A Living God - Reservoir Church
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Summer at Reservoir 2023

A Living God

Ivy Anthony

Jul 16, 2023

Good morning everyone! It’s a joy to be with all of you – to be together, to devote our time to be in this particular building in North Cambridge and with you online, at this particular time, with all these amazing and likely, particular people!

Isn’t wild to look around right now. To look around at people maybe you’ve known for a really long time – or people you are looking at for the first time! To think about your own week –  all the stuff it held. The tasks, the people, the projects, the boring, the unexpected, the eating, the sleeping, the activities, the things you feel good about – the things you are wrestling with… the small things… the big, giant things. And to think that ALLLL these people in this place also had a week that had probably some of those same elements. Think about what kind of amazing humans we are – that we can navigate all of what our days hold.

I wanted to start today by inviting you to pause right now – to close your eyes and think about your week, (or your last couple of days – if you are like whoa there’s no way I can remember Monday!). And let all that you saw, all that you did, all the people you talked to, come into view… As you think about the scope of your week – what are some of the attributes about yourself that come to mind?  If you were invited to tell someone, “I am __________,” what are some descriptors you would use?

Turn to one another and share a few ways you would describe yourself – starting with this prompt, “I am _____________.”  You could take it right on the nose and say, “I am a human being, I am a daughter, I am a pastor….”  Or “I am someone who loves cats, I am strong, I am someone who loves fruity desserts…”  Take it anyway you want – at your comfort level … 

The rules of engagement are to introduce yourself – name and pronouns – and take turns sharing… if you are the listener your job is to just listen…

Thanks for being willing to engage that prompt – it might feel like a small thing to share a little bit of who you are. But I think it’s the foundation of all the big stuff ‘faith’ is made of… it’s what scripture, and prayer and community, and anything that refers to itself as “teaching,” hang on  – real life – our real lives – who we are,  and likewise a real and living God that cares about who we are – our particularness and all.  

So today we will keep mining this prompt in some fashion, I’ll also talk about hummingbirds, and David & Goliath. And you and me and the giants of our day – and I hope God talks with you too – about all of it from exactly where you are at. 

Here we go!
Let me pray for us.

God, I thank you that you are a God of uncontrolling love – a love that does loops and loops and loops around us to convince of just how much you love us – in all of our days…days that hold the big and the small moments of frustration and the big and small moments of joy – ones where we face giants that feel insurmountable and somehow God, could you help us to find ourselves not only capable of receiving of your love – but worthy of it, and empowered by it! Thank you God for such love, thank you for loving us right now.


This summer my husband Scott and I have gotten into a little bit of a rhythm of going for a walk after work. We have a loop we do that takes us down a wooded path, over a little bridge and along the edge of a pond.

And while we walk – I guess because we are getting older – we also pull out our bird apps and see what birds it identifies as we go. Our conversations kind of dart all over the place in a figure-eight pattern – from birds, to debriefing our day, to the world’s woes – to the seemingly insignificant – like grocery lists:

“Oh Scott, I forgot to tell you all the eggs are gone.”  

Really all the eggs are gone? 

Yah, we need to get more. . . 

But we had like 16 eggs left?  

Yah, I know –  they are gone. 

All of them – even the three I boiled? 

Ehm.. yah, Scott all of them.


To….. “Oh listen – there’s a yellow warbler!”

To….., the crushing weight of powerful giants in our day:

“How are we going to tackle the mental health crises of our children – their friends, of their generation?”

“What about climate change?”

“Can you believe the Supreme Court decision?”

“Vermont’s flooding?”

And our walk takes us to a clearing at the end of the edge of the pond – where it opens up onto this green field and in the middle of it is this big beech tree. 

The funny thing about bird apps – is that you are often looking at your phone in hopes of identifying a bird – rather than looking around in your environment – the canopy of trees above to see them. But for some reason a couple of weeks ago as we entered into the clearing I was just looking at this tree – and at the very, very top of this big tree is a barren branch that goes vertical .. .and at the tippy top of that branch was a hummingbird. I mean – almost invisible except for the fact that the barren branch really revealed its outline clearly. 

And it was just sitting there.  Not humming – or flying – just perched.

And for the next several walks – the hummingbird was there, every time – so exposed and so still.

Now, a creature so small (weighing less than a marshmallow), doesn’t seem like it would be served by leaving itself out visible to all predators and enemies. Surely the evolutionary traits for survival would suggest that this hummingbird should hide, protect itself in the more foliage-rich branches, and employ some sort of good armor.

There was a way that this curious posture just didn’t seem to “fit” with what I thought I knew of hummingbirds.  

In the story of David & Goliath we come across this theme of “not fitting” – not quite making sense – as we revisit this familiar story. It’s such a familiar story that I invite you to  – as best you can – enter with a fresh lens – listen with an open heart and let the story stir you as it will today.

We enter this story as David is going to King Saul to throw his name in the ring as a contender to fight Goliath. The Israelites and the Philistines had been camped on either side of the Elah Valley for 40 days  – with no movement to engage in battle – except for the unrelenting taunting and intimidation tactics of Goliath. 

So where we pick up the story today we find  David and Saul in conversation about this, and David leads with…

SCRIPTURE:  I Samuel 17:32-40 New Living Translation Study Application Bible

“Don’t worry about a thing” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight this Philistine.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There is no way you can go against this Philistine. You are only a boy, and he has been in the army since he was a boy!”

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and take the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!”

Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

Then Saul gave David his own armor – a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested. “I’m not used to them.” So he took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them in his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across to fight Goliath.

This story has become widely known as an example of how the underdog can triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds through skill, courage, and faith/God.  And indeed this is one of the great lessons of the story – but I also think it is important to pay attention to how David invites us to consider what might not “fit” anymore, both on the personal level and in the world around us.  And how it is we can anchor to who we know God to be, and who we know ourselves to be – especially when the giant of FEAR runs rampant.  

“Goliath is the Philistine champion, representing a society of warriors who wreaked havoc, violence, oppression and death from Syria to Egypt. David steps forward as Israel’s champion. He is a shepherd like his ancestors were before they were enslaved in Egypt. David represents former slaves, struggling to establish themselves in a new land.” (Pastor Ritva H Williams)

And he is the youngest of his father Jesse’s sons – with some of his brothers already in Saul’s army.  Jesse tells him to go bring provisions to his brothers and that is when he hears the threats of Goliath and Goliath’s call for one Israelite representative to come forward to fight him. 

Now Goliath is a symbol of so-called advanced culture – he has got it right – he has traditional war weapons, he has armor, he is powerful. He is big. He is strong, he’s intimidating –  and this is a pretty good strategy as he goes into battle. King Saul of course recognizes all these traditional ways of battle and says,

‘hey the only way to go about this is to take this ‘gear’

and so he offers David all of his war armor.  It makes sense, it follows the rules of battle  – you put on all the armor you can.

And David does – he tries on Saul’s armor right? But he says,

I can’t go in these.” 

In scripture it says he protests!

“I’m not used to them.”

So he took them off again.

“I can’t go in these. It’s not going to work.”

And there’s a way we can read this and say –

“way to go David! Yah, you are a shepherd boy of course this heavy, too-big armor doesn’t work for you.” 

But I think David is inviting us to consider his move to be more than just a personal choice for preference and comfort. 

I don’t know about you – but it seems like we live in a land and time of giants. Where Goliaths roam and have wreaked havoc for a long time and have set up camp to stay.  Division and hate and violence seem to be the regular tools of human engagement and the insidious weapons of white supremacy, patriarchy, misogyny, power in the mouths of a few, anti-LGBTQIA laws, coercion (and so on), seem to be the armies we battle day in and day out. 

It’s so exhausting, so disheartening, so comprehensive that most days I find myself resorting to the rules of engagement set for centuries. Fighting in the same pattern except trying to yell louder, point fingers stronger. Or I can disengage…. camp out on the other side of the valley and remain distant – convincing myself that any effort I put out is too small to matter.  I mean this is the pattern of our nation since its inception – and I can see that the tactics, the armor doesn’t seem to be working… Doesn’t lead us all out of the valley unto greater freedom.  

We can beat ourselves up about this – and feel trapped – and that’s also by design. Because the central mechanism in all of these oppressive and unhealthy systems – is an insidious giant itself –  FEAR.

Fear as a tool to keep everyone in their places, to break your spirit. To doubt your thoughts – disregard your impact, and fear is a battle strategy that maps out just how many institutions it can cull into its bunkers. From state houses, to supreme courts, to prisons, to churches… And it targets the most marginalized and minority populations.

And so it is not surprising that sometimes it’s easier to fight fear with things that don’t fit us. As I’ve listened to the 25 stories that have been rolling out to commemorate Reservoir’s 25 years of existence – it is clear that some of you have had experiences with this in faith settings.  Where churches fight fear with things that don’t fit –

“like choosing harmful theologies, clinging to tradition, taking on the cultural values that will appease” (enfleshed.com)

– offering up interpretations of scripture through a narrow lens that doesn’t work at including all people – and never worked – but nevertheless offering it as the one and only truth.

But David shows us here that we can transform our fear in constructive ways. And how necessary it is  – because the alternative is actually the scariest thing… The alternative is to continue in something – whether that’s a relationship or job or community of faith- when you know that it fundamentally does not fit.

Doesn’t work. Does harm. That’s what’s really scary.

David offers us a glimpse of what it looks like to stop and question a solution to a problem that models the source of the problem in the first place. He suggests in his refusal to put on this armor, that there is more than one way to go to battle.

That there can be creative and faithful responses to oppressive forces, systems of evil, or harmful values without simply returning them in-kind (enfleshed.com), or fumbling around in armor that no longer fits… David breaks from the traditional approach of self-defense.

David’s seemingly small move here – to say

“no, I’m not going to wear this armor”

– breaks convention. Which is actually colossal. And he shifts the rules of engagement from power and fear – to vulnerability and the unexpected. A 10-year old shepherd boy and a slingshot. Bearing no markers of patriarchal strength. Who says, “no.” 

David’s “no” – can seem insignificant – but it is what disrupts everything.

His “no”, is a distinct refusal to be like Saul, to be like the nation, to be like this Philistine.  It isn’t just a refusal of armor – it is a refusal to be party to an oppressive system itself.

It is an invitation for us to see that we have a fighting chance against oppressive forces.


Who is he? 

What does he draw on? 

He draws on the strength and courage of a LIVING GOD. And he knows he is a “child of this LIVING God.” A LIVING GOD that he has encountered not in “it is well with my soul” moments of peace, free of challenge… but in a lifetime of facing fear. Let’s not forget that David comes from a long ancestral line of shepherds.

David lets Saul know that he is a shepherd, no stranger to fear – the lions, and the bears – fear has been present, and David has allowed FEAR to be his teacher. Shepherds’ lives were not idyllic. They were out in the fields in all conditions, they were under constant  pressure to be attentive to threats – to keep themselves alive and their livelihood, these sheep – alive…. It was dirty, it was uncomfortable – it was hard.  

 And as a shepherd his role was not to just watch the sheep – but to watch the perimeter of their lives, where these sheep graze. Shepherds watch it and stand guard at this line –  for incoming trouble. They train themselves to identify potential and real harm. That’s where their focus is – their sights are on this line where danger, fear, threats and anxiety come to penetrate the pasture and the flock. Their hearts and their bodies stay awake to the danger constantly.

Their job is to be professional – fear- gazers. 

And additionally many shepherds were by society, regarded as “sinners” – a technical term used to describe a class of despised people.

Howard Thurman – talks about this reality in his book Jesus and the Disinherited – he says that

“the underprivileged in any society are victims [of fear] – of a perpetual war of nerves.” 

And oppressive systems depend and survive on crushing the worth and the dignity of people – he says,

“the socially disadvantaged are constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: “Who am I? What am I?”

So the battle at hand is not only circumstantial – not only unjust laws  – it is a battle to protect the truth of who God regards them to be.

David knows he is a shepherd – regarded as lowly – at the periphery. And yet he also knows God is with him, that God is living.  As David details to Saul his battles with a lion or a bear – “yes,” he mentions his own abilities – in partnership – with the living God. BUT he clearly credits God as the one who saves him from the claws and the mouths of these animals. 

And it is from that foundation that God affirms who David is –

“yes you are shepherd, yes you are a son, and you are a “king.” And you are a “force” and you are “worthy” and you have insurmountable “dignity,” and you are a “child of God.” And I am always with you.

Fear as a tool of the oppressor to limit, trap and control. Now transforms into fear of God. A good fear. A fear meaning “awe” – fear meaning an experience of the mighty, uncontrolling love of God. A God that is always fighting for us to discover our intrinsic power, gifts, talents and abilities.

God is with me – God sees me – I matter. I am not forgotten. I am not trapped.  This calls to life a profound sense of personal worth – that can absorb the fear reaction” (Thurman 40).

These are the smooth stones – we run through our fingers in our pocket reminding us that these truths are in fact our weapons.

As I visited that tree – and that hummingbird was there –  always on that same perch – I really marveled at it – it had this supernatural quality to it. This David-like spirit.  It’s little beak slightly lifted in the air – confident, daring.   But I watched for so long each time – because I was also so scared for her. It couldn’t be that such a tiny tiny little being could defy the massive giants that threaten her at all sides. 

But this hummingbird seemed to be comfortable in its innate capabilities – more known to her, than to me! Hummingbird characteristics don’t “fit” into regular avian species traits. They defy all ordinary limits of what biology and physics conspire to render possible.

“Like no other bird among the thousands of known avian species, they can fly backward and upside-down, and can hover. And their wings do not flap up and down, as wings do in ordinary bird flight, but they swivel rapidly along this invisible curvature of an infinity symbol.” (Marginlinian, Maria Popova)

I was convinced that the reason she returned to this spot – and picked this vulnerable, high perch – was because she had a nest in the tree – protecting that which she loves. Her babies. And oh, how I would get that  – Scott and my conversation about solving the world’s woes – is in part because we want to set our own babies up for a world in which they can flourish. And it may be true -maybe there was a nest –  but I also think she just knew herself well. This primal trust in her design, the power and strength to be free  – to fly figure-eights around any incoming threat or enemy.  

We can get swept into the battle of preserving and defending ideas and traditions – unto death. All the while losing sight of the people in our midst who need the protection of community and belonging. David knew he didn’t want to usher in another king to reign with terror and might – he wanted the people of Israel to discover their strength and courage as children of a living God. This truth, the one that’s embedded in our design, our DNA when uncovered – 

“results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power.” (Thurman 39)

These are truths of who we are in God – they are simple – they can seem so small but are so full of power.  They are also so countercultural that we need to be told them over and over and over again – in a figure-eight pattern, an infinity pattern – in order to withstand the giants of our days.  This is the armor we need. 

“I am a child of God. I am loved. I am enough. I am empowered.”

This is the power that systems,, and organizations, and communities should be concerned about… especially churches – HOW do we set-up EVERYONE to belong – in a more just, more free – more healthy society?

How do we create enough space for that to be so – and not be AFRAID of that space, or try to control that space with rules and regulations – to allow people to discover their whole selves in the company of the living God.

A God that loves to watch us fly – to take risks – to upend the norm.  Not control us.   Because the profound sense of belonging – of counting – of mattering … in this vast, GIANT, overwhelming world is vital.

Let us not forget what is ours to do in the moment – even if it feels inconsequential.  Maybe it’s a simple “no” – where you would have usually said ‘yes’. 

Maybe it’s pausing to sit – when you otherwise would be busy.

Maybe it’s buying more eggs – so you can have neighbors over for breakfast…

Whatever it is – know that you do not necessarily have to bridge all divides across the country – fight all the battles of the day. What is yours to do could just be right in front of you, with what you have, and who you know yourself to be, with a LIVING GOD. 

 “Faith and awareness of the presence of the living God with you – this is what overcomes fear and transforms it into power – to thrive – to flourish – and TO not YIELD to the Goliath’s that roam about.” (paraphrased Thurman 47)

To end,  why don’t you close your eyes and think about that question we started with, “Who am I?” Maybe there’s more that comes to mind, maybe it’s the same – but I want to add one more smooth stone to your bag and that is, 

“I am a child of God.”

I am a child of the living God.”  

And unto this, my friends… there is no weapon that threatens.