June 24, 2018

David and Goliath

Passage: 1 Samuel 17:1-11, 19-23, 32-50, Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

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!’

Keeping in mind the story of David’s unlikely defeat of Goliath, a story is told of a certain archaeologist working in Israel and who came upon a sarcophagus containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum. "I've just discovered the 3,000-year-old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!" the excited archaeologist exclaimed.

The curator replied, "Bring him in. We'll check it out." A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. "You were right about the mummy's age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?" he asked. The archaeologist replied, "Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that read, '10,000 shekels on Goliath.'"

1. There are many who are uneasy about the story of David and Goliath. The story is considered by some too violent, too indelicate for sensitive children. The story of David and Goliath is violent; so very violent, in fact, that one feature of the story never appeared in the flannelgraph lesson when I was a little fellow in Sunday School. (We used flannelkgraph before the advent of video.) While the flannelgraph lesson always depicted David slinging his stone at Goliath as the giant fell on his face, it never depicted what happened next: David ran up to Goliath, pulled out the giant’s sword, and cut off his head. It was only when the Philistines saw David brandishing Goliath’s head that they fled. The Lectionary doesn’t include reading the verse with that detail either.

As a child the story was a delight to me because of the thrill of an great adventure; it was captivating because a slender teenager trounced an enemy giant; it was exciting to learn of the courage and strength and skill of the shepherd boy who deals with marauding bear, then marauding lion, then marauding giant as the story crescendos to a climax. I know I am not a child anymore but I still love the story, however indelicate some may find it.

The point I want to probe with you, and invite you to reflect on, is David’s faith; his profound trust in God for all that he faces in life. Listen again to what he said to King Saul as he prepares to go to face the giant Goliath. “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.” We learn in scripture that David was passionate about his love for God and that he was a great champion for the poor and dispossessed. He wasn’t perfect but was said to be a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:10) His heart was attuned to the heart of God.

2. The story begins, “Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle.” The simple beginning tells us that Israel, the people of God, are immersed in conflict yet again. The Philistine action is without provocation and King Saul gathers Israel’s army to defend his people against this aggression. I note with you that, according to scripture, the state has a legitimate role to play in resisting evil. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) He went on to note that the state’s role in the use of force was to promote the good and resist wrongdoing.

I note with you, then, that David’s role in this story falls within that larger story of Philistine aggression and Israel’s legitimate defence of her people. David wears the uniform of the state, so to speak. I also note with you an observation regarding war by George Orwell, “War has never been right: war has never been sane; but sometimes war has been necessary.”

The point I am wishing to probe with you about David’s faith is that even in the midst of these unpleasant duties David’s profound trust in God is highlighted in the story. Think for a moment about police officers and their work—is it appropriate for a police officer to have faith in God as they execute their sometimes dangerous and difficult duties? This story would indicate yes! And I think the same could be said for military personnel. Putting on a military uniform does not place you outside the scope of God’s care nor the place of personal relationship with God.

Clearly the courage David finds for facing Goliath is because he knew God to be present with him in his shepherding work. David had known first hand that his victory over marauding bear and lion wasn’t because he had perfected bear-and-lion fighting skills, as if he possessed some superior skill—though he is clearly skillful; he knew that God was with him in this work of being a shepherd. David believed sheep worthy of protection in this livelihood of being a shepherd and that God would support him in the same—it is the right thing to do to care for the sheep.

Relationship with God wasn’t, for David, a spiritual activity he engaged in when he drew aside from his other duties in life. He knew God to be with him in all that he faced. I think we can learn from David. You face things in work life that require the courage of conviction to do the right thing; the courage to persist with a vision that some circumstance raise questions about. The challenges of aging that rob us of our ability to do what we once did requires courage to face. Does faith help us in meeting these things in life? David’s answer is a resounding “yes”! More importantly, David’s “yes” is an echo of God’s “yes” spoken through God’s own involvement in David’s life.

2. Let us return to the beginning of this story that tells us that Israel, the people of God, are immersed in conflict yet again. Jesus said to his disciples, “if the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you,” (John 15:28) and “in the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) Jesus speaks of this reality God’s people face—conflict riddles like. The only way to avoid conflict is to retire from life; or at least retire from facing the injustices that riddle life, the falsehoods, the betrayals, the duplicity, the victimizations.

When John Wesley was a sleepy clergyman concerned only with churchly niceties he knew no conflict at all. When, however, at age thirty-five, he felt his “heart strangely warmed”, knew that God’s mercy possessed a sinner like him, knew that the gospel was now etched so very deeply into him; from this point on he was immersed in conflict every day: conflict with church-authorities, conflict with civic authorities, conflict with magistrates and mobs and even fellow-ministers. What had he done to provoke this? He had upheld the biblical insistence on holiness, “holiness of heart and life” as he put it. Wesley knew that by God’s grace all who cling to Jesus Christ are transformed within and thereafter spend themselves to transform the society without. This fosters conflict? Yes. There are many who don’t want individuals transformed within, since such transformation rebukes their own spiritual inertia; there are many who don’t want society transformed without, since they profit from the society the way it is. Despite the conflict that dogged Wesley for the next fifty years, he never backed away from it.

To insist that such conflict is inevitable is not to say that we are pugnacious and forever looking for a fight. Nor is it to say that we have a chip on our shoulder; nor to say that we are paranoid. It is, however, to step ahead soberly, circumspectly, wisely—yet boldly too—aware at all times that conflict is inescapable.

It is a great concern to me that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes there is some supposed right to abortion inferred in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and has sought to enforce his perspective through the summer jobs grant programme policy of the Canadian government. In Canada at least 100,000 surgical abortions are performed annually. Since it’s legalization in 1969, 4 million Canadians have died from elective abortions. It is my conviction that the gospel teaches me that humans beings are created in the image of God rendering human life sacred. I stand opposed to the disregard for vulnerable human life in the womb in this insistence on a perceived a right to abortion somehow enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. If I had the ear of our Prime Minister I would note with him that it is my observation that everyone who is for abortion is already living. And it is my experience that to take such a stand for life inevitably leads me to conflict.

3. It also stands out to me that David’s faith in God calls for the best in David of who he truly is. When David offered to go out and fight Goliath people thought him to be ridiculously underequipped. King Saul offered David his own armour but David found it too cumbersome and laid it aside. David knew that he was sufficiently equipped because his equipment befitted him. He had to be himself and he comes to discover this about himself in relationship with God in his work in his life as a shepherd. It was there he discovered how skilled he could be with a sling-shot.

I was given advice about preaching long ago that, in many respects could be an application of this story of David refusing King Saul’s armour. After all the books on preaching have been read, and patterns these texts offer for preparing sermon have been tried, your objective as a preacher is to find your own voice. Yes, like a composer, you have to learn the scales and know something about the fundamentals of music. But you need to find your own voice. I think the same can be said for life in general—and David shows us that the key to finding this is living every aspect of life in relationship with God.

4. I also find that David found great courage through his faith in God. Goliath was massive; everyone knew that. Goliath was as mighty as he was massive. Before him the Israelites quaked just because he was so huge. “He’s too big to hit!”, they despaired before David. “If Goliath is that big”, replied the shepherd boy, “then he’s too big to miss!” Is David’s courage born the bravado of someone too young to know better? David’s boldness wasn’t born of arrogance; it was born of confidence in the presence and power and providence of God. David knew that God’s people have nothing to fear really, nothing to fear realistically before the forces of those who oppose Truth. David declared, “The Lord saves not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s.”

Fourteen hundred years after David had defeated Goliath, Augustine wrote, “Without God, we cannot; without us, he will not.” Both men were expressing in their own way the truth that Jesus Christ had impressed upon his disciples on the eve of his victorious death: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”(John 15:5) When Jesus insisted to his followers, “Apart from me you can do nothing” he never meant that you and I should therefore do nothing! On the contrary, in one and the same pronouncement he tells us both that apart from him we can do nothing and that our “doing” should always be bearing fruit and glorifying God. He tells us both that apart from him we can do nothing and that we must never be idle or useless. The battle is the Lord’s, even as David himself must contend.

God’s people have always known this. William Wilberforce gave fourteen years of his life in tireless efforts to end the slave trade. He suffered dreadful abuse for his efforts, but he never quit. He spent fourteen relentless years before he saw slave-trading abolished. But what about those slaves whose lot wasn’t improved by the abolition of slave-trading just because they were slaves already? Already they were the degraded possession of slave-owners. They weren’t going to be traded, but neither were they going to be freed. Whereupon Wilberforce spent the next twenty-five years of his life in order to see slave-owning abolished. Thirty-nine years of his life? His entire adult life! But he never quit. Just because Wilberforce knew the battle to be the Lord’s he knew too that he himself couldn’t shirk the battle.

We have touched on only a few things that could be probed about faith in this story of David and Goliath. I think it fitting we conclude with the interchange between our Lord’s and his disciples that day he stilled the storm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?