Hespeler, 8 May, 2016 © Scott McAndless – Mother’s Day
1 Samuel 18:1-9, Ephesians 6:10-17, Psalm 3
hen I was a student studying at Presbyterian College in Montreal, I was given an extraordinary opportunity – an opportunity that few students for the ministry are afforded these days. There was a small church in the city of Laval, just across the bridge north of Montreal, called Northlea United Church. It was a church that was struggling as an English church in what had once been, but was no longer, a fairly strong English community.
The church needed a minister to care for them but couldn’t afford fulltime ministry. A student seemed like an excellent option for them, but the United Church, as a matter of policy, wouldn’t allow their ministry students to minister in that way. The Presbyterian College didn’t mind if their married students (I don’t know why, but you had to be married) did take a pastoral charge while studying, but there were no Presbyterian congregations in need of a student minister. So, when I (a married student) came along, I was asked, “Say, would you like a job preaching to and taking care of a little United Church in Laval for a bit of money and a manse to live in,” I jumped at the chance.
It worked out beautifully and not just for the obvious financial reasons. I still believe that that church taught me at least as much about being a minister as the college did. I had this wonderful place where I could take the things that I was learning in classes and apply them to the real life of the church while I was learning them. I had this place where I could go and make mistakes and get things wrong – and yes, I made lots of mistakes and got lots of things wrong – and the people still loved me and we worked through any of the ensuing problems together.
When I finally finished my studies and was ready to move on to my next steps as an ordained minister in a Presbyterian Church, the people of Northlea threw us a party. They gave thanks for all that they had shared with us. They gave us their blessing and promised to pray for us. And they gave me a gift: this preaching gown.
When, a little while later, I was ordained in my first charge, I received another item of clothing. This stole (designed to go nicely with my robe) was presented to me by my mother. Not only was it presented by her, it was made by her and by my three sisters each one of whom took her turn with the stitching. When I wear it, it reminds me that so much of what I bring to the work that I do is what I bring from my family who did so much to form me and build me up.
And then, a few years ago, as you all know, there was someone who I thought of as both a friend and a mentor. His name was the Rev. Ruggles Constant. When I first arrived here in Hespeler as a minister, Ruggles was dealing with many health issues and was quite limited in what he could do, but he certainly went out of his way to support me and to pass on some of his wisdom and experience in really helpful ways. When he passed away two years ago, I was honoured when he asked me to preach at his funeral and a little puzzled when he told me that I was to preach on the topic of the full armour of God – the passage we read this morning from the New Testament.
Ruggles’ daughter, Stephanie, did two wonderful things for me. She told me that her father had been kidding and I could preach on whatever I thought was best and she gave me Ruggles’ gown. When I have worn it since, I have been greatly comforted to know that Ruggles continues to be with me.
And then there is this stole given to me by someone in this congregation. Another supporting friend and, in her own way, a mentor.
This is, for me, a very special wardrobe that I carry with me. I’m sure that you understand that, for me, the value of this wardrobe is much more than just the value of the textiles.
When I came to this morning’s reading from 1 Samuel, this wardrobe was what came to my mind. In this passage we find ourselves in the middle of the tumultuous times of King Saul, first king of Israel. Saul came to be king in a time of great danger, when the people of Israel faced their greatest threat to date in the form of a very frightening enemy called the Philistines. Better equipped and better organized, the Philistines threatened to wipe the Israelites from the face of the earth. And Saul was able to do what nobody had been able to do before and created an army that could fight back against the Philistines in a disciplined and organized way.
Saul’s success was perhaps limited. It was not as if he made the threat go away, but he was able to organize a real resistance – more sustained victory than anyone, even Samson, had been able to do. Saul did slay his thousands of enemies. And his son, Jonathan, to whom he hoped to pass the kingdom someday, also became a great warrior. Everything was, well, maybe not perfect but as good as it had ever been.
And then David came along. And it wasn’t as if David was perfect; he clearly had his flaws. But he definitely was someone who had potential. He was a leader like few others had ever been. And both Saul and Jonathan seem to have recognized that immediately.
Saul saw David’s ability as a threat. Here was the man who was potentially a better war leader than Saul had ever been – who could lead men to attack and kill tens of thousands where before Saul had merely slaughtered thousands. Someone like that could get good enough to take over the kingdom from him. So Saul began to plot to bring David down.
But Jonathan, Saul’s son, seeing the exact same potential in David, had the exact opposite reaction. Of course, David was just as much a threat to Jonathan and his future as king as he was to his father. But rather than responding with fear or with that common response of wanting to put someone else down in order to bring yourself up, Jonathan was able to respond with grace.
And that is what it means when he takes off his armour and sword and arms and even his very robe and gives it all to David. In essence Jonathan is taking everything that he has built up for himself up until that point in his life – his reputation as a warrior and a leader, his skill and training, his status and making a gift of it to David. David hasn’t earned any of this yet. Yes, he did bring down Goliath with one well-placed stone, but that could have been a lucky shot. There is a great distance between that and being a great leader of men. But Jonathan’s gift opened up all of those possibilities and closed off the likelier possibility that David would have just ended up a forgotten footnote to history.
Jonathan’s gift leads me to think in two particular directions. As I have already said, it makes me think of all of those people who, in their own ways, gave of themselves so that I might become the person that God was calling me to be. It is Mother’s Day, of course, so I cannot help but think of my own mother. It is Christian Family Sunday so I cannot help but think of all of the ways in which my family nurtured me, taught me and even sacrificed of themselves for my sake. And, of course, it is not just family who do that for us, though they often do it in the most enduring way.
Families, by the way, are also so influential on our development that they can do the most damage to us when they let us down and they can put wounds in us that we end up carrying for the rest of our lives. So if you are able to remember all that you received from your family and you find that you have been blessed by them and sent on your way through this life in a positive way, you have been, in fact, extraordinarily blessed – more so than many if not most of the people in the world today. Your first application of this story, therefore, is to remember your mother and your family and give thanks to God for all that they have been to you.
On this Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday, if it is possible for you to do so, take the opportunity to thank your mother and those other people in your family for all of those sacrificial ways in which they acted to make you who you are.
And after your family, remember the others who invested in you – all those who, like Jonathan, took the wisdom and honour and standing that they had built up and were willing to invest some of it in you. Every single one of you has had people like that. Do you realize what an incredible gift that was? I know that I could not be who I am today without the people of Northlea United, without my teachers and mentors, without the influence of incredibly wise and gifted men and women like a certain Ruggles Constant. On this day, if it is still possible for you to do so, would it not be good for you to do whatever you could to show your gratitude to those people in your life.
But that is not the truly exciting thing about this story of David and Jonathan. The blessing in this story is that we sometimes get to be David and have other people build into our lives. The exciting opportunity about this story is that we also get to be Jonathan and to build into the lives of others. Every person here has the opportunity to do that. It may be someone in your family – a child, a grandchild, a niece or nephew. It may be some associate, someone in your social group. It most certainly could be someone in this congregation – a young person perhaps or someone somewhere on the fringes of this congregation – but I assure you that, if you look around, God is placing those opportunities to invest the human capital that you have built up into someone in your path.
You may ask why you should do that – why you should be willing to give of yourself or sacrifice of yourself for the sake of another. I will admit that it is something that seems not to make much sense according to the way of thinking of this world. This world is mostly interested in Saul’s approach – is much more inclined to want to keep others down in order to protect its own interests. I’ll be honest, this is an approach that I have even seen too often in the church. No sooner does someone start to accomplish something and build a worthwhile ministry or outreach than other people start to tear them down, criticize them and otherwise make sure that they don’t get too big for their britches.
The world may favour Saul’s approach, but God favours Jonathan’s. When you choose to invest yourself in others for the sake of the kingdom of God, God will bless that and bring amazing things out of it. The greatness in Jonathan, because of his choice to share it graciously with David, became something that endured long beyond Jonathan’s life. It continued through the kingdom that David built and the dynasty that he founded. It continued and continues still through his distant descendant, Jesus the Christ. That opportunity to do something important, significant and lasting is God’s gift to you.