Sunday, June 21, 2015

"There are giants in the land -- let no one's heart fail" - A sermon for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 21, 2015

David said: “Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God…. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine." So Saul said to David, "Go, and may the LORD be with you!"
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Sisters and brothers, there are giants in the land.

They tower over us. They tell us to cower before them. They feed off our fear and convince us we are powerless, that we need to resign ourselves to their might and bend ourselves to their will.

Sisters and brothers, there are giants in the land.

And the word of God comes to us this morning, and that word is this:

Let no one’s heart fail.

A week ago yesterday, your Cathedral Chapter spent the day together taking a long look at and having honest conversations about the financial future of Christ Church Cathedral. I wish you all could have been there because it was one of the best, healthiest, conversations a Chapter has had in my six-plus years here. Because we stared right into the heart of a giant.

At the heart of that conversation was a giant number -- $300,000.

$300,000 is the projected deficit for Christ Church Cathedral for 2016.

Let me say that again.

$300,000 is the projected deficit for Christ Church Cathedral for 2016.

That is a Goliath-sized number. That is a number that towers over us and tempts us to fear, and perhaps worse, tempts us to resignation.

And certainly our first question is “What can we possibly do?” As we look at our staffing and expenses, we see that we are operating at pretty much the minimum to be the Cathedral we believe God calls us to be. And while yes, we could do some trimming around the edges, there’s nowhere close to $300,000 worth of fat in this budget. In fact, one of our biggest sustainability issues is that our staff is regularly being pushed past capacity to provide the ministry in the community we currently provide.

So we are faced with a giant in the land. A $300,000 giant that towers over us tempting us to fear and powerlessness.

What do we do?

Well God has a word for us this morning. And it comes to us from the Book of Samuel.

This morning, we hear the story of David and Goliath. David comes upon an Israelite army paralyzed in fear before the giant Philistine, Goliath. But David is not afraid, not for one second … why?

Because while the Israelites measure Goliath against the size of their army, David knows better. David measures Goliath against the size of our God.

You see, David knows God. David has faced lions and bears before, and God has saved him every time. And so he looks at Goliath and says to the people with incredible confidence. “Let not your heart fail. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine."

And the people grumbled and snickered and called him na├»ve – as people always have and always will when people of vision and faith go up against giants. But David would not be swayed.

And Saul tried to put his armor on David, tried to get David to fight this giant using the things that had always worked in the past. But David knew better. David knew that this battle required new methods and new thinking. David knew this battle required deep faith and radical trust. David knew these things so he laid aside Saul’s armor, glorious as it was, and looked around him for what God provided – and he picked up five smooth stones.

And David stood in front of Goliath. And Goliath roared and laughed and belittled him saying, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” And David looked that giant in the eye from way down below and said:

“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

And “David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.” Game. Over.

Sisters and brothers, there are giants in the land.

And the word of God comes to us this morning, and that word is this:

Let no one’s heart fail.

Giants are nothing new. Giants are a call to arms. Giants are a call to faith. Giants are a call for us to come together and show what we are made of, to show what it means to be people who follow Jesus Christ.

So as we look at this $300,000 Goliath. As we look at the shifting landscape that comes from our aging buildings and generations that are less and less likely to show up to worship on Sunday mornings, who less and less care about denominational religion. As we look at the challenge of being church in new ways in a new age, we know from David that we do not measure this giant against the size of our congregation or the size of our bank accounts, we measure it against the size of our God.

And we remember the times that God has been bigger, and we remember the times that God has seen us through. We remember in our own lives and in the nearly 200-year history of this congregation the times God has delivered us from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. And we refuse to cower in fear and resign ourselves to death. We refuse to grumble and shrink back and let negativity be our excuse for not standing up.

Because we are David. And we stand up together. And we know that we cannot put on Saul’s armor. We cannot rely on what has worked in the past because this is a new and different challenge. Together we must look around us at all God has given us and all God lays before us in this community, in downtown, in our diocese and in our city. Together we must find our five smooth stones. And like David, together we must trust that if we step out in faith, if we say to this giant that we come in the name of the LORD of hosts, this giant will fall.

This does not mean that we will not have to work hard. We will have to work incredibly hard.

This does not mean that the Cathedral will look the same as it has in the past when we are through. In fact, we can be assured it will look quite different.

What this does mean is that we must be like David. It means that we must stand up and stand up together. It means that the only question that matters is not a question of marketing strategy or budgeting technique. The only question that matters is looking deep in our hearts and asking “what does faithfulness to God in this moment in time look like?” It means that each and all of us must put our shoulder to the wheel and our trust in God and Jesus Christ, and go where we are led and let no giant change our path.

And that means it means one more thing. It is not enough for us to ask God to save us. It is not enough for us to trust that God will save us. It is not even enough for us to work with all that we are and all that we have to save this Cathedral.

We must be worthy to be saved.

David was worthy because he stood up against the giants of his day and put his very life on the line to follow God.
And, as a Cathedral, we must do the same.

This past Wednesday night, nine black women and men were shot dead at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A five-year old girl survived only because she played dead hiding under her grandmother’s body.

If we have nothing to say about this, we are not worthy of survival.

If we do nothing about this, we are not worthy of survival.

If we do not commit ourselves with equal fervor to fight the giant of racism in our nation that we do to fight our own $300,000 giant then we are not worthy of survival.

If we do not commit ourselves with equal fervor to fight the giant of the gun lobby and the culture of violence in our nation that we do to fight our own $300,000 giant, then we are not worthy of survival.

If we do not stand up in this moment and say to those who would preach the false gospel of hate, the false gospel of racism, the false gospel of gun ownership as sacrament and violence as acceptable, if we do not stand up in this moment and sa, “No more. We come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts whom you have defied and we will not stand for this any more” then we are not worthy of survival.

If we do not continue to commit ourselves in our own city to lead the way in standing with the oppressed, to loving the unloved, to opening our doors and like Christ not being concerned with ourselves but instead giving ourselves for the life of the world, we are not worthy of survival and that $300,000 a year, our endowments, this Cathedral and our time and energy should go to someone who is.

And so this is our moment of truth. As Paul cried out to the Corinthians: “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

There are giants in the land. Giants in here and giants out there. And now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation! And our salvation will come as we stand up together against those giants, as we refuse to give power to those who would grumble, as we liberate ourselves from reliance on the weapons of the past and open ourselves up to God providing through new people, new ideas, as we find our five smooth stones from the abundance God is providing all around us. Now is the time to trust that God will guide those stones to their mark and those giants, one by one, will fall.

Sisters and brothers, there are giants in the land.

They tower over us. They tell us to cower before them. They feed off our fear and convince us we are powerless, that we need to resign ourselves to their might and bend ourselves to their will. But like a tree standing by the water, we will not be moved.

Sisters and brothers, there are giants in the land. For nearly 150 years, Christ Church Cathedral has stood in this spot as a testimony to the power of God to defeat those giants. We stand on the shoulders of our mothers and fathers who have come before. And now it is our turn.

Now is the acceptable time.

Now is the day of salvation.

We will do what is hard.

We will do what is right.

We will stand up together.

Let no one’s heart fail.


I am indebted to the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of The Falls Church, Falls Church, VA, for his unpacking of the David and Goliath story. John's book, Slaying Your Goliaths: How God Can Help, will be coming out this fall from Forward Movement.