The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 7B – 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
“And David heard him” (1 Samuel 17:23). David heard Goliath, a champion, a Philistine, a giant of a man. He stood nearly ten feet tall. I don’t know how much he weighed but his coat of mail, the upper armor he wore, weighed 125 pounds. By itself the head of his spear weighed fifteen pounds.
He’s a big ole boy and he’s talking trash to the Israelites. He’s challenging their identity, security, and well being. He’s threatening to dominate, and if he can, to eliminate them.
I wonder though, if David heard more than just Goliath’s words. Saul and the Israelite army heard the same words and “they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11). What did David hear that would cause him to say, “Let no one’s heart fail” (1 Samuel 17:32)? What was it that caused him to stand up to Goliath? Maybe David was listening with the ears of his heart. Maybe he heard a call upon his life. Maybe something about this situation touched his humanity and connected him to something beyond himself.
I wonder when that has happened for you? What are the giants in your life today that threaten and challenge? When have you encountered a Philistine champion? They are as real today as in David’s day.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed and overpowered by circumstances? As if you were up against something bigger and stronger than you? What was that giant? Have you ever felt you just were not up to what was being asked of you? And you felt small and inadequate. What trash was Goliath talking to you?
We all face giants, Philistines, in our lives. Sometimes it’s personal and unique to our particular situation. Goliath might be an illness, loneliness, the loss of a loved one. Maybe a rift in a relationship is standing tall. Or maybe it feels as if your life is moving out of control and you’re powerless to do anything. Other times Goliath might be more systemic. It’s mass shootings in our country, violence throughout the world, war in the middle east, racism, immigration. Goliath shows up in lots of ways.
Every time Goliath shows up the battle lines are drawn. The battle is not, however, what we often think it is. We tend to see the battles lines today as Republican and Democrat or those who support President Trump and those who oppose him. Sometimes we name the battle line as between Christian and Muslim, black and white, rich and poor. There’s a battle line between those who refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and those who refuse to serve supper to Ms. Huckabee Sanders. There’s a battle line between citizen and immigrant, legal and illegal. There’s battle line that runs between us and them, between me and the other, in personal as well as global matters.
None of those, however, are the primary battle of the day. They are manifestations of a deeper and more consequential battle. The primary battle is the one for the heart, for my heart, your heart, the heart of humanity. This is the battle to determine who we are, how we want to live, and who we will serve. That’s the wager Goliath threw down to David. That’s the battle line to which David stepped up.
Every time Goliath steps up to battle he comes weaponized. He comes with brute strength and force. He came to David with spear, sword, and javelin. Today it might be guns, bombs, tanks, and cannons. But military might and power are not the only weapons. Intimidation and discrimination are weapons. So are rhetoric and ideology. Policy and law can be used as weapons to hurt others. Maybe the most dangerous weapon, however, is a closed mind and a hard heart. The weapons Goliath carries are many and varied.
In the face of a giant like Goliath the temptation will be to respond in kind, to arm ourselves, weapon for weapon. We think we ought to have at least the same strength weapon or, better yet, something more powerful. But you know as well as I all this does is escalate the fighting. Listen to the talk shows and the national conversation. Read the Facebook threads.
Even Saul thought David needed to meet Goliath on Goliath’s terms, as if that’s the only way to face Goliath. Saul dresses David in Saul’s armor, a helmet, a coat of mail, a sword. Do you remember what David does? He takes it off. He’s not used to it. It doesn’t fit him. That’s not who he is. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s who we’ve become, whether we’ve grown used to the armor and weapons, and that’s now our way. But is it Jesus’ way? Is it really the only way?
Maybe David has something to teach us here. He removes Saul’s armor and sword and steps up to the battle “in the name of the Lord” (1 Samuel 17:45). Let’s be clear about this. To come in the name of the Lord is not about reinforcing our position, our politics, or our authority “with a divine fist.” It’s not about coopting God for our side. It means opening our eyes and turning our hearts “to the widow, the orphan, the stranger” (adapted from Caputo, The Weakness of God, 34).
Who did Jesus spend time with? What got him into trouble? It wasn’t because he was hanging out with the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, and the acceptable. He spent his time and energy on the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the needy. He hung out with the outcasts and ate supper with tax collectors and prostitutes. He touched the untouchables, the lepers. He found more faith in the foreigner than in Israel. As soon as he drew the line between the children of Israel and the dogs of Syrophoenecia he erased it (Mark 7:24-30). He expanded the borders of his life and ministry.
To draw up for battle in the name of the Lord means we are willing to reclaim our heart, to hold the values Jesus holds, to be peacemakers. It means we see the poor, the hungry, and those who weep as blessed and the objects of God’s attention (Luke 6:20-21). It means we work for justice and treat all persons with human dignity. We offer compassion instead of indifference. We love our neighbor, our enemy, and the stranger. We open our arms and soften our hearts to each other.
That’s what I want for my life and world. I want to stand in the name of the Lord. I want to be David, don’t you? Don’t you want to bring the name of the Lord into the difficulties and complexities of life? I want to reclaim the heart of humanity. I want to stand in the name of the Lord for what is godly and God-like. I want to speak for and defend the dignity of every human being, yours, mine, the stranger’s. Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I am David.
But I also know there are other times, times when I have not been David, times when I have come to the battle as Goliath. I become a Philistine in someone else’s life, a giant who wants to dominate, overpower, even eliminate the other. I weaponize myself and I act out of fear, anger, and frustration.
The battle between David and Goliath is not just a story in the Bible or an event in history. It’s my story and it’s deep within me. It’s your story and it’s deep within you. It’s a reality in each one of us. I suspect you know that battle and, just like me, can name times when you’ve been David and times when you’ve been Goliath. It’s a choice we make every day. Do we bring David to the world and our relationships or do we bring Goliath?
Sometimes the choice is made in big ways on a global scale for all the world to see. Other times the choice is small and private known only to God and ourselves. Either way the battle line has been drawn. It’s a line that runs through and divides our heart. It’s a line that divides and separates us from each other. It’s a line that divides and separates us from God and the way of Jesus.
To the degree we do not win this battle within us we will continue to project it onto the world and the lives of others. And there will be casualties, them and us. No one will win. This isn’t about where we are on the political spectrum. It’s about where we are on the David and Goliath spectrum. Where we stand on the issues of the day does not matter nearly as much as whether we stand in the name of the Lord.
So, how’s your battle going? Who are you bringing to the line? What’s your David doing and what’s your Goliath doing? What would it take to bring more of David? What would it look like for you to stand in the name of the Lord?
This is not easy work. We can’t do this by ourselves. I need you to stand with me in the name of the Lord. And I want to stand with you in the name of the Lord. We need each other. To borrow an old cliche and an image from today’s gospel (Mark 4:35-41), we’re all in the same boat. We’re in this together and together is the only way through this. If we do not stand together in the name of the Lord, we will surely fall.