The theme of this sermon seemed to connect quite deeply with several of the congregation; it is always a moving experience when we feel the constrictions placed upon us are slowly or quickly being dissolved and broken. I noticed one sermon auditor get out her knitting (not a problem for me) but, after a few minutes, put it aside – I was encouraged!
The sermon text (well, the basic sermon text not exactly the one heard) follows the sermon audio.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI; Sunday June 24 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale; “The Shoe/Cap Does Not Fit”
I Samuel 17:39 “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.”
In his early years the young David, eventually to become the great and glorious King of Hebrew sagas… the young David suffered the “slings and arrows of outrageous” disdain, disparagement and disregard.
You may remember from last week… it did not even enter his father’s mind that the young David should be a candidate for Samuel’s interviews, in cutting condescension Jesse says, “Oh, he’s only a youngster; only good for minding sheep”.
Later, David’s eldest brother Eliab consigns the boy to carrying the lunch-boxes and sheep-keeping, “28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is…”
King Saul, in response to David’s valiant readiness to battle Goliath, rejects the offer dismissively, 33 “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
And then the Philistine champion from Gath ridicules his combatant. “42. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”
Clearly David’s early history was replete with examples of other people trying to put him in his place, or rather in the place they had designated for him. Again and again, they tried to make the proverbial “cap fit” (American usage “shoe fit”) – they belittled him, dismissed him, ridiculed him but he would have none of it.
Perhaps the most eloquent example/dynamic of this was when Saul dressed David in his own tunic.
This is the stuff of which children’s Bible stories are made. I remember often in family worship asking for volunteers… a young lad would come forward. I place them in the largest, unwieldly wellington boots that I possessed; I place my clerical black woolen cloak upon their shoulders and set a wide fedora upon their head and then… ask them to run into some imaginary battle. At best they struggled, at worst they stumbled but the point was made and each would sympathize with David’s words, “I Samuel 17:39 “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.”
I have pondered a little on what prompted Saul to make what to us, with hindsight, seems a preposterous suggestion.
Could Saul only imagine that what had worked once, maybe often, in the past must be tried for all time – “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be”?
Or was there slightest experience of schadenfreude? The naughty hope that this whippersnapper of a boy, threatening to supplant the king with all the ensuing experiences of disillusionment, disappointment and despair… the naughty hope that this boy would fail?
Or maybe Saul was sincere, though sincerely wrong, that this was the way to help David in an almost impossible situation?
Or maybe all three or more or…
Whatever the cause, David learns early on in his life, his work, his ministry that often (in the words emblazoned by our First Lady) “he really didn’t care” what others said of him, how others demeaned him. No matter how vigorously and strenuously others tried to make him “wear the cap, the shoe, the cloak” – what matters was what God said of him. In later life he was to sin, to fall, to fail and relapse… but always he knew that he was forgiven and loved… it was this cap that fitted him perfectly and divinely.
This horrible dynamic of making others wear cap, shoes and cloaks that do not fit… continues apace. St. Paul writes of it in today’s Epistle… how he was demeaned and belittled as imposters (yet really true), as unknown (yet fully known), as dying (yet really alive) and on and on and on.
This horrible dynamic of making others wear cap, shoes and cloaks that do not fit… continues apace. I believe with significance St. Mark writes of the disciples taking Jesus on the boat “just as he was” but soon they pester and bombard him, dissatisfied with “just as he was” they demand a miracle-working, pay attention to me now rabbi. And, graciously, he responds albeit with a sting in the tail, (Message Translation) “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
This horrible dynamic of making others wear cap, shoes and cloaks that do not fit… continues apace. Today is the 41st anniversary of my ordination to parish ministry. There have often been times in a variety of parochial settings where an individual or a group has tried to make me wear a cap, shoes or cloak of their devising. No less so than when a mythical moment, a parishioner stood up in a contentious parish meeting and told me, “Remember… you are a paid servant!”. I seem to remember I responded a little brusquely in my attempt to help Dorothy K. see a different truth.
Friends, I fear there is something integral to living that forces us to confront voices that make us wear caps, shoes and cloaks that do not fit us, have never fitted us and will never fit us. Remember… in season and out of season, at home or at work, in company or alone… remember this statement fits you and me perfectly… as the Lord says, “You are my beloved child, on you my favor rests and will you I am well pleased.”
“God is the Principal, we the agents; God is the Father, we the children. Most good ideas are simple and this concept was the keystone of the triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”
Wear this cap, these shoes, this cloak before and above all others!