Sunday Sermon 4th July
The chosen hymns for this week, I will praise you Lord and We have a gospel to proclaim can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
I came across a story the other day which I would like to share with you. It is the story of Glenn Cunningham.
In 1916 young Glenn and his brother Floyd were involved in a tragic accident. Their school's pot-bellied stove exploded when the boys struck a match to light it. Somebody had mistakenly filled the can with gasoline instead of kerosene. Both boys were severely burned and had to be dragged from the schoolhouse. Floyd died of his injuries and doctors predicted that Glenn would be permanently crippled. Flesh and muscles were seared from both of Glenn's legs. His toes were burned off of his left foot and the foot's transverse arch was destroyed. Their local doctor recommended amputation of both legs and predicted that Glenn would never walk again. He told the boy's mother that it may have been better had he died. Glenn overheard the remark and decided that day that he WAS going to walk, no matter what. But he couldn't climb from a wheelchair for two years. Then one day he grasped the white wooden pickets of the fence surrounding his home and pulled himself up to his feet. Painfully he stepped, hanging onto the fence. He made his way along the fence, back and forth. He did this the next day and next – every day for weeks. He wore a path along the fence shuffling sideways. But muscles began to knit and grow in his scarred legs and feet. When Glenn could finally walk he decided he would do something else nobody ever expected him to do again – he would learn to run. “It hurt like thunder to walk,” Glenn later said, “but it didn't hurt at all when I ran. So for five or six years, about all I did was run.” At first it looked more like hopping than running. But Glenn ran everywhere he could. He ran around the home. He ran as he did his chores. He ran to and from school (about two miles each way). He never walked when he could run. And after his legs strengthened he continued to run, not because he had to, but now because he wanted to. And run he did. He competed as a runner in high school and college. Then Glenn went on to compete in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. He set world records for the mile run in 1934 and 1938. By the time he retired from competition, Glenn amassed a mountain of records and awards.
Our world loves success stories. Yet most of us know, at some time in our lives, what it means to fail, to lose, to be weak.
Today’s Old Testament story appears to be a story of success. It tells of the people’s affirmation of him as King of Israel.
But it doesn’t tell the full story.
After the deaths of Saul and Jonathan there were more than 7 years of civil war and bloodshed and sorrow.
The house of Saul refused to give David, God’s anointed, the throne and instead gave it to Ish-bosheth, leading to civil war.
As Saul’s party grew weaker, David’s grew stronger, until eventually Abner, the general on Saul’s side, defected with much of the northern kingdom to David’s side.
Then there followed revenge and treachery by individuals on both sides until David had to execute war lords who had murdered King Ish-bosheth.
David was seen to have behaved honourably – mourning the death of a King, and giving justice to those who wronged his enemies, and refusing to seize the throne.
David’s honour is intact and is the rightful and righteous claimant to the throne.
We don’t know the details of the negotiations both sides must have made making clear the support he could expect from the people or what his responsibilities to them were, for example.
What we do know, is that he did not come as conqueror. We know the people went to him and asked him to be their King.
He was to be the shepherd of the nation, acknowledged as one of their own, a competent military leader and anointed by God.
He ruled in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah for 33 years - a success story!
Contrast this with Jesus’ reception.
He had gone home after a series of mighty acts - calming the storm, healing the Gerasene demoniac, healing a woman with a haemorrhage, restoring a little girl to life.
He was becoming well known. But the elders in the synagogue took offence at him, and queried his credentials, made him unwelcome.
Like David, those around him recognise Jesus as having come from among them. However, they rejected his authority because of their familiarity with them.
Was David a more convincing leader than Jesus? I doubt it. The difference is more likely to be because of the response to the leadership before them.
David’s people were willing to be led. God chose David and the people showed their trust in God by choosing to follow God’s anointed leader.
In Nazareth, the people failed to see God with them. They dismissed Jesus because they could not believe that someone they had watched growing up could be God’s chosen one.
But Jesus had an answer to this difficulty. How did he respond to this failure, this rejection by those who knew him so well?
He sent his disciples to teach and heal, and he told them what to do if they ever went to a place that would not receive them: “as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.”
In other words, do not let the failure continue to cling to your heels. Go on with life, with the next challenge. Leave Nazareth and go to Capernaum.
Up until this point the disciples have been observers. Now it is time for them to get actively involved.
Jesus gave them power and authority.
When we look at what needs to be done in our churches, in our communities, in our world and ponder, “I do not have the power to do this,” we miss the core of the gospel message.
What God calls us to do, God empowers us to do.
God calls. God empowers
For that reason, we can take heart in this story. It is possible for us to shake from our feet the dust of failure and move on.
It makes it possible for us to look to the new beginning, the new possibility.
We are at a pivotal point in our church’s story. We face daunting decisions. There may well be setbacks on the way and we won’t get everything right the first time.
But we can take heart from these two stories. With the people working with the leadership, great things can happen.
When we face rejection or failure, shake it off and try again.
We are called by God. We are empowered by God.
God, Emmanuel, is with us.