I’m reading Diana Butler Bass’ latest book “Christianity After Religion”. I was struck by her comment about bricolage--a French word that often comes up in discussions about church tradition. It means “to fiddle with or tinker with” or “to make creative use of whatever is at hand.”
And I’m thinking about David and Goliath. David volunteers to do battle with this huge Philistine who is killing and annoying the Israelites. Tradition would dictate that he must go out in full armor. Saul is worried about sending such a small, young man--a boy, really, sending him out to fight a larger-than-normal man. The only reason David was there was because Jesse, his father, had sent him to check on his older brothers. David tries the armor his king gave him but this tradition weighed him down so he couldn’t even move. He removed it all and went out with his sling--the thing he used every day at home while guarding the sheep. Maybe you think he wouldn’t have needed it every day but just compare it to a modern-day electronic game. Believe me, as a useful tool and a source of entertainment for a teenager, he used it every single day.
So how does this relate to “bricolage”? David was using whatever he had at hand. He never went anywhere without his trusty sling--he was as lost without it as we are when we leave our cell phones behind. David knelt down and collected five small stones from the streambed. That was what he had available so he used it--creatively. That was the joy of the sling--there was always something nearby he could use as ammunition, and it didn’t weigh him down. He could move and move quickly which was something Goliath couldn’t do. David won the battle and his life changed forever.
David had something else that the others couldn’t see. God was with him, guiding him, watching over him, protecting him, and loving him.
Centuries later, the disciples of Jesus could see the same qualities in him. But, like King Saul, they didn’t expect him to do crazy things like control how the universe operated. Who is this son of David who takes on the Goliath of a storm?
In Jesus’ time, the Jews had a wealth of stories and Psalms that spoke of God delivering people from the furies of storms and other natural disasters. They were accustomed to speaking in metaphors, though, so maybe they no longer believed it could really happen. Yet, even the Romans believed that Chaos lived in the waters and would try to overwhelm those who were foolish enough to travel the seas. Anyone who could control Chaos would be looked upon with awe.
I want to read The Message [Eugene Peterson] version because these stories were read aloud to the people in the early church: “Late that day he said to them, ‘Let’s go across to the other side.’ They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, ‘Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?’ Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Settle down!’ The wind ran out of breath; the sea became as smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: ‘Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?’ They were in absolute awe, staggered. ‘Who is this, anyway?’ They asked. ‘Wind and sea at his beck and call?’”
Imagine a group of largely illiterate people hanging on every word as this story was told. They, too, would be breathless and awestruck. “Who is this, anyway?” We aren’t told in the story because we must search it out for ourselves. Paul has some ideas about how we might get there. In II Corinthians he listed all the horrible things that have happened to the people like him who had carried Jesus’ story to the world. He wanted to assure that they hadn’t suffered so much pain for no reason. “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively.”
Paul is exhorting them as Jesus did his disciples to own what they have at hand--really see what resources are available and use them creatively. Bricolage. David didn’t back down from Goliath, Jesus didn’t consider backing down from the storm, and Paul is telling the Corinthians, and us, to use this wonderful gift they have to live large and open lives so they can see and receive the gift of a life with Christ. God is with us. So many have suffered over the centuries to assure we are able to receive this message, what right do we have to not use it?
It is hard for us to believe that the miracles Jesus performed really happened. We weren’t there; we didn’t experience it. We didn’t have the water splashing over us and we weren’t afraid we were going to die at the bottom of the lake. We weren’t suddenly relieved and awed and struck speechless when the storm stopped at Jesus’ command.
But, what these stories tell us: David against Goliath, Jesus against the storm, and Paul against those who wanted him to stop spreading the good news. What each of them had was God with them. No matter what--God is here with us.
All three of these people placed themselves in vulnerable positions [Martin Smith-Sojourners (June, 2012)]. David went out with no armor to face a giant, Jesus slept in the boat with no concern for his safety, and Paul stood up to people who wanted him dead-who eventually executed him. They all used what they had at hand. David with his sling and river rocks, Jesus with his disciples who frustrated him no end, and Paul with his knowledge of Roman law and his trust that the risen Christ had called him.
So, what do we have? I hope we have all encountered Jesus in our lives. That we have come to know at least something of who he is. We have a nice building and we share it with the community. We have each other, we care about one another and the stranger who comes among us. We have a liturgy; we pray and study together. We ask questions like, “Who is this guy and why should we follow him?” We have all these wonderful stories about the Israelites and their encounters with God, about Jesus and his encounters with his disciples and the people of his community, and we have the stories of the apostles and their extreme faith that lead them to live open lives with open hearts so they could tell these stories.
If we are unsure about the miracles of Christ let us be sure in this: God is with us and he cares for us. Our liturgy has not kept up with the way we speak and believe today but it is valuable because we can say together what we trust about God. When we say together “We believe in God the Father,” we are suffering under a translation that is outdated in the way we use the word “belief”. A more appropriate translation (according to Diana Butler Bass ibid.) would be “We trust in God the Father Almighty”. All three of the people we heard about today in our readings trusted in God the Father.
The Maasai use this version of the creed because it fits with their understanding of the world:
“We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.”
As Diana writes in her book, “The creed reminds us that Christians take refuge in God the Creator, take refuge in Jesus’ teaching (forgiveness, love, and justice), take refuge in the life-giving Spirit, and take refuge in the church (the community). A vow. A prayer. An invitation. A living experience. Spiritual and religious. The heart of the faith.” Taking refuge in our faith helps us to live this open life Paul speaks of just as David and Jesus did. We can live large lives if we remain aware that God is always with us. We can use this gift we have to live creative lives in Christ--we, too, can go on safari with Jesus.