Today, for Father’s Day we hear the story of Jesse’s son, Solomon’s father, and Saul’s heir David. David is one of the most storied figures in the Bible, and this story is perhaps the most famous, the story of David and Goliath. Before we dig into the Bible, a moment of personal privilege. Today is particularly meaningful for me. Fathers’ day is doubly celebrated in our household. Our son has two dads.
This week, we were reminded by a Supreme Court decision, not everyone endorses our family structure. The case involved foster and adoptive services in Philadelphia, but it hit home for us. In Missouri most adoptions through foster, most foster placements, happen with religious agencies who choose to discriminate against same-gender couples. Finding an agency in St. Louis that would work with us on our adoption ended up being complicated by so-called “religious freedom.”
When news of the decision came this week, I heard from many of you. Thank you for your words. Here is what I know:
There are thousands of kids in this country who need family support. Our foster system is broken. It’s critically under-funded, which means it is also understaffed. There are heroes out there who work in foster care, social workers, court advocates, case managers, who earn far too little and who carry far too much. I also know some amazing foster parents, some in this very church, who manage appointments, visits, court hearings, and the ongoing frustrations of the system, and they are heroes for the kids in their care.
Here is something else I know: there are some amazing LGBTQ+ people in this city, who would be incredible parents. There are so-called “straight allies” as well. The more our religious institutions belittle and abuse the queer community, the more religion is used to make people doubt the validity of their identity, their love, the more we endanger kids. We endanger queer kids directly, and we rob them of potential parents and caregivers who would be champions. For me he saddest part of the whole Supreme Court case was the Catholic agency saying no same sex couple had ever applied to be parents with them. Tells you a lot.
So today, if you hear nothing else, hear me say this: don’t let the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention or any other small-minded religious institution out there define religious freedom for you. At all costs, don’t let small-minded people define love for you. Our world needs more love than these institutions are willing to admit possible. No religious institution has ever been able to fully grasp God’s love. We prove the boundaries wrong by celebrating the beautiful families who are raising incredible kids. We prove the rules wrong by loving beyond them. We win through more and more love. That’s how we knock the blinders from eyes, with more love.
Let’s talk about David.
This story is so well known, we use it as shorthand. No doubt some today will compare Representative Sheila Jackson Lee’s work to get Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday as a “David vs. Goliath” moment. If so, let’s pray for more reforms. Let’s hope the symbolic victory is followed by concrete reforms. Still the comparison is made because we love stories of the small overcoming the great. Think how many times you’ve heard the name of this story used: David and Goliath.
This morning, I want you to ask yourself, was David and Goliath really an upset victory? How you answer that question matters a great deal.
We could have added another twenty verses to the start of this reading, all about Goliath: He had a giant spear with an iron point that weighed fifteen pounds. Goliath wore bronze armor weighing 125 pounds. He was more than nine feet tall. The scripture goes on an on about the giant.
But is the Bible intentionally messing with us? There are times when Scripture will pull your leg on purpose, be careful.
Remember last week, when this first book of Samuel introduced us to Jesse’s boy? Young David was so small that his father didn’t bring him when the prophet came to choose a son to anoint. There is one verse from that story you have to keep in mind. As Samuel looks at one of David’s impressive older brothers, God says to the prophet: “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do.”
Goliath comes in the very next chapter. And yet, we are convinced that David vs. Goliath is about the triumph of an underdog. We look on this story the way the humans have always looked. Like Saul, the doomed king we are intimidated by height and flashy weapons. David doesn’t blink. He knows God is with him from the jump.
Does The Bible see this as an upset? Or is a scripture trying to get us humans to see things differently? Does God want us to measure strength differently? As the father of a small toddler, I can tell you: mighty things come in small packages. Is this why David says, “God does not save by the sword?” To quote that earlier passage again: “Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but [God] sees into the heart.”
The Disciples in the Storm
The disciples in the boat with Jesus today can’t help but see as the world sees. Jesus is asleep on a pillow, though the wind and the wave, though the boat is sinking. The disciples wake Jesus up and say, “don’t you care that we’re drowning?” Now I know it is fun to imagine Jesus’ response as callous, to empathize with the emotional disciples and say, “yeah, I would wake the teacher up too.” I’ve preached many a sermon like that.
But as I get older, I’m identifying more with the words of Willa Cather:
“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”Willa Cather
Sometimes the storm is also a teacher. There is always another perspective, and sometimes another perspective is exactly what you need. Sometimes we need to take a breath, before we get carried off by the evaluations and emotions of the world. Sometimes we need to take a break even in the thunder, a pause to pray and to ask, how does this all look to God?
One last Story for Pride Month
In the spirit of these stories from the Bible, let me offer just one more reflection. Last Saturday was the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting in the Pulse Nightclub. Last week Ari Shapiro, the NPR reporter reflected in an article in The Atlantic on what it was for him like covering the story.
Shapiro flew down to Orlando the day after the shooting only to realize he’d been to Pulse before a decade before. As a young reporter, he spent a year in Orlando, and he talked about finding friends and community at Pulse:
“This is what gay bars have done for people across cities and generations,” Shapiro writes, “They’re havens for strangers, places to make new friends, anchors of community, and oases of safety in a hostile world. Gay bars helped birth the fight for LGBTQ rights, and they provided meeting places for AIDS activists. They have been secular churches for people rejected by organized religion. And they’ve offered a cure for the loneliness and isolation that have characterized so much of queer life over the past century.”
“Secular churches for people rejected by organized religion” I’ve been sitting with Ari Shapiro’s phrase for the last week and a half.
Holy Communion’s Role
I am about to take a break from this pulpit. After six years serving as your rector, it is time to get a little space, to slow down, to reflect. After what has been absolutely the most challenging year of my ministry, I am glad for the break. I know this is a great privilege, and I am grateful to you the congregation, to my colleagues on the staff, and to our vestry for offering it to me. You can read more in my letter to the congregations, it was emailed out. There are copies in the newsletter in the entryways, and it will be mailed out this week.
In the letter I encourage you, as much as you are able, to use this summer time to get some rest too, to get some space, to get out of your house, out of your normal patterns.
I want you to know, I am already thinking about what this church will be up to when I get back. I am convinced that as small as we are, Holy Communion, we are mighty. As strange and unique as this little church may seem, we are needed. There are so many people out there who have been rejected by religious institutions. There are so many people who are tired of hearing religious authorities talk about denying communion to the uncompliant. Jesus broke bread to give sustenance to those who hunger for justice.
We may seem small. After the pandemic, our numbers may not look like what they used to, not yet, maybe not for awhile. It may take us all a little time and a little rest, to be ready for what is next.
But, friends, I know God is calling us to take brave steps together. I will see you soon. I will be praying for you in the meantime.
There are plenty of Goliaths out there. There are plenty of shiny, slick, powerful forces, and the world is very impressed. But don’t confuse largeness with rightness. Don’t equate a win in the Supreme Court with God’s endorsement. For that matter don’t confuse an institutional church’s opinion with God’s. God doesn’t see as humans see. The way through the storms of hate and bigotry is now and ever shall be calm expansive love.