Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
June 10, 2018
1st Samuel 17: 4-11, 49 – The Message
A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor—126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail—the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him.
8-10 Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”
11 When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.
David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, facedown in the dirt.
David and Goliath is such a familiar, iconic, story that I could almost say “David and Goliath,” let you fill in your own examples of victories for the little guy, and say “Amen.” But who is who?
For example, this morning, in a number of churches, preachers are talking about a Colorado cake-baker as a David figure, taking down the Goliath of a secular society on the rise, threatening the deeply held convictions of religious people. At least, the deeply held religious convictions of those who tell everyone their convictions are the only ones. It’s not about tolerance for all beliefs, all religions, but power for a few.
I too have deeply held religious convictions but I hail Edith Windsor as the David in the battle with Goliath. This Pride month, I hail the black and latinx drag queens of Stonewall who fought back against another humiliating raid. I celebrate the David-ness of Richard and Mildred Loving who slayed the last giant of legal prejudice against interracial marriage 51 years ago on Tuesday. People had deeply held religious convictions about that too, not to mention slavery and segregation as well. Hard to believe, but that Goliath was slain.
But, perhaps let’s not focus on dividing ourselves into another battle of the Israelites and Philistines, though I fear we are in for another 40 years of “religious liberty” battles. But first, let’s go back to the original story.
As the story goes, David was a young boy, a musician, a shepherd, who came to the battlefield to bring his three older brothers some lunch. The Philistines had been trying to destroy Israel for years. It had come down to one last battle, but as it turns out, this last battle would be between just two warriors. Goliath and whomever Israel sent to take him on. Whichever lost, their whole nation would become the slave of the other. But no one would come forward. The stalemate had lasted 40 days.
David was astounded. Why are you just standing around? It was unthinkable that no one would stand up to this guy, even though Goliath was two or three or even four feet taller than the rest. Even today, the way the text tells it, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neill would have to look up to him. Like these players, Goliath was built. To make the point, the text tells us his armor weighed 126 pounds, perhaps the same as David.
No one would even try to slay that Goliath. So, seeing no one else step up, David insisted he could do it because as a shepherd, he had the experience of taking down the lions and bears that tried to kill his sheep. Everyone thought he was foolish, but no one else was willing, so King Saul reluctantly agreed.
But first, Saul wanted to cover David in armor. Of course, he would have looked silly. But more to the point, he would have been hardly able to move. He refused. Then unencumbered, David approached Goliath. David called out, in his pubescent voice, “You come after me with swords and spears and ax, but I come at you in the name of God Almighty.”
Do you remember Bree Newsome? She was the woman in South Carolina who climbed the flagpole on the state capitol grounds to take down the confederate flag. When Bree climbed that flagpole, she yelled to those waiting to arrest her: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence.” As she removed the flag, she yelled, “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” On her ascent up the flagpole, she also quoted David’s most famous Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not fear.”
David called out, think of the voice of the Peanuts character Linus, “You come after me with swords and spears and ax, but I come at you in the name of God Almighty,” but Goliath just laughed and snorted. Imagine James Earl Jones. “This is who you send?!! An apple-cheeked, peach-fuzzed little boy?” Goliath threatened to grind David into roadkill. But David just calmly searched the ground, picking up one stone after another, feeling for just the right five stones to put in his pouch.
Now if this were a Hollywood movie, he would have missed his target the first four times. The first stone would have gone off wildly into the river. The second stone might have almost struck a bird. Each time a little closer. But scripture says it took just one shot. Placed perfectly on Goliath’s temple, on his body otherwise covered in 126 pounds of metal. And the giant lay slain on the ground. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Israel prevailed. The young shepherd boy musician was a hero.
No wonder everyone knows this. It’s a great story. So many of us can relate. In fact, as one writer said, “In a country of more than 300 million people, we all have one thing in common. We all think we’re that little guy. Ninety-nine out of 100 people identify with David. Yet it’s funny how many of us still spend our lives trying to become as powerful as Goliath.”
There are a lot of Goliaths in our world. Although, we should also ask, how are we like Goliath? But that’s another sermon.
My question today is: who is your Goliath? But first, maybe we need to ask: what is a Goliath? Maybe a bully. Maybe a fear that is 10 feet tall. The tyrant on Pennsylvania Avenue? I suggest Goliath is anything or anyone we can’t get out of our mind and becomes the only thing we see. Maybe bellowing and taunting. (tweeting)
But what else keeps us awake at night? Big hairy giants. Like debt. Can I ever climb out of debt? Or cancer. Will she get through it – all the treatments, all the side effects? Or, will it come back again? Will I get it? Which is naturally about grief, and death – fear of our own or of someone we love. Sometimes it’s the only thing we can see. Yet, every minute spent worrying about death has already cut our lives shorter by that very worrying. How do we slay that Goliath?
And relationships. Sometimes they tower over us 10-feet tall. Problems with friends; all those dysfunctional work relationship dynamics; and the strain put on our relationships when the needs of our children, spouses and parents are all sandwiched together.
They can become larger than life, like David’s Goliath. And yet, how many of our Goliath’s are actually small, and often quite petty? What would happen if we discovered the Wizard, our Goliath, is just a little man behind a curtain?
Our 10-foot Goliath may be a bunch of little issues magnified out of proportion. Or it may be that one great big giant of an obstacle that seems unbeatable and impossible to defeat. Or maybe we’re so intimidated, we never even try to slay our Goliath.
So, as I thought about what to say today, I imagined searching the ground, picking up different stones, getting a feel for them, and asking - what five stones could we use to bring down our Goliath? Any one of which could do the job.
The first stone could be Reality. Just what are we really facing? To look at our reality instead of our fear. And not letting someone else’s fear become my fear.
Maybe David just had fresh eyes. He hadn’t been staring at Goliath for 40 days. When he walked up, he saw a big man slathered in metal who couldn’t run as fast as him. All that stood in front of him was a big bully with a hole in his armor, not a lion or a bear. Reality wasn’t as bad as the fear. Might that be true for us too? How bad is it really? Have you tried asking a friend?
It might have been logical that David could take out Goliath. He could have measured their relative heights, studied just the right angle for the sling, tested the strength of the leather… But he still had to do it, all while people stood around him saying he was foolish to try. Perhaps it is trite, but the second stone I suggest we pick up is Courage. It takes courage to stand up to our Goliaths. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
The counterpart to courage, our third stone could be Foolishness. We absolutely need a certain measure of wisdom and discernment. But sometimes all we need is a little foolishness. Instead of permission, to ask for forgiveness…
But did David even need a stone? He told Goliath, “you come at me with hatred and violence, with your threats and empty words. I come at you in the name of God – who protects my mind, body, spirit, and strength.” Perhaps the fourth stone is a non-stone. A non-violent response.
For example, who demonstrated more power to slay Goliath than those who marched in Selma and Washington? Those who sat at lunch counters and rode buses across state lines? What they faced down, however, wasn’t simply their fear. Those dogs were real, biting into children. Those fire hoses were real, slamming bodies against the wall. The ropes slung over trees were real. Black men and women and children were literally hung as forms of entertainment and intimidation. To expose this evil, everyday citizens exhibited unbelievable courage (some may have thought foolishly). All without the use of a stone. And what continues to inspire me was how many simply said, “It was just God.” God is what made the civil rights movement so powerful. God is the David at work slaying the Goliaths of white supremacy, nationalism, and fake appeals to God and country; sometimes disguised as religious liberty.
So, we have stones for Reality instead of fear; Courage and Foolishness. A non-stone for God. What’s our fifth stone?
That’s when the cursor on my screen sat unmoving. Blinking. Taunting me. No ideas were coming and I didn’t want to finish with a cliché. Then ideas did come, but the words were odd. I finally made a list of them. A fifth stone for Discouragement? A stone to remind us of our Disadvantages. Our Difficulties, Shortcomings and Weaknesses. I had this unusual array of choices for the fifth stone. Until it finally dawned on me. All those words were pointing to the greatest power we have. The strength that comes to us in our Vulnerability. It was his vulnerability, the lack of armor to weigh him down, for example, that made David invincible.
After all, the greatest power we have is not our acts of faith and courage. David didn’t make the mistake of thinking it was about him. David said to Goliath, “This very day God is handing you over to me. Then the whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God does not save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God.” David’s victory was not meant to bring him glory. It was to show the world that the work of slaying Goliath is God’s to do, alongside the vulnerable.
Maybe we shouldn’t be picking up stones at all but finding ways to put them down. Perhaps the challenge is not to become well balanced and free of fear, but to lay down our swords, spears, and stones to show the world the power of God in our vulnerability.
This sounds very much like something the guru of vulnerability, Brené Brown, would say. She contends that vulnerability makes our lives better. She said, “I was raised in a ‘get ‘er done’ and ‘suck it up’ family and culture. Very Texan, [she said,] German-American. [I recognize that part.] The tenacity and grit of my upbringing has served me, but I wasn’t taught how to deal with uncertainty or how to manage emotional risk. I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty.”
For example, there is no certainty the first time we walk through the doors of a church. We have to risk to belong. What a blessing, but we must first become vulnerable to walk through the door. There is no certainty that we will feel welcome, no matter how diligent we are with our web searches. We must be vulnerable to belong.
And creativity. Creativity doesn’t come from certainty. Creativity comes from being open to what comes, including blank screens and blinking cursors. We must be vulnerable to create.
And certainty kills religion. A black and white faith is not faith. It places us into categories for who is in and who is out. And after all, in the end, even love is a risk. Giving love and being loved. What does it mean to say, “God is love?” A risk? We must be vulnerable to love and be loved.
Goliath was slain when David made himself vulnerable. He took off the armor others thought he needed and stood there by himself and used the skills he had learned in times of danger. And then let God work through him. He leaned into that place where the foolishness of God is more than our wisdom. And the weakness of God is more than our strength. That's always been the strength, the power, of coming out.
Facing reality instead of fear (although some reality is really dangerous), courage, foolishness, non-violence, and vulnerability. What do you think? Maybe the story of David and Goliath is more than just a story of victory for the little guy. Even though, I really like that part too.
 1st Corinthians 1:25
My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and a Travelling around the world