Sermon by Rev. Justin Beatty
Last week we talked about the story of David and Goliath,
and about how God delivered the giant Goliath into the hand of David,
despite the fact that David was a lot smaller than Goliath,
and the only weapon he had was his sling,
and he wasn’t even wearing any armor because he couldn’t move around in it. And also because David had something better than armor,
he was in the hands of the living God,
protecting him from the giant’s blows.
Thinking about the story of David and Goliath, as I have a lot the past few weeks, has brought to mind a children’s song.
“He’s got the whole world, in his hands, he’s got the whole world, in his hands...”
Those same hands that saved David from the jaws of the lion and the bear,
and the sword of Goliath,
and eventually from the clutches of Saul,
as the king eventually grew mad from jealousy of the man who had been anointed to take his throne.
Those same hands hold us,
that same God is walking before us,
at times carrying us on his shoulders.
it doesn’t always feel like God is protecting us.
The world has a way of beating us down,
of making us feel like everything is against us and there’s no path to a brighter tomorrow, what do we do 6then?
What happens when we feel exposed,
when we feel fragile,
and like we are about to break?
Please pray with me:
may the words of my mouth,
and the meditations of our hearts bring us closer to you.
I pray that you would use your servant to speak to your people. In Jesus’ name we pray,
In our text for today,
Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about the difficulties in getting people to understand the message of the gospel.
looking back at it from our vantage point,
of course we can understand the gospel,
the story of Jesus has been preached in Western society for over two thousand years, as much as this annoys Neil Degrasse Tyson,
it’s one of the bedrocks of our society;
but back then when Paul was planting churches,
he didn’t have the benefit of centuries of commentary on the gospels to help people understand the story of Christ, and the story of Jesus hadn’t played a huge part in the society Paul was living in.
the gospel was significantly different than any story—especially any story purporting to be about a god—that anyone was telling.
It was foolishness to the Romans that a god would come down to Earth in a feeding trough, would consent to being raised by a family of modest means,
would wonder around as a homeless preacher for three years,
and then would sacrifice his life in a way that was literally excruciating--
for real, though, the word excruciating has the same root as crucifixion--
sacrificing himself so that the people would be spared the rightful punishment for their sins. Most of their gods didn’t do sacrifice,
they just did a lot of taking,
they would come down in splendor,
and would only stay long enough to have some fun at humanity’s expense,
then they would go back to Mount Olympus,
or whatever was the Roman equivalent.
Sure they might throw some rain down if you gave them a good enough sacrifice,
but the Greek/Roman gods were by no means as selfless as Jesus was.
For a society that was used to that kind of behavior from their deities,
the God that Paul was preaching to them would sound like foolishness,
indeed elsewhere in his letters Paul would even say that the gospel was a stumbling block and foolishness for the wise.
To make matters worse,
God is choosing quite imperfect messengers to carry his gospel.
If it seems to anyone that the church is often its own worst enemy when it comes to spreading the love of Jesus to the nations,
that’s because it is.
As an institution we turn spiritual issues that could be described as tertiary at best become the sole rubric for orthodoxy,
or even for faith in Christ.
As individuals we’re not much better.
We fail to trust God, we think we know better than God,
we don’t listen to God, don’t move when he tell us to move,
we gossip, we lust, we take shortcuts, we tell what we phrase “little white lies”.
Our pews are filled with a bunch of Eddie Guerreros the extent to which we lie, cheat, and steal. In Romans 7,
Paul says that he doesn’t do what he wants to do,
but rather the very things that he hates,
that the sin that dwells within his flesh takes over.
So for Paul, he knew that the gospel he was preaching would be confusing to its audience,
but he also knew that in the darkness of their confusion,
that same audience would be shown a light in the form of Jesus Christ within Paul’s life,
and within the lives of his followers.
Now that may seem counterintuitive,
given the extent to which we give in to that list from 30 seconds ago,
and if it was just up to us,
there’s no way we could be adequate vessels for the precious treasure of the Holy Spirit that we hold within us.
We’re actually quite breakable vessels as it turns out,
jars of clay even.
We crack, our edges get rubbed off, we even shatter from time to time,
but like those of Paul’s time used shattered clay to scratch out messages on new pottery,
even when we feel shattered,
God can still use us to spread the gospel to the masses.
It just may not look the way we expected it to.
that we are but earthen vessels that carry a treasure more precious than we can even imagine, it strikes me as very powerful.
Clay pots by themselves don’t feel terribly valuable.
As a matter of fact,
putting that sentence in this sermon made me curious,
so I looked it up on the internet,
and clay pots aren’t terribly valuable.
You can get a big one at the Home Depot for five dollars and 77 cents,
and if you only want a little clay pot its only zero dollars and 78 cents,
you can probably find that much money in between your couch cushions.
the point is that we, like clay pots from the Home Depot, don’t have very much value in it of ourselves.
I mean I know that you’re a precious little snowflake and everything,
but just like what really matters about your little 78 cent clay pot is the plant that you put inside of it,
what gives us our real value is the Holy Spirit within us.
That is why it is folly to tie our value to our job, our family, our skills,
or anything other than our relationship with God.
Those things are of this world,
they are fragile,
they are doomed to disappoint,
and they are poor replacements for that Holy Spirit.
that God would put the precious cargo of the Holy Spirit in such fragile vessels,
I think it has two meanings.
One of which is what I was saying before about how we often fail God as vessels for his Holy Spirit,
but the fragility of us as vessels for the Holy Spirit also provides for God to show his glory.
Last week, when we were talking about David,
I mentioned that when David was getting set to face Goliath the king Saul offered him a suit of armor,
and David turned it down for practical reasons,
but there could also be grander reasons why David was to face the giant sans traditional protection.
God often works through the small, the insignificant, the helpless.
The people of Israel have throughout history been the best example of this.
Is there any rational way that this small clan of people should have gone up against the Egyptian pharaoh and won their freedom?
And is there any strategic reason why this rag tag band of immigrants that had been wondering the desert for 40 years should be able to rout the established people of Canaan?
There has to be some alternate reason for any military victory the people of Israel had than they had any military advantage, because they didn’t.
We have no choice but to give God the credit.
we in our fragile bodies can’t really do anything on our own,
on the other hand,
we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
The trick is to have faith,
Jesus said that if we have but the faith of a mustard seed than we can move mountains,
think the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda uses the force to pull the huge X-Wing fighter out of the swamp in Degobah.
What we learn in the story of David and Goliath,
is that if we have that faith,
than size matters not.
Likewise, what Paul is getting at here,
is that if you have faith,
then our fragility matters not.
Faith in God, not like, in the force,
just so we’re clear.
That isn’t to say that it will always be easy.
Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been, are being, and will continue be tested; “afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed”.
Paul is saying that we will be pushed to our limits,
that we will be made to feel uncomfortable,
and perhaps even to feel pain,
that at times we will be made to feel hopeless,
that it will feel to us as though God has forsaken us.
But even in those dark hours,
God is still with us remaining faithful,
giving us the strength we need to push through in our trials and tribulations, and at the same time waiting at the other side of the dark forest to tell us “well done”.
But in order to make it through, we must keep that faith,
we must resist the urge to try to take control of the situation,
we must continue to believe that God loves us,
that he is working on our behalf,
and that he knows what is best for us.
As many of you know,
my sister spent much of last year in treatment for an eating disorder,
and my mom and I went to Denver for a week last year for what they call “family days”,
which was essentially like a series of lectures and group sessions where they teach us about why our loved ones are the way that they are and how the program is set up in light of that. One of the things that they did towards the end of the week,
was they had two individuals who were further along in the program come in and talk to the families,
like, panel style,
the idea is to give these families an opportunity to ask these girls the questions we wanted to ask our loved ones but for whatever reason couldn’t or were afraid to.
And at some point one of the family members asked what was helping them to get better, they had both mentioned struggling when they had first gotten to treatment,
so what had helped them turn the corner.
And I’ll never forget the response,
this girl said that one of the biggest things that helped her was learning how to give up control and to trust that her team of doctors wanted and knew what was best for her,
instead of believing and behaving as though she knew better than they did,
especially when things felt to her like they were getting worse.
She said that at some point she realized that her best thinking,
the things she thought were best for her,
it all landed her there,
in the hospital not too far away from death.
I feel like encased in that response is a lot of what it means to be a Christian.
At some point,
we need to realize that maybe we don’t know best,
that maybe, just maybe, an omniscient, omnipotent deity might know better than us.
That our best thinking has gotten us to the point where people getting hurt all the time,
where our children are constantly getting bombarded at school and even once they get home on the internet for some perceived abnormal physical or personality trait, or maybe even just because their tormentor was bored,
where for whatever reason our country has been divided in two different camps on seemingly every issue and just get at each other’s throats all the time,
where 50 people get slaughtered and before the bodies even get cold we start yelling at each other about what “other” we should blame for this.
It’s hard to keep the faith when this is what’s going on around us,
it’s easy to wonder where God is in all of this,
and to try to use our “awesome brains” to dig ourselves out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves, but in times like these it’s even more important to turn ourselves over to God,
to seek out and trust his guidance,
because clearly our best thinking isn’t getting us anywhere good.
God can show us a way out of the darkness,
he can give us the strength to make it out of the forest we’ve found ourselves in, and he’s waiting on the other side to bless our faithfulness.
Pray with me,
thank you that you never leave us or forsake us,
even though it seems like maybe you have,
and I pray that you would help us to keep our faith in you, and that we would trust that you know what’s best for us, and that you want what’s best for us.
In your son’s name we pray,