- The Rt. Rev. John L. Rabb
Hey kid? Whatcha Got in that Bag?
It was, no doubt, laughable to Goliath and the Philistines when David, the ruddy, little shepherd kid, arrived to do battle. He tells the Philistines that he has the name of the “Lord of hosts,” which no doubt put fear into the hearts of the Philistines. So, Goliath looks at David and sees a bag. So, no doubt, he says; “hey kid, what’cha got in that bag?” Laughing all the time, of course. So, David says I have a stone and small sling. Goliath laughs! “Okay kid now I am really scared!” I have a great army and my weapons and all you have is that little bag! Oh, this will be easy.” So, the story goes that David takes the stone and slings it and that is the end of Goliath!
We need to realize that when it comes to the Gospel and the power of God we are not unlike David, and in many ways the world asks; “Hey, kid what’cha got in that bag?” In many ways we even diminish ourselves by thinking more about what we do not have and less about what we do have; only this small bag with a stone.
The story of David with Goliath is about the surprising power of God’s will working in and through us. And how it is not like all worldly things. Consistent through the books of I and II Samuel and I and II Kings is that reality that people underestimate God’s power and refuse to honor it and take on world ways. Why did God repent over Saul? Saul thought he knew more than God, and that he knew what was needed and not needed, and God needed to trust him and not the other way around!
Far from being a popular and well-known folk legend the story of David and Goliath is to tell us to put our trust in God and to act as God wills and wants. The results will be surprising!
As we are focusing on our Franciscan pilgrimage I want to share two things out of the Franciscan tradition that speak to “what we’ve got in this bag.” There is a tradition called minority or diminishment, one of the four pillars. It means that as people we are subject one to another and do not seek to dominate others but see all as children of God. When I was a resident at the Franciscan International Study Centre in 2004 this was practiced in that all of us, faculty, students and fellows were called solely by our baptized names, with no titles. Lay or ordained, religious or secular we all used only baptized names, all shared in the various tasks and lived in true community.
In time I came to see this tradition as pillar for justice. Injustice comes when we try to separate and diminish people, when we try to stereotype them and have “us” versus “them.” This is contrary to God’s will, and why Franciscans are committed to always standing with their brothers and sisters regardless of faith, race, gender, sexual orientation or whatever. We have seen all too tragically how we do separate out people; out of fear with even families being broken up.
The right and faithful thing, even that which is in accord with the dream of God, may not be practical or popular. Often the reactions we get are “really, that little bag!” I always find the strangest comment when speaking of faithful actions to be told; “Now in the real world!” What could be more real than God’s world, or in this case “what we have in this little bag.”
A second story as one we will have some opportunity to see up close in Assisi is the “Assisi Connection.” During World War II Italy was first allied with Germany and then surrendered and became one of our allies. The Nazis decided after the disastrous destruction of Monte Casino, place of St. Benedict and the Benedictine tradition to leave Assisi alone, after all how much trouble could a bunch of nuns, friars and priests do? Well desiring to save the Jewish people, especially the children, the Franciscans hid them in Assisi. They arranged a special printing station and created false documents allowing people to have travel documents to escape from the Nazi horror. With children, who had often already been separated, they simply hid, cared for and took care of them.
They even honored their own faith. Why? Francis would say that the Gospel demands no person can be subject over another and no person can be put in danger or cast out. The whole thing was so masterfully done that it was not until the liberation of central Italy by the British that it was discovered how many people were saved by the “Assisi Connection.”
My sisters and brothers we as the church so often come at matters much more about what we do not have than what we have, the fullness of God’s grace. When others say to us in so many ways; “what-cha got in that little bag?” we flinch, back off or become exceedingly anxious.
Let us do as David and know that in our “little bags” is the fullness of God’s grace. Now let us go out in that tradition and in the tradition of Francis and make the world a better, more just, more peaceful and more loving place! Amen.
Bishop Rabb served as Bishop Suffragan of Maryland from 1998 to 2011 and was Bishop in Charge in 2007-2008. Prior to being elected in Maryland, he was rector of St. Anne’s, Atlanta, Georgia. After retiring, he was Bishop in Residence at St. John’s, Ellicott City and in 2016-2017 was interim rector. Now he worships at St. David’s, Roland Avenue, where his wife Sharon is a vestry member and active in other ministries. John Rabb has an interest and passion for St. Francis of Assisi and was a fellow in residence at the Franciscan International Study Centre in 2004. He is currently working on two books. One is about Franciscan discipleship and its place in the contemporary church and the second is an explanation of The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis. John has been to Assisi several times and was the leader of the pilgrimage in 2016 that followed the one we are planning for June of 2019.