Defining Moments

We are in Rehoboth Beach for Father’s Day and I was invited by my mentor and friend to preach at St. Peter’s in Lewes, DE.

Proper 7 (12) (June 21, 2015)

I wish all fathers, biological and spiritual, a blessed day!

Before I begin I should share with you the four most important things to know about me.

  1. When I was about 5 I lay on the cool couch in our living room, tears hot on my face, and gave my life to Christ after having heard our pastor’s sermon on the radio. I have questioned God and my faith many and made a similar commitment hundreds of times in my life.
  2. I am married to Elizabeth Walma Brady, a beautiful woman who is one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know and one of the best writers as well.
  3. We have two children. Izzy, who is as beautiful as her mother and a better writer than any of us, and Mack, passionate about soccer he was an incredible goal keeper.
  4. Sometime between 10 and 11 pm on New Year’s Eve 2012, high above the hills and mountains of central PA Mack died as the air ambulance crew tried to keep the blood infection from shutting down his organs.

These are the most important things to know about me. It is not all of me, but they define me more than anything else.

We all have these moments that define us. Some are more obvious and we carry them with us, reflecting upon how much marriage, divorce, birth, death, education, and so on have made us who we are today. There are other defining events that we actively submerge or perhaps aren’t even aware of in our lives, sometimes they require prayer, counseling, and therapy to help us understand the impact they have on our lives.

When we think of David, the defining moments most of us remember from our flannel graphs (anyone remember those?!) always include this “battle” with Goliath. Certainly it defines our conception of David the young, brave, shepherd whose faith in the Lord led him to take a stand when all others cowered in their fear. Surely the point of today’s reading is that if we have faith in God we can conquer the monsters in life, right? Maybe…

I hope we remember David also in the psalms, as we read them weekly if not daily; many of our psalms are attributed to him. Poems of praise and lament, joy and grief.

We might also remember the name Bathsheba and their passion. But do we remember that David arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah in order to hide their affair?

David was clearly a great tactician, but do we recall that he used those skills to kill all the Philistines, men, women, and children living on the border with Judah, even while the Philistine king Achish was protecting David and his men from Saul? The “man after God’s own heart” was an adulterer, murderer, and cheat.

But we remember the young man who said, “the LORD does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

You know, some scholars say that these disparate views of David are so contradictory that none of it can be true. But aren’t our lives the same? There are moments of our lives, perhaps even traits that we have, that are dark, that we wish were not true, but form us nonetheless. We often have no control over those formative events, but we can choose how we respond. Here is perhaps where we find ourselves in today’s story of David and Goliath.

We have all been and will continue to be confronted by our own giants and monsters. Whether they are actual people that we and others think are too strong or too powerful for us to assail or our more private and internal challenges. Certainly the death of our son Mack was and is the greatest threat we have ever faced. We, Elizabeth, Izzy, Mack’s grandparents, and friends, we all stood across the field of battle, facing this outrageous creature. There was and continues to be great support and sympathy all around us, just as no doubt the Israelite soldiers dared not go out to face Goliath, but cheered when David stepped forth. We had no choice but to do battle, no one could fight it for us, but we could choose how we would face it (not if, but how). We chose faith…

We have all heard the horrific news about the shooting at the Emanuel AME Zion church in Charleston, SC: 9 dead. On our drive down to the beach on Friday we stopped at a gas station near Lancaster and I saw the front page picture above the fold. It was members of the African American community clearly gathered together in sorrow and many, including the older gentleman on the front row, were looking up to the sky in prayer. The headline: “A community looks for answers.”

It can seem to many a foolish thing to look to God for answers, “loving the alien” as David Bowie calls it. If God does not care enough to protect his people in church then what hope is there? But God does care and they choose faith.

On that dark and stormy night[i]…a great start to a novel and the setting for our Gospel today. We all know the story well, again, I even remember the flannel graph and the big blue waves. But I admit until this week it had entirely escaped my notice exactly what the disciples had said to Jesus:

4:38 But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I always remember this story, like that of David facing Goliath, as one about faith. The disciples should have known that Jesus would cause the wind to die down and the waves to cease crashing and Jesus would save them. Jesus’ response seems to underscore that:

4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Yet when Jesus stilled the storm we realize that they had no expectation that he could do any such thing! “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” In fact, when they woke Jesus up, it wasn’t to ask him to save, it was to challenge whether he cared about them. They understood that storms happen, the knew that people died on the sea all the time. What they wanted to know was that their rabbi, their teacher was truly with them and caring for them in this darkest most fearful moment of their lives.

This is the heart of despair that can assail us all, whether in grief or addiction, whatever is our personal sorrow: that God does not care about us. This is Job’s complaint, his demand is to hear God’s voice, to know that he has not been abandoned completely.

This is the power of Job, the Book of Lamentations, and psalms such as we have today. They remind us that the greatest act of faith is to call God to account, to cry out and demand that he sees our suffering and hear our pleas.

9:13 Be gracious to me, O LORD. See what I suffer from those who hate me;

You are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death!

God cares, in seeming contradiction to what we might think and experience, God cares more than we can fully comprehend or truly know. But our fear is real, our feeling of abandonment is ours and it affects us. But we can choose to respond in faith: the sure conviction that God does care that we are perishing, our confidence in the knowledge that he can and will calm our raging seas, and the assurance that he will raise us again at the Last Day just as he rose on the Third Day.

There are moments that define each and every one of us. Some have been thrust upon us like addiction, poverty, or illness and death. Others we have chosen for ourselves such as when we come forward to receive the gift and grace that Christ offers us in his sacrifice.  As Paul said this morning,

6:1 … [Do] not to accept the grace of God in vain.

6:2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

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