Monday, June 22, 2015
Too big to fail?
1 Samuel 17: 1-11 and 32, OT pages 260-261 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 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 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. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Sermon You’ve heard this story before. Everybody has. It’s one of those stories that stands to defy the notion that the church is losing influence in this country, that Biblical illiteracy is running rampant, because there are few more well-known sayings in the English language than, “it was a battle between David and Goliath.” You might have heard it during the NBA finals last week. For the Cleveland Cavilers was LeBron James at 250 pounds, 6 feet and eight inches – that’s nearly “six cubits and a span” according to some Bible Scholar’s conversion charts, and that’s a full five inches taller than the star for the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry. Assuming that these NBA finals would essentially be a battle between these two basketball stars, NBC couldn’t help but call it a “David and Goliath showdown,” and how else would it be described? Every time there is an underdog the image of “David and Goliath” is evoked by our culture, probably because it is the perfect image to describe a situation where one side has the upper hand when it comes to size and strength. The original Goliath of scripture is a giant of a man. Out he comes from the camp of the Philistine army, down into the valley of Elah, but not only did he stand over 10 feet, in addition to his bronze armor, the tip of the spear that he carried weighed 15 pounds. Our scripture lesson describes the first time he stood before the Israelite army, but he offered this same challenge every day for forty days. Again and again he taunted them saying, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together,” and day after day, when Saul and all Israel heard these words of “the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Of course, this part of the story that describes the Israelite’s fear is easy to relate to. I played baseball growing up, and while it might come as a shock if you’ve ever witnessed my extraordinary athletic skills during the church softball season, when I was 8 or 9 I almost always sat the bench. The ball just moved too fast, so I’d lean down to scoop up ground balls, but then would close my eyes, or worse, jump out of the way, because I was terrified that the ball would hit me in the face. Standing in the batter’s box was worse. As I did some practice swings it looked like I knew what I was doing, but once I stepped up to the plate, the pitcher would throw the ball – I couldn’t hit it, I could barely stand there long enough for the catcher to catch it. My dad was worried. He bought a bucket of baseballs and he’d take me out to the park to pitch batting practice. Ironically, the only time I actually got his by a pitch was when my dad nailed me out there at the park pitching batting practice. So when that didn’t do any good he started to drive me across town to take private hitting lessons in a batting cage with a specialist. Who knows how much that cost, but even the private lessons didn’t do any good because the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know how hit the ball, the problem was that I was too afraid to swing. It’s Father’s Day today, so it seems appropriate to say that I am very thankful for my dad, who then agreed to coach the team thinking that might help after him pitching at the park and the private lessons didn’t do any good, and I remember it like it was yesterday – he was coaching third base and I was walking into the batter’s box. There were two outs, the game was tied in the last inning, and there was a runner on third. He called me over and he said, “Son, you can do this. In fact, I know that you can do anything you set your mind to. Visualize it and you’ll do it.” It was truly inspiring, but I walked up to the plate and promptly stuck out. That’s right – I struck out – because it’s not his height, his helmet of bronze, his coat of mail, the bronze on his legs, or the javelin slung between his shoulders that’s so dangerous – it’s the fear that he inspires. I was scared of the ball – too scared to believe my father’s words – and that’s the difference between David and me – that’s the difference between David and every troop in the army of the Living God who waited up on the mountain looking down on the valley of Elah – if fear blinds us than the enemy has us right where he wants us – but David, 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.” He looked on that giant with the eyes of faith and when he did he saw that this tank of a man had just as many weaknesses as he had strengths. While King Saul tried to give David his armor and helmet David removed them and took his staff in his hand, “chose five smooth stones from wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag.” His sling was in his hand. When Goliath drew near to David with his shield bearer in front of him, the Philistine “disdained him” and said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? 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 him, “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.” With that, “David ran quickly toward the battle line, 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.” So you see – David, who had struck down the lion and the bear had all the skills that he needed to strike down the giant – and he struck that giant down because he had faith while everyone else was governed by fear. Fear is the strongest weapon that they have. Danger often demands that we think, and think creatively, but fear stifles our minds, it stall our thinking – all we want to do is huddle in fear. Therefore, facing the enemy first requires that we live in faith freeing our minds from fear. For David, it was the words of his Father in heaven that resounded in his mind, not the words of his fear, but for me, for the disciples in the ship during the raging storm, it was fear and not faith that dominated. So Christ asks us just as he asked those disciples in the midst of the storm, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” There are reasons today for us to be afraid, for today, just sitting in a church pew takes courage. As you know, last Wednesday a young white man sat down for a prayer meeting at Emanuel African-Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, only to stand and open fire. I’m sure he thought as all terrorists think, that his actions would instill so much fear that his agenda of white supremacy would find a foothold, but oh how he underestimated the faithful at Emanuel AME. A man named Denmark Vessey founded that church, and in 1822 he was tried and convicted for organizing a slave revolt. A mob hung him, burned down the church he built, to intimidate that congregation into submission – but still they went to worship, still they rebuilt, still they remained faithful – so do you think a 21 year old white boy is going to shut them down? Dylann Roof is his name, and we know now that his weapon was a gun. It’s a fear inducing thing, a gun, especially in the hands of an angry young man whose mind is rotted out by frustration and hate. And a gun is not so different from bronze armor, a spear with a tip that weighed fifteen pounds, for these things inspire fear. But Goliath has been killed once more on a day like today, for you are here, not mastered by fear, but guided by faith. We have been prepared for a time such as this one. Just as David had been prepared by God to defeat that giant, so our God has prepared us to stand in defiance of that looming monster of racism that has terrified this nation for generations. Fear would keep us silent, but with eyes of faith I want you to know that our enemy is vulnerable. By faith the Goliath of racism will be defeated. That’s why I’m calling on you to join me this Tuesday evening to join the faithful at St. Paul AME where white and black believers will join their hearts in prayer. Fear will tell us to stay home, some will tell us that it won’t do any good, but if we listen than Goliath has done his job well. Faith, on the other hand, can help us see that our enemy is weak. Every friendship that crosses the line between black and white causes the giant of racism to stumble. Every time our community unties the giant becomes weaker. In faith, out of love, in defiance of fear – join me. Amen.