FIRST LESSON: II Corinthians 6:1-13
SECOND LESSON I Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 20-24, 32-49
SERMON: “The Most Dangerous Place to Walk”
I grew up in a big city – Chicago. And I’ve lived most of my adult life in small towns, and for this girl – big, at least when it comes to a place to live, is not necessarily better. The crime, the pollution, the traffic, the crowded streets and subway are not so great. When I was a middler in seminary, I took a fall and broke my left ankle. You might think it would be an advantage to me that it happened just a couple of blocks from the University of Chicago Hospitals. But the sign on the wall in the waiting room says, “The average wait to see a doctor is five hours. I’ve been to a couple of ER’s here in Michigan and never waited more than a matter of minutes to receive care.
You think you’ve been caught in traffic during construction season on 131? The worst day on 131 doesn’t begin to approach the gridlock on the Dan Ryan Expressway through downtown Chicago. I don’t see how they get away with calling it an “express”-way, because there’s nothing express about it.
In the late 70’s our little family lived for a year in Lexington, KY. The best and closest church we found to attend in Lexington had two or three Sunday services, several choirs, something over 800 people in church every week. Could we find a place to park? No. We worshiped there every Sunday for a while, the people were friendly, smiled and welcomed us, the choirs were superb, the preacher – pretty good, except that he started every sermon with a groaner of a football joke. Then we missed a few weeks. When we went back, the people were friendly, smiled and welcomed us, and it was painfully obvious they didn’t know we’d been gone. So we decided to try the church in Nicholasville, population something under 5,000. No problem finding a place to park. The choir was okay. The preaching was good, but what grabbed us was that when we returned after missing not several, not a couple, but one Sunday, the people said, “Where were you? We missed you last week! Is everything okay?
Bigger is not always better.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not in any way suggesting that this church, or any church should not work at attracting and assimilating new members. What I am saying is that it’s not all about size. If I were to pick one or two sentences from David Ray’s book that are critical it would be these: God does not call churches to be big – or small; God calls churches to be faithful. We could have some lengthy discussions about what constitutes “faithful,” but I’m pretty sure we would include the great commission: “go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a)
God seems to love to start small, and then from small beginnings grow something amazing. From cosmic dust to a Big Bang? The next time you consider taking a sip from a fresh, cold mountain stream, remember how much the divine delights in single-celled organisms. There are millions of them floating in one glass of water. Consider how there are more insects than any other class of critters and more beetles than any other kind of insect, each fitting neatly into its particular ecological niche.
Jesus carried on the family tradition with a fascination with all things small and humble.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13:19)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
“What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Luke 13:20-21)
Grains of wheat.
And today we have the story of David and Goliath – apparently a total mismatch.
The Philistines drew up their troops for battle. The Philistines were on one hill, the Israelites on the opposing hill, with the valley between them.
A giant nearly ten feet tall, dressed in 126 pounds of armor, stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. 8-10 Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”
11 When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.
12-15 Long story short, David, the son of Jesse from Bethlehem, the youngest son volunteers to fight Goliath.
24-25 The Israelites, to a man, fell back the moment they saw the giant—totally frightened.
33 Saul tells David that he is too young and inexperienced. David counters with the fact that he has fought lions and bears to protect lambs in the flock, and he’s sure he can do the same to this Philistine.
—and he’s been at this fighting business since before you were born.”
Saul said, “Go. And God help you!”
38-39 They tried to outfit David with armor, but it’s too heavy and awkward. David says, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off. He takes five smooth stones and his sling, and goes out to fight.
Goliath taunts him, “Come on, I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards.”
45-47 David answers, “You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel.
David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine. David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, face down in the dirt.
David is not full of self-confidence as he faces the giant — he is full of God-confidence. He knows that if you believe, anything can happen. He trusts that God will deliver Goliath into his hand, and God does just that. When we talk about the power of small, we are really talking about the power of God.
When we do something good for the Kingdom, precisely because we are a small church, we know that God was in it with us. We don’t have to wonder whether we owe thanks to God or to an individual who dropped a huge wad of cash into our account.
There are approximately 177,000 churches in the United States which have from 7 to 99 adults participating. Only 41% of churches in this country are bigger than that. Clearly, individuals can make a difference, and so can small congregations. Our nation is saturated with these churches. Like most of these churches we have close personal bonds and a high level of commitment. Large churches have to implement “small group” ministries to try to develop the kind of relationships that come naturally here.
We have work to do. David had to show up. He had to be willing to take on the giant. He had to throw off the cumbersome armor so that he could move. He had to gather his stones and he had to take his shot. And he is one more example of God starting out small and watching it grow.