“Running Quickly Toward the Danger”
The Church of the Good Shepherd
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2018
Text: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 9:1-10; The Epistle: Romans 5:6-10; Mark 4:35-41
Hymn: “Will You Come and Follow Me” (used at the end of this service)
When Goliath the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David did not flee from Goliath the Philistine. David did not cower before Goliath the Philistine. David did not hold back until Goliath the Philistine was in slingshot range. David ran quickly toward Goliath the Philistine.
Since the events we now refer to as 9/11, two words have entered the mainstream of our everyday language. “First Responders” – two words that have become associated with heroism. And yet, the words themselves do not fully capture the type of hero that the term has come to mean for us.
What distinguishes First Responders as heroes is not just that they arrive first at a dangerous situation. No, they are heroes because they, like David, run quickly towards danger when common sense would dictate that they run the other way.
The story of David and Goliath does not bear repeating. It may be the one story in the Bible that every child raised in the church has been told multiple times. When we were very young, many of us no doubt remembered best that David was small – like us – and he beat Goliath who was a giant – like our parents. Others of us who had a slingshot in our youth may have remembered best that David slayed Goliath with nothing more than the weapon of choice of all great personages – the mighty slingshot. But the part of the story that few remember – whether young or old – is the last line of the story: When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.
I ask you: What was David thinking!? The question deserves an exclamation point as well as a question mark. No sane person runs toward danger. Well, no one except David or a First Responder – or the Son of God.
Paul tells us in Romans that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Paul does not say that we called for Christ to help. He does not say that we were sinners who had repented of our sin and, therefore, deserved Christ’s help. If anything, just the opposite was the case. We were in great danger because our sin had separated us from God. Yet, “while we were sinners,” Christ died for us.
Christ did not have to put himself in harm’s way. He did not need us. As the Westminster Larger Catechism notes, God was and is “in and of himself infinite in being, [in] glory, [in] blessedness, and [in] perfection;” It also observes that “God is all-sufficient, … [and] almighty; …”
In the book of Job where Job had been griping about his recent troubles, the same God who was in Jesus Christ spoke these words out of a whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined the earth’s measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon the earth?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?”
In Mark’s gospel that we heard just now, there is a similar message when the Son of the same God stilled the wind and the sea with a brief rebuke of three words.
Having heard this, I ask you: What did a God who set the earth on its foundations, shut the sea within its appointed boundaries, made clouds for the world’s garment and stilled the wind and the sea with only three words – what did such a God need with a bunch of wayward creatures like us?
Why did He take human form? Why place himself within the limits of the created order for such a people? Or, more to the point, Why did He put himself in jeopardy of suffering a shameful death on a cross?
Paul observed in his letter to the Christians in Rome: “Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Apparently, God’s love for us is as boundless as his power.
Unfortunate, don’t you think, that the same cannot always be said of we humans?
We are taught from childhood, “Don’t run towards danger!” When we were very young, we were told, “Don’t talk to strangers! They could be dangerous.” When a bit older, we were told, “Avoid those people who might lead you into situations where you could get hurt!”
Now that we are adults, we are told, “You need to be careful with your money, with your house, with your online identity, with your family. You need a security system for your house, security software for your online persona, insurance for your life, your home, your health, your children’s future education, your own old age.
Security is the watchword these days. Be safe. Be careful. Beware. This is what we have been told over and over and over again across a lifetime of advice. But you know, as much as I hate to admit it because I am the most cautious of creatures on God’s green earth, I do not think that this is the lesson to be learned from Jesus’s ministry or David’s battle with Goliath.
Jesus’s ministry lasted only three short years because, I think that one could say, he virtually “ran quickly towards danger.” During the briefest of ministries, Jesus offended the Sadducees and the Pharisees by challenging their notions of righteousness. He disappointed the Zealots who sought him to be their revolutionary captain against the Romans who had occupied Israel. He told the rich that they must surrender their prized possessions, threw the moneychangers out of the Temple and told those who worshiped there that their cherished Temple would be destroyed. He did all this not because he craved the thrill of living dangerously. He did it because it was his calling – the calling of God’s First Responder running quickly towards danger when the life and well-being of humanity was in jeopardy.
Jesus knew that the danger that can threaten one’s neighbor comes in many forms. It can threaten the body when food and drink are scarce or illness invades. It can threaten the psyche with the smothering isolation of loneliness or with the crushing weight of depression. It can threaten the spirit as well by stripping it naked of its dignity when hatred, bigotry or, worse yet, indifference reign.
That is why, I believe, Jesus warned his disciples:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will … separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
My Friends, I do not know what type of danger will threaten your neighbor OR where it will raise its ugly head in the days ahead. But – be assured – you will most surely witness it – maybe in your neighborhood or in your office, while at play or in a meeting. Wherever you do encounter it, though, your mind will no doubt recall all those words of caution drilled into you over a lifetime of advice – urging you to turn away, to mind your own business, to beware.
But I tell you in the name of the One who did not turn away when we were yet sinners even though it was personally dangerous to do so: Whatever danger threatens your neighbor is a summons from God as loud as any firehouse alarm for us to be the First Responders that Christ’s example has called us to be!
We need not be first on the scene. But you and I – we – have most surely been called of God to run quickly towards any danger that threatens the body, mind or soul of our neighbor because we do not come alone. We come as David said “in the name of the Lord of Hosts,” and we are equipped with a trustworthy message of hope from a God who is, as the Psalmist said, “a refuge in times of trouble.” This is our mission. That is for certain.
The only question that remains is this: Will we answer the summons? Will we run quickly toward the danger that faces our neighbor much as God’s Son, our First Responder, answered the summons when we were yet sinners and in danger?
At the close of this service, we will be singing a hymn known to some as “The Summons.” The first line of its lyrics asks the question: “Will you follow me if I but call your name?” I am convinced that God calls each of us by name whenever and wherever we see our neighbor in danger. We are, after all, trainees of God’s very First Responder, and the danger faced by our neighbor is an unmistakable summons for us
Not to flee
Not to cower
Not to hold back
But to run quickly toward the danger.
May God help us to be ready when the summons comes!
Let us pray:
Dear and Loving God, we are a finite people – limited in vision, in strength and in resources. At our best, we steward those resources; at our worst, we hoard them. But we ask that you help us to recognize your summons to us in our neighbor’s need and to respond without counting the cost as your Son has done for us. This, we ask, in His name. Amen.