The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: A Sermon

Lessons (Track 1, 1st set)

What a combination of texts! Let’s start with David and Goliath.

“The battle is the Lord’s.” That’s probably the take-away. Goliath, for all his high-tech armaments and rhetoric, is not a serious threat. Truth—but not the whole truth. We’re early in Israel’s national history, and even God, apparently, is unable to tackle all the relevant issues at once. David’s trusting speech to Saul (“Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them.”) dehumanizes Goliath as effectively as any modern government propaganda office. With more self-understanding and humility, this from the Wisdom of Solomon, one of the latest of the Old Testament books:

21 For it is always in your power to show great strength,
and who can withstand the might of your arm?
22 Because the whole world before you is like a speck that tips the scales,
and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground.
23 But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
24 For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
25 How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
26 You spare all things, for they are yours,
O Lord, you who love the living. (11:21-26)

That text may be unfamiliar—it didn’t make it into the Sunday lectionary, although it is the inspiration for one of the collects that closes the Prayers of the People (“for you are gracious, O lover of souls”).

The Lord who loves the living loves David…and Goliath. We celebrate “the battle is the Lord’s”—our God is lacking neither power nor awareness. We might recognize that David-and-Goliath is a poor script for our encounters with our enemies.

“You who love the living.” I don’t think we ever get our heads fully around this. Among many other things, it explains God not saving at arm’s length, but ending up in situations like this very small boat in a very large storm. But, as with David, “the battle is the Lord’s.” With only the wind and waves in play, not a serious threat. If there’s a threat, it’s the disciples’ lack of trust.

If we want serious threat, there’s our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. The Sunday lectionary has us in this letter for eight weeks. The letter makes for painful reading: Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians is badly strained, and Paul is working way outside his comfort zone to set things right. “We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.” At some point most readers probably ask why Paul didn’t simply cut his losses and walk away. Perhaps part of the answer is in a portion of last week’s reading:

14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. (2 Cor. 5:14-16)

“The love of Christ urges us on” –seen also in Paul’s listing of the ways he and his coworkers have commended themselves (“through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities” etc., vv.4-10). It’s a further example of that cross-shaped combination of death and life I noticed last week, a combination that reworks expectations regarding what it is to see glory.

There are at least two ways we might hear this Corinthians text:

First, Paul’s choices mirror Jesus’ choices. Listen to the last part of that list: Paul could equally well be describing his or Jesus’ choices: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” And as a mirror image, the following verses are a direct challenge to our too-often restricted hearts. (“our heart is wide open to you…open wide your hearts also.”) We tend to be a cautious, distrustful bunch, tending to hold God and God’s projects at arm’s length until everything makes sense to us. What more does this God who loves the living have to do to get through to us? There are not a few moments in which that’s not a bad question for the preacher.

Second, Paul’s choices might serve as a model for how we do reconciliation. If we think about reconciliation—and we often don’t, given the current wealth of Goliath wannabes—often the starting point is “I’ll meet you half way.” Well, when I find myself starting there, I might wonder just how deeply “you who love the living” has penetrated my grey matter. Paul working way outside his comfort zone is a model we might pay attention to. Back in his first letter to the Corinthians, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Here we watch that love with its sleeves rolled up, and are invited to notice where our sleeves are.

Let’s give Solomon the last word:

23 But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
24 For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
25 How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
26 You spare all things, for they are yours,
O Lord, you who love the living. (11:21-26)

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