Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather here today, we take a moment to recognize land upon which we gather is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our gratitude for this land and we ask the Creator to help us use and share it wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ candle this morning, we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ. And we commit ourselves to allow that light shine through us in all that we do.
Call to Worship
We gather in worship today knowing that the one we worship is already here among us.
We gather trusting that we will be guided, protected and loved.
We gather believing that the power of faith is stronger than the powers of this world.
We gather to lean on Divine Power when we feel weak.
We gather to share our faith when we feel strong.
We gather because we need this time together to reassure us and guide us.
And so we gather in worship.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Loving, living God, be among us now. Show us your ways. Guide our steps. Live in us, that we may be a people of steadfast hope and powerful faith. Live through us, that we may be a source of hope and strength for others. Help us to hear your words, challenging us to live in love and hope and to follow your example and to be a source of love and hope for others wherever we go. Amen.
Gift of Music I sing the Mighty Power #231
1 Samuel 16:21, 1 Samuel 17 Selected Verses (1-11, 26, 32, 37-50)
This morning we have only one scripture reading, but it is a long one. It is the story of David & Goliath.
The Powers That Be
Although Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is based on the T.H. White novel of the same name published in 1938, the legend of a boy named Arthur pulling the sword Excalibur out of a stone, or more accurately an anvil sitting on top of a stone, is much, much, older. The first mention of the “sword in the stone” appears in Robert de Boron’s tale of Merlin which dates back to approximate the year 1200. It tells how Arthur obtained the British throne by pulling a sword from an anvil sitting on top of a stone, that magically appeared in a church courtyard on Christmas Eve.
In The Sword in the Stone, both the book and movie, Arthur has no idea that he is the illegitimate son of the king, Uther Pendragon. When king Uther dies without a legitimate heir, the kingdom is thrown into chaos. No one can agree on who the rightful heir should be and lawlessness prevails. The only hope is the sword which has mysteriously appeared and which bears the inscription, “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England.” But no matter how hard they tried, no one had been able to pull the sword from the stone and England remained without a king.
As the Disney movie begins, the first person we meet is Merlin the Magician. He is preparing to receive a “guest” although he has not idea exactly who this guest will be. He is expecting a boy of 11 or 12, and when the guest arrives it turns out to be Arthur who is known by the name of Wart. Merlin accompanies the boy back to the castle of his guardian, Sir Ector, where Wart lives in conditions that in many ways, remind you of Cinderella.
Merlin appoints himself as the boy’s tutor, but before the lessons can even begin, news arrives from London that on New Year’s Day there will be a great tournament, and the winner of that tournament will be crowned king. Sir Ector immediately begins intensively training his son Kay for the tournament. Because he is of “common birth” Wart can never hope to become a knight, an honour limited to those of noble lineage, and only a knight can compete in a tournament. But Sir Ector promises that if he behaves himself and gets all his work done Wart can have the privilege of being Kay’s squire.
I’m sure you can already begin to see the similarities between the story of The Sword in the Stone and the story of David and Goliath. David was too young to join the army and fight against the Philistines. Instead, when he came into the service of King Saul, he was made Saul’s armour-bearer, the role of a squire.
There is a second similarity between the two stories at this point. And that is the image of power as brute strength. In the story of Arthur, the crown was to be awarded to the victor of the tournament, a tournament designed to measure brute strength. In the story of David, the Philistine giant Goliath represents dominance in battle through brute strength.
This is still the kind of power that is often seen as being most important today. Bullies get their own way by threatening physical violence against the smaller or less powerful. Armies build up their soldiers by extreme physical training to make them the strongest they can be. Military powers constantly stive to develop new and ever more powerful weapons. Today many people still see brute strength as the ultimate form of power. But there is another form of power that we need to consider. And that is the power of the brain.
When Merlin starts to tutor Wart, his first lesson is to turn the boy into a fish. Wart is thoroughly enjoying the experience, until a larger fish comes along and tries to eat him. Although he begs Merlin for help, Merlin replies that he needs to use his brain to figure out how to defeat the fish, which of course he does. During this entire episode, Merlin sings a song about the realities of life, both as a fish and as a human.
“You see my boy, it’s natures way, upon the weak the strong ones prey. In human life it’s also true, the strong will try to conquer you. And that is what you must expect unless you use your intellect.”
The same power of intellect is demonstrated in the story of David and Goliath. David knew he could not defeat Goliath with brute strength. Goliath was far to big and strong. But David understood that physical strength or brawn, wasn’t everything. And so, he faced Goliath without sword, shield or armour.
Instead, David picked up his sling, a weapon he was familiar with and with which he was very skilled. He understood its power. He had used that very sling to defend his father’s flocks against lions and bears. He knew that if his aim was true and if he could find a vulnerable spot in his opponent, he could defeat even the largest foe. And so, he took careful aim and hit Goliath in the center of his forehead, the spot that Goliath’s helmet did not cover.
In The Sword in the Stone, there is another battle that reinforces the lesson for Wart. Merlin is challenged to a “wizard’s duel” by Mad Madame Mim who uses black magic in an effort to defeat Merlin. Each time Merlin transforms himself, Mim transforms into something bigger and stronger, eventually turning herself into a great fire-breathing dragon. At this point Merlin appear to vanish and Mim declares herself the winner, that is, until we hear Merlin’s voice assuring her that he has not disappeared by has simply become very tiny. Merlin has transformed himself into a germ which makes Madame Mim extremely sick and forces her to admit defeat.
When asked what he has learned from observing the wizard’s duel, Wart replies, “Knowledge and wisdom is the real power.” He promises faithfully to commit himself to his studies and learn all that Merlin is attempting to teach him.
But his determination and commitment are soon tested when he learns that Kay, who is now Sir Kay, is in need of a new squire and that he has been chosen. An angry Merlin, feeling that the boy has learned nothing, disappears, leaving Wart to accompany Sir Kay to London without his mentor.
As the tournament begins, we see the strongest and bravest knights of the realm fighting for the right to become king. As Kay prepares for battle. Wart realizes that he has left Kay’s sword back at the inn, but when he goes to retrieve it, the doors to the inn are locked and he cannot get in. In desperation, Wart looks around and spots a sword in a churchyard, embedded in an anvil. He rushes over and easily removes the sword and carries it back to Kay.
When Sir Ector recognizes the sword as the mysterious Sword in the Stone, he refuses to believe that Wart could have pulled it out. They return to the churchyard and Sir Ector places the sword back into the stone. Kay insists that he should be the one to pull the sword out, but despite his best efforts, he is unable to remove it. The other knights join in but the sword still refuses to budge.
Finally, Wart is given his chance, and once again the sword easily comes out in his hands. Everyone kneels before him and we soon see young Arthur seated on the throne. And Merlin returns, promising Arthur that he will be a great legend and that stories will be told about him for centuries.
But it is here that we need to remember one more thing. It was neither brains nor brawn that enabled Arthur to pull the sword from the stone. It was a power and a destiny far beyond himself. In the closing words of the narrator it is put this way, “So at last the miracle had come to pass.”
Those who watched as David defeated the giant Goliath with only a stone and a sling shot also witnessed a miracle. In the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the word miracle is defined as, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention”.
In answer to Goliath’s challenge, David responded, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defied. This very day the Lord will put you in my power”.
Regardless of how good his aim might be or how well he understands how effective hitting Goliath in the right spot may be, David does not rely on either his brains or his brawn. He relies on God.
Now I’m sure that if they really tried someone could calculate how fast that stone must have been travelling in order to puncture Goliath’s forehead. I’m sure they could tell us how many times David would have had to spin the sling to get it up to speed. And I’m even sure they could calculate the exact moment that David would have had to let go, in order to hit his target.
I’m also sure there are people who could offer equally well researched explanations as to how a young boy could pull a sword out of an anvil when no one else had been able to do so. I’m sure they could give a scientific explanation that would make perfect sense. But for me, that is not the point.
There is a beautiful quote, and I’m sorry but I could not find out who it is attributed to, but it says, “We don’t believe because we see miracles. We see miracles because we believe.”
There are many types of power in our world. There is the power of brawn, the physical power that is revealed in human strength. There is the power of the brain, the intellect, that is revealed in human wisdom. There is political power, social power, racial power, technological power, manipulative power and many other forms of power, that effect our lives ever day.
But we believe that there is a power that goes beyond any of these human powers. It is the power of Divine influence that cannot be explained or fully understood. It is the power that encourages, challenges and enables us to tap into our own power, whatever that power may be, in order to achieve things that we never would have believed possible. And it is because we believe in this power that we see miracles.
So, when we remember the story of a small boy who overcame all odds to become a great king, whether we are talking about King Arthur or King David, perhaps it can challenge us to believe that we can overcome whatever challenges we might face in life, knowing that a power greater than our own is leading us, supporting us and enabling us to be and to become more than we ever imagined. Amen.
Gift of Music My Soul finds Rest in God Alone #780
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. We may offer our gifts by placing them on our offering plates, by giving through PAR or through other ways of making donations. But, as always, we need to remember that our financial contributions are only one of the many things that we have to offer. We offer our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments and our prayers. And so, whatever it is we offer today, let us ask God’s blessing upon it.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as your spirit has continued to touch and bless people throughout history, bless the gifts that we offer you today that through your spirit they may become a blessing to others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now, let us take a moment to remember all those named in our prayer jar, in our hearts and our thoughts this day … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People — written by John van de Laar
We live in a world that is desperate for you, Divine Mystery.
When powers struggle for dominance, and war, oppression and abuse result;
When groups of people oppose one another because of ideology, religion or culture;
We need a God who is bigger than ourselves, and our personal interests.
We think of the areas of war and conflict in our world today and we pray for peace…
When people are disregarded and devalued because of poverty, geography or disease; When compassion and justice are withheld from some because of colour, ethnicity, race, sexuality or gender; We need a Saviour who is more compassionate than we are, who includes even those we would exclude.
We think of those living with the consequences of systemic discrimination in all its forms and we pray for justice… When resources are mismanaged and abused, and the world and its creatures are destroyed; When motivation to change is scarce and when creativity to address the challenges that we face is in short supply;
We need a Spirit who is more powerful and more creative than we could ever be.
We think of the devastation caused by pollution, global warming, the destruction of habitat and the climate crisis and we pray for the will and courage to change…
Mysterious God, Loving Saviour, Empowering Spirit, we offer you these prayers because we need you so desperately. Call us, enable us, motivate us and fill us with your Spirit, that we may become carriers of your grace and your hope to this world that you love so dearly. Amen.
Closing Hymn O Lord My God #238
And so now, in the words of the greatest commandment, go out from here to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and do so by loving others. And as you go remember you do not go alone. The love of God goes with you, Christ’s example leads you and the Spirt accompanies you, now and always. Go with God. Amen