Sermon by Stephen Linton 04.07.2021

God Uses Us

2 Sam 5: 1 - 5, 9 & 10; Mark 6: 1 - 13


You may remember that I was with you 3 weeks ago, when we looked at the passage in 1 Samuel 16, where we read that God told the prophet Samuel to go and anoint one of the sons of Jesse who would in due time become the 2nd king of Israel after King Saul.     And we thought of God as being the God of the unexpected:  Samuel had been impressed by Jesse’s oldest son, but God had said, ‘no, not him’.   And the selection process continued, with the 2nd son, the 3rd, down to number 7, and none of them was God’s choice.   And so the youngest son, David, had to be summoned from keeping the sheep, the family having excluded him from the sacrifice.   And it was David whom God had chosen, unexpectedly, seemingly the least important of Jesse’s sons.

Well today the rota of preachers has fortuitously given me the follow-up passage to that story:  the day when David was indeed installed as the King of all Israel.   Saul had been killed in battle, and now David, who was already King over the tribe of Judah, was recognised by all the tribes and accepted as their new King.   And David went on to capture the city of Jerusalem and took up residence there in what became known as the City of David.

And, we read, ‘he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him’.   So we learn that the God of the unexpected is in control, bringing about his sovereign will.   David, the least of Jesse’s sons, would be Israel’s greatest king, not only because of his personal qualities, although he had plenty of those, but because God was with him.

In fact, of course, despite those personal qualities, David also had many failings.   Most notably we know that he formed an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and then arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed so he could marry her and cover up her pregnancy.   David chose adultery, murder, and gross abuse of power.   For which God rebuked him through Nathan the prophet, and which resulted in the death of the son born to Bathsheba and subsequent discord within David’s own family leading to civil war.   David’s failings had consequences.   And yet… And yet God still used him to bring about his purposes.   David’s reign would confirm the nation of Israel securely in the promised land, and establish the city of Jerusalem as the site for the building of the temple where God would be worshipped for many centuries.

But of course, we know that the nation of Israel drifted away from the faith in God and ultimately went into exile.   The temple was destroyed, and despite the return from exile and rebuilding, Jerusalem itself is still the focus of deadly disputes between nations.

So let’s fast forward about 1000 years to our Gospel reading from Mark ch 6.   Jesus has been born, grown up helping Joseph in his carpenter’s shop, and now at about the age of 30 returns to his hometown and attends the synagogue on the sabbath day.   And we read that the congregation were unimpressed by his teaching.   ‘Who does he think he is?   He’s just the local carpenter’s son?   Aren’t his 4 brothers and his sisters here with us today?   What right has he to tell us what to think?’   And Mark tells us that they took offence at him.

So Jesus went off to surrounding villages, and sent his disciples off in pairs to preach, to teach, and to heal.   And they met with success!   In the parallel passage in Luke we read that they returned with joy saying, ‘Lord even the demons submitted to us in your name’.   Here was a motley group of mainly Galilean fishermen, doing what they were ill-equipped to do, and astonished at how God was able to use them.   And Luke tells us that Jesus rejoiced with them.

So what can we learn from our readings this morning?   Yes, we are still dealing with our God as the God of the unexpected.   He chooses David, the least likely son, and establishes him as king.   But he fails miserably to follow God’s ways consistently.   Yes, at times he is still relying on God, and seeking to follow him.  But he still is tempted by his own desires and then makes it even worse in an attempt to cover up what he has done.   And yet God is still with him.   God can still use him for his own purposes.

And in Mark we find the unexpected God appearing as a carpenter’s son, rejected by those who know his family background, and choosing a group of uneducated followers who were unlikely to make much impression.   And yet Jesus sends them out and uses them, much to their own astonishment.

So we learn that our unexpected God can make use of each of us in his service.   We may feel inadequate, and we may often fail, but God still wants us to serve him in whatever ways he wishes, and we may be surprised to find that he is with us as we follow him.

And secondly, we need to guard against the attitude of that congregation in the synagogue in Nazareth.   They looked down on what they regarded as a young upstart, and wanted to keep Jesus in his place at the carpenter’s bench.   They had closed their minds as to how God was working.   They were comfortable in their own circumstances, and were reluctant to accept that they needed to be open to God working in new ways.

And I suggest that those two lessons are relevant to both you here at St Marks and us too at St Peter’s.   We are both at a turning point in how we do church here in Farnborough.   St Peter’s has a relatively new Rector after many years of service by her predecessors.   You are in a vacancy after Ian’s retirement after 31 years here.   And then we have had the Covid pandemic which has radically affected our churches.   And as we slowly reopen and restrictions are lifted, it’s right that both churches rethink what we do.   You will have a new vicar with new ideas, and Libby at St Peter’s is now asking us to see where God may be leading us in the way we worship on Sunday and in our other activities.  

That may be a challenge, as it was for those people in Nazareth.   Both of our churches will be apprehensive as to what that may mean.   In the case of St Peter’s, people leaving to join you.   Here, you will have new faces with new ideas.   But change for change’s sake will only lead to disagreement and division.   No, what matters is what God is leading us to do.   And that will bring both challenges and joys.   I have no doubt that those disciples went out with many doubts and uncertainties, but they rejoiced as God used them in unexpected ways.

They were sent out to preach and to heal.   Those two things went hand-in-hand.   And I suggest that it’s the same today in our totally different circumstances.   We take the good news of God’s love both by word and deed.   We won’t expect to be listened to if we simply preach at people.   No, what we say must be consistent with how we live.   And showing the love of God in practical ways to those around us in need is part of growing God’s kingdom here in Farnborough.   And I hope that our two churches can work together on that, bringing practical love and care where it is needed, and in that way demonstrating God’s love for everyone.

So then, God can use each of us unexpectedly to bring about his purposes.   What matters is whether we are open to him working in us.   Seeking his way.   Ready to serve.   Even when we fail, to come back to God for his love and forgiveness, and then like David to go on to greater things.   Because our unexpected God is in charge, and calls us to serve him.

Let’s pray.   Father thank you that you have called us to serve you.   Help us to do that this coming week, taking your love in word and deed to those we meet.   In Jesus’ name we pray.   Amen.