Sunday, June 24, 2018
1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 Psalm 9:9-20 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Mark 4:35-41
May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, and the actions of our lives be acceptable in thy sight, Oh God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Good morning St. Aidan’s! It is really good to be here.
And oh my gosh - the story of David and Goliath on Pride Sunday in San Francisco! Wow. This is great!
I’ve not preached on this text before, but of course I know it well. We all do. My sons loved it when I would read them this story. Hurrah - they would say – little David the clueless shepherd fells the great big bully named Goliath! Were my small boys bloodthirsty little things who loved to hear about a good fight, or did they get the point of the story? I tried to stress what I thought it was all about – light on the violence and heavy on the idea that those who appear to be “strongest” don’t always win. But I wondered if they got it.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of so many interesting books, wrote one called “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” in 2013. It’s a book that has been on my list for years, and when I was faced with preaching about this text here at St. Aidan’s, I thought maybe I should finally read it.
And so I did.
It’s an interesting book. With lots of good examples and great writing, Gladwell notes several things. Among them he writes that "The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” He also writes “The outcome of the original David-and-Goliath clash wasn't a miracle, it's just what happens when the weak refuse to play by rules laid down by the strong.”
When the weak refuse to play by the rules laid down by the strong.
All of this caused me to think about our tiny arguably “under-dog-ish” Episcopal Church – struggling to exist and persist and make a difference in a world full of rules made by the strong. It seems daunting.
But what if we could close our eyes for a minute and try to see ourselves a little differently? What if we could imagine an image of ourselves as buoyed up by the love and strength and power of God? What if we could really live into the words of our reading today from Second Corinthians? What if we imagined saying and believing what the reading tells us - “We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way….” It’s clear that the power of God is mighty – our gospel account of the great windstorm and waves and scary sea that Jesus stilled is but one of many examples we hear in scripture about the power of Jesus, and of God. So, if we have the power behind us, what is holding us back? What is stopping us from finding what Malcolm Gladwell calls “deeply courageous paths?”
Well, I’m going to go right out on a limb here and posit that I think what stops us is fear. Fear that we won’t be able to do enough, fear that we’re not good enough, fear that doing something risky will harm us somehow. And being afraid gets in the way of our faith. It’s what happened to the disciples in the boat, right? They were terrified. Jesus was asleep. When he awoke, he asked them a simple question, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
There is a chapter in the David and Goliath book centering on the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King’s work. Most of it seems impossible to me – I just can’t imagine how King and his leaders could have been so brave. I can’t imagine myself feeling anything but terrified in their shoes. But the book points out that there were some small things they did that didn’t seem quite so scary and that made a big difference. Things that were strategic and planful and practical. Things that were starting points. For instance – when they realized people were afraid to march in their demonstrations and they had very few protesters assembled, they made a small tweak in their plans. They changed the time of their demonstrations so that they would occur just when people were getting off work. This meant that there were more people in the streets walking home, more people in cars and busses who would be watching what was going on, just more people. The end result was that the protesters felt less alone, it looked in the photographs like more people were involved, and the word got out. It wasn’t a big courageous move, it was more of a small smart tactic. And those small things added up.
And so, if we’re feeling a little afraid or discouraged – and I confess that I feel both things – I wonder what our starting points might be? How might we, Episcopal underdogs that we are, make a difference?
As I ponder this question, I remember one of my most moving experiences in this place. It was the community memorial service for Mikey Lefiti, the UPS driver who was a casuality of senseless gun violence. Do some of you remember that? Mikey’s UPS route was around Diamond Heights, and when the neighborhood heard of his death, the idea of a memorial service at St. Aidan’s came up. His family liked the idea too and so we hosted a service here. It was an incredible outpouring of pure love. Person after person talked about how Mikey got to know everyone in the neighborhood, that he introduced people to one another, that he was a symbol of love and caring and humanity. He was far more than the UPS driver everybody knew and liked, he was an icon of community in the best way that we know it. Benches were installed and blessed in his honor over by Creighton’s so that people could always remember what his life meant.
And so why do I bring this up as a starting point? We do services all the time, you might be thinking. It’s not that big of a deal. But what struck me that day, and what strikes me often about St. Aidan’s, is that this kind of care for community works only because you, the people of St. Aidan’s, have carefully and patiently and over many years built real relationship with the neighborhood around you. That’s not easy to do when you’re a small Episcopal church in secular San Francisco. The service for Mikey that day was symbolic of how people think of St. Aidan’s – as the soul of Diamond Heights. We didn’t coin that description - our neighbors did. We weren’t eliminating the Goliath of gun violence that day at our memorial service – although we absolutely need to be brave enough to take that on too – but we were there for our neighbors when we are needed. Careful shepherds, doing what we could, held by God. A visible symbol of hope.
Our world is full of much that divides us and so much that we fear. The New York Times Pride section this morning begins with the headline “Divided Together.” And it has been ever thus. Our Corinthians reading mentions afflictions, hardships, calamaties, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. This reading could have been written today. There is a lot of work for us to do. We have national policies that until just this week were separating undocumented children from their parents at our border and elected officials who were using scripture to justify their actions. We have places in our nation where people are forced to hide who they are and are stopped from using the bathroom of their choice. We have classrooms and workplaces where racism prevails. Gun violence is all around us. I could go on and on but I won’t because what I want to say next is that this very same reading from Corinthians also steers us toward hope. It talks of purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God. Our psalm is another place of hope - reminding us that God is our refuge. God is our refuge.
There’s one last thing from the David and Goliath book that I’d like to leave you with today. It’s a quotation from a chapter about very much of an underdog community in France called La Chambon that hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Gladwell writes;
“It was not the privileged and the fortunate who took in the Jews in France. It was the marginal and the damaged, which should remind us that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish. If you take away the gift of reading, you create the gift of listening. If you bomb a city, you leave behind death and destruction. But you create a community of remote misses. If you take away a mother or father, you cause suffering and despair. But one time in ten, out of that despair rises an indomitable force. You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley … and your eye is drawn toward the man with the sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”
And so, on this Pride Sunday, as we sit with the story of David and Goliath and as we celebrate and walk with our LGBTQ community and as we send love to the children and families at our border; I pray for us that we believe ourselves to be the fearless shepherds that our world yearns for, carried forth always by the power and love of God. I have called us underdogs in this sermon, but that’s not really who I think we are. I think we’re mighty. And we have work to do.