Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sermon, 1 Samuel 17:1-51 (basically), Proper 7B

And David went to Goliath, took his sword, killed him, and then cut off his head.

This is just one of many texts of terror in the Old Testament. And it is this story, among many others, that people use to promote the idea of two gods . . . you know, the God of vengeance and wrath in the O.T. juxtaposed with the God of love and happiness in the N.T. But there aren't two gods, there is but one God in whom we hold in tension the supposed differences, the good and the bad, the vengeance and the love.

If we proclaim one God, which we do (think back to Trinity Sunday), then we need to acquaint ourselves with all of him; not just the God of the gospel who calms the seas and protects his disciples, but the God who is spoken of in texts like David and Goliath. It's easy to hear God in the voice of Jesus calming the seas and putting our fears to rest; but where do we hear God in today's lesson? Where do we hear God in David's decapitation of Goliath?

If we think about it, we might come to the conclusion that this violent story, and maybe all violent stories, is the result of an ancient people struggling to hear God in a world filled with violence. Warfare was constant, life was brutally short, and these are stories of a people trying desperately to hear their God speak through those times.

But by doing this, however, we turn a blind eye to our own recent history. It's a history that includes the Crusades and Inquisition. It's a history that includes the burning of women accused of witchcraft and men accused of heresy. It's a history that includes righteous ethnic cleansing by both Nazi Germany and our own treatment of the Native Americans. It's a history that includes the defense of slavery and the attempts to marginalize non-whites. It's a history that includes both suicide bombers and waterboarding. The conscription of God's name to promote terror is by no means limited to ancient people.

I read an article this past week by Dan Clendenin on this topic. In it, he reminds the reader that there is a difference between evil committed by those who happen to be religious, and evil that is promoted in the name of religion. Neither is acceptable, but we should keep in mind the differences as we contemplate our own response to situations.

For instance . . . In the NY Times there was an article about an "evangelical pastor" who told several of his immigrant parishioners that he had access to specially issued government green cards. All it would cost them to keep the INS away was $8000 and some paperwork. The man has since disappeared. That is certainly an evil act committed by a religious person, and we need to name it as such.

Just as we have a responsibility to name and own up to individual acts of evil, we also have a responsibility to stand up and name those evil acts committed in the name of God. Actions that promote God-sanctioned violence. That includes naming everything from Islamic radicals who call for a holy war against us infidels to Christian fundamentalists who advocate an oppressive patriarchal system of orthodox and death to gays.

Looking back at our history and our current situation, both in the world and in the church, it would behoove us to remember the words of imprisoned German pastor Martin Niemoller, who was sentenced to Dachau for standing up to Hitler: God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of his enemies. We must beware of a religious fanaticism that proclaims God hates all those you hate; because that is idolatry.

Violence in the world happens. Violence in the Bible happens. Human history is written with it. But that doesn't mean that God sanctions it.

In all of the bluster and noise that is humanity, where do we hear God? In our wars and conflicts, where does God speak to us? Elijah heard God not in thunder or wind or earthquake or fire, but in a still, small voice. Sometimes the Lord God Almighty speaks to us with a voice so small and quiet we are liable to miss it if we aren't paying attention.

Buried in that long David and Goliath reading we heard today are these words: You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts . . . know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.

Know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.

If we proclaim a God of peace and justice, and then conscript his name to perpetrate atrocities, we not only make a liar out of our faith, we invalidate that faith. Our task is not to conquer in the name of the Lord.

In short, our task is to proclaim a God who does not save by sword and spear and who seeks to reconcile the whole world unto himself; it not to terrorize the world in the name of the Lord.


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