David and Goliath – June 24, 2018
David and Goliath
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
I Samuel 17: (1a,4-23) 32-49 (55-18:5)
June 24, 2018
Main Idea: God’s power is all we have.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
These past few weeks have been difficult for us. Our congregation said good bye to two beloved church members who have gone from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant as Pastor David Heim used to say. We have been heartbroken by the news of families being separated at our southern border and we are overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting information given us about the situation. Frankly there are many issues which weigh on our minds and our hearts. We are tired and we long for guidance and relief. Jesus used to tell stories to teach about love and courage and the surprising nature and power of God. And he would say, “Those with ears to hear, let them hear.” Today, for the first Sunday of Summer, we have a story that gives us both guidance and a break from the heaviness of the news. In fact, today’s text could easily be made into a summer blockbuster movie. It has all of the elements of a great action film; a dashing hero, a loyal sidekick, an aging ruler, a savage villain, lots of tough talk, and a good amount of blood and gore. However, when we pay attention, the presence of God in this story leads us to a surprising conclusion. David declares “The LORD does not save by sword or spear.” (17:47) For all the chest thumping and saber rattling contained in this story, it is God’s power, not ours that saves us. Those with ears to hear, let them hear.
Now when I go to see a movie with my family or friends, we like to talk about it afterwards, to figure out the themes and symbolism, and of course to recap the best parts. So this morning we will delve into this biblical blockbuster and see what it teaches us.
First we have two main characters and two supporting characters. And all four are classic action movie archetypes. The two main characters are David as the young hero and Goliath, the savage villain. Saul as the aging king and and Jonathon, the trusty sidekick help frame the story of God’s power triumphing over evil.
Let’s look at the supporting characters first.
When our story begins, Saul is sitting at the battlefield looking out at the Philistine army. He is tired. God has given him the task of defeating the Philistines but he doesn’t know how to do it. When young David offers to fight Goliath, at first Saul dismisses him, “You’re just a kid.” But when David makes his extraordinary speech about the power of God, Saul relents, but not before decking David out in his own armor, trying to make him in his own image, weighing him down so much that he can not move. David had spoken of God’s power but Saul only heard David’s abilities and assumed that he would need the traditional trappings of warfare and would want to emulate his king. In fact, Saul is just glad to have some foolhardy kid try to defeat the giant. We don’t know what Saul thought when David removed the armor nor when he killed Goliath but we know he was happy when David returned with Goliath’s head. He brings David to live at the royal court with him and his family. The aging patriarch is a classic action movie character. Saul is like Odin in the Thor movies, trying to control those who come after him.
The other supporting character in this Biblical blockbuster is trusty sidekick Jonathan. Jonathan is Saul’s son and we know from Scripture that he was a valiant warrior in his own right. He was loved by the people and was Saul’s heir. But when he meets David, the text tells us that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (18:3) Jonathan can see something in David that neither Goliath nor Saul can see. The trusty sidekick is almost required in an action movie. Jonathan reminds me of Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter books and movies. Ron turns his back on his pureblood heritage to protect Harry and others.
Saul and Jonathan serve to frame the main story which is between Goliath and David. It is their confrontation that this blockbuster is about and it is in their contrasts that we learn the main point of the story.
Goliath must be one of the most famous Bad Guy characters of all time. The description of him is wonderful. We can picture his menace clearly in our minds. His height is unclear; one version has him at 4 cubits and a span which would be 6 ft 9 inches. Our translation has him at 6 cubits and a span which would be 9 ft, 9 inches. Either way, he really is gigantic. Tradition holds that he was a descendant of the Nephilim, the fallen angels who married and had children with women of the earth (Genesis 6:1-4) and so he is a literal incarnation of evil. And he knows how to trash talk. He comes shouting out of the Philistine army and he makes the Israelite army shake in their boots for 40 days. He know that he is strong and he has confidence in his own power. When David comes to fight him with nothing but a sling and some stones, Goliath laughs, “ Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?”(17:43). He sees nothing to fear in young David. This overconfidence and dismissal of the small opponent is a classic action movie theme. At the end of the first Star Wars movie, as the rebel fighters approach the Death Star, one of the Imperial officers tells Grand Moff Tarkin that there is some danger and asks if he wants his escape shuttle ready. Tarkin scoffs, saying “I think you overestimate their chances!” But as we know, he was wrong and so is Goliath.
The hero of this biblical blockbuster is David. We all root for him from the beginning. When he talks with Saul, we can see the contrast between his energetic innocence and Saul’s tired cynicism. “Don’t be afraid, King Saul, I will fight Goliath.” Saul at first dismisses this idea as impossible. To quote Star Wars again, when the rebels are being told the plan of how to destroy the Death Star, one pilot says that it is impossible, but Luke Skywalker responds, “No its not. I’ve bulls-eyed Womprats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two meters.” David says “I have killed both lions and bears, and this ol’ Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (17:37) David claims his power but acknowledges that it is power from God and for God’s purposes. David stands still while Saul decks him out in Saul’s armor and helmet, he straps on Saul’s sword but he quickly learns that the armor is a trap in which he cannot move. He takes it off and goes out to meet Goliath with only his staff, his bag, his sling, and five stones. When he approaches Goliath, the giant laughs as he sizes up this handsome kid with red hair. Goliath makes that joke about being a dog and then he curses David by his philistine gods. He threatens David saying “if you come here, I will give your body to the birds and wild animals. (17:44) David responds to Goliath with the key to this whole story. “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, who you have defied. 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.” (17:45) And with that, they moved toward each other.
All of a sudden and to everyone’s (except David’s) surprise the battle is over and David is the victor.
As dramatic as David’s victory is, it is his declaration about God which is more dramatic. In this story both Saul and Goliath trust in their own power and discount the power in David. David declares that his power comes from God and its purpose is to witness to God. David is able to defeat Goliath because God “gives Goliath into David’s hand.” As the story continues Jonathon recognizes God’s power in David, and so do the people of Israel. Belatedly and to his dismay, Saul finally recognizes that David is God’s chosen one. David’s success comes from acknowledging God. The climax of this blockbuster action story, full of violence and bluster, is David’s declaration that “the LORD does not save by sword and spear.” David is the hero of this action story but he turns the action story on its head. All of the action, the violence, and bluster is for nothing. Only God can save the day.
Now wait a minute, that is not how actions movies usually end. There are explosions and chases and the hero wins, either by his strength or his tricky mind. But our God likes surprises. God comes to us unexpectedly, in the midst of wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Just choosing David was a wild choice. We have become accustomed to the young hero, in large part because of how this story is embedded in our history and culture. Bur for God to have chosen a young shepherd boy to be the hero and later the King of Israel, this is astonishing. Even more astonishing is our Christmas story, our incarnate Christ born in a stable in some tiny village. Our God likes to keep us on our toes. David gives up control of his life to God as does Jonathan. Goliath and Saul both try to be in control and both end up failing.
One of the reasons we like action movies is that they are escapes from our everyday lives. Few of us spend our days chasing down villains from outer space or pegging rocks at giants. But all of us can relate to Saul’s struggles and hope to emulate David’s successes. Will we trust in where God is leading us or will we block out God’s voice in our efforts to be in control of our own destinies? Are we willing to trust in God’s power or will we try to use our own power to get what we want? These are questions for us as individuals and for our communities and our nation. How do we move beyond the age old premise that “might makes right”? How do we live out the teachings of Jesus sustained by the power of God?
Right now there are a number of giants which frighten and threaten us. Climate change and the rise of extremists around the globe require bold and courageous responses. Saber rattling and bluster only serve to heighten tensions, weaken alliances, and increase the likelihood of war. Extremism is on the rise in our own nation as hate groups are emboldened by the demonizing of the “other”; the poor, the stranger, the vulnerable. In the past few months we have seen our government sacrifice the wellbeing of thousands of children in an arbitrary and cruel application of our power, all in the name of national security. We can have debates about how best to deal with immigration to the US but separating young children from their parents and warehousing them with no process for reunification is against our values and is just wrong.
As people of faith we are called, like David, to stand up against evil. And like David, when we stand up against evil, we must call on and trust the power of God to work with us and through us. It is not easy! It is not a movie in which we know all the issues will be resolved in a few hours. The issues we face are not imaginary! They are real and complicated and painful. But we can trust that God is with us, guiding us, encouraging us, challenging us, and empowering us to share God’s love with the world.
Let us pray,
Most Gracious God, we thank you for your presence in our lives and for the power by which we can do amazing things in service to you. Help us let go of fear and bluster. Help us to recognize your surprising grace. And embolden us to share the stories of your endless love. We ask this in Christ’s name. Amen.
* The cover of Time Magazine this week featuring a small child standing across from our president echoes the image of young David standing up to Goliath.