The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

O my God, I wonder why you tolerate us.
Today we have reached into the stars…
and we have killed our brothers in prayer.
We have tested our strength in sport…
and we have hoisted our power in war.
We preach your holy insistence on love…
yet we insist foremost on our love of self.
Will you now harden your heart against us
and hide your eyes from our vain misery?
Let the cries of the dead and the abused
bear witness against our masochistic ego.  

David and Goliath

You know the story: David triumphs over Goliath. Small topples big. Confidence conquers fear. Shepherd beats warrior. Faith wins over strength. Trusting in the limitless possibilities of God far outpaces, outweighs, outshines trusting in the limited possibilities of oneself.

We know the story. The question is, why don’t we live like we believe the story? Why don’t we live — in our relationships, in our work, in our rest, in our church, in our finances — as though trusting God has a tangible impact on our lives? What holds us back from living with complete peace and deep confidence in the knowledge that what God can do & imagine for us is better than what we can do & imagine for ourselves?

Why do we live (consciously or unconsciously) with the constant underpinning of fear that someone or something might cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time … so that the fear of change and disaster compels us to create and hold onto as many securities as possible? Of course, something can cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time. The story of David & Goliath doesn’t dispute bad things happening and tearing us down. The story of David & Goliath disputes living in fear and lack of imagination for how God can bless our lives, for how we might be built up, for how we can triumph and even thrive no matter the losses or the suffering.

Of all the Bible stories about David, this one might be my least favorite because it challenges me the most. Give me a story about David after he becomes king: when he’s arguing with God’s prophets, or when he’s picking up women inappropriately, or when he’s dancing naked; give me a story about David running for his life from Saul or from his throne-envious sons. Give me these stories of David being a flawed human and I will nod my head: I get these stories.

But the story of David & Goliath! This is a story of a human not living out his flaws but living out his beyond-belief possibilities through trust in God. This story doesn’t invite us to identify with someone’s flawed life. This story invites us to accept the challenge of living our flawed lives without fear, invites us to let our trust in God define us more than our fears of everything else:

more than our fears of others, more than our fears of heartache,
more than our fears of financial needs or health needs;
letting our trust in God define us more than our fears of suffering,
more than our fears of uncertainty, more than our fear of fear.

How would we live differently if we believed the story of David & Goliath? I don’t know what the exact details of “living differently” might mean for you, but I know that it’s time. It’s time to practice trusting God in all things, in all moments, in all of life. It’s time to remember God in all things, in all moments, in all of life — daily, hourly, with each breath and each decision and each interaction.

Trusting fully in God, trusting boldly in God, let us not be afraid. Amen.

Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 8/5/2012.

Let No One’s Heart Fail

Ah, Spirit!
I’m afraid I’ve lost you.
No — I’m afraid I’ve lost myself,
because my heart feels unfamiliar and
the terrain of my soul is desolate wilderness.
I am seeking a rock to get my bearings…
encountering only wind and silence.
It doesn’t matter that I know you to be
both Wind and Holy Whisper;
here in the vast space of
nondescript rustles and eerie quiet,
what matters most to my soul is that
I cannot grasp you when you are so nebulous,
cannot cling to you as my hand longs to cling to a Mountain
or as my foot hopes to hold onto a Rock beneath it.
Spirit, strengthen my heart to keep wandering.
Do not let my soul give up its willingness
to endure the Absence
and the Mystery.

About a Gate

Swing,
creak,
open reluctantly,
close unreliably,
dear wooden gate.
Shed your layers of paint,
let rust have its way with your springs,
tell long stories about years of treasured use
to your perfect plastic cousins:
of kids running through
and lovers walking out,
of wild fields entered and
vegetable gardens protected,
of roses blooming in manicured trim
and stray vines climbing your posts.
You have been the welcoming mat of homes
and the prosaic entrances of pastures.
You have hidden mansions and bungalows,
perched in decorative purpose among daylilies,
guarded raucous chickens and yipping dogs.
Stand tall, lean precariously,
sag on your hinges in age,
but never fail to watch
for the guest and the stranger
and the weary traveler
returning home.