beautiful boy.

We do well to remember that God does not look on outward appearances, but on the heart.

2 Corinthians – we haven’t moved too far forward you jars of clay! I hope that you have not been crushed, driven to despair or struck down in the last two weeks.

You are light that shines in the darkness! Have you been shining?

Do not lose heart – you can be renewed day by day.

At the beginning of Ch 5, Paul talks about the earthly tents that we live in. I think this is a great analogy of our bodies. They are temporary. When I look in the mirror – this is not the stuff of forever.

Many of us here have faced and continue to face health issues – it can be scary, uncertain, frustrating – crushing, despairing to be unwell or disabled.

We know that Paul suffered in his body as well – he had a thorn in the flesh – not sure what it was – eye sight or kidney issues. Paul talks about our eternal home – in the heavens that God is preparing for us. We are to be forward-looking people. We have the Spirit as a guarantee. This is where our confidence should be.

How is your confidence this morning? What are you confident in?

Paul is calling us to be confident in Christ. Probably one of the hardest things to do is to ‘walk by faith, not by sight’. Psalm 119 – your word is a lamp unto my feet and and light to my path. The light is on the feet – we get enough vision for the next step – not the whole journey. Walking by faith in all the life throws at us.

Mark – Jesus is still going strong! He remains in Galilee and has recently appointed his 12 apostles who are sent out to proclaim the good news. The crowds are growing.

Jesus also has some family troubles! In the early days of his ministry they do not come across particularly well. His family – Mary and his brothers (Joseph is assumed to have died by this point – message for us on Father’s Day – Jesus would have experienced the death of his own earthly father as many of have) have tried to restrain him – he is out of his mind!

This is the biological, earthly family of Jesus. They grew up under the same roof – ate, drink, slept, played, worked and worshipped together for 30 years and they think Jesus is crazy. Mark is a good read for anyone who has a complicated family! Jesus gets that! Happy Father’s Day!

Jesus begins teaching in parables about the kingdom of God. He uses analogies of the seed and sower, lamps under bushel baskets, more scattered seed and the mustard seed.

Why these things? Well – lamps and mustard seeds represent everyday miracles. We all know how they work. The kingdom of God is in the everyday stuff of life. This is drastically different from the kingdom of military power that many people thought Jesus would bring – including the disciples.

Jesus is saying nope – this Kingdom of God starts small and grows large – much larger than we can ever imagine. Once a mustard seed start growing they need very little care and not much water. And they grow! They spread quickly – not exactly something you would want in a well-tended garden! Mustard seeds have small beginnings. They also make a delicious mustard – my favourite of all the condiments!

The kingdom of God starts small and grows – spreading out and changes the taste of the world around it.

As a church – and I mean as a parish – we need to spread out and change the taste of the world around us. Church is not contained to these four walls, this hour on a Sunday and only the people sitting here. Lord help us if that ever becomes our view of His church!

What we do as a church may feel small – but it will grow like a mustard seed if we let it. If like Paul we walk by faith and refuse to let circumstances crush or perplex us. If we choose to learn from the example in Israel as Samuel pleaded with them to serve God and follow him. It we focus more on our hearts, and the hearts of others and not on outside appearances – then we live in obedience and it will be well.

So there you go – caught up once again with the summer reading!

Summer Reading: Trinity 1

I have left things a bit fallow recently with no solid reason. Things have just been full recently – full schedule and some travel. As Ordinary Times begins again today as all the good festivals and celebrations are done until Advent(!) – this is a good time to start again.

The Lectionary follows 1 Samuel, 2 Corinthians and Mark until well into July. So I decided to try to convince the congregations why these books need to be on their summer readings lists…

3/6/18 – Trinity 1

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5; 12-18
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

This morning we settle into Ordinary Time – the green season – once again. The big festivals of the church year are over until Advent; in the Lectionary we settle into readings from 1 Samuel, 2 Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark until the end of July. This has made me want to encourage you in your summer reading!

In preparation for this morning I went very high tech – I got a notebook and my Bible and had a slow read – starting in chapter 1, verse 1 in each book until I got to the readings this morning. It was rather enjoyable – paying attention to the people named, what they are doing, where they are, the challenges they are facing. Some people feel daunted by the Bible – especially the OT. But you need to start somewhere!

I thought I would give you a brief synopsis on each book to hopefully entice you to read too!

1 Samuel – set in 10th Century BC. Describes the rise of the prophet Samuel and the reigns of Israel’s first two kings – Saul and David. In the Old Testament is it placed in the history section.

The first few chapters are quite well known – beginning before the birth of Samuel with his parents Hannah and Elkanah and the awful yet fertile Peninnah who torments the childless Hannah. God answers Hannah’s prayer and Samuel arrives. In due season Samuel is taken to Eli the priest to minister to the Lord. Eli’s scoundrel sons also feature in the early chapters – they are naughty! Samuel carries on growing in stature and favour with the Lord. But he doesn’t yet know God.

Ch 3 – the calling of Samuel. Preachers preach on this when they want you to do something in the church! Just kidding – sort of. God calls Samuel and he gives the exemplary response of Here I am!

The Books of Samuel tell about God’s involvement in Israel’s history – he hears the requests of the people – especially the request for a king. Samuel highlights the importance of human choices – people get what they ask for, even if the result it that judgement falls on them of God’s purposes are temporarily thwarted

Why should Samuel go on your summer reading list: if you think God has forgotten you or doesn’t hear your prayers. Be encouraged by the story of Hannah.

Got problems with your adult children? Eli’s inability to lead his children costs them all – more of a cautionary tale. I suspect that Hannah’s prayers for Samuel help to protect him from the influence of Eli’s sons but also helped him to grow in favour and stature.

Got an obedience problem: example of Samuel – Here I am!

Not sure what God is calling you to do – are you listening for his voice? It took Eli the Priest a few tries to get it right.

This is a fascinating read – read it slowly – maybe a chapter a day. Note the names, what they are doing, what happens to them. Where is God?

2 Corinthians – written as part two of a letter from Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul is writing the letter from Macedonia, so he is away from them. The mood is sombre as Paul is aware that things have not improved much at Corinth since his first letter – written about 6 months before this one. In fact there are new problems.

Paul starts the letter with offering the consolation which God offers to his believers. Paul wants them to know the deep peace which believers are able to experience through knowing God’s consoling presence in the midst of suffering. Paul has just been through a hard time himself and has had to cancel his trip to Corinth.

Good read if things are tough right now – God can deal with that. We can know his deep peace in the midst of our suffering – we don’t have to pretend!

Feeling a bit boxed in? Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. We are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. It is in Jesus that we are changed.
Paul talks about treasures in jars of clay – the Gospel. The gospel is the treasure and we are jars of clay – us weak and frail human beings.

The big picture of 2 Corinthians is Paul wanting us to know the sufficiency of God’s grace to compensate for our human weakness. Christ’s ministry comes through ordinary people. So if you are feeling a little weak or ordinary – this book is for you! You are exactly who God uses. God is wanting to shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

Some of the greatest encouragement comes in this book – we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians is a good read if we need a boost as and when we feel defeated about life or the church. It is inevitable. We don’t have to fake it or pretend that all is well when it’s not. Despite circumstances the grace of God will always be sufficient.

The Gospel of Mark – jumps right in – gets to the point very quickly. You would be right if you assumed Mark is my favourite of the Gospels. He pulls us into the story of Jesus really quickly. No Christmas – no mention of Baby Jesus, shepherds and angels but a lot of Easter in Mark. The in-between bits are all about Jesus’ ministry. It is thought that Mark is the earliest Gospel written.

Apparently, it is the most widely translated book in the world – into more than 800 languages and dialects. Many Bible translators start with Mark’s Gospel once they codify a new language.

Mark begins by introducing the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus about the same time; John has begun his ministry of water baptism and proclamation. Jesus meets John and gets baptized, then he gathered a few disciples who follow him around Galilee and his home is now Capernaum.

Jesus makes an entrance in the synagogue there – preaching and teaching. This is core to Jesus’ ministry. It was the first thing he did in Capernaum – before any healings. Mark is saying something about what Jesus came to do!

There have of course been healings – men, women, the guy that comes through the roof on this mat, various illnesses, shrunken hands, and demons. Some very public healings to make a point about his authority, the rules of the Sabbath, what can and can’t be done in a synagogue.

The Pharisees are on to Jesus and are already looking for ways to destroy him too. All of this and we are only at the beginning of Ch 3.

Mark wants his readers to know Jesus as he focuses on his acts and sayings. Mark does not discuss the physical attributes of Jesus nor talks about what influenced Jesus to do what he said and did. Rather Mark presents Jesus as a hero whose life is worthy of reflection and emulation.

Mark is a great read if you want to know more about Jesus and what he did while on earth. It is fast – Jesus was busy. However, Jesus taught about sabbath rest. Got problems resting? Jesus didn’t have a problem with it – neither should you!

The end of Mark leaves us with the question of what will one do with what God has done for Jesus and what this Jesus asks of those who hear about him? It is one of those books that keep you thinking long after you have finished it.

So there we go – a beginning to the summer reading! Each of these books – 1 Samuel, 2 Corinthians & Mark have something to teach us about God and how he operates in his world and the lives of individual believers.

We live in a world that can be complicated and confusing – so can or lives as we face changes and challenges. We need to know what the word of God has to say – otherwise we are standing on the opinion and advice of humans. However well intentioned that advice might be – it may not hold up in the end.

As we spend time in these books over the next several weeks – I encourage you to have a closer look too. It isn’t a race and there is no exam at the end. Take a fresh look at what God might be saying to you and His church.