David Walker Sermon - 23rd October 2016
What’s your favourite comedy show? Your favourite of all time? Your favourite character?
It’s difficult. There are so many. And so many characters – Basil Fawlty, Harold Steptoe, Officer Crabtree, Vic and Bob.
I think on balance my favourite show (for the purposes of this sermon) is the Fast Show which had so many characters played by such people as Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson and Simon Day. Some of you are looking a bit blank. Well I know it was an acquired taste, not as accessible as some TV programmes, hidden away on BBC2, probably a bit of a cult. What ultimately decided it for me was the final series, much of which was filmed around here – at least two of the sketches were filmed in Cotherstone, within a 100 yards or so of my house, and Barnard Castle School was also featured.
So, you may or may not be familiar with the Paul Whitehouse character who walks around the countryside, looking about him and simply saying ‘Brilliant’ and ‘fantastic’. The Brilliant Kid. Stream of consciousness.
Everything to him is brilliant or fantastic, no exceptions. It’s a naive, joyfulness for life, that is both funny and touching at the same time.
Aren’t pews fantastic? Made of wood ‘n that. And it was Our Lord God who gave us wood. Brilliant. And you can sit on pews. Fantastic. But they’re so uncomfortable, that’s not fantastic. It’s brilliant - because you can’t fall asleep during the sermon.
Sometimes when I read or hear the liturgy I want to say ‘brilliant’, and keep saying it time and time again as we go through the service. And we should.
It’s easy to take liturgy for granted. But it’s not a random selection of words and phrases. It’s all carefully thought out. Common Worship as we now have it is the end result of centuries of development and change. Each word. Each phrase has been poured over, in smoky and then not so smoky committee rooms. And then there it is – brilliant.
Unfortunately, despite it’s brilliance liturgy can become dulled by routine, the wallpaper that we take for granted. There’s too much of it. Have you ever been in the Louvre or the Uffizi? You can begin by examining and being moved by each painting you see but after a while you begin to speed up, become more selective as the masterpieces merge into one globulous experience. Was that a Leonardo? Nice.
When that happens, whether in an art gallery or in worship it’s good to stand back, isolate, concentrate and simple absorb, and then say ‘brilliant’.
This morning’s reading from Chronicles gives us a reason to pick out just a small part of our liturgy, something which we may not give much thought to, probably never think about where it came from, blink and its gone. Just one more Rothko in the Tate Modern, one more Monet in the Musee D’Orsay, one more masterpiece on Blonde on Blonde.
Chronicles 1 and 2 recount a time in the history of the Jewish people whilst they were ruled by Kings, beginning with King David and ending with the exile into Babylon. The good times, the not so good, and the totally awful.
Things don’t go well all of the time as kings come and go and as some of them are more or less faithful to the needs of the people and to God.
But David, even with all his faults and human weaknesses, is the gold standard. He is the paradigm, the one they all have to live up to and the one who puts the people in right relationship with God. He does good things and bad things but all the while he is faithful to the God he loves and who loves him.
This is a golden time in the history of the people. Israel and Judah are united. Jerusalem has been established. David has spent his life planning to build the temple, and he is about to pass these plans on to his son Solomon. The temple will finally be built.
And God resides with this people. He is on their side. He is present in their lives. And they have reason to give thanks for that. We can’t imagine how powerfully and totally those people would have known the presence of God in their lives.
The passage we heard this morning concludes David’s addresses to a huge assembly of the great and the good, all the leaders, of Israel. He outlines to them the legacy that he is passing on to his son, Solomon, and the nature of the task that he is leaving him, which is the building of the temple, the ultimate acknowledgement of Yahweh and of Yahweh’s love and generosity shown to the people of Israel. The building of the temple will be the people’s ultimate and perfect response to the grace and guidance shown to them by their God.
The passage begins with a description of the free-will offerings made by the leaders, the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron and the precious stones, all given willingly and joyfully.
The final section of that address is known as David’s blessing as David begins by blessing God, the Lord in the presence of the assembly.
And then he says the words familiar to us, the powerful, brilliant, fantastic words most which we say week by week, almost hidden away in our liturgy. Where do they come? As I said before, blink and they’re gone. They, usually, begin and end our Eucharistic Prayer and that’s the context within which we know them and understand them.
11Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
This was said in front of all the leaders of Israel, all of them important and rich and powerful. But this acknowledges that importance, riches, or power is of nothing to the greatness and power of God, that all riches come from God, and that any human strength comes from the hands of God. And then,
14 ‘But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
This is King David, the first and greatest king of Israel, the man who has united the kingdom, brought the people together and led them back to the ways of God – but who am I? And what are my people that they can make this offering? In the end
‘all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.’
This brilliant piece of scripture bursts out of the page and as we read it again and again it sums up all we believe as faithful followers of God, the God we now know in Jesus Christ. And from time to time we need to let it burst out of the liturgy as we sit in our pews waiting to enter the presence of God in the body and blood of the Son.
This is a thank you to God. But it’s much more than that. It’s a reminder of our place in the system of things. But it’s also much more than that.
Simply it’s the essence of all we understand and believe about God, and our relationship with God.
Primarily it’s about relationship, interaction a two way process.
God didn’t simply want to give us life. He is not just a resource. Not just a heavenly foodbank meeting our needs. He wants us to enter into a relationship.
The question is – what kind of relationship?
We’re not just clients, customers or consumers, or even created beings that God gives things to when he feels like it. We are part of God’s creation, as essential to God as God is essential to us. God’s nature is to give freely to us all that he can give, and to love us completely. Because God is love, and loving means sharing, being with, understanding, being alongside and caring for, responding to, relating to, laughing and smiling together, crying and sorrowing with. It is the relationship that defines our lives because it is the relationship that has brought us into being, given us life, created our consciousness and allowed us access to this wonderful, beautiful brilliant and fantastic world.
And in this brilliant and fantastic world, who am I, and what is my people? Who are we?
We are in this world not because we deserve to be, not because of anything we have done. We are here because God created us and made us, every single one of us, Unique. Loving and loved, human beings, all of us precious in the sight of God and known and loved by God.
Do we think about this when we say and hear these words in our liturgy? Well we won’t hear them today because they’re not in this service. But next time you are at the 10.30 communion and these words are said think about where they come from, think about what lies beneath them, think about the complete faith in and love of God that inspired them in the first place, and remember how utterly brilliant they are.