Easter Sunday: Timing is Everything

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!
We decided to use Mark’s Gospel this Sunday – mainly it was practical as there are 6 services and 2 priests in the Hambleden Valley. As I explored Mark’s account of that first Easter, it became clear that it is the right story for today.

April 4th, 2021

From rockwellhouse.org

Acts 10:34-43
Mark 16:1-8

There is an old church myth about a young curate, having been asked to preach on Easter Sunday for the first time, got up into the pulpit and said: ‘Christ is Risen. There is nothing more to say.’ He then promptly sat back down.

In some ways, he is exactly right! Christ is Risen. He has conquered the final word of death; he has overcome the grave. He is Risen and we are saved.

There is more to say though!

Sue and I chose Mark’s Gospel for this morning which is not the popular one. Many of you might prefer John’s version with the beautiful portrayal of Mary Magdalene mistaking the gardener for Jesus. John has the tension and drama of Peter and John running to the tomb, Peter runs right in while John peers cautiously although he got their first. Mary, Peter and John all had their own reasons for being at the empty tomb that morning and we can reflect on where we place ourselves in this version.

Each of the Gospels has a slightly different account of that first Easter Day. All four Gospels have women being the first there. Mark (closely related to Luke’s ending) has three women Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This was and is a sad job.

They approached the tomb with their practical concerns of the giant stone needing to be rolled away. These women seemed to have no hesitation about what they might find inside the tomb as they seemed to have walked right in. They knew, at least in their minds, what needed to be done.

But their morning ritual is upended by the young man in a white robe telling them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Mark’s version does not have a glimpse of the risen Jesus or running disciples. We do not get the same sense of celebration or joy found in Matthew, Luke or John. The young man tells the women to go and tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. According to Mark they leave in terror and amazement and tell no one. This ending does not leave us with great feelings of hope!

Maybe this year, we need Mark’s version of the Easter story. Maybe we all need some time as the women did to sit with the terror and amazement at the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe we don’t need to shout right away.

I came across a little book by Thomas Merton called ‘He is Risen’. It begins with:

He has risen, he is not here… he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7)

Christ is risen. Christ lives.
Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.
He is the Lord of history.

Christ in the Lord of a history that moves.
He not only holds the beginning and the end in his hands,
But he is in history with us, walking ahead of us to where we are going.
He is not always in the same place.

Let this be a helpful guide to us this Easter Day. He is not always in the same place. But walks ahead of us to where we are going. He met his disciples in Galilee. Jesus was good to his word.

Maybe many of us feel dislocated from church, from our faith at this time. The enormity of what many people have endured in this last year is striking and largely unprocessed. All the loss and disappointment, the grief experienced. It would be disingenuous to stand up today and ignore that.

We will move on though in hope, in the glory of the resurrection. We see this in the Acts reading in Peter’s speech. Peter the zealous follower turned Good Friday denier turned Easter Sunday runner to being restored by Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee – is now preaching and teaching in Caesarea.

Peter knows what he is saying is true because he witnessed it, he lived it. Peter has taken the commandments of Jesus to share the Good News seriously and is living it out. It took him a while though. The women, did tell the others, we know they did because the other Gospels record it. We also know because if they hadn’t – we wouldn’t know any of the story as it would never have been passed on.

This Easter Day we can trust that God is still in charge of Easter – whether we are indoors, outdoors or on Zoom. The tomb is empty, death has been defeated. Jesus lives.

I will finish with a little more Merton:

Christ lives in us and lead us,
through mutual encounter and commitment,
into a new future which we build together for one another.
That future is called the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is already established;
The Kingdom is a present reality.
But there is still work to be done.
Christ calls us to work together
in building his Kingdom.
We cooperate with him in bringing it to perfection.

Trinity 21: Questions and More Questions!

Here is tomorrow’s offering – still feeling pleased with myself! I find that the questions in the lectionary this week are stirring and made me reflect on the way I ask questions of God and the people around me. 

Trinity 21
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9,25,37b
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Questions, Questions and more Questions!

I am going to start this sermon with a question!

Are you the kind of person who asks a lot of questions? There are little questions, big questions, easy, hard, dumb, unanswerable, unaskable, rhetorical, revealing, innocent and embarrassing questions that we all carry around in us and have asked of us.

We all ask questions for different reasons: some people are naturally curious, sometimes we need better or clearer information, instruction or directions, some of us might be a busy-body, a nosy Parker. Questions though form the basis of most conversations and communication.

If you spend any time with children, you can be asked a multitude of questions on any number of subjects in a very short amount of time! I am sure that many of us have had the experience of being asked a question that we didn’t have answer for! That awful feeling when the teacher asks you and you have no earthly idea what the answer is.

In the story of Job, Job asks and has been asked many difficult questions all the way through his ordeal. Questions about the nature of suffering, how God works (or doesn’t), what did Job do to cause his current suffering – surely it is his fault according to the logic of his friends.

Job struggles to give them an answer that satisfies because he knows there is nothing that he has done to end up on the ash heap. Job has been lamenting his current condition and trying to make sense of it. Finally, after 37 chapters of lament, complaint and moaning, Job hears from God for the first time.

In last week’s reading Job was demanding to see God. ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!’ Literally banging on the door of God’s house to have a word. Feels like a reasonable request to make as Job is on the literal and figurative ash heap. I think that I, too would want a word with the person – God or not – who put me there.

You get the feeling that God has almost had enough of Job’s questions so starts with a few of his own. 11 questions in 15 verses. God starts easy – ‘who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’ This one is easy to answer – it is Job.

Job now has to ‘gird up his loins like a man!’ I love that! God telling him off in such common language.
God’s next questions are much harder:
• Where you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?
• Can you make it rain?
• Who gave you wisdom or understanding to the mind?
• Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
• Can you feed the lions, satisfy the young ones?
• Can you feed the baby ravens when they are crying and there is no food to found?

If you read the last few chapters of Job, you see God fire a barrage of questions at Job – most of which he cannot answer! Job has not, in fact, been in the storehouses of the snow or hail, or sent forth lightening, nor was he present at the birth of the mountain goat and he is unfamiliar with the ordinances of heaven. As we are too.

In the last chapter of Job, after all the conversation and questioning, Job’s first remark is ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’

Do you know this truth about God? Whatever we throw at him – whatever questions we have about anything, wherever we find ourselves, whatever the situation we are in – no purpose of his can be thwarted!

Now fast-forward a few centuries and we see Jesus and his disciples on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus is trying to tell them about what awaits him – being handed over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, handed over again, mocked, spat on, flogged and killed; and after three days rise again.

These may be familiar words to us who live on the other side of the resurrection – but to the disciples they would have been shocking, incomprehensible. But – remember Job – no purpose of God’s can be thwarted!

In the midst of this daunting teaching, James and John put forward their request (that is actually a demand) to Jesus. It is often dismissed as a foolish or arrogant question ‘oh those silly Sons of Thunder!’ and there is some truth to that, but James and John have done a couple of things right.

They preface the request with: ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. They say this before they actually tell Jesus what it is that they want him to do. I think there are very few people whose request I would grant before I knew what the request was!

Jesus does not rebuff or get angry with them as the disciples did. No – Jesus welcomes the question, invites them to ask it, but has some questions of his own for James and John. Questions that are not easy to answer!

‘What is it that you want me to do for you?’ asks Jesus. The first thing James and John did right was that they have come to Jesus – generally a very good starting point. They have their faith in the right person! James and John clearly trust Jesus, despite what he has just told them about his torture and death. James and John believe that he will come through in the end even though they skipped over that tricky middle bit!

How is our trust this morning? Do we live like we believe that Jesus will come through in the end? Jesus should be, wants to be, our starting place – the safe place where we can take our questions.

Jesus invites them to ask and what do they want? The reply: ‘Sit at the right and left hand in your glory.’ James and John are not criticized for this request, not at least by Jesus. James and John believe that Jesus will win; Jesus will be in glory and they want to be right there with him. They are ambitious for God! They expect Jesus to be glorified. Jesus redirects these ambitions, wants to reset their priorities and motives.

How ambitious are we for God? The real danger we face as a congregation, as a parish and the church more widely is: apathy, cynicism and complacency. These are the roadblocks to abundant living and transformation! Jesus wants us to want more, seek more, hope more and need more of him. This, I think, is why he didn’t get annoyed with James and John as they were doing the right thing: going to him and asking but they needed some redirection.

Now the confident and bold request of James and John is rather tacky, somewhat ignorant and immature, the motives were more selfish than not. But they ask! They engage in real relationship with Jesus. They want to stay close to him by being with him in his glory! Save us seats Jesus! We want to be with you!

This reminds me of the all the times that I don’t ask, don’t engage and don’t lean into what Jesus might be trying to say to me. I might throw my own questions his way – but how often do I stay around for an answer? Am I willing to wait even if it takes a long time?

The answer to the request of James and John does get answered – Jesus tells them that it is not his request to grant – but it is for those whom it has been prepared. Sounds a little cryptic – but Jesus is completely deferring to God. This is not Jesus’ decision to make. The purpose of God will not be thwarted! But neither can they be fully understood beforehand.

It is prepared for those who want to serve. This is what James and John fail to recognize and probably the other upset disciples too. Jesus calls them together for a lesson of ‘supreme importance’ as one commentary put it. Jesus is not going to operate like the world does, ruling with tyranny and a heavy hand.

Jesus came to serve and not be served. You want to sit on my left and on my right? Then you must be the servant. Want to be first, then be last! Give up your entitlement, move downwards. This isn’t about rules but a way of life.

The real questions we need to ask is ‘What can I do for you?’. This is a question to ask of God but also to each other. Be prepared for more questions and more answers – not always what you want to hear – but always loving and always true.

Like Job – we may find ourselves in difficult situations and circumstances where we ask hard questions, demand answers – lament and call out to God. Be prepared for questions but also for answers. His plans and purposes cannot be thwarted! He knows the questions before you ask them!

Like James and John, we might want God to do something for us. Ask away! Go to the Father in faith, in confidence – he will take your questions, your ambitions and desires – he may re-route them to line up with his will.

Don’t be embarrassed, Job certainly wasn’t, and neither were James and John. Their questions were heard. The answers may have been unexpected, even unwanted but they came away changed from these conversations, hopefully understanding more of how God operates for Job and what Jesus came to do for James and John. He came to serve and we should be willing to do the same.

You won’t ever get anything if you don’t ask!

So friends – ask the questions, expect to be heard and be ready for an answer!


Trinity 20: Seeking Change: Job & The Rich Young Man

What is better than a Sunday morning sermon on a Monday morning?! Still getting my autumn act together. I am very fortunate that I have been able to set aside almost every Monday from now until Christmas Eve as Study Days. I am entitled to – it has just taken me 2 years into my Curacy to actually do it. It is a time of change and this sermon reflects some of what I said in my Harvest sermon last week. Some credit to Debie Thomas’ wise words from the ‘Journey with Jesus’ lectionary essay.

Trinity 20

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

We have some big readings this morning! So much going on in each of them and so little time to really dig in!

Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year – I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school.

Our bible readings in church bring stories to challenge us and stories of celebration. The people in the readings today want a change of circumstance. Maybe some of us do too.

How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace it with enthusiasm while others might be slower (ahem) to embrace. I am good with change – you know that I was a nurse before I was a Priest. As a nurse you learn early that sometimes things change quickly, and you need to response to change really fast.

Not all change is bad or negative either. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing – we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed – never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change – always do!

In our readings this morning we see two people – Job and the rich young man seeking change in their lives. Both are calling on God – a very good thing to do. But neither of them gets the answers that they want!

Starting with Job – he is in some real trouble! He has lost everything – children, money, land, possessions, status and reputation. Job is described as a blameless and upright man in chapter 1 – just living life. Then one day some heavenly beings presented themselves to God and they brought Satan with them. They had been wandering around the earth and decided to test God. A conversation ensues and before we know it – Satan could do whatever he wanted to Job (except kill him) to see if Job will curse God.

It all goes badly wrong for Job and he is left with his 3 close friends and his wife for comfort. The friends start well – come and sit with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. Then they start to talk. The rest of the book of Job is the back and forth conversations between Job and his friends. This morning we find Job at a really low point – ‘today my complaint is bitter’ he starts off.

Job has this battle going on inside of him. He is asking big questions like ‘Who is God?’ ‘Where is God?’ What can human beings reasonably expect from a life of faith?

For Job, God is nowhere: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him.” And yet God is everywhere: “His hand is heavy despite my groaning… I am terrified at his presence.” Job also wants nothing more than to confront God face to face: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” Job wants to literally bang on the door of God’s house! Yet he’s desperate to leave God’s sight: “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”

As this inner battle rages on, Job maintains that he has followed God’s rules: “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips.” I did all the right stuff – Job is saying. And yet he finds (to his bewilderment) that this goodness, following the rules, will not protect him. The formula Job had organized his life around (If I do A, God will do B) has failed. Either he must step into change or lose his faith altogether.

Job wants God to change his situation – but that is going to require a big change for Job and how he views life and God. His friends are trying to help – but the wisdom they offer is stale and old as they still believe that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. To suffer mean to experience God’s displeasure. This doesn’t hold up!

Eventually God shows up to meet with Job and the end of the book they have a conversation and Job begins to be restored – both in his relationship to God as he sees life and God differently. He is also given back some of the things that he lost.

Let’s fast-forward a few centuries as we see the rich young man kneeling at Jesus’ feet. This young man is looking for a change too. Like Job, he has all the material goods and does all the right stuff but unlike Job he still has it all. I think that having the stuff and doing the right stuff has made life boring for this young man. He wants more of something – so he goes to Jesus!

Jesus looks at him and loved him. I love these little verses that get tucked in – we almost always overlook them. Jesus loved him. He loves you.
Now Jesus could have gone a few ways with this young man’s question of how to have eternal life. It would have been easy for Jesus to secure a new convert. ‘Great!’ Jesus could have said ‘come on! You already follow the commandments, you’re already calling me ‘good’ so you must know who I am because only God is good. You’re in!’

Jesus could have also worked him in more slowly – easing the young man into the values of God’s kingdom. ‘How about you write a small cheque to charity this year? Nothing scary – just a token?’

But Jesus is not interested in convenience or comfort. That is what I (maybe we) are concerned about. Remember that Jesus loved him – because he loved him and said the truthful thing, the hard and unwanted thing he knew would cause the young man’s excitement to disappear on the spot. “Sell what you own, give to the poor and follow me.’

This was not what the young man wanted to hear and so he goes away shocked and grieving. This was not the change he was looking for! He was probably shocked because he considered his wealth an entitlement – a symbol of worldly accomplishment and of God’s favour.

The young man had not found true happiness despite the trappings of life. He seems to be after life in its fullness as we all are. Maybe he thought that he could buy his way to eternal life by observing a special commandment.
Jesus welcomes his desire but also knows his weakness – his attachment to possessions and this is probably why he invites him to give it all to the poor – so that his treasure and his heart – will be in heaven and not on earth. But the young man decides (as far as we know) to hang on to his wealth which will never give him happiness and eternal life.

In this season of change – God is offering us change. Following Jesus will challenge us to lifetimes of change where we are invited to encounter God in new ways apart from tradition, memory and resting on history.

Like Job we might be tested by a change is our circumstances beyond our control. When this happens, do we shake our fist and walk away – like people seem to do when they realise their idea of God is not that of a fairy godmother just waiting to grant whims and wishes? Or do we stand firm and seek out what God might be trying to stay.

Like the rich young man, we might want more from God but may not want to give up what God wants us to. We might choose to hang on to the familiar – even if it doesn’t bring us happiness or eternal life because it is comfortable.

Are we willing to risk being disappointed with the answer God gives – but choose his way regardless?

With this season of change – are we ready for the changes that God may have for us or are we wanting to make some changes ourselves? Like Job and the young man, we need to go to God.


Summer Reading: Trinity 6 – Thorns in the Flesh

Trinity 6

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

This past week I was in Poland for 5 days. I really am getting in my European travel at the moment!

One of the few things I do outside the parish is serve as a volunteer Trustee for St Katharine’s Parmoor which is a retreat house outside Marlow/High Wycombe. St Katharine’s was used as a convent during the Second World War for an order of Catholic nuns who had to leave London during the Blitz.

St Katharine’s was later given by these nuns to Sue Ryder – a name some of you may know from the hospices and charity shops around the country. Sue Ryder dedicated St Katharine’s as her ‘powerhouse of prayer’ as well as a place of rest and retreat for herself and her staff. Sue very much believed that prayer underpinned everything that she and her charity did.

Sue Ryder was born in 1923 and died in 2000. From a young age Sue was made aware of the plight of people around her – firstly by her own mother caring for the families who lived in the appalling conditions around their home in Suffolk. Sue joined the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) in WW2 – an all-female charity that did both nursing and intelligence work during both wars. It was during this work that Sue came into contact with Poland and the Polish people. They were to become the thorn in her flesh – so to speak.

After the war ended Sue spent a lot of her time in Poland caring for POW’s and those who had survived the German concentration camps. She would drive back and forth between England and Poland, collecting supplies to take back and set up homes for them.

This is how I came to be in Poland this past week with a group of Trustees and volunteers from St Katharine’s and 2 other wings of the Sue Ryder family. We went to meet with the Board of Sue Ryder Poland who do similar things that happen here – we visited a care home, a school and a charity shop – all under the banner of Sue Ryder Poland. It was fascinating to see the work being carried on with such passion and commitment to Sue Ryder’s legacy.

The other lovely thing about being Poland was visiting many different churches and chapels – I love religious art! I am a church geek! The more bonkers – the better!

In the chapel of the Sue Ryder care home in Pierzchnica behind the altar was this picture – St Rita of Cascia. I stood in front of it for a little while as I didn’t quite understand what was going on!

St Rita was an Italian Augustinian nun who lived in the 1300’s. In this picture she is kneeling before a crucifix and the figure of Jesus looks to be piercing Rita’s head with a thorn from the crown of thorns on his own head. It looks like Jesus is zapping her with a laser beam! What a religious experience that would have been!

St Rita became a powerful intercessor along with being a very kind and caring woman. She became known as the Patroness of Impossible Causes – in the Catholic church she is the patron saint of abused wives (she was insulted and abused by her philandering husband – married when she was 12 – he was later murdered) and heartbroken women. According to the stories Rita endured this with humility, kindness and patience and apparently her husband became a better guy. Her kindness, good character and piety were obvious to all.

After seeing this picture and then realizing that the 2 Corinthians reading this morning was Paul’s recount of his thorn in the flesh – I had to put them together!

2 Corinthians 12 begins with Paul making the point that there are some people who have something to boast about – like someone who has had a mystical experience of God which Paul uses with the example of a man caught up into the heavens. It is thought that Paul is talking about himself and his own spiritual experience – maybe on the Road to Damascus. He is very reluctant to admit he might be talking about himself – but needs to in order to make his point.

Self-boasting in never okay according to Paul as it can lead to arrogance – rather than humility. Paul is boasting – this is his most dramatic boast yet. Paul is boasting from a place of weakness; a place of humility.

Paul talks about the importance of humility from his own experience – referred to as the ‘thorn’. It is not clear what the thorn actually was – could have been an illness he picked up like malaria, has been suggested it was his eyesight or kidney issues. It could have been a moral or character issue. It may also have been a person who was undermining or opposing Paul’s work.

Whatever it was – it limited his actions in his mind.

It is not what the thorn was that mattered to Paul – the point is the spiritual relevance of the thorn. The Corinthians – who Paul is writing to – were very keen on exciting experiences and they have been influenced by the visits of the ‘super-apostles’ who appear to have been pandering to their love of entertainment.

Paul is trying to counter this attitude of being dazzled by the spectacle. Paul’s calling was to witness to Christ. St Rita was a woman who was devoted to prayer and intercession for people who were hurting and abused; she publicly forgave her husband’s murderers. Sue Ryder worked tirelessly for the Polish people who had been devastated by the war as she had been so moved by the hardships they faced.

Each of these people have gone to great lengths to serve Christ, be a witness to Him.

I don’t think you can preach on this passage and not acknowledge that God did not grant Paul the healing he prayed for. God said no to Paul three times. Don’t let the significance of three pass you by. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gesthemane three times and he was not delivered from his suffering either.
Paul was given the grace to endure the suffering; and that is better than deliverance. God is not a magic genie in a bottle or some holy fruity machine.

The ‘No of God’ taught Paul to rely on the ‘Grace of God’ rather than his own strength. How much energy is wasted by thinking we can do it ourselves. Sue Ryder knew she couldn’t do it herself – so she recruited her friends and neighbours – 2 of the people on the trip to Poland had gone to school with Sue’s children, now in their late 50’s and are still involved with her work. Sue Ryder set up shops to sell second hand goods to raise money.

Paul also learned that his own weakness was more than compensated for by the strength of God. Paul takes on this suffering on the human level so that he may find Christ’s grace and power more fully.

No is not always the bad or wrong answer. No is a hard answer to hear – especially from God. Paul found this very difficult to live with – he may have thought his thorn was limiting his effectiveness or lowering the opinion of the people he was trying to reach.

However, God is not concerned about this in the same way that Paul is and we can be. God is not dependent on the world’s good opinion of him.

This is why the thorn is a gift – it reminds Paul that God is God and he is not. Paul is dependent on God – not the other way around. The relevance of the thorn is not lost or irrelevant – it is central to Paul’s mission and ministry. He needs to be reminded of that daily.

I hope you picked up the theme of prayer running through this morning. Sue Ryder and her powerhouse of prayer, St Rita and her intercessions for others, Paul and his three prayer requests. This is how we live with the thorns in our own flesh. God may tell us no too but that is not the end of the story. He hears our prayers, wants us to be dependent on him in everything.

It is how we use the thorn to tell the story of God’s grace in our lives – not for the entertainment value – but for the lived-out experience of complete dependence on Christ in us.

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.