Sunday, June 24, 2012

Facing Giants


Facing Giants
1 Samuel (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
June 24, 2012
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

1 Samuel (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
1a Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.
4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
5 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.
6 He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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."
10 And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together."
11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.
20 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.
21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army.
22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers.
23 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.
32 David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine."
33 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."
34 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,
35 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.
36 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."
37 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!"
38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail.
39 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.
40 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.
41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.
42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.
43 The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
44 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."
45 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.
46 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,
47 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."
48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.
49 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.



Today we are beginning our summer sermon series on the life of David.

We’ve started with this iconic story, because sources say it is among the best known of all Bible stories. This is a familiar story, even to the non-religious. In a 2004 survey of over 1,000 teenagers, more than 90% of them knew that David killed Goliath. Contemporary politicians love to style themselves as modern-day Davids, facing the giants of …well, you fill in the blank. Apart from its apparent utility as a political tool, this story is rich in meaning and memory.

While many of us recall him only from Sunday School flannel-board stories, the life of David marks an important transition for the Hebrew people. This story sets up David, the shepherd boy, as the man who will become king of all of Israel, unifying the northern and southern kingdoms, and transforming the nomadic Israelites into the makings of a nation.

As we learn more about David, the shepherd king, we’ll know beyond a shadow of doubt that he was not always an admirable man. We’ll see him face more than one giant in his life.
And we’ll witness the strength of God’s power to uphold and guide David through some of the worst moments any human can face – giants of trouble, some of them of his own making.

For today, because the full story in 1 Samuel 17 is so long, we’ve by necessity left out some pertinent details.

First, the battle scene:
the valley of Elah  - the valley of oaks – is spread out between the two armies
 – the Philistines are on one side of the valley, and the armies of Israel, led by King Saul, are amassed on the other side. Presumably when the combat began, both armies would charge down into the valley and fight hand to hand. But right now, it is a standoff.

Except for one important detail:
twice a day, for forty days straight, this giant had been coming out to challenge the Israelites. He wasn’t just challenging them to fight, he was talking trash to them!

"Why bother using your whole army?
Am I not Philistine enough for you? …
… I challenge the troops of Israel this day.
Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!"

Imagine yourself, girded for battle, standing on the edge of a valley,
peering across to measure the enemy,
and then hearing this, every day, twice a day.
How demoralizing!

Now, enter this young man, David, a youth, not yet a man. He isn’t just passing by, or snooping. David was sent down to the battle site by his father, to bring bread and cheese to his older brothers.

Another of the realities of battles in 1100 BC  is that the army was not provisioned with a mess tent and MREs. They don’t have tanks and drones and humvees – most military transport is by sandal. They have bronze helmets and swords and spears, shield and bows and arrows – the stuff of hand to hand combat. So, when a family sent sons off to war, as David’s father Jesse did, it also had the responsibility of providing for them.
David is running a family errand.

He hears the challenge of the giant, taunting this entire army, defying the God of Israel!
And he asks, “What reward does the guy who defeats this giant get?”
Predictably, his brothers give him a hard time:
“Aren’t you supposed to be tending the sheep? You just came down to watch the fighting!”
But David snaps back, “All I did was ask a question!”

Turns out that like in every good tale, the champion gets to marry the king’s daughter.

Then, David presents himself to Saul, to take on Goliath’s challenge.
You know the rest of the story, how the armor was uncomfortable, how David walked out to face the giant, how the giant sneered, “Am I a puppy dog?” how David picked up five smooth stones from the wadi, put one in his sling, slung it, and the giant fell to the ground. You can almost hear the thud, and feel the valley of Elah echo with the sound.

Many of us loved this story as children. We identified with David, the little brother who turned out to be a hero. We thrilled to the tale of this shepherd boy who would face a giant. Sadly, however, as we grew up, we put this story away with our slingshots and our tricycles, as if the meaning no longer has value for us, wise adults who know better than to go head to head with a giant. For all too often, as children we heard this story as a testament to David – his faith, his piety, his courage, his victory.

And in so doing, we missed the central point of the tale:
the power of God to overcome giants.

Every morning, those giants march out at dawn to sneer and jeer:
You are not good enough.
You can’t do it.
You can’t make it.
You’ll never defeat me.
I defy your God.
I will destroy you, and you will be carrion for the birds.
You will die at my hands, and there is no hope for you.


The valley is filled with giants,
giants of cancer and chronic pain,
of family discord,
of aging and death and loss,
or the fear of loss.

There are giants in our land,
giants of violence and abuse,
of anger and hatred and war.
They ridicule us with insults and derision.
They scoff at our God, our faith, our lives.

We stand without armor at the edge of the valley,
trying to screw up our courage,
to simulate bravery,
to put on a happy face,
be optimistic…
and then at the end of the day,
here they come again,
voices full of scorn, sneering at us:
“You think you can beat this with positive thinking?
You think you can conquer giants with imitation courage and false hope?
Give up. You are finished.”

And always, someone is there to arm us against such taunts,
someone who wants us to wear the rigid armor of certainty,
the heavy breastplate of literalism,
to carry the sword of dehumanizing violence.

But it chafes.
It doesn’t fit.
It doesn’t feel right.

We are facing giants, every one of us, but we do not face them alone. We have looked up to the hills, looking for a champion, one who will step out into the gap and speak for us, one who will fell the giant.

And he is there, walking down into the wadi, unarmed except for the power of God,
striding up to face the giant. The boy David foreshadows another shepherd, the one who has come on our behalf. This shepherd, like the God of Israel, does not save by sword and spear. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, offers himself for us.

He steps into the valley of the shadow of death, facing every giant we have encountered,   
every giant we have conjured and created, every giant we have fled from and feared.
And there in that place, he offers himself up, and the giants fall, one by one.

Giants are cut down to size by the one who stands alongside us.
Despair is defeated - overcome with the hope of the world.
Hatred is halted in its tracks by the power of love.
Violence is vanquished by peace that passes understanding.
Walls of division are destroyed by hospitality.
Death has no dominion.

Yes, we are facing giants, but we do not face them alone.
We walk alongside the most high God of Israel,
who conquers through the strength of love,
vanquishes without violence,
and stands by us to subjugate our fear and lead us in the way of peace.

He will not let our foot stumble,
for he is our God,
our king,
our savior,
our friend.

Amen.