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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

No sword.

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity

June 16, 2024 at Holy Communion

1 Samuel 17:32–50, 1 Peter 5:5–11


“There was no sword in David’s hand” (1 Samuel 17:50). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.


We love David and Goliath stories—sports movies are full of them. Last time I was down with a cold I watched a heartwarming comedy about a Special Olympics team that gets whipped into shape by a washed-up pro basketball coach. They do well, against the odds, and everybody learns lessons about it means to win and lose. It’s good stuff.


But media is one thing and life is another. We have to acknowledge a problem with our Old Testament reading: in reality most Goliaths of this world wipe the floor with all the little Davids. If the story’s lesson is that we should stand up to all the big bad guys expecting that God will grant us an upset victory, we will be disappointed much of the time.


Instead, David and Goliath shows us that victory might not mean what we think it does. No victory is worth winning if it has to be won with a sword. The only victory worth claiming is the grace God gives to those who humble themselves and wait for his help.


St Peter knew that. In today’s Epistle, this is how he writes about the church’s situation: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8–9). For Peter, the world is a dangerous place. The powers of evil eat men alive and, all lion-like, leave their carcasses for “the birds of the air and the beasts of the field” (1 Samuel 17:44), as Goliath that boasts he will do to David. St Peter acknowledges that people in the church have suffered at the hands of evil forces.


On one hand, he does encourage fortitude. “Resist the devil, firm in your faith,” he says (v 9). But he also doesn’t think that “resisting” the devil means that we can except a David-and-Goliath upset. He expects a different kind of victory. Our hope is that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).


For a time we suffer at the hands of “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12), but that suffering comes to an end when God restores and establishes us. Yet there is no promise when that will be, or whether that will take place our earthly lives at all. Whether it be sooner or later, God will make good his promise, and make himself our All-in-All, in himself giving us satisfaction and bliss ([[1 Corinthians 15]]:28).


Jesus taught the same thing when he said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). For the faithful there is always an end to suffering: either before death should God be merciful, or at least in death. Faith does not mean optimism that things will turn out, but trust in the goodness of God, even if his help seems slow in coming from our little perspective. “Enduring to the end” doesn’t mean just suffering until it stops, but keeping the faith through whatever trials God gives us.


But if “enduring to the end” means keeping the faith, what is “failing to endure”? What does “breaking faith” mean? Who better could teach us than St Peter? Of course Peter denied Christ three times, but in fact we see him breaking faith earlier in the Passion story. When Jesus was arrested, Peter took out a sword and went after Jesus’ captors, even cutting the ear off one of them (John 18:10). But Jesus is not pleased and tells Peter to put it away (v 11). Jesus will endure his Passion with faith, not kicking and screaming, not doing everything he can to escape.


Breaking faith means letting your anxiety get the better of you when your patience is tested. It means forgetting your “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) and taking matters into your own hands. It means cutting corners, fudging boundaries, making justifications for delaying on your most important commitments, fighting more, and trusting less. Breaking faith means trying to solve your problems with your favourite sword.


But none of this helps, at least not ultimately. Even if you get scrappy and overcome whatever is troubling you, you will still be a lost soul—you may even be worse off, having broken your habit of gentleness, trust, and peace.


So back to David and Goliath. This story is most remarkable not because David’s triumph was unexpected, but because he achieved his victory in an unexpected way. The final words of our Lesson tell us that “There was no sword in the hand of David” (1 Samuel 17:50). King Saul of course wanted to dress David in armour, as if that would do him any good, but the outfit was so heavy that pretty teenage David couldn’t use it (v 38–39).


Instead, he packed light, bringing only “the shield of faith … and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16–17). When his enemy tells him that his cause is hopeless (1 Samuel 17:44), David replies that he doesn’t trust in swords and spears and javelins (v 45), but in the truth that every battle is the Lord’s alone (v 47).


When did you last reach for your sword? Surely you know what I mean by your “sword”—your sword is the unkind words that jump to your lips when someone close to you hurts you, the thing you know you can say that will make you “win,” that will score a hit on your enemy. You polish your sword every time you repeat to yourself a justification for being angry, every time you tell yourself that conflict is inevitable and the important thing is to come out on top.


And when did you last put on your battle armour? Don’t you know what I mean by your “battle armour”? It’s your coping mechanism, the unhealthy thing you do when you’re in trouble which soothes the uncomfortable feelings and restore a sense of control. It’s the ways that you dull your senses with distraction. It’s the habit of avoiding thinking about things that make you stressed, as if that would protect you from them. It’s your habit of blame, by which you can deflect responsibility for whatever trial you are in.


A Christian has no sword. A Christian has no armour. A Christian acknowledges every one of the “fiery trials” of this life (1 Peter 4:12). And “when he suffers, he does not threaten in return, but continues entrusting himself to God who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).


Lay down your sword today. Take that heavy armour off your shoulders. As we heard St Peter say today, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

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