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Taken Seriously with David & Goliath

Sermon 352

St. Martin’s 108 (Riverway)


[The Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? 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.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.]

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 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.” 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, 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. 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.” 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!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 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. 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.

The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 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.” 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. 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, 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.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 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.

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

Kid’s Bible

I’ve been doing a lot of research for my sermon this week; combing through the source material, looking at different translations, burning the midnight oil finding clues in the text, but what I really mean is I’ve been in our two-year-old’s room comparing her different children’s Bibles. Still a tough job, I’ve gotta say.

But today’s reading from 1st Samuel is very well known, many thanks to it being one of the few Old Testament readings that is always included in kid’s Bibles. You can count on Adam and Eve, the Flood, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

For one reason or another, Joshua’s violent conquest of Canaan and the sensual prose from Song of Solomon get left out of those Bibles.

I found it interesting that all the kid's stories and even the lectionary committee who picked this passage decided to leave out what David does once Goliath has fallen to the ground. To make sure he’s dead, David proceeds to cut off his head. Kind of a big detail if you’re asking me. 

I think boys particularly like this story. What boy doesn’t like a story about slingshots and giants? David gets to do what our parents told us never to do: He got to throw rocks at someone!

But whether we heard this story at VBS growing up or reading a Children’s Bible, the moral of the David and Goliath story is usually about bravery and the power of faith, the folly of pride, and standing up for what is right.

All of that is true, but there is also more happening below the surface. Since we only hear this reading once every three years on Sundays, I want to dig a little bit into the cultural background of the story for just a moment.

Geo-Politics & Border Fights To start, we are told that the armies of the Philistines and the Israelites have met in the Valley of Elah. In fact, there are two hills with a valley between them, with a small stream that cuts right through the valley. The Philistines are on one hill and King Saul with his army are on the other. I think it’s worth asking: Why are they there in the first place?

This gathering of forces is due to a border dispute that happened off and on between these two groups. The Philistines lived along the coast where there was fertile ground for agriculture and trade, and the Israelites were pushed up into the hill country, away from the best land and major trade routes.

The Valley of Elah is on the border between these two kingdoms, and of course, tensions rise as the Philistines move into a position to take the valley. If they did so, they would have direct access to the hill country. The Philistines are hoping to expand their kingdom and Israel wants to keep them in check, with the possibility of expanding themselves with a victory.

What is it with borders that gets humans all up in arms?

Does any of this sound familiar with our current affairs at home and abroad? As Mark Twain once said, “History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.” And there are plenty of similarities between our modern crises and this one particular border skirmish from 3,000 years ago. 

We humans haven’t changed much. 

David All that to say, this is the context in which David finds himself.  

David is a boy. He’s brash, confident, playing soldier in the camp of the army.  At one point in the story, we see him awkwardly trying to walk around in Saul’s armor, just as boys do. He’s playing pretend until he’s not.

What adult would honestly let him even get close to Goliath? Where is his signed permission slip, or what would his mom think of all this?

But the lack of adult oversight isn’t the point the biblical author is trying to make. No, it’s about finding the person who will represent the house of Israel. When our text describes Goliath as a Philistine champion, the word “champion” actually means “the man between.”

Neither Saul nor his bravest warriors are willing to enter the valley as Israel’s “man between” against the 9-ft-9-in Philistine. That’s until this ruddy boy from Bethlehem is taken seriously.

At least part of the point of this story is that God works through unexpected people. People, or in this case, a kid whose faith is stronger than the sum total of all the men in the camp.

Saul finally takes David seriously because apparently, God takes David seriously. He may be a boy, but he has been anointed to be the “man between.”

Taken Seriously Who do we usually take seriously in our society? Who do we look up to? Whose advice do we take? Typically, it's those we’ve deemed “successful.”

It’s those people who have their act together. Who seemed polished, even a little shiny. Professionally they’ve excelled. They live in the right neighborhood, members of the right club, and their kids go to the right school.

And a lot of our flaws can be hidden by money. It at least can distract other people for a while and convince them we’ve got it all together; that we are experts.

Any advertiser with some money will get a celebrity spokesperson who seems like a trusted figure. What is Nike’s Air Jordan without MJ? What is Chanel without Timothee Chalamet? What is Coca-Cola without the Christmas polar bears? Okay, Coke is probably fine without the bears.

We hand over a lot of influence to celebrities and others who claim to be experts. Hence the reason more and more kids want to grow up to be professional influencers.

In our lives, there are people in our profession we admire and try to learn from. There are priests and pastors I sit down with regularly and take copious notes.

We need those mentors in our lives, but this text from 1st Samuel reminds us that we cannot overlook anyone. God very well may be doing something in the person across from us that we could not begin to imagine.

We have to take each person seriously, and that takes a lot of mental energy. It’s easier to discount someone because of their age (too young or too old), their educational level, how they talk, where they’re from, or how they look.

It’s easier to dismiss someone, and it can be so subtle that we don’t even realize it. But what would it be like to look at someone, each person we meet, as a vessel of God’s purpose and power and glory? It would mean that we continue to be open to one another – willing to listen and ready to learn.

Of course, there are limits to this. A great example that comes to my mind is Ulysses S. Grant, who was a great president in many respects, but he trusted the wrong people too much and got the reputation of being corrupt. By and large, Grant was well-intentioned and a good president, but a poor judge of character.

In the same vein, I remember a prison chaplain talk about what it’s like to serve people behind bars. Early on, when some of the inmates saw how others were taking advantage of his kindness, they came to him to warn him that he was being used. The chaplain responded by saying, “I’d rather be gullible and generous than skeptical and indifferent.”

What that chaplain was doing was seeing each prisoner as a person. He was taking them seriously even if they didn’t take him seriously.

David's story is about bravery, it’s about God conquering the giants in our lives, it proves that faith in God can do wonders, but it’s also about WHO God calls and how WE receive them.

Personally speaking, I grew up in a church that took their kids seriously. I wouldn’t be a priest today if it wasn’t for St. Paul’s in Murfreesboro. I wasn’t just Ed and Janet’s son to the parishioners there. I was Wesley, who had gifts to give the community. Church became a place that I loved because I knew I was loved by the people who made up the church.

I think we have the same opportunity here – each person who walks through our doors is seen and welcomed as someone who has something to offer this community.

It’s not about how much you can pledge or how well you can sing or how many people you can bring to church with you. No, we take you seriously simply because God takes you seriously. 

This is exactly what Jesus does in his ministry. He takes seriously those whom the rabbis and scholars dismissed for any number of reasons. And the window above me reminds us of the time Jesus’ followers tried to shield him from the pestering presence of children because he would’ve had more important things to do (at least that’s what they thought). But Jesus wanted to be around those whom everyone else dismissed. And he went as far as to say we should look to children as the experts of faith. 

For us today, it’s worth considering those people that we have written off because of their age, their personality, or their political leanings (just to name a few), and it’s time to give them another chance. To see them as vessels of God’s purpose in the world, in the same way that David was a unique vessel of God.

No one can be written off in God’s Kingdom.  

For some of us, the person we’ve written off is ourselves. For many others, we can think of a few people (or groups) that we dismissed long ago. This is the hard work of following Jesus, to love in a way that seems so big, so open to those around us that it seems humanly impossible, but as the Mandalorian says, “This is the way.”

Or as Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”[1]

Jesus doesn’t write us off. He believes we can love like him.

[1] John 13:34-35 Cover photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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