I preached the following homily at our church’s most recent prayer and healing service, on Sunday evening, August 23, 2015.
Homily Text: 1 Samuel 17:40-48
The following is my original manuscript.
My mother was a collector of Lladró porcelain figurines. Do you know what I’m talking about? They were these beautiful, delicate little knickknacks that she put on a shelf behind glass in a hutch in the “living room”—which was a strange name for it, since no one ever lived in the living room—unless we were entertaining Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles. But that was only once in a blue moon. The point is, these figurines lived in this room in which we kids were never allowed to play—a room where few people ever ventured, a room where everything collected dust from lack of use. These figurines were for decoration only; they weren’t action figures.
Even though, to a four- or five-year-old kid they looked deceptively like action figures.
But the point is, if you played with them—which is to say, if you used them—you got into big trouble. They were not to be used; they were to be put on a shelf, where they looked pretty and collected dust.
I confess that I want my Christian faith to be like these Lladró figurines. I want to put my faith on a shelf—where it looks good, and it’s there if I ever need it—but I never want to need it. You know what I mean? Life never seems to work out that way, does it? You can’t go very long without being put in a situation where circumstances demand that we put our faith into action.
In a letter C.S. Lewis wrote a Benedictine monk in 1938, on the eve of war with the Germans, he said:
I have been in considerable trouble over the present danger of war. Twice in one life—and then to find how little I have grown in fortitude despite my conversion. It has done me a lot of good by making me realise how much of my happiness secretly depended on the tacit assumption of at least tolerable conditions for the body: and I see more clearly, I think, the necessity (if one may so put it) which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted—so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.
So he’s saying that he’s ben very worried out about the possibility of war. The extent to which he’s worried has surprised himself. After all, he’s already been to war himself—he fought in World War I, and got injured. And he’s been a Christian for a long time. Why, after all these years of being a Christian, can’t he heed Jesus’ words about “not being anxious” about anything and not worrying. Why doesn’t he have more courage and strength after all these years?
His anxiety about war has made him realize how much his happiness depends not on his faith in God, but on physical safety and physical comfort and physical security. Which is why, he says, it’s necessary for God to “allow us to be afflicted.” Because so few of us will “really rest all on God,” he says, “if He leaves us any other support.”
If you’re worried about something tonight, then it’s likely because you, like C.S. Lewis, have been leaning on something or someone other than God for support. You’ve been trusting in something or someone other than God for support. And it’s as if God has knocked that pillar out from under you now. And you’re scared, you’re worried, you’re fearful.
If so, the good news is that the Bible is filled with heroes who are just like you—who are filled with excuses about why they shouldn’t be the one to face what God has asked them to face; to do what God has asked to do; to endure what God has asked them to endure. Moses was called, and he said, “God, I’m a man who’s slow of speech—I stutter or stammer. I’m not an effective speaker. Who am I to stand up to the most powerful man in the world and say, ‘Let my people go!’”
Or think of Gideon, when he’s called to lead an army against Israel’s enemies. He says, “God, I’d be happy to do what you ask, but can you pass this little test first…” [Fleece]
Or think of Esther. Her cousin Mordecai says that she needs to go to the king and talk him out of destroying the Jews in Persia, and she’s like, “If I approach the king without being summoned, he’ll kill me!”
There are always good reasons for avoiding facing the thing that God is asking you to face, or doing the thing that God is asking you to do, or enduring what God is asking you to endure. There are always perfectly good reasons why you, of all people, shouldn’t be the one to face it, do it, endure it. “Why has this happened to me of all people?” you might ask.
Well, if you’re asking that question this evening, then you can be sure that it’s because God believes in you more than you believe in yourself. The apostle Paul probably asked the same question: “Why is this happening to me?” when God let the devil afflict him with this thorn in his flesh, whatever that was, as he describes in 2 Corinthians 12. Yet God tells him, in so many words, I’m going to give you the grace that you need to handle this. I’m not going to take this thorn away from you—I’m not going to make you all better, the way you want—but I am going to use this thorn in the flesh to accomplish something even better: You see, not only will I give you the grace that you need to endure this affliction, I’m going to make you a better, stronger, more faithful person through this affliction. “For my power,” Jesus told Paul, “is made perfect in weakness.”
God says, “You’re going to be more powerful if I don’t take this thorn away—or maybe I should say, I’m going to be able to work more powerfully through you if I don’t take this thorn in the flesh away. Trust me, Paul. You’ll see.”
Sometimes God afflicts us with something he wants us to learn to live with, to cope with. Sometimes God wants us to defeat this challenge, to overcome it. Either way, it’s going to require us to do what we normally don’t want to do: which is, to take our faith down off the shelf where sometimes it collects dust from lack of use and put it into action.
In other words, it’s time for you and I to go to go down to our river bank, pick up some smooth stones that look good for slaying giants, take dead aim at our enemy, and hurl that stone as hard as we can. God will make sure it hits the target!
What giant are you facing tonight?