Via Positiva: Cosmic Kindergarten / Play Nice

Preached on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings: 1 Samuel 17:32-51: “I will strike you down and cut off your head” Mark 4:35-41: “Peace! Be still!”

Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes from a singer and songwriter who became the youngest songwriter ever hired by Sony’s publishing house. Born in 1989, Taylor Swift rose to prominence after her self-titled 2006 country album. Today’s song comes from her 2010 album “Speak Now” and debuted at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song is called “Mean.” Let’s try it.

You, with your words like knives and swords

And weapons that you use against me You, have knocked me off my feet again

Got me feelin’ like a nothin’ You, with your voice like nails on a chalk board

Callin’ me out when I’m wounded

You, pickin’ on the weaker man Well you can take me down with just one single blow

But you don’t know, what you don’t know Chorus: Someday I’ll be livin’ in a big ol’ city

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

I will never forget Linda. She was my first enemy. I was not aware that Linda was my enemy until one day in my third grade class, she went up to the teacher and told her that I had been talking in class while the teacher had been briefly out of the room. I had done no such thing. I had been as quiet as a church mouse the entire time the teacher had been gone. But, after Linda revealed my imaginary infraction to the teacher, she called me up to her desk. “Linda says you were talking while I was out of the room,” she said to me sternly. “No, ma’am, I didn’t,” I protested with tears coming to my eyes. “Linda says you did, so you I want you to write 100 times, ‘I will not talk in class,'” she instructed. “But,” I protested, “I didn’t talk.” I was starting to cry now. “Linda said you did,” was her only reply. “Now, go sit down.” As I returned to my desk, Linda smirked at me. I was bewildered. I didn’t know Linda very well. I don’t remember us ever having what passed for a conversation in third grade, let alone a chance to offend her in some way. But, apparently, she was the teacher’s spy and her word was enough for the teacher to believe I had talked in class. As I wrote my sentences, my mind reeled, searching for some reason why Linda would hate me so thoroughly. I never figured it out, but this was an early lesson for me that enemies are real – whether you overtly make them, or just provoke someone to mess with you by your very presence. This is a hard lesson for a third grader – to learn that there are mean people in the world, people who do things simply to mess with you, to get you into trouble. Up until this point, my elementary education experience had been pretty serene. I learned by numbers and my letters, and played with my friends at recess. This was the first instance of the harsh reality of life slapping me in the face. Linda taught me that people can be mean – sometimes for no reason at all. I grew up fast in the time it took for me to write out those sentences. I realized that if I was going to make it in this world, I would need some armor, and some weapons. I would need to be able to defend myself, because Linda would just be the first in a long line of bullies, both on the playground and in the business world, that would line up to open up a can of whoopass on me. When I learned about the story of David and Goliath in church, I knew who I was in that story. Linda was my Goliath … and all I knew was, I wanted way more than a slingshot to take her out.

You, with your switching sides and

Your wild fire lies and your humiliation You, have pointed out my flaws again

As if I don’t already see them

I walk with my head down

Tryin’ to block you out

‘Cause I never impress you

I just wanna feel okay again

I bet you got pushed around

Somebody made you cold

But the cycle ends right now ’cause You can’t lead me down that road

And you don’t know what you don’t know

Chorus: Someday I’ll be livin’ in a big ol’ city

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean Why you gotta be so mean?

Sadly, Linda won our one and only real confrontation. I was slain by her single verbal stone, lobbed at me through her blatant lie to the teacher. But, I found a lot of comfort in the story of David and Goliath, and I suspect we all have at one time or another. Goliath, according to our reading this morning, was a giant, or at least a very large member of the Philistine army. Scholars believe Goliath may have been nearly 7 feet tall. The Philistines were gathering for war against Israel and Saul, who was king at the time, was seeking a champion to take on Goliath who had promised the Philistines would be servants to the Israelites if someone could defeat him. David volunteered for the job. At this point, David was Saul’s armor-bearer having won his favor by playing his lyre and singing songs for him. David, however, had his sights set on Saul’s job and saw this as a chance to prove himself not just as a warrior, but as God’s chosen warrior, and next king. We’re all familiar enough with the story. David is outfitted with Saul’s armor and weapons, but finds he can’t walk in all that metal on. Instead, he chooses to face Goliath – who is armored and carrying a spear – with the simple weapon of a shepherd – a sling, which is normally used to chase off varmints and coyotes who are after the sheep. This is the essence of the David and Goliath story here, and the lesson most often drawn from the story. The giants in your life are not as deadly as they seem. If we are brave and trust in God to get us through all challenges, we only need the most basic of weapons, because it is truly God who helps us to overcome any Goliath who crosses our path. It makes for a lovely, uplifting sermon. Trust in God and you will slay your Goliath. But, that easy lesson avoids the most difficult part of this story – the violence involved. We know how this ends – Goliath dies after David hits him right between the eyes with that smooth rock, slung from the simple shepherd’s weapon. But, how many remember what happens next? David then takes Goliath’s sword and cuts the giant’s head off. Not only does David kill the giant, but he then adds to the violence by beheading him and taking Goliath’s head back to Jerusalem as a trophy. Suddenly, the inspiring children’s story about how God helps you overcome your daily challenges turns a little bit bloody, and off-putting. In our rush to get to the good moral ending about how good people triumph over bad situations, we rush right over the violence it often takes to get there. In slaying our Goliaths, in running roughshod over people we perceive as being in our way, we can turn from being the good guy, to being a bully in our own right. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? To the Philistines, David is the bully, not Goliath. The giant, to them, was the good guy – the one defending his people, the one defending his ideas, the one defending his way of life. The lesson we avoid learning in the story of David and Goliath is this – how often are we seen as the bully in someone else’s life – even as we are seen as the hero in our own? Linda was a hero in her world, garnering the trust of the teacher by telling a lie about me. To the teacher, I had been the bully – the one accusing Linda of lying. So, the real lesson of David and Goliath then is to be careful about choosing sides, because there’s always going to be someone who will see you as the mean bully – even if you think you’re the hero. Here’s the question to consider: Do we always have to violently slay Goliath to defeat him, or does true victory for everyone come only when we learn how to play nice, and become true peacemakers instead of violent warriors?

Bridge: And I can see you years from now in a bar

Talkin’ over a football game

With that same big loud opinion

But no one’s listening Washed up and ranting about the Same old bitter things

Drunk and grumblin’ all about how I can’t sing But all you are is mean All you are is mean…and a liar…and pathetic And alone in life and mean, and mean, and mean,

and mean

But someday I’ll be livin in a big ol’ city And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so … Someday

I’ll be livin in a big ol’ city

(why ya gotta be so mean)

And all you’re ever gonna be is mean (why ya gotta be so mean) Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me

(why ya gotta be so mean) And all you’re ever gonna be is mean

Why you gotta be so mean?

Bayard Rustin was a black, gay man, who helped Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the 1963 March on Washington. This was a man who was well acquainted with the Goliath that was racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws that kept black Americans as second-class citizens. Rustin was dedicated to non-violence as a means to defeat that hulking Goliath and even spent part of World War II in prison because of his pacifism. The story is told of Rustin’s deep commitment to non-violence during a peace demonstration. A passerby was so angered by the demonstration that he grabbed a protestor’s sign, ripped the stick off the sign and began to beat Rustin with the stick. Rustin reached out and got another stick – and instead of going to battle with this self-appointed Goliath – he handed the second stick to the man and invited him to beat Rustin with both of them. The man was so caught off guard by this simple act of non-violent peacemaking, he threw both sticks to the ground and walked away. This is how you make straight A’s in cosmic kindergarten. Goliath was clearly defeated, but in this David and Goliath story nobody loses their head. Breathe deeply. Our second song this morning spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts after it was released in 1971. Cat Stevens, who wrote the song, has now converted to Islam and is known as Yusuf Islam, said this of the song Peace Train: “There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution.” Let’s try it.

[Verse] Now I’ve been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one And I believe it could be, some day it’s going to come

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train

Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come And I believe it could be, something good has begun

[Chorus] Oh peace train sounding louder, Glide on the peace train

Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train, Peace train holy roller Everyone jump upon the peace train, Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train

In our Jesus story, we find out guy asleep, in a boat. But, it’s sort of an odd time to be taking a nap, because the waters are anything but calm. Instead, there is a storm raging over the water – and there’s Jesus, sleeping like a baby in the midst of the storm. The disciples, however, are in a full blown panic. They’re certain that they are going to die, and here’s their leader, taking a nap while they try to figure out how to survive. Isn’t it just like Jesus to be sleeping while we bail the water out of our lives? And this is where the standard sermon draws the line between this particular Jesus story and the David and Goliath story. The standard line goes something like this, “Whenever we face challenges in life, be it big mean giants, or storms that buffet our boat of life, we can remain calm because God is with us, even if God seems to be napping, we will be safe because God is with us, always.” That’s such a nice sermon. I love that sermon. But, you’re at Jubilee! Circle this morning, not in some standard line preaching church. So, that standard line, no matter how nice and right it is, completely misses the point, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, we can get through our struggles in life when we rely on the Holy to help us through. Absolutely. But, again, just as we avoid wrestling with the violence in the David and Goliath story, we dishonor this story as well when we reduce it to the simple sentiment that “Jesus is in my boat with me so I don’t have to worry.” The connection between these two iconic stories are much deeper than that, and it’s a valuable lesson we must learn if we’re ever going to graduate from cosmic kindergarten. What these two stories provide at two very different views of the world, and how we are to live in it. Our society is clear about which story we should emulate. From Sunday School lessons to TV shows, to movies, to books, to plays, even, we are told to idolize David and to emulate him. When Goliath rears his ugly head, whack him between the eyes and cut that head off. The violent defeat of Goliath is glorified by our culture every moment of the day. But, Jesus, napping serenely in a boat while the storm rages around us gives us an alternative vision for our world. Instead of throwing stones at the storms – the Goliaths that threaten us – Jesus invites us not just to speak peace – but to be peace. It’s understandable that we, as a society, find it easier to throw rocks at Goliath, because it’s a lot easier than what Jesus asks us to do. The first and most important lesson, Jubilants, in our cosmic kindergarten is to learn how to play nice – not by having the biggest slingshot on the playground, but by embodying peace on such a deep level that Goliath drops his sword, or his stick, and walks away. And, in that walking away, perhaps there is room for reconciliation, and real peace – and everyone keeps their heads on their shoulders.

[Verse] Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too Cause it’s getting nearer, it soon will be with you Now come and join the living, it’s not so far from you And it’s getting nearer, soon it will all be true

[Chorus] Oh peace train sounding louder, Glide on the peace train Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train, Peace train holy roller

Everyone jump upon the peace train, Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train

In his book Being Peace, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn writes: “People completely identify with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of a citizen of the Soviet Union, we have to become one with him or her. To do so is dangerous – we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don’t do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.” Jesus stills the storm by becoming one with it. Bayard Rustin defuses a violent situation by becoming one with the counter-protestor. This is the best way to defeat Goliath – by understanding him, by not taking sides, but realizing that there is only one side, the side of peace. It’s not as if Jesus didn’t have the chance to choose violence. He did. When the Roman guards came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus stepped in and refused to let the violence escalate – and he even healed the wounded guard. Jesus had the same choice David had – kill or be killed. David chose his own life over that of Goliath to prove that he was brave enough to be an earthly king. Jesus chose to lay down his own life – and in doing so proves that love is stronger than any earthly death. Our choice then is clear, will we lay down the things that are important to us in the name of peace and justice? Will we lay down our insistence that we are right, that we have the all the answers, that we have the right way, the right religion, the right culture. Will we give up our money, give up our gifts, give up anything of value to move out of our comfort zone if it meant others would be helped or find their way. Are we willing to go out of our way to make sure others can find their way. Are we willing to be killed in these ways? Will we allow the world to slay our selfishness, to slay our own bullying ways, to slay our apathy, to slay our craving for our own comfort at the expense of another’s? Are we willing to truly embody peace so that we, too, can calm the storms of life that buffet us all, just by our mere presence? Or, will we be David, and slay Goliath and cut his head off to prove that we are right and that God is only on our side? Or, can we find ways to work with those who oppose us, to instead slay our enemies by making them our friends, by finding common ground and dialogue finding ways to be open?

Jubilants, the real question we must settle here in cosmic kindergarten is this: are we the peacemakers on the playground or are we loading our slingshot for the next Goliath? Is the sandbox big enough for everybody, or are we constantly guarding our boarders and drawing lines in the sand telling others that they’ll feel the wrath of our slingshot if they step over it? Are we the ones willing to put down our weapons and instead speak peace to the storm of violence in this world. Are we willing to fully embody the peace we wish to see in our world?

Are we willing, Jubilants, to do whatever it takes to end the violence and ensure that no one else has to lose their head?

Come on the peace train.

Now I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is

Why must we go on hating, why can’t we live in bliss

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train

Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

[Chorus] Oh peace train sounding louder, Glide on the peace train

Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train, Peace train holy roller Everyone jump upon the peace train, Ooh, ahh ee ah ooh ah, Come on now peace train Oh, come on peace train, yes, it’s the peace train

Oh, Yeah!