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Sermon: I Am with You

July 3, 2009

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Emma was five years old, and there was a giant troll outside her bedroom window. That warty, green monster was huffing and puffing. Its booming voice sent shivers through her body, and its powerful arms were thrashing the trees and shrubs about, making an enormous racket. The troll wanted more than anything to break through Emma’s window and swallow her whole. She was sure it would happen at any moment.

Emma was afraid to move. She was afraid that if she uttered a sound, the monster would be on her in a flash. But Emma had to have help. “Mom! Mom!”

Soon, the light in the hallway came on. Immediately, Emma calmed down. The cavalry was on its way. Her mother’s footsteps padded along, closer and closer. Mom poked her head in the door.

“What’s the matter, honey?”

“I’m scared.”

“It’s just a thunderstorm. You’re all right.”

“I’m scared.”

“Do you want me to sit with you for a minute?”

“Yeah.”

Mom sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her daughter’s hair. The lightning and the wind raged on outside, but the troll was gone. Emma fell asleep.

* * * * *

Remember Moses? He did not want to go back to the land of Egypt. “Find somebody else,” he begged.

“No, you go. I will be with you.”

“But I am a terrible public speaker.”

“You go. I will be with your mouth.”

And do you remember the disciples of Jesus at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew? Jesus left them, telling them to baptize and teach in his absence. He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And in today’s reading, David was anointed king by the elders of Israel—his third anointing—and David became greater and greater because God was with him.

Whether you are a little girl afraid of a thunderstorm or the greatest king of God’s Chosen People, it is good to have somebody bigger than you are, stronger than you are and smarter than you are on your side. “I am with you” is the one bit of knowledge that makes everything possible by driving out all fear, turning trolls into thunderstorms, and scary giants into food for the birds of the air. “I am with you” allows you to live and serve boldly, knowing that your failures will be caught up in those great big arms of love.

From the beginning, David needed that “I am with you.” It began years earlier when the prophet Samuel anointed David king, even while the real king was still on his throne. But at that anointing, God’s spirit filled David up. God was with David in the battle with the giant Goliath, and when King Saul tried to kill David and pursued him all throughout the land. God was with David after Saul died, and during the civil war between David and one of Saul’s surviving sons. Finally, God was with David when he was recognized as the king by all of the Hebrew people, and he established his capital in Jerusalem. “I am with you.”

The elders of the tribes of Israel came to David in a position of weakness. They had previously backed Saul’s son during the recent civil war. Now that Saul’s son was dead, it was obvious that David had won. They had not recognized that God was with David. Now it was obvious that God had chosen David, and not the son of Saul. So they said, “Please remember that we are your bone and flesh. We’re all one big family, here. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

The elders also tried to stroke David’s ego. “We knew all along,” they said, “that even while Saul was king, you were the one who provided the leadership. You led us in battle.

“Plus, you are truly the one chosen by God to be shepherd over us. You shall be our ruler.” The elders said these things as if they had known them all along, as if they had never backed a different horse in the civil war. And they waited with bated breath, for David to respond.

Even though these elders were very recently his enemies, David knew they spoke the truth. He had been chosen by God to lead these people of his bone and flesh. It was the reason for which God was with him.

* * * * * *

That promise—“I will be with you”—is not made only for the bigwigs, for kings and prophets and apostles. “I am with you” is for all the people. Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery, and God was present to the whole crowd, leading them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Christians, too, recognize that God is with each one of us. The book of Acts tells us that the presence of God through the Holy Spirit comes to us in our baptism.

It is very difficult, however, to recognize when this promise has been fulfilled. I know very clearly when my wife is with me if we are in a room together and holding hands. My children are aware when I am sitting by their bedsides when they are sick. But I don’t always feel that God is with me. In fact, I am not usually aware of any special presence of God in my life. And for someone who has just been laid off or received a terrible diagnosis from the doctor or who has just lost someone very important, God may seem very much absent.

We cannot quantify the presence of God. Every once in a while, you might feel something and know that it is God. But even then, how can you explain that to someone else? In almost every moment of my life, I rely on faith and memory to know that God is with me.

I can remember the time when God sent me the gift of inner peace when my entire life seemed in turmoil. I can remember the unexpected joy I received in the gift of my granddaughter, who arrived at a time that was not convenient for anyone. And I have the memories of scripture that tell how God was with Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Aaron, David, the disciples. Those memories allow me to trust, to have faith, that even though my soul feels dry, and I am at my wits’ end, God is even then with me. It doesn’t mean that I never doubt, that I never panic or ask God why I have been left all alone. But most of the time, even if I don’t feel it, I can trust that God is with me. The Great Parent sits by my bedside on a stormy night.

We believe the promise that in Holy Communion Jesus is with us and is made known to us in the breaking of the bread. We gather at this table, and Jesus is the host. For some people, this is the place where they feel closest to God. Everybody is welcome here. God yearns to be near each of us just as much as we crave a sense of God’s presence. So as you come forward to receive the bread and the juice, look and listen, taste and see, and pay attention with your heart, for you might just learn for yourself that God is with you.

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