Monday, June 18, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 12th Ordinary (Day 1)


1 Samuel 17:32-49

32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”
33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”
34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.
37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own gear, putting a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David strapped his sword on over the armor, but he couldn’t walk around well because he’d never tried it before. “I can’t walk in this,” David told Saul, “because I’ve never tried it before.” So he took them off. 40 He then grabbed his staff and chose five smooth stones from the streambed. He put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag and with sling in hand went out to the Philistine.
41 The Philistine got closer and closer to David, and his shield-bearer was in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked David over, he sneered at David because he was just a boy; reddish brown and good-looking.
43 The Philistine asked David, “Am I some sort of dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said to David, “and I’ll feed your flesh to the wild birds and the wild animals!”
45 But David told the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army, the one you’ve insulted. 46 Today the Lord will hand you over to me. I will strike you down and cut off your head! Today I will feed your dead body and the dead bodies of the entire Philistine camp to the wild birds and the wild animals. Then the whole world will know that there is a God on Israel’s side. 47 And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”
48 The Philistine got up and moved closer to attack David, and David ran quickly to the front line to face him. 49 David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone. He slung it, and it hit the Philistine on his forehead. The stone penetrated his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Talk about your mismatches - the great warrior against the young sheep herder!  One fully provisioned with the latest weaponry and high skilled and proficient in using it; the other unable to use the technologies of warfare because he was unskilled and inexperienced with them.  Their battle should be quick and easy for Goliath.

Another mismatch:  the one a great empire with every conceivable resource and advantage.  The other a tiny, powerless, outlawed sect, followers of a renegade Jew crucified for treason and blasphemy. Surely the empire will easily crush or silence this curious, somewhat ridiculous, group of zealots.

Yet, against all odds, the young shepherd and the small group of Jesus-followers prevailed against their seemingly indomitable foes!

How?  Well both the shepherd boy, David, and the small group of believers in Jesus had, besides their apparent deficits in relation to their enemies, one thing in common.  Both believed in the same God.  And that was really all either had going for them.

Consider the situation of the church against the mighty Roman empire. 

-they couldn’t have public meetings, rallies, crusades, or worship services.  That was illegal and put their lives in danger.  So, no promotion, no evangelism campaigns or crusades, no grand and spectacular worship services for the early church.

-in fact, through the third century, non-believers weren’t even allowed to attend worship services!  Why?  Fear of infiltration by government informers was a major reason.  But even more, worship was about worshipping God, not attracting others to the faith.

That brings us back to the God whom both David and the early church followed.  This must be the factor that enable the unlikely triumph of these two underdogs over their opposition.  But how did this God do this for the early church in the face of the empire? 

There was something new about this strange little outlawed group.  Strange, yet attractive. 

-their conviction of the truth of their belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead and thereby defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil empowered them to face even death with courage and confidence.   Even when some were killed for their commitment to Jesus and his God and Father who raised him from the dead, their deaths provided evidence for  

-Tertullian says the early church was “in touch with the miraculous.”  As with Jesus, so also in this movement healings and exorcisms were common, for during this time the sense of evil spiritual oppression and bondage was widespread as well as the longing for liberation from it.

-a new way of life was clearly a powerful witness to the truth and reality of the Christian gospel.  Beauty of life encourages . . . strangers to join the ranks. . . . We do not preach great things, but we live them.”

We might learn something from these early Christian communities.  In our age of individual preference and opinion, their strong shared conviction of the truth on which they had committed their lives is striking.  In an age which laments the all too evident powerlessness of the church in North America, being “in touch with the miraculous’ (whatever its most appropriate expression in our time and place) can only be to the good.  And in our age of scandalous and dishonorable disconnect between profession and practice, a recovery of an authentically Christian “way of life” is a necessity.

Now that would be a church I need to be a part of!

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