United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

By Rev. Mike Capron
June 24, 2018

1 Samuel 17 & 2 Cor 6

  1. What we have here is a case of a bad sermon title.
  2. We preachers usually have to give sermon titles before we actually have sermons to go with them.
  3. I picked the title, “NOW!” intending a rousing diatribe against delay in being about God’s work.
  4. And I may get there before we are done, but I missed something about these texts.
  5. I missed the need for patience.
  6. Take David. He goes up to the camp and learns about Goliath. He springs into action the same day, fights his climactic battle and is victorious.
  7. But 1 Samuel 17, verse 16 says that Goliath had been stepping forth, issuing his challenge for 40 days!
  8. Whenever you hear the number, 40, in the Bible, pay attention.
  9. It means that something has to be endured for a time.
  10. The Hebrews who exodused Egypt had to spend 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land.
  11. After his baptism, Jesus had to spend 40 days in the wilderness before he could begin his ministry.
  12. So in David’s time, King Saul and his army spent 40 days in fear and confusion, not knowing what to do.
  13. Every morning and every evening, the 9’ tall Philistine soldier, Goliath, would step forth and issue his challenge.
  14. Every morning and every evening, the Israelites would undergo this trial and not know what to do. Indeed, I’m not sure what was worse—the fear or the confusion or the self-doubt.
  15. I’m sure there was plenty of all of those things.
  16. Yet they waited. And who could blame them? It seemed humanly impossible for anyone to triumph over the giant.
  17. It was humanly impossible. But what is impossible for humans is not impossible for God.
  18. It turns out that waiting was the right thing to do. It is the right thing, if—and only if—you are waiting on God.
  19. It took 40 days of waiting—of not knowing what they were waiting for—before David to entered the camp, learned the situation and felt a call from God to act.
  20. Only then was the time NOW. That was the moment, the acceptable time.
  22. God was acting in a mighty way—but it wasn’t obvious to everyone else.
  23. Day 41 started the same as days 1-40.
  24. Goliath came out that morning, issued his humiliating challenge. No one did anything. Same old; same old.
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  26. What does your giant look like? What looms over you? What makes you feel like a little child, terrified and rooted to the spot.
  27. The giant wants you to be terrified. He wants you to believe that he is stronger than anything, stronger even than God.
  28. Your giant wants you to stare at him and not think about any of the other things you know to be true.
  29. Your giant wants you paralyzed with fear—and never, ever thinking about love.
  30. He doesn’t want you to think about your family, your brothers & sisters in Christ or the great love that God has for you.
  31. Goliath makes a threat: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
  32. Goliath wants you to feel isolated, alone, as nothing. That’s the thread: nothingness. There will be nothing of us left, even our bodies will be eaten as carrion.
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  34. But we are not alone! Just like David was not alone; we are not alone.
  35. Once David started talking about his call from God, people started responding.
  36. Saul offered him his own armor and weapons. That turned out not to be helpful, and David politely refused.
  37. Sometimes people will have ideas for you that aren’t right for you. But you are not alone. You have other people and you have God!
  38. David said: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts”
  39. One of the reasons he knew God was with him in the time of trial, was that God had been with him before, had been preparing him for this day.
  40. He had fought lions and bears as a warm-up for the giant.
  41. Trials that we endure with God’s help make us stronger.
  42. As Paul wrote in 2 Cor 6, “as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger”
  43. And he won his way through his trials: “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left”
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  45. This is the moment when we confront the limitations of the military metaphor.
  46. I don’t want anyone who hears this sermon to go out and buy a sling and start beaning your enemies in the forehead with it—okay?
  47. That was for David. The situations we face are a lot closer to Paul.
  48. Most of our conflict will not be with bronze-clad soldiers, but with people who are just being people.
  49. And sometimes people who are being people are acting badly.
  50. But don’t fall for their tricks. The Goliath strategy is to convince you that you are alone and that you have to solve everything by yourself.
  51. Don’t do that. You know if you are watching a movie, and someone says, “I have to go do this alone”, that there are going to do something stupid, right? The other people are going to have to go rescue them later.
  52. It’s the same with all of us. Our strength is from our relationships with other people and with God.
  53. I love the way Paul ends this section of 2 Cor: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return—I speak as to children—widen your hearts also.”
  54. The church in Corinth has been having church fights.
  55. But after all that, Paul’s stance remains one of openness, of connection.
  56. He advises the others that their problem is one of ‘restricting their affections’—of closing in, of becoming tight rather than maintaining open arms.
  57. He stands ready to embrace and asks that they join him.
  58. It is only through a spirit of love and openness that we ever really win church fights—or fights with family.
  59. Reconciliation is the only true way to peace. Anything less than that is far less desirable.
  60. As Paul says in Romans 12, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
  61. I’ve seen a lot of churches—as a member, as an elder, as a pastor.
  62. They haven’t all been peaceful.
  63. This is my last Sunday at United Presbyterian West Orange. (I’m starting a new call…)
  64. One of the things I want to thank/commend about this congregation is the quality of its Christian Community, its life together. This is truly a place of peace and I thank/commend you for letting me share it.
  65. <8 am service>
  66. <I wish you all the best>
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  68. PostScript: I know you all have been following the news about the Justice Department’s zero tolerance policy and the resulting separation of parents from children.
  69. I’ve just preached a sermon about the importance of connection and the terrors of isolation.
  70. You are all smart people—you don’t need me to connect the dots for you on how traumatic it is for children to be separated from parents.
  71. We are people of love, who value bonds of family and friendship and church.
  72. If you are at all politically minded, I urge you to keep the pressure on, to let your representatives know how you feel as a Christian when we are considering what goes on with children brought to our country. Amen.