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Sun, Jun 24, 2018

With God's Help

Duration:28 mins 7 secs

Throughout the summer we are following readings suggested by the lectionary from the Old Testament in a series we’ve titled, “Called: Flaws and All.” As we encounter the unique and memorable characters of Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon we pray that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear how God might be calling us as indiviudals and all of us together as the church in new and perhaps surprising ways.

So, our Second Reading for today comes from 1 Samuel, chapter 17, verses 31-50. David has been anointed as king of Israel by the old prophet Samuel. Yet, there is already a king of Israel and his name was Saul. In our text for today, Saul has led the people of Israel out against the Philistines, Israel’s hostile neighbors from the coast. Instead of a full-blown battle between the two armies, a Philistine champion by the name of Goliath issues a personal challenge, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man that we may fight together.” Saul and the Israelite army heard these words, looked at Goliath, and were greatly afraid.

David enters the picture as one sent by his father Jesse to bring food to his brothers who serve in Saul’s army. David arrives just in time to hear the Philistine repeat his challenge. While we know a battle between the two is coming, the buildup is just as important. So, let us hear this Word of God, as David first speaks with Saul and then with Goliath.

31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

This is the ultimate dramatic story, isn’t it? A challenge is issued, a crowd cowers in fear, and then finally one stands up to defend his people’s honor. Not a warrior, but a boy. Not armed to the teeth, but a shepherd with a sling and five smooth stones. Can the underdog emerge triumphant – of course he will because this story has become iconic.

People of all ages love this story, but especially children. When my boys were small, we loved to watch the Veggie Tales version of David and Goliath. I think I loved that version as much or even more than they did. For those who might not remember, Veggie Tales faithfully depicted biblical stories with animated talking vegetables as the main characters. In this case, a little asparagus named Dave confronts a quite ugly and mean Giant Pickle. The stone flies from the slingshot and knocks the giant on his head. The pickle falls causing a terrible crash. The Israelite vegetables cheer, the Philistine French peas run away, and Dave the asparagus rides off on a sheep singing, “With God’s help, little guys can do big things too.”

I mention that Veggie Tales version this morning because that song reminds us of something we adults often miss in this story. Yes, “With God’s help, little guys can do big things too.” When we tell this story, we tend to focus on the little guy’s courage or superior military tactics. This story becomes a metaphor for athletic contests in which heart and scrap and bravery triumph over apparent talent and strength. Popular journalist and writer Malcolm Gladwell has even written a book called, “David and Goliath,” in which he explores: “What happens when ordinary people confront giants … [or] powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression.”

Now, I will admit Gladwell has written a good book, but as inspirational as the stories that we adults tell about underdogs overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds, we tend to lose the most important aspect of the actual biblical story: With God’s help …. And when we miss God’s place in the story, we find ourselves trapped with one of the four other responses to the crisis.

First, on one side of the valley we find the Philistines. The Philistines are the constant threat to Israel during these early days of monarchy. The Philistines are known for their advances in technology and have a near monopoly on the production of iron. Goliath’s armor and weapons indicate this superiority – a bronze helmet, a coat of mail, a javelin, and a massive spear made of iron. All of this technology makes the Philistines arrogant and overconfident. If there is a battle to be fought, surely, we will win … have you ever heard that before?

Emerging from the arrogance of the Philistines’ technology and military weaponry is the second option – the ultimate bully Goliath. He stands six cubits and a span – nearly 7 feet tall. He is so well armed that he needs someone else to carry his shield. He taunts the Israelites: “Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me.  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” You only make that kind of challenge if you are confident that you are going to win. The arrogance of the bully draws every eye in the valley – both Philistines and Israelites - to himself. He dominates everything. Have you ever heard that before?

Looking at the giant and hearing his insults, the people of Israel are filled with fear. No one accepts Goliath’s challenge. Day after day the bully shouts his insults. The people see him and hear him, but fear paralyzes them. Circle the wagons, keep everyone safe, don’t let anyone stand out, maintain the status quo, and certainly do not confront the bully because he might turn on you. Have you ever heard that before?

Yes, the arrogant, the bully, the fearful. There is one more. When the people of Israel first called out for a king, they “wanted to be like the other nations” and to have a king “who would lead them into battle.” That’s exactly the king they found in Saul. He stood a head taller than anyone else in Israel. There was “none like him among all the people.” Saul had led them into battle and for a while he had been quite skilled at it. Even in our text for today, we find that Saul his own complete set of armor – bronze helmet, coat of mail, and a sword. Saul is the champion of Israel. His power and courage are found in his height, his strength, and his weapons.

But now he has encountered one who is taller, stronger, and better armed. He does not know what to do. When David appears and declares that he will fight Goliath, Saul initially protests. But convinced that David will not be deterred, Saul tries his very best to help. In fact, he helps the only way he knew how: pile on the armor, protect yourself, and get a weapon with proven effectiveness. Saul allows Goliath to set the terms of the battle. Goliath has asked for hand to hand combat, so Saul tries to prepare David for it. He cannot see another way. He keeps doing what he has always done and hopes for different results. Have you ever heard that before?

So, these are the four options that David encounters when he enters the valley with provisions for his brothers. One arrogant army and one fearful army. A bully casting insults and a supposed champion stuck in an old paradigm. All eyes on Goliath. All conversation about Goliath. As Presbyterian pastor and writer Eugene Peterson says:

David entered the valley with a God–dominated, not a Goliath dominated imagination … He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing – Goliath terror, Goliath phobia. It was an epidemic worse than cholera, everyone down with Goliath sickness, a terrible disease of spirit that had Saul and his entire army incapacitated.

David sees another way. Yes, we tell this story as the triumph of David over Goliath. But David says this is a story about God.

In a world of traditional power, where might makes right, David doesn’t have a chance. But David doesn’t see the world in those terms, in which power is held only by human hands, wits, and weapons. No, David sees a world where there’s power in a name, the name YHWH – the God who delivers.

For YHWH had seen the people’s suffering and had heard their cry in Egypt, so he delivered them from their slavery. YHWH had heard the people’s cry as they entered the Promised Land, so he delivered them from the Canaanites. When the Philistines had attacked before and the people cried out, YHWH had raised up judges to deliver them. This is the history of the people of Israel: their God delivers if only the people will call out and trust in Him.

Before Saul, before Goliath, David calls on YHWH by name. He seems to be the only one in the whole valley who remembers that there is a God in Israel because he has personal experience with this God. “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine,” is what David tells Saul. In the face of Goliath’s threats and curses, David responds, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

On those terms, on those theological terms, both Saul and Goliath with their conventional power world view are severely overmatched. Both the arrogance of the Philistine army and the paralyzing fear of the Israelite army fall away. David stakes his life on the power of YHWH. The battle is brief, only two verses after 47 verses of buildup. With God’s help David emerges victorious. Now there can be no doubt that there is a God in Israel, a living God, a God who delivers not with sword and spear, but in God’s inscrutable ways.

My friends in the midst of this crazy world we so often fall into one of the other four options when confronted with a crisis. We are arrogant in our weapons, technology, and abilities. We let the bullies of this world dominate the public square and set the agenda. We are paralyzed by fear and despair. We keep trying the same things with no different results.

We are called to live another way – a way of a God-dominated consciousness, a way of faith and courage that calls forth our very best gifts from us. Will people look at you and at me and at us and say, “Surely there is a God with them?”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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