So one of the hard things about writing a message for each Sunday is when we come across a reading where the Holy Spirit send to be calling me in two different directions and I have to choose. Well the 1st Samuel reading fit this Sunday is one of those fork in the road passages. So for Sunday I’m going to be talking about fear, but here i can talk, even briefly about the other idea I had.
In the Samuel reading where David volunteers to take on the Philistine Goliath there is a scene, almost comical, where he readies himself for battle. Saul, the current king, wants to give him the best possible chance, and do offers his armor to the young shepherd. David proceeds to put on the helmet, the breastplate, and all the accessories one would expect of a King’s armor of the day. Now I want you to try and picture this, without laughing if possible.
David is still relatively young compared to Saul and the other soldiers. He’s got quite a bit of growing to do. Imagine, if you will, a scrawny young boy wearing the armor of a fully grown, probably well muscled, man. It’s silly! And i imagine it is written to be silly because I laugh every time I read how David, when fully decked, is unable even to move.
Now once you’re done laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole scene, what do you think happens? Well David knows he can’t find like this, much less win. So rather than wear the armor and most certainly perish, he sets it aside, grabs his sling and a few rocks and matches off. And the odds are a little better, rather than certain death its just probable death.
You see, we’re not so different from David. In many ways the armor that didn’t fit was a symbol for Saul and his tenure as king over Israel. David would be a different kind of king and so the armor, the style, the way he would be king would differ from Saul. His shrugging off of the armor is his symbolic shrugging off of the traditions that he wasn’t able to live into.
As faith communities we often do things, “because we’ve always done them”. Whether the tradition suits the time or the people doesn’t seem to matter anymore because simply having done it for a while overrides other considerations.
Imagine again how silly David looked in the armor that was too big, too clunky, and too heavy for him. Now try and think like someone from outside the church. Look at some of the things we do without thinking and try and imagine how silly some of those things look.
It’s not that we or David are being disrespectful to those who forged the path before us. Indeed we are thankful for the work and care that it took to get us where we are. But the truth is that in order to move forward we have to discern our own path. We can’t just blindly and -worse – unquestioningly follow the map that someone else drew. It might even be that after the work of discerning we end up following the exact same practises as before, but we will grown into them in a sense and we will have made them our own. Every generation must do this soul searching work.
Let us, like David, discern our place in this world. Let us forge a path of our own design inspired in all things by the Holy Spirit. Let us build up those traditions that bear faithful fruit in us, and shrug off that which weighs us down and be lifted in all things by the divine within us.
Rev. Richard Bowley