Theme: God’s equipping to live in the real world now – a Christ centred imagination

Good morning everyone. When I was at college I had several summer jobs, and one of them, was as an office junior in my local councils architects office. (I know you’ll be impressed – I was their chief photocopier operative for a while!) And as I look back I have to say that working there was a really odd experience because nobody really did very much. In fact, life was taken at such a leisurely pace that each afternoon, it was pens down, as had our ‘afternoon quiz’.

What was nice was that everyone talked! We did hardly any work but discussion was lively – and this especially became the case when the office learnt that I was a Christian.

One architect in particular, well this just got under his skin, and he kind of used to harangue me with all sorts of objections – most of which highly abstract and philosophical and went right over my head, which infuriated him even more!

But if he really wanted to go for the jugular (so to speak) he would bring out a big book called the ‘Sceptics arsenal’ – a tome full of ‘a hundred and one knockdown arguments against the Christian faith’, and he would kind of launch a few of them at me, as I walked past his desk, with arms full of photocopying.

And one of his many objections, the one that particularly took my fancy, was over the bible. He said ‘How can you take this book seriously when it is so messy – so full of crumpled people with odd lives, doing stupid things?’ ‘ If it were a holy book’, he contented, ‘its main characters would be cleaner, more sorted, nobler people.’

And on the face of it, maybe he has a point for the bible is messy – and this is particularly the case when it comes to the Old Testament book that we have read from today – 1 Sam. Let’s have a brief overview, shall we?

The book starts in true Eastenders mode! Chapter 1: A man named Elkanah has two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Now he loves Hannah, she’s the favourite (and he’s so unfairly, stupidly blatant about this), but no kids have been forthcoming. But that’s not the case with no2 wife, Peninnah. She’s given him loads (maybe that’s why he’d got her) – but can you imagine how she would feel, as her husband lavishes all his attention on Hannah? So what does she do? Well, naturally Peninnah, takes out all her frustration on Hannah, hitting her where it hurts most, the fact that she has no children – and this just destroys Hannah!

Anyway God’s miraculously provides a child – Samuel. And in thankfulness Hannah dedicates him to God leaving him to serve in the temple – well maybe that’s not such a wonderful idea because the temple well it’s just the pits! Eli the priest may be a good sort, but his sons, they are just nasty pieces of work and they just mess everything up in the temple. They take advantage of their authority; they defraud and bully, will do anything to get what they want, who they want!

And their sticking two fingers up at God, is mirrored in the attitude of the whole country, who don’t want God, only what they think God will bring them. So, when they take the ark of the covenant, that sacred sign of God’s allegiance to them, when they take the ark into battle with them, treating God as if he is their talisman, their secret weapon – God won’t play ball and 30,000 are killed, the Israelites pretty much wiped out.

Later they get the ark back and you would think that this experience would have sobered them up, brought them back to God – but oh no! You see, after Samuel’s sons turn out to rather in the mould of Eli’s sons (only out for what they can get) the people decide what they need isn’t ‘more of God’, it’s to be more like everyone else, more like their wicked pagan neighbours – what they need is a King!

And although Samuel is devastated, God is devastated – they get one, Saul, and almost instantly he lives up to the warnings that God, through Samuel, has given them. He proves himself to be arrogant, self – serving, manipulative and deceitful – and now he’s the one in charge! So God has to get another King – King David to sort the whole mess out!

What a mess! What a catalogue of horrors – surely my friend in architects office was right, if it were true, wouldn’t it just be more uplifting? Wouldn’t it be exemplary and pure?

Well no, it wouldn’t, and of course, he misses the point. It is precisely because the world and our experience of it, is often so messy, so bitter and so chaotic – so, because Bible tells it how it is, because it is so real, calls a spade a spade, the bible can speak into the reality of our lives today! For, surely, this is what we need to know! Where is God, how can we hear and serve God now, in our muddled lives today? And this is what the bible is here to train us and equip us to do – to listen and to be obedient to God now – not when we have got it all together, become more saintly, stopped watching as much television, lost a few pounds – now, so that we might become more saintly, watch less tele, lose a few… well actually just become more like Jesus.

And if ever there was a story that helps us seek God today, that trains us in attentiveness to God now, it is this story, the story of David and Goliath.

So to help unwrap what I mean I just have one questions: Why does David fight?

Why?

Is it because he is the best fighter in the Israelite army? The best trained? Most experienced?

No, he’s the youngest, simply there to deliver a pack lunch for his brothers.

Is it family pressure? He fights because it’s expected of him? No, quite the opposite his brother (v28) tells him to get lost. So why does David fight? Well, I believe that David fights because of his imagination. (Here’s what Eugene Peterson says:)

When David shows up at Saul’s encampment at Oak Valley, Goliath dominated the landscape. The huge giant, twirling his heavy spear with the careless ease of cheerleader twirling her baton, was completely intimidating. He taunted the Israelites each day [for 40 days] making everyone [each day] a little more of a coward.

[Now] the same distorted imagination that treated Goliath as significant, treated David as insignificant. Saul, who was in awe of Goliath, was contemptuous of David (v32-33). Even his own brothers treated him with scorn (v28). The moment we permit fear to control our imagination, we become incapable of seeing the good around us.

David on the other hand, entered Oak valley with a God dominated, not Goliath dominated imagination. God was the ultimate reality for David, and giants didn’t affect his understanding of the way God worked.

So where and how did David gain such a Divinely orientated imagination?

In Bethlehem tending his Fathers sheep [- that’s where]. It was there that he was immersed in the greatness of God and the immediacy of his help. For it was there that he had experienced God’s strength in protecting his sheep against lions and bears.

He had practiced the presence of God so thoroughly that God’s word, which he couldn’t literally hear, was far more real to him than the lion’s roar, which he could hear. He had worshipped the majesty of God so continuously that God’s love, which he couldn’t see, was far more real to him than the bear’s ferocity, which he could see. His praying and singing, his mediation and adoration had shaped that imagination in him.

[You, see as Christians we know that] God is the reality that determines human history, not giants, however many there are or however large their shadows loom across the landscape of our imagination. [We have experienced this! But in our story…] The only person fully in touch with that reality that day in Oak valley was David. It was wasn’t superior weaponry that won the battle. Or superior strength. Or superior strategy. It was God, and David’s vision of, hold upon, this God, that did it.

What are some of the giants that are looming on the horizon of your life? What are some of the ways they are taunting you? How does their intimidation affect your faith? Is your imagination dominated by Goliaths or by God?

So how do you and I gain a ‘divinely orientated imagination’ like David’s? Well, it’s not a quick fix -instead it’s a lifestyle choice, isn’t it? Here are some ideas of where to start: (Powerpoint)

1. Start the day with God – take a moment to welcome him in -it’s so easy to forget, and let God be the stranger or after thought. (Finish the day too!)

2. You will need to take some time, like David, to reflect upon your life. What was in it in David’s history that gave him courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition? What can you draw on in your own history God to give you similar courage?

3. Take God to work or Uni with you. You know that moment of quiet, just before the lecture starts, use it to pray that you would be attentive, not only to the lecturer, but to what God is saying through this lecture. Whether at work, or at home and Uni all of our days have moments like this – a moment before picking up the kids from School, or arriving at your desk after lunch. We know to choose to let God in and be God.

4. Just as you need to eat, so you need to consume some Bible and to pray regularly – so whether a psalm or a verse or two – you need to read, meditate on scripture. Plenty of ‘helps’ out there – you’ll be better for it – be able to live better. (all bright and intelligent – all can do this!)

5. Finally do come to church.

Life is always messy, and always will be – but at the heart of the gospel lies the outrageous truth that HERE AND NOW is where God works. God’s doesn’t wait until we have sorted ourselves out, in fact often, a belief like, is that just us trying to keep God at a safe distance anyway. God is at work now and we can see it, if only, like David we attune our lives to listening to what is real – to listening to God, the God who longs to walk with us. AMEN.

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