Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 June 2018.
There are times when just about everything is going wrong. The car breaks down, the washing machine floods, lights go out and there is a sick relative in need of immediate attention.
And all of this at a time when we are trying to complete something else, with a matter of urgency about it.
Some may panic and made poor decisions; some may get ratty and irritable with all who come near; some may want to run away and hide; some may just have to resort to the shortest of prayers, often of 2 words: ‘Lord, help!’
And there have been times when even when there is no immediate crisis that we are just run down and exhausted. Indeed, it is at these times when we can be very vulnerable to spiritual assault, being tempted either to take things into our own hands and to do so rashly, or to give in to despair.
And yes, while both responses are understandable neither is an act or work of faith.
This is where we start looking at our lessons, for in our long reading from the Book of Samuel, there is the story of David and Goliath.
David, anointed king by Samuel but still living at home and looking after the sheep, had not joined in the muster of the tribes to meet the Philistines and the campaign had ground to a halt.
So when he visited his brothers in the camp, there was a stand-off. And during this lull Goliath was going out to taunt the Israelites by offering trial by single combat. So far he was winning the psychological war.
Then came David, fresh from the sheepfold, where sheep may safely graze: that is when they are not being attacked by predators. So David knew a thing or two about facing an implacable enemy, and doing so with the minimum of equipment.
For David it was all about speed and surprise, and striking a blow where it would be most effective. So blundering about with sword, spear and heavy armour was not what he was about. So yes, he would trust in his existing combat skills – and perhaps a different skill-set to Goliath’s whose reliance was in overwhelming brute strength.
This kind of tactical comparison is all very well but it was David’s motives and determination that counted most. He had ‘got religion’ and was used to quick prayers like the one I spoke of earlier. But he had also found those prayers being answered and as this continued so David came to trust in his God who would indeed deliver him from the wolf and the marauder.
And Goliath was busy insulting the very God who had already delivered David – which was a bad mistake. So David now had a motivation for facing Goliath and the method for doing so. Goliath’s next mistake was in under-estimating his opponent, and it was fatal. The rest we know.
In the gospel we are told of Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat when it was struck by a squall. And a squall is far more than a few gusts of wind – it is a serious wind, probably with rain and possibly lightening. Not a depression but far more than a summer shower.
This time the disciples who had some fairly experienced sailors with them were getting worried. Maybe the boat was filling up, maybe it was in danger of broaching – that is, drifting broadside to the waves and being rolled over into a capsize. I am not sure that they had much of the modern buoyancy techniques that we have today.
But they evidently wanted all hands on deck, including Jesus. I am not sure that they were going to give Him the helm – it might have been an oar or a bucket that they had in mind – but they certainly did not expect Him to do what He did.
Jesus’ answer was far beyond their expectations, never mind their imaginations. They had not seen storms rebuked by a word of command, but here it was.
The simplicity of their prayers was met far more powerfully than they could ever have imagined or expected, but they had given Jesus a free hand in what to do.
Indeed, Jesus was answering them before they had even worked out what to do next anyway. Jesus’ response was far greater and far more majestic than any learning had prepared them for.
But perhaps that is the point. It is when we let God have a free hand in our lives that things can and do change. And this is not just about our perceptions of circumstances or events. It is about seeing the sovereignty of God in action in our own lives.
Yes, sometimes we may find that our eyes are being opened to perceive the colours and our ears are opened to hear the harmonies that were always there. Sometimes we may find the strength and the will to confront a difficult situation or relationship.
But equally there are times when God may indeed be preparing a new thing in and for our lives, and may be wanting our trust and openness so that we may perceive it, receive it and act on it.
For God is not weighing us up to see if we are worthy of His aid. Rather it is as we come before Him trusting ourselves in and to Jesus that God sees not so much our sins and the person and the love of Jesus.
If He wants to see more, He certainly can. But what delights His heart even more is those times when we come before Him, seeking His will ahead of our own, even in our times of need.